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Dumbo Rat vs. Fancy Rat: What’s the Difference? (With Pictures)

dumbo rat vs fancy rat header

If you’ve been trying to decide on what sort of pet rat you should get, then you’ve probably seen the two main types of domestic rat available as pets: the Dumbo rat and the Fancy rat. These two varieties are actually both descended from the same species: the Norway rat, or Rattus norvegicus domestica.

This means that in terms of personality, health, and care, they’re both going to be extremely similar. This is one case where you can choose whichever one you like best!

Dumbo rats have larger and more prominent ears than their fancy rat friends. Dumbo rats were bred from fancy rats and are considered a separate variety within the fancy rat category listed on the National Fancy Rat Society pages.

Let’s find out a little more about both these adorable rat varieties!

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Visual Differences

dumbo vs fancy rat visual
Image Credits | Left: (Dumbo Rat) Maslov Dmitry, Shutterstock; Right: (Fancy Rat) olgagorovenko, Shutterstock

At a Glance

Dumbo Rat Breed
  • Average size (adult): Body 9-11 inches, tail 7-9 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 0.5 pounds-1.5 pounds
  • Lifespan: 18-36 months
  • Exercise: 1+ hours a day
  • Grooming needs: Low
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Sometimes
  • Trainability: Yes
Fancy Rat Breed
  • Average size (adult): Body 9-11 inches, tail 7-9 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 0.5 pounds-1.5 pounds
  • Lifespan: 18-36 months
  • Exercise: 1+ hours a day
  • Grooming needs: Low
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Sometimes
  • Trainability: Yes

Dumbo Rat Breed Overview

two dumbo rats
Image Credit: LankaP, Shutterstock

Dumbo rats are sweet-natured and easy to handle, and those large ears make them downright adorable to look at too! Of course, it’s no surprise that their name is inspired by the fictional elephant, Dumbo, with those large, circular ears.

Dumbo rats are actually considered a variety of the fancy rat, so both are the same species. The low-set and large ears of the dumbo rat are due to a gene known as “dmbo.” This recessive gene is only expressed as a physical characteristic when the rat inherits two genes, one from their mother and one from their father. It’s thought that the dumbo rat was first developed in the late 20th century.

Let’s take a look at more details about the dumbo rat.

Personality and Character

Dumbo rats are friendly and outgoing and usually love interacting with people. They’re sociable with other rats too, so it’s recommended to keep two rats together. Most breeders will be happy to provide a pair of siblings, and this is usually the best way to make sure your rats get along well. Of course, spaying and neutering are essential to make sure you don’t end up with an accidental litter of baby rats!

Rats are clever and love spending time out of their cages exploring their homes. Some owners say that male dumbo rats can be more relaxed and spend most of their time sleeping. Females may be a little more active. But either way, rats love to nap!

Health & Care

Dumbo rats can suffer from a few different health conditions, with the most common being respiratory problems and mammary tumors in females.

Rats are sociable creatures, so it’s best to keep them in pairs, either of the same sex or a male and female that have been neutered and spayed.

Dumbo rats should be housed in a wire cage at least 2-foot square, but the bigger, the better. Wood-based pellet bedding is not recommended because it contains toxic chemicals that can cause early death. Make sure to provide places for them to hide and areas for climbing.

They should be fed a high-quality pelleted food, with a small amount of fresh vegetables and protein in the form of meat or dog biscuits.

dumbo rat inside the cage
Image Credit: Maslov Dmitry, Shutterstock

Breeding

It’s not recommended to breed your own dumbo rats at home. Rat breeders will be experienced at knowing how to breed healthy rats, and the cost of baby rats is low enough that there are no financial benefits to trying to breed your own.

Suitability

Families looking for a playful and outgoing rodent pet will enjoy dumbo rats. They will need a large cage and at least an hour of exercise outside of their cage every day. They’re intelligent and affectionate and love interacting with humans. These sociable rodents will be happiest when kept with another rat for company. They can be easier to handle than smaller rodents, like hamsters, and tend to be awake during the day, meaning more play time!

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Fancy Rat Breed Overview

The fancy rat is the original variety of domestic rat from which the dumbo rat is descended! They’re considered the same variety by the National Fancy Rat Society.

Unlike the dumbo rat, fancy rats have small ears that are high up on their heads. You may sometimes see fancy rats called “top-eared” rats as another way to differentiate them from their larger-eared cousins.

Fancy rats are descended from wild-caught rats that were tamed in the 18th century. By now, the domestic rat is so far removed from their wild cousins that there are significant differences when it comes to appearance and coat color.

two fancy rats
Image Credit: Mary Swift, Shutterstock

Personality and Character

Fancy rats are intelligent and outgoing and enjoy interacting with their human families. They will happily spend time on your lap or sniffing around the house while you do chores. Some professional animal trainers say that fancy rats are one of the easiest and most rewarding animals to train, so you can have fun teaching your rat a few tricks. They can be trained to use a litter tray, come when called, sit, stay, and more!

Rats are extremely sociable and are used to living within family groups. Most breeders will recommend taking two baby rats home at the same time, so they can bond with each other and keep each other company. These should both be the same sex or be spayed and neutered as early as possible in order to prevent unwanted litters — and there can be up to 20 babies per litter!

Health & Care

Fancy rats are generally healthy pets, although they can suffer from two main health issues that can require medical care. Respiratory illnesses are relatively common, as are mammary tumors in non-spayed females.

The only downside is that fancy rats only live for around three years, which doesn’t feel like long enough when they’ve become a treasured member of your family!

Fancy rats need an enclosure of at least 2-foot square for a pair of rats. Wire cages are best, as long as they have a solid base. Rats love climbing and burrowing, so providing plenty of places for your rat to hide and climb is essential.

Paper bedding is best, and cedar bedding should never be used because it can be very toxic to rats. Wood bedding made from aspen is sometimes advertised, but in our opinion, it should also be avoided.

white fancy rat
Image Credit: olgagorovenko, Shutterstock

Breeding

Breeding your own fancy rats at home is not recommended. If you have a male and female pair, then they’re often from the same litter, in which case, you run the risk of the babies suffering from genetic illnesses due to inbreeding.

Professional rat breeders will carefully select their breeding rats for health and temperament, and rat kittens aren’t expensive, so this is definitely a job best left to the pros!

Suitability

Families looking for an intelligent and outgoing small pet will enjoy fancy rats. They are fun and love to play, meaning they can be rewarding to keep and care for. They are happiest kept as a pair but will still need plenty of time outside their cage interacting with their human families. They’re super smart, so set yourself a few training challenges and you’ll be impressed by what your new pets can learn!

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Which Breed Is Right for You?

The dumbo rat and the fancy rat are both varieties of the same species, the domestic rat, or Norway rat. The main difference between the dumbo rat and the fancy rat is the position and size of their ears.

Dumbo rats are the more modern variety and have been bred to have low-set ears, which stand out prominently from their heads. They can be found in any of the huge range of coat and eye colors that the fancy rat is found in.

Fancy rats have well-formed ears, which are set higher on their heads. You may see them called “top-eared,” which is just another way to distinguish them from their dumbo cousins. Fancy rats come in many different coat and eye colors, so whatever pattern you prefer, you’re bound to find an adorable rat to match!

In terms of their care, health, and personality, the dumbo rat and the fancy rat are exactly the same. So, no matter which one you prefer in terms of their appearance, you can expect their needs to be the same. Rats love playing, hanging out with their owners, and of course, napping! If you have either a fancy rat or a dumbo rat, we’d love to hear more about them in the comments.

 

Feature Image: LankaP, Shutterstock / Mary Swift, Shutterstock

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