Choosing A Breeder or Rescue
There are many breeders and rescues out there - or at least, there are many people calling themselves breeders and rescues. The reality is that most people, as with any other endeavor, will take the cheapest and easiest way to accomplish anything. That often means that the rescuers and breeders that you encounter should be carefully vetted before you obtain an animal from them.
How do you vet them? The first way is to look at their website - the information, or lack of, displayed on their site can give you some good insight into the way they run their rattery. The second way is by sending them an email and questioning them. Any breeder or rescuer who takes your questions as rudeness, or responds rudely to you, displays the obvious signs that you want to avoid them. All breeders and rescues should welcome an adopter who wants to do their research and understand more of what they do!
Here is a good general list of "red flags" to look for on a breeder's website:
Pedigrees are not easily available, or contain unknown rats. A pedigree is not just a list of colors and markings, but is also a conglomeration of health and longevity information. If you check the pedigrees of rats in the same areas, you will undoubtedly see the same rats coming up over and over again, especially as you research backward into the pedigrees. The longevity and health of the rats in the pedigree are of the utmost importance to breeders who are working to improve health in their own lines. No pedigrees will be "clean" or free of problems, but lack of information is a much bigger problem. If someone is breeding rats from unknown backgrounds, even if they claim to have gotten those rats from another breeder who did not give them information, then they are in essence just rolling the dice on the babies they will be producing. That is little better than going to a pet store!
There is no Rainbow Bridge or memorial page, and no open health information. This is a really big one. An adopter should be able to look back through the pedigree of the parents of any litter and then find their ancestors and what they died of listed in a memorial or health tracking page. Anyone who does not have this information either does not want the public to see the problems in their line (which is bad) or simply has no idea what the health of their line truly is (which is worse!)
The breeder does not list all their resident rats. Most breeders will have at least 20 permanent resident rats, in a mix of active breeders, hopeful future breeders, retired and unused rats. Rats who simply vanish from the site without appearing on a memorial page have either been hidden in order to make it look as if the rattery contains less rats, have been culled or put down because they are no longer useful, or have been placed out to pet homes where their health and longevity cannot be directly tracked by the breeder.
There are constantly babies available from this breeder, with multiple litters being bred every month. This is a sign that the breeder really is not being careful in their pairings, and does not care where their babies end up. Additionally, there is no way to properly socialize that many babies, so the quality of pet available from that breeder will not be high. Tracking the health of that many litters will also be nearly impossible.
There is no record of past litters at the rattery. It is hard to keep track of exactly what this breeder's goals have been and how many babies they usually have available without a past litters page!
Breeder has accidental litters due to rats being mis-sexed and caged with the opposite gender, rats escaping from cages, and babies being kept with parents/siblings too long. This really illustrates a careless attitude on the part of the breeder with regards to their animals. Out of every rattery, probably less than 10% of the population is worth being bred. To allow animals to breed without the breeder carefully choosing both parents results in rats who may not have compatible pedigrees, colors, or health to pass on their genes. There is also a real health risk to allowing very young females to become pregnant, or mothers to breed back-to-back.
There are deaths of nesting babies in multiple litters. Often, a litter contains one or more runts who simply don't make it past the first few days, especially in larger litters, and this is normal. However, if you see lots of nesting deaths, nesting deaths past the first week, or deaths in multiple litters, there is clearly a serious health problem at that rattery. Another possibility may be that the breeder is culling (killing babies) and covering it up by pretending the babies died of natural causes.
Different prices are charged for rats of different varieties. There is no difference between a Black rat and a Blue rat except for a recessive color variation. Breeders who charge extra for "fancier" colors, markings or ear sets and sets a lesser value on more "common" rats is interested in money instead of producing better rats. A breeder should be just as proud of the companion qualities of their common-colored rats as the fancier ones, even if they breed show animals.
There is no adoption process, no questionaire, no waiting list. If the breeder's website does not indicate that she needs some information from her adopters, you simply email them and say you want the rat and then give her money, then that breeder is little better than a pet store. The breeder should want to vet you as an adopter as much as you want to vet them as a breeder! This also means they are breeding litters without having a plan for where those babies will end up.
Breeder sells babies that are under 6 weeks of age. Six weeks is the bare minimum that a rat should be leaving the home rattery, and 8 is becoming more standard. The more time the rat spends being actively socialized with other rats and by the breeder, the better pets they make! Rats who are weaned or sold young actually have more trouble bonding with adopters and other rats, and tend to be more neurotic and unhealthy because they did not have a secure development period.
Breeder sells single babies. Rats should always be kept in pairs at minimum, and preferably trios or larger groups. Babies can sometimes have trouble adjusting into older colonies, because their manners are bad (they're babies, after all!) and they have a higher play drive and activity level than the rats around them. Selling a single baby to an adopter who has other younger rats can be an exception, but a baby rat should never be sold alone if the breeder can help it.
They breed a second species or rescue at the same time. It is almost impossible for one person to put the amount of time and energy that is required into ethically breeding two different species. Rescuing is not only a conflict of interest, but is unsafe to the resident rats, who are constantly exposed to a myriad of other animals going in and out, which is not a good breeding situation.
Things to ask a breeder when you make contact with them: