Pet columnist Rene Knapp on show rats. Yes, rats.
We all know the Disney song from "Lady and the Tramp":
“We are Siamese if you please,
We are Siamese if you don’t please,
We come from the land known as Siam
There are no finer rats than I am.”
Oops, did I say rats? Yes, I did!
I found it utterly amazing when I talked to some people who are members of the Rat Fancy, that there are Himalayan, Abyssinian and, of all things, Siamese rats! And they are exhibited in shows every much like a cat show. There are judges, standards and rosettes to be won. How were these breeds developed?
In 1978, the National Fancy Rat Society imported Siamese rates, which were located in a laboratory in Orly, France. Three pairs of Siamese rats were imported and the first litter from each pair went to the National Fancy Rat Society to defray the cost of the original imports. So in September 1978, the litters were delivered, which was the beginning of developing a breed standard for the Siamese Rat.
These first Siamese looked more like Silver Fawn Hooded rats with very faint dark noses. But through hard work and good breeding practices, these rats were transformed into the beautiful Siamese that are being shown today! It was a long process though, because the program began in 1978, and it was not until March 31, 1984, that the first Siamese rats were introduced at a show.
The standard describes a rat that has “body color to be medium beige gradually and evenly shaded over saddle and hindquarters towards the belly, being darkest at the base of the tail. Tail color to extend down the length of the tail. Belly to be light beige. Points to be rich dark sepia and to shade evenly into the body color. Eyes red or light ruby.” A disqualification is the color white, whether a spot on the body, white feet or white on the tail.
The pattern is developed by the temperature! The darkness of the fur color is determined by the temperature of the rat’s environment. The colder it is, the darker the fur comes in. That is why those areas on the rat which are cooler (nose, ears, feet and tail) have darker fur than the body. Siamese rats are actually much darker in the winter months than they are in the summer.
The Siamese gene is recessive. If two Siamese rats are bred together, they will produce all Siamese babies. If a Siamese rat is bred to a black rat, it will produce all black babies, but if two of these babies are bred together, the litter will have one-fourth Siamese. The black rat is the best outcross for the Siamese – and it should be a good black, with no white anywhere, in order to avoid the white disqualification factor. Any babies that are born with white on the feet or tail should be sold as pets and not make its way to the show ring.
Very much like the Siamese Cat, the Siamese Rat is born with an even creamy-brown color. They do not begin to develop their points before their first moult, which makes it difficult to decide which ones to keep for a breeding program or show ring. At about five weeks, the ones that appear darkest and have the best foot color will probably have the best points and shading in the end.
Seal-point Siamese Rats are flashy, so when you have a good one, it will usually do well on the show bench. Because of the greed of pet stores which led to a lot of inbreeding, there are a lot of mediocre ones around, but there are a few breeders who have been working really hard at improving the breed. Males are a better choice for a show animal because, like in many species, the female routinely has more bland coloring than the male.
It is also necessary to prepare for the show. If the show is in the summer, make sure your rat is brought into an air conditioned area to help bring out the color in the points (please use common sense and refrain from using the refrigerator). Also bathe your rat about a week before the show so it will be clean and yet have enough time to regain its natural oils.
For more information on these and other fancy rats, please log on to www.afrma.org. And, remember, if you want to own a Siamese rat and if you have any interest in showing one, please do not go to a pet store. These rats will be mediocre in color at best, and could have health problems on top of bad color. Go to an experienced breeder. Just like cats, you get what you pay for!
Contact Rene Knapp at firstname.lastname@example.org.