WARNING! This section contains images that may be disturbing to some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised. You do NOT need to read this section, but if you're considering buying from a pet store then please do.
How do pet store animals and animals from reputable breeders differ? Where do pet store animals come from? What are you supporting when you buy from a pet store? Do good breeders ever sell to pet stores? This section will answer all of these questions!
The truth about rats labeled as "pets" in pet stores:
There has been an increase in misinformation regarding pet store rats labeled as pets. Some believe that rats labeled as feeders and rats labeled as pets are different in some ways - either in where they were bred, how they were bred, their health, their genetics, and their temperaments. The truth is they are the same. Rats labeled as pets in pet stores and rats labeled as feeders almost always come from the same mill. The ONLY difference is color. Rats labeled as pets are usually prettier, have nicer markings, and they usually don't have pink eyes. I have personally witnessed this in a local family owned pet store. The long-time employee admittedly stated how the ugly ones (usually white with pink eyes) will be sold as feeders and the pretty ones as pets. There was no difference in their rats other than how they looked. Where they came from, how they were raised (mills), their genetics, and their temperaments are all very uniform. The same is true for hamsters and other animals in pet stores.
Ever wonder why the pet store rats labeled as pets are almost always VERY sick after people take them home and/or have chronic health problems throughout their life? Really no different than your average feeder rat. Below are some photos I have gathered from a hamster breeder who discovered these inside photos of rodent mills. They breed hamsters, rats, guinea pigs, and more. Every time someone supports a pet store they are supporting this cruelty. More rat/hamster/etc sales in pet stores equal more rats/hamsters/etc born and raised through this system of horror. Knowledge of these facilities is one of the reasons I decided to become a breeder. Animals from pet stores come from mills like shown below. The goal is mass production. Quality, type, temperament, health and proper conditions mean nothing to these mills and the rats labeled pets and feeders come from the same place.
Are you rescuing when buying from a pet store:
NO. It is not a rescue if the animal has food, water, and a clean cage regardless of whether they are intended as pets or feeders. It's a purchase - a business transaction. A frequent argument I hear regarding the support of buying rats at pet stores is that they need homes too and they deserve a good life. While that is true, it's also true that their parents do as well, but they instead live a life of misery. Litter after litter after litter in darkness and/or tiny cages. No toys, no love, no enjoyment. Think of the breeding pigs in pig breeding facilities. Supporting pet stores is supporting the cruelty shown below. While not all mills are like this, most are. Those who are not like what is shown below are still mass producing in crammed cages with (90% of the time) no regard for temperament, type, personality, conformation, or health. While it is possible to get sweet rats from pet stores and feeder bins, you'll still be supporting mass production.
Pet store rats labeled as pets or feeders: less money to buy the rats, $150+ vet bill due to almost always being sick upon purchase, often have poor temperaments (often turn into biters or have aggression toward other rats), tend to die very young, usually chronically sick throughout life, raised in horrid conditions with no room to move or play.
Rats from reputable breeder: more money to buy the rats, 0$ vet bill, healthy upon purchase, raised in proper conditions (with good food, love, enrichment, and proper cages), high quality bloodlines, pedigreed, health and genetic guarantee, good or excellent temperaments (temperament guaranteed), live longer.
Some breeders raise their rats very similar to mills. It's very important you at least see a recent video of the set up they were raised in and better yet, see the cages in person! Just because someone is a breeder, doesn't mean they are a good one. If the breeder refuses to take a video of their cages or show you them in person, they have something to hide, and it's better to find a different breeder.
From shadowrat.com: "Good breeders do not supply pet shops. Sometimes people say to me 'but my pet shop gets its rats from a local breeder, not a mill! They told me the breeder is really good!'.
Do not be fooled by this.
NO reputable breeder will ever sell their rats to a pet shop, just as how no reputable dog breeder sells their puppies to the local pet shop.
If a breeder is selling their babies to a pet shop, they are not reputable. There are no two ways about this, no exceptions.
There are many reasons why good breeders do not supply pet shops.
1. Good breeders keep tabs on their rats and where they end up. They keep in touch with the new owners regularly and get updates on how the rats are doing. They also like to know when the rat dies so they can know longevity of their breeding lines. Good breeders put their heart and soul into their breeding lines; they've often spent many years tailoring and perfecting the lines and are, as such, very protective of their animals and where they end up.
They would not supply their rats to a pet shop as they cannot personally vet the homes or see where their rats are going to go, or have a relationship with the new owner.
Good breeders are personally involved with every single rat they breed. This is simply not possible when you're passing your babies off to a shop to be sold to anyone who walks in.
2. Good breeders are well aware of the huge impact that pet shops have on rescues, and the way the animals are sold like products off a shelf. No good, reputable breeder would support the very idea of buying a life from a shop as if it were a tin of beans. They have far more respect for rats than that.
3. In the same way top class dog breeders would not supply their puppies to a pet shop, top rat breeders don't either. The only 'breeders' who sell rats to pet shops are disreputable 'back yard breeders' who don't care much for their animals.
I have recieved several emails since writing this page, sometimes angry ones, from people claiming their local pet shop doesn't sell mill-bred rats, so it is ok to buy from them because 'they're different to other pet shops'.
I am well aware some very small pet shops may breed the rats themselves on the premises: I have worked at one. Of course a smaller pet shop doesn't need to buy in from mills, because they sell a fraction of the number of rats each year that a chain store would. They can usually meet demand well enough by just breeding a couple of litters a year themselves.
However, breeding rats properly is expensive, and it takes a lot of knowledge and a lot of devotion; are your small local pet shop sourcing their foundation stock from known healthy lines? Are they selecting only the healthiest and best natured rats to be bred? Are they keeping records on every rat they sell, from every litter they breed, so they know if any health issues are present in their stock? Are they breeding to better the health, temperament and longevity of the rat species, or are they just breeding to have animals to sell? These are all things you need to consider. While a small pet shop breeding a couple of litters a year to sell is preferable to pet shops who use rodent mills, it still does not mean it is a good practise to support.
For me, the only two truely ethical ways to obtain rats are by rescuing, or from a reputable breeder. When you rescue, your donation goes toward helping more needy animals. When you buy from a breeder, your money goes toward allowing that breeder to continue working on improving the health and welfare of rats. When you buy from a pet shop, your money goes into the pocket of the rodent mill owner.
As you can see, pet shops are not about rat welfare as priority, they're about making profit. If they can cut corners, most will.
By buying rats from pet shops, you are supporting and condoning the conditions the rats in the mills live in.
For each rat the shop sells, it frees up the space for one more baby from the mill to come in and take its place.
The vast majority of rats you will find in rescue shelters are originally from pet shops. Due to the fact that just anyone can go in and buy one, on a whim, without fear of anyone 'checking up on them', it is easy for people to get hold of a rat, get bored, and dump it shortly after.
Almost all my rescue rats were originally from pet shops, and most of them were from Pets At Home specifically.
And for those I do not know the background of, its most likely they too were pet shop rats.
There have only been two occasions in which rats from good breeders have ended up with me as rescues; and in both cases, neither breeder was aware, and the previous owner had not told them. As soon as they were informed, they offered to have their rats back.
Would a pet shop happily take back your rats a year later when your kids have gotten bored? Of course not, because the re-sell profit on adult rats is nil and they cost money rather than make it.
What we can do?: So how can you make a stand against this horrible trade? Easy.
Do not give pet shops your money.
This applies not only to buying animals, but if possible avoid buying anything at a store that sells animals. Where possible, get your accessories from pet shops which don't sell animals, or from online stores.
Even if you're not buying a rat from a shop, you are still supporting them if you go in and buy $20 worth of toys and food. Of course it will not always be possible to avoid large pet chains in the real world, but it is a good thing to aim for.
Just as it used to be commonplace to see puppies and kittens in pet shops, but is now a real rarity, so too will it become for rats and other animals if people make it known that they do not want these animals sold like objects.
If you buy a rat from a pet shop because you feel sorry for it, you are ultimately just funding the continuation of this poor treatment, hard as it is to accept. The best way to get the pet shops to sit up and realise there is no point in selling animals is to stop paying them for animals.
Things are slowly changing, with some stores stopping selling certain species due to lack of demand, and if enough people stop buying rats, rats will not be sold at least as pets.
Yes, it is difficult to walk away from the rats in the shop, and even the best of us have slipped up now and then and bought a rat from a pet shop when we knew better. It can be hard for a rat lover to turn a blind eye to a rat in need. But for each one you buy, another will be demanded from the rat mill to take it's place.
The important thing is to be aware of where pet shop rats come from, and aim to boycott this whenever we possibly can."
In the end, it's your decision whether to buy from a pet store or a reputable breeder, but now you can make an educated choice!