Rat Terriers

The Rat Terrier began as a variety of the Smooth Fox Terrier. Infusions of Italian Greyhound, Whippet, Beagle, Miniature Pinscher and Chihuahua were used to create an efficient ratter for farms as well as a competent hunting companion for the farmer. Like his cousin the Toy Fox Terrier, he’s playful, silly and fearless. Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering acquiring one of these dogs.

Is the Rat Terrier the Right Dog for You?

The Rat Terrier is cheerful and sensitive. Although he definitely has a terrier personality, he’s calmer than some terrier breeds such as the Jack Russell and enjoys lap time with his people. He likes to “talk,” and is always willing to share his opinion with you.

Life with a Rat Terrier is never dull. Smart, active and fun-loving, he doesn’t want to miss out on anything exciting. This makes him a great companion, but it also means he can become bored and destructive when no one is home to keep him entertained. He is also prone to separation anxiety, so it’s essential for him to receive plenty of socialization, early crate training, and practice being alone in a crate or dogproofed room.

Despite his small size, this dog needs plenty of training and exercise, plus a dogproofed home, to keep him out of trouble. If your Rat Terrier is less than two years old, you can’t expect to leave him on his own in the house. Locking him in a room won’t work; he’ll just chew his way out, so plan to use tall baby gates and exercise pens to keep him confined, and make sure they’re not near any drywall or linoleum that could be chewed.

Like all terriers, the Rattie takes great pleasure in digging, barking and investigating. He’s generally not yappy, but if he doesn’t receive enough attention, he can become a nuisance barker. He’s generally friendly toward other dogs, but although he might not start a fight, he won’t back down from one either.

He’s smart and learns quickly, but is also easily bored. Keep training sessions short and fun or he’ll rapidly lose interest. Agile and athletic, the Rat Terrier excels at dog sports, especially agility, flyball and rally. He can also be a super therapy dog.

Because of his small to medium size, ranging from 8 to 25 pounds, the Rattie fits well in any home, but if you live in an apartment or condo, his potentially noisy nature and high activity level should give you pause if you won’t be home during the day to keep him entertained. Rat Terriers love attention and do best with people who can spend a significant amount of time with them daily. They can be a good choice for families with older children and other pets.

The Rat Terrier’s smooth coat is easy to groom with a quick weekly brushing to remove dead hairs. During shedding season in spring and fall, you’ll want to brush him more frequently to keep loose hairs under control. He also needs regular nail trimming, ear cleaning and dental hygiene, plus the occasional bath if he rolls in something stinky.

Last but not least, it should go without saying that a people-loving dog like the Rat Terrier needs to live in the house. It’s an unhappy Rattie who is relegated to the backyard with little or no human companionship.

6 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Rat Terrier Puppy

  1. Don’t ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store. You’re more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.
  2. Finding a good breeder is more important than finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. The best source for a good breeder is the website of the Rat Terrier Club of America; choose one who is committed to following the RTCA’s Code of Ethics.
  3. Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing.
  4. Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Fox Terriers aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. Since a Rat Terrier can live to be 12 years old or more, even an adult dog will be with your family for a long time.
  5. Puppy or adult, take your Rat Terrier to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
  6. Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Health Issues Common to Rat Terriers

All purebred dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.

That said, Rat Terriers are pretty healthy little dogs. Like most small dogs, they can have issues with luxating patellas: a mild to severe dislocation of one or both knees. Mild cases may cause intermittent lameness; severe cases may require surgery to correct. Ask the breeder to show evidence that both of a puppy’s parents have OFA patella certifications.

Rat Terriers may also be prone to demodectic mange, which is considered to be a heritable autoimmune disease.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Patellar Luxation
Medium $1,500-$3,000
Estimates based on claims paid by Embrace Pet Insurance


Pet Insurance for Rat Terriers

Pet insurance for Rat Terriers costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Rat Terriers are more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace pet insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Rat Terriers are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Rat Terrier is when he’s a healthy puppy. You can’t predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can’t get when you need it the most.