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Rat Terriers thrive in busy homes with a loving pet parent. They are good with kids, cats and other dogs as long as they're well socialized as puppies. But with their instinctive prey drive, don't even think about adding a pet mouse, hamster or bird to your brood.
Rat Terrier Traits
What makes the Rat Terrier a Rat Terrier? Let's find out how they stack up.
Rat Terrier Temperament
Rat Terriers are a big personality in a compact body. Inquisitive and highly intelligent, these qualities work in their favor when it comes to puzzles and games that will provide seemingly endless entertainment.
When they’re given a job to do, however, things get serious. They give 100 percent whether they’re hunting vermin, running agility or having a training session. Since Rat Terrier dogs were bred to both function as a working dog and live with a family, they can master both equally.
These small-sized dogs are usually very friendly and tend to get along with kids and other dogs, but it’s important to remember that all dogs are individuals so this can differ from Rattie to Rattie. As long as your dog is properly socialized (aka introduced to different people and environments) from a young age, they’ll be a great companion for all the family, and a friend to anyone they meet.
As their name implies, these dogs kind of have a thing for vermin. So you may want to rethink a Rat Terrier if you keep house with rats, mice, hamsters or birds unless you take precautions to keep them separated. The same goes for cats, but with early and deliberate introductions as Rat Terrier puppies, the two can definitely thrive together.
Rat Terriers are good watchdogs, so don’t be surprised if they bark when someone comes to the door. If you feel that it’s excessive, there are options to help you reduce your dog’s barking.
Overall, Rat Terriers are devoted to their people and they love to be included, so don’t leave them alone for too long or they will pine for you. Don’t forget that they still operate on instinct—no matter their training, your Rattie might still make the occasional, sudden lunge for a squirrel on your afternoon walk. They’re just doing what they were bred to do!
How to Care for a Rat Terrier
Rat Terriers are pretty low maintenance when it comes to their grooming needs, but when it comes to training, they need daily exercise and a pet parent who is as determined and dedicated as they are. They’re affectionate and love family life, and they are adaptable enough to be anything from apartment-dwellers to farm hands.
Rat Terrier Health
Rat Terriers have a decent life expectancy and can live 12 to 18 years. They tend to be a very healthy and active breed but, like all dogs, they are prone to certain health problems. It’s good to know ahead of time what these concerns could be so you can look out for any tell-tale signs.
- Hip Dysplasia: This condition can occur when the hip joints are loose, causing pain, cartilage loss and scar tissue if not addressed. In most cases, it’s genetic and can be discovered through testing. Treatment options include weight management, physical therapy or surgery.
- Patellar Luxation: This causes the kneecap to dislocate, resulting in pain and loss of function. It can be genetic as well, and testing is available. Most of the time, the kneecap can pop back in on its own depending on how bad it is, but if it’s more severe, your vet might recommend surgery.
Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease: The hip joint is formed from the ball and socket. In Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, the ball, or top of the femur bone, starts to break down. Your Rattie can develop arthritis over time because of this. Treatment depends on how severe this degeneration is, but might be managed with pain medications or possibly surgery.
- Heart Disease: Heart problems can be common when raising a Rat Terrier into their senior years. Your veterinarian will want to monitor their heart for any concerns so that if there’s an issue with their heart or the heart valves that pump blood, these can be addressed. Depending on the issue and how severe it is, medications might be recommended.
- Eye Disease: Rat Terriers are prone to a certain disease called primary lens luxation that can lead to teary, red, and/or cloudy looking eyes. Eventually, dogs can go blind. Your veterinarian will want to do routine eye exams and surgery might be necessary.
- Dental Disease: Small dogs are prone to dental disease due to not having enough room in their small mouths for all their teeth, and, unfortunately, Rat Terriers are no exception. It’s important to maintain consistent dental hygiene at home and take your dog for a dental check-up and clean once a year.
Rat Terrier History
Rat Terriers earned their name through history by being experts at catching rats. They originated on American farms, where these little dogs were perfect for exterminating the vermin that could potentially wreak havoc on stored food needed for survival. In fact, they were specifically bred for this very task and in the 1910s and 1920s, they were the most common farm dog in the US.
The Rat Terrier dog breed comes from a mix of several different breed types including the Smooth Fox Terrier, Manchester Terrier, Whippet, Italian Greyhound and Beagle. Farmers used different combinations of breeds to land on the traits they required for the job. For instance, Whippets and Italian Greyhounds were included for their speed and the Beagle for their superior hunting skills. An American original, it’s said Teddy Roosevelt is responsible for naming this breed.
As farmers started killing rats with poison, Rat Terriers became less popular until the 1990s when they started making a comeback. The Rattie was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in 2006.
Want a Rat Terrier? You can find a list of reputable Rat Terrier breeders on the American Kennel Club’s website. What’s the average cost of a Rat Terrier puppy? Depending on the breeder, expect to spend anywhere from $500 to $1,100 for a Rattie pup. Puppies bred through a reputable breeder will have their puppies screened for any concerns medically and behaviorally and may come with pedigree papers. You can also reach out to Rat Terrier rescue organizations to adopt a Rattie, or keep an eye out for them at your local animal shelter.
Do Rat Terriers shed?
Yes, Rat Terriers shed the most in the spring and fall, but do shed moderately all year. You can keep this shedding to a minimum by brushing them weekly.
How long do Rat Terriers live?
As with many small dogs, and because of their relatively healthy breed in general, Rat Terriers can live anywhere from 12 to 18 years.
Do Rat Terriers bark a lot?
Rat Terriers bark when they feel it’s necessary. They make great watchdogs, because they will bark to alert you when someone’s at the door.
Are Rat Terriers good family dogs?
Yes, Rat Terriers generally make excellent family dogs, including those with kids and other pets. They do best with families who understand their energy levels and exercise needs and aren’t going to leave them alone for long periods.
Can Rat Terriers swim?
Rat Terriers love the water and enjoy swimming. In fact, it’s a great way for them to exercise. Of course, they should always be supervised during this activity.
What are the most popular Rat Terrier names?
The most popular Rat Terriers names are Ellie, Indy, Yoda, Max, Toby, Bella, Basil, Chase, Scoot, Cha-Cha, Iggy, Nugget, Harley, Goober and Coco. Get more dog names here.
What are the most common Rat Terrier mixes?
The most common Rat Terrier mixes are:
- Rat Terrier-Chihuahua mix (Rat-Cha)
- Rat Terrier-Beagle mix (Raggle)
- Rat Terrier-Jack Russell mix (Jack-Rat)
- Rat Terrier-Dachshund mix (Rat Doxie)
- Rat Terrier-Lab mix
Rat Terriers make wonderful dogs for families living in any size of home. They love people and and are good with other dogs, and even cats, when they’ve been socialized from a young age. They need consistent exercise and and plenty of mental stimulation, too. Ratties are just as happy relaxing with you at home as they are on the agility course, and their zest for life and charming characteristics might make you want more than one.
Expert input provided by Dr. Antje Joslin, veterinarian for Dogtopia, certified dog trainer and behavior consultant Julie Parker, CTC, CPDT-KA owner of Rocky Mountain Dog Training, and AKC/UKC Judge Tracey A. Kallas, RTCA, Judges Education Coordinator and Vice President, Breeder of Merit at K2 Rat Terriers.