F.A.Q.s

Frequently Asked Questions



Hi there! My name is Abby Chesnut and I've been training and handling therapy rats in Georgia since 2016.


What is a therapy rat?

What is Healing Whiskers?

What is Pet Partners?

What is Compassionate Paws?

What is Reading Rats?

What does your therapy rat do?

Why are your rats so calm?

What kind of training do you do?

How long does it take to train a therapy rat?

What kind of test did your rat have to take to become a therapy animal?

Has your rat ever bitten anyone?

Why is your rat on a leash?

Why is your rat in a basket?

Why did you name your rat [insert name here]?

How long do pet rats live?

Isn't the short lifespan hard on you?

Do you let your rats free-roam around your house/sleep with you?

Is it difficult keeping pet rats?

Are pet rats nocturnal?

What do pet rats eat?

Does your pet rat carry the plague/have rabies/have any diseases?

Do you bathe or groom your rat?

Did you catch a wild rat and train it/is that a ferret, guinea pig, puppy, hamster, gerbil, etc.?

Where do you get your pet rats?

Why do you mostly get your pet rats from breeders?

Why do you only get male rats?

"Hi, I want to make my rat a therapy rat to help me with my anxiety. Can you help me with this?"

I want to make my rat a therapy rat. Can you help?

I want to learn more about rats!


What is a therapy rat?


Therapy animals are invited to places to comfort others. They are trained to be okay in high-stress environments and are certified by different organizations. Just like therapy dogs, pigs, cats, there are therapy rats. We mostly go to schools, libraries, and public events. Therapy animals are NOT allowed in non-pet friendly places unless they are invited by the facility.


Vincent the Therapy Rat


What is Healing Whiskers?


Healing Whiskers is the name of my website and blog where I share my therapy rat adventures. I decided to start this website once I learned that there wasn't much information on the subject and I could be the first to spread the knowledge about therapy rats.
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Healing Whiskers Logo

Pet Partners is a nationally run therapy animal organization which recognizes and certifies nine species of therapy animals. Dog, cat, rat, bird, alpaca, llama, guinea pigs, pigs, and horses. At the time, this is the only organization that certifies rats. Being certified means that your therapy animal team has been trained and tested and this gives the facility you visit peace of mind. Also, once registered, your animal gets liability insurance in case of an accident during a visit.
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Pet Partners Logo

What is Compassionate Paws?


Compassionate Paws is the local therapy animal group located in Rome, Georgia. They register therapy animal teams through Pet Partners and follow their guidelines for visits.
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Compassionate Paws Logo

What is Reading Rats?


Reading Rats is a what I call our Read to Me program that Pet Partners runs. Basically, we sit down with a child and they read to the rat. I don't correct them if they make a mistake and only correct when they would like me to. This program helps promotes reading confidence.
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Reading Rats Logo

What does your therapy rat do?


Therapy animals are trained to comfort others. When we go to events they sit in a basket and people come over and pet him to relieve stress or to provide comfort. This is a great opportunity to teach others about rats and how they aren't what people think they are.
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Why are your rats so calm?

Lots of training! I work with them since they are very little to get them socialized and ready for therapy work. Each rat's personality is different and not all are suited for therapy work. Being pet by others can be just as relaxing for the rat as well as the person petting them.


What kind of training do you do?


Training consists mostly of socialization and getting the rat used to different environments and people. I do things in baby steps so little by little they get used to things. I also work on litter box training, taking treats nicely, and wrapping the rat in a towel (a.k.a. rat burritos)
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How long does it take to train a therapy rat?


6 months. Per Pet Partners' rule, I have to have the rat for 6 months before doing our therapy animal evaluation. This is actually a great amount of time to figure out the rat's personality and see if they can make it as a therapy animal.
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Franklin a therapy rat in training


What kind of test did your rat have to take to become a therapy animal?


We work with an organization called Pet Partners and they have a set test where both the handler and rat are tested. It involves tasks like being around a neutral dog, being passed around, taking a treat, reaction to loud noises, etc.
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Has your rat ever bitten anyone?


No. None of my therapy rats have bitten. If they did they would not be a therapy animal. Per Pet Partners rule, therapy animals cannot have bitten humans or other domesticated animals. When rats are little they may mouth fingers or such, but a bite is considered breaking of the skin.

Vincent the therapy rat


Why is your rat on a leash?


For safety and for rule reasons, we use a harness during our visits. Rats can't see very well so they probably won't dart off, but it does give peace of mind if anything unexpected happens. We use a specially designed harness and leash made for rats called Guru Gear which can be found in the Happy Rat Shop. It's fully adjustable and I make sure it's just tight enough so my rat cannot get out, but not too tight. And no, I don't typically walk my rat on a leash.
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Vincent the therapy rat on a leash


Why is your rat in a basket?


Our rats sit in a basket lined with paper towels during visits because Pet Partners allows small animals to be held in a towel or blanket or in a basket. It is very handy as it gives them a little safe space, I can move the basket to be closer to a visitor, and if he really needs to, can also be used as a mobile litter box that can be easily cleaned.
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Vincent the therapy rat in a basket


Why did you name your rat [insert name here]?


Usually, it's because they looked like a [insert name here]. I generally like to give my rats human-like names. It takes me a while to come up with the perfect name.
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Franklin, Vincent, and Xavier the pet rats


How long do pet rats live?


Rats typically live two to three years. There are of course ones who live a lot shorter or longer than typical rats.
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Vincent the therapy rat with his sweet potato birthday cake


Isn't the short lifespan hard on you?


Yes. I always say that in that short time they give a lot of love. I've had rats pass naturally, and many I've had to help pass over and it doesn't get any easier. For those who were therapy rats, I like to focus on how many lives they touched while they were still with us.
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Oliver the therapy rat


Do you let your rats free-roam around your house/sleep with you?


No, I have a very big cage called a Double Critter Nation where my rats run about and climb. I do let them play on top of the cage where I have many cardboard boxes they scurry in or on top of my bed with supervision. Having rats free-roam around your house can be very dangerous as they can be easily stepped on and they could chew through items.
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Is it difficult keeping pet rats?


They are very easy to take care of. The only hard part would be keeping up with cage cleaning and expensive vet care.
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Vincent, Wyatt, and Franklin the pet rats


Are pet rats nocturnal?


Kind of. Pet rats are more crepuscular, meaning they are more active during twilight and dusk. Pet rats can learn their owners' schedules to be awake at a certain time but generally have a time they are more active. Therapy events are usually during the day and can last up to two hours. This amount of time isn't going to mess up a rat's regular schedule, but care does need to be taken if a lot of events are scheduled in a row as they can get tired quickly.
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Vincent and Xavier the pet rats sleeping


What do pet rats eat?


My pet rats eat Oxbow Regal Rat kibble as well as fruits and veggies a few times a week. Some of the favorite foods would be corn, watermelon, peaches, sweet potatoes, and of course, yogurt drops a.k.a. yogies.
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Does your pet rat carry the plague/have rabies/have any diseases?


No, my rats regularly visit our exotic vet for wellness checks and the therapy rats have to be cleared by a vet before working.
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Kingston at animal medical center of rome


Do you bathe or groom your rat?


Therapy animals have to be bathed before visiting a facility. Per Pet Partners rule, it needs to be 24 hours before the event. This makes sure they are clean and reduces dander for those who are allergic. I use gentle pet shampoo that suds quickly so baths are very quick. I also clip nails and clean ears as necessary. For my rats who are not therapy rats, I give them baths once a month. Gotta be squeaky clean!
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Did you catch a wild rat and train it/is that a ferret, guinea pig, puppy, hamster, gerbil, etc.?


These are pet rats, a.k.a. domesticated rats or fancy rats. Wild rats are very different from their pet cousins who cannot survive in the wild. Yes, they are indeed rats.
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Jasper the rat in a cowboy hat


Where do you get your pet rats?


I've used many different breeders over the years. If you are in the Georgia area I would recommend becoming a member of the Facebook group Georgia Rat Breeders.
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Vincent the therapy rat as a baby


Why do you mostly get your pet rats from breeders?


I don't buy rats from pet stores since just like puppy mills, there are rat mills. If you know where your rats are coming from that's great. The benefit from buying from a breeder is that you know they are being handled and their health history isn't a mystery. Unlike with dogs, there isn't an abundance of pet rats roaming around so breeding isn't an issue. For therapy work, I need the rats to be handled from the start to get them started right. Also, if I am able to get them when they are weaned (1 month old) I can get them certified within 6 months (Pet Partner rule about having them for 6 months). Sooner I can get them, sooner I can have them certified, means more therapy work they can do since they have such short lifespans.
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Franklin and Wyatt the pet rats


Why do you only get male rats?


I personally haven't owned female rats, but this is just preference since male rats are a lot larger and generally more lax. For therapy work that works out just great since more rat to pet and a calm demeanor is needed.
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Vincent and Xavier the pet rats


"Hi, I want to make my rat a therapy rat to help me with my anxiety. Can you help me with this?" 


A therapy animal is NOT a service animal or an emotional support animal (ESA).

An ESA is basically a prescribed pet. ESAs are NOT allowed in non-pet friendly areas. These animals are not trained to assist people but provide their human comfort. A doctor's note is required for this status. ESAs get some leverage when it comes to housing and flying on airplanes (this is frequently abused so rules are changing)

I want to make my rat a therapy rat. Can you help?


Yes! I am working on an online class and will send out an email once it is finished. If you'd like to be in the know, click here to go to our sign-up sheet. If there is anything in particular you need help with, feel free to message me on my social media pages or email me at healingwhiskers@gmail.com
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Oliver the therapy rat


I want to learn more about rats!


A great resource for general rat questions would be aboutpetrats.com.
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Jasper the rat
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