- Breed group — Terrier group (American Kennel Club)
- Height — 10-18 inches
- Weight — 10-25 pounds
- Coat length & texture — Short, dense, shiny coat
- Coat color — Coats can be combinations of black, white, tan, red, lemon, blue, chocolate, and orange. Markings can be piebald, spotted, sable, or patched. All standard rat terriers have white on them, either as a marking or primary color.
- Exercise needs — High
- Intelligence — High
- Barking — Seldom
- Life span — 12-18 years
- Breed temperament — Friendly, energetic, and stubborn
- Hypoallergenic — No
- Origin — United States
Rat terrier temperament and characteristics
Rat terriers are an energetic breed who love indoor and outdoor playtime. They are incredibly social and love attention, making them a great fit for families with children. While they do well with pets their size or larger, small animals like a cat or miniature breed could activate their prey drive. They are known to be reserved with strangers, so socialization from a young age can help curb their watchdog tendencies.
Because of their small size, they can have their energy needs met in an apartment or smaller unit. They can do well in larger homes with yards, so long as it has a fence tall enough to keep these high jumpers from getting loose.
Rat terrier fun facts
- Rat terriers were bred to hunt, you guessed it, rats. In the early 1920s, they assisted farmers in clearing out rats and other rodents. They also worked alongside hunters to control jackrabbit populations.
- They’re an American breed. Unlike most breeds, rat terriers originated in the United States. Their family tree includes Whippets, fox terriers, Manchester terriers, Italian greyhounds, old English white terriers (now extinct), and many more.
- They love to dig. Rat terriers were bred to hunt rodents that burrow underground, and thus have excellent digging capabilities. This could result in a dug-up garden or holes under fences.
Common rat terrier health problems
Although rat terriers are considered a generally healthy breed, there are several medical conditions they are prone to. Here are some health issues owners of the breed may experience:
- Patellar luxation. Like many other small breed dogs, rat terriers are prone to their kneecap falling out of alignment with the groove on their thighbone. While this can sometimes be managed with anti-inflammatory medications, surgery may be required.
- Allergies. Although all dogs are susceptible to this, rat terriers are particularly sensitive to food and environmental allergies. If left untreated, this could result in itchy skin and bacterial infections.
- Malocclusions . A rat terrier’s jaw can misalign, causing discomfort. If the overbite (or underbite) doesn’t correct itself within the first year of the dog’s life, tooth extractions or crown height reductions may be necessary.
- Demodectic mange. Localized or generalized alopecia on a rat terrier’s skin is a symptom of demodectic mange, a skin disease caused by demodex canis mites. Topical treatments and oral medications may be used to help manage the condition.
Cost of caring for rat terriers
Before bringing home a rat terrier, familiarize yourself with different pet health insurance plans and enroll early to cut down on out-of-pocket expenses. Health insurance works differently for pets than humans, so familiarize yourself with what kind of coverage to expect.
Alternatively, consider budgeting for a pet savings account so you have money set aside in the event your dog requires costly treatment. While every dog is different, rat terrier owners can generally expect to spend around $500 – $1,500 in vet bills a year.
History of the rat terrier
As the name suggests, rat terriers were bred to take care of rat infections on farms across the American countryside in the early 1900s. Their lineage includes a wide array of terriers, as well as the Italian greyhound, Mastiffs, Beagles, Whippets, and many, many more breeds.
While rat-baiting was their initial purpose, their fast speed and digging skills made them excellent hunters when it came to other small game such as squirrels and hares. Farmers even began relying on them to control a jackrabbit overpopulation problem across the Midwest.
In the 1950s, rat terriers almost went extinct when farmers began using pesticides and poisons, thus eliminating the need for the breed. With their population in decline, breeders brought them back into popularity as household pets for families across the country.
Some say the breed’s name was coined by President Theodore Roosevelt, whose rat terrier Skip assisted in controlling a rat infestation in the White House. Rat terriers were recognized by the American Kennel Club in 2012.
Caring for your rat terrier
As with any breed, there are many steps you’ll want to take to ensure proper care of your rat terrier, such as puppy-proofing your home, planning your first trip to the vet, and scheduling vaccinations. Because rat terriers have a strong prey drive, they could take off if they see a squirrel or other small animal. Signing up for FidoAlert provides your pet with a free Fido ID and tag so you’re prepared in the event they go missing.
Although rat terriers can be calm dogs, they also have high energy needs and will need up to an hour of exercise and mental stimulation a day to avoid becoming bored and destructive. Due to their small stature, a lot of this energy can be burned with indoor playtime. Despite this, you’ll still need to walk your dog daily. Because of their intense prey drive and fast speed, owners should avoid off-leash situations where the dog can take off after a smaller animal.
Caution should also be exercised with yards and dog parks that have low fences, as the breed has the ability to jump up to six feet in the air and the burrowing abilities to dig their way out of gated areas. Because they’re short-haired dogs, rat terriers have a hard time in colder climates and may require a warm coat.
Because they have short hair and don’t shed often, rat terriers are considered low maintenance. That said, owners should be aware of some basic needs when it comes to grooming:
- Brushing. Rat terriers have short hair that doesn’t shed often and only needs to be brushed once or twice a week.
- Bathing. They only require bathing as needed, typically just once a month unless they get into mud or dirt.
- Demodicosis. Because the breed is susceptible to demodectic mange, keep an eye out for bald spots and lesions as you groom your rat terrier.
- Nails. Their nails can grow quite long and cause discomfort, so trimming them at least once a month will be ideal for both your dog’s sake (and your floor’s sake).
- Additional cleaning. As with any breed, you’ll want to clean a Rat terrier’s ears on a weekly basis and brush their teeth regularly to avoid gum diseases and other oral infections.
Diet and nutrition
There are a variety of factors that go into how many calories a rat terrier should receive. Owners should consult their vet to calculate the best portion for their dog’s weight and other health needs. Generally, the breed will eat 0.5 to 1 cup of high-quality dry food if they’re 10-15 pounds and 0.75 to 1.5 cups if they’re 20-30 pounds.
Training your rat terrier
Although rat terriers are highly intelligent, they’re also very stubborn. They’re small enough to get into places they shouldn’t and love mischief, so patience may be required when it comes to training. Because they are playful, the breed responds well to games where they’re awarded treats for good behavior.
Rat terriers were bred to hunt rats and other small burrowing animals, so digging comes naturally to them. While training them to stop this deep-rooted habit may be a lost cause, you can teach them to stay away from certain areas like the garden or the fence. Instead, consider refocusing their attention on sanctioned areas you’re okay with them digging up.
As with any dog, it’s best to start training rat terriers when they’re puppies.
Breeds similar to the rat terrier
Not quite sure that a rat terrier is right for you? Even if you are, it’s worth taking the time to research and consider other similar breeds. Here are a few to get you started:
- Dachshund. This small breed mirrors the rat terrier in intelligence, playfulness, and prey drive. Bred to hunt badgers, these dogs are incredibly fast.
- Doberman pinscher. Love rat terriers but wish they were much, much bigger? Doberman pinschers are great family dogs and can be up to 100 pounds.
- Toy fox terrier. If you’re looking to stay in the terrier family, the adorable toy fox terrier may be up your alley. Coming in at just 4-9 pounds, these tiny furballs are incredibly friendly and, like the rat terriers, were bred to hunt rats in barns.
Frequently asked questions
Do rat terriers bark a lot?
If not properly exercised and mentally stimulated, rat terriers will resort to excessive barking, as well as other destructive behaviors like chewing and digging. Their barks can be loud and shrill.
Where did rat terriers get their name?
Rat terriers were bred to hunt and stave off rats and other rodents on farms. Some say President Theodore Roosevelt came up with the name after his rat terrier Skip helped manage a rat infestation in the White House, though this is unconfirmed.
Are rat terriers calm dogs?
Rat terriers can be very calm and love a good snuggle companion. That said, they have high energy needs and likely won’t settle down until they’ve been properly exercised or mentally stimulated.
Can rat terriers be left alone?
Although rat terriers are independent, they can be destructive if they haven’t been properly exercised before being left alone. Owners should be careful leaving them unsupervised in yards with low fences, as the breed is capable of jumping up to 6 feet in the air. They’re also natural diggers and can escape by creating a hole under the fence.
Are rat terriers good with other pets?
Rat terriers love a play companion and generally do well with dogs their size and larger. Because of their strong prey drive, owners should be careful with the dog’s around cats or small animals.