If your friend told you they had a pet rat? What would be your immediate reaction? Surprise? Disgust? Indifference? Ever since I have gotten my pet rat, I have been disappointed with people's reactions to it. When I tell someone, excitedly, about my new little buddy, the response is almost never positive.
Here's the thing: I understand the bad connotations with rats. They're scary, dirty, carry diseases, etc. I dont' think people ever really got over an avoidance of rats after that whole Black Plague deal. But I'm here to tell you that your perceptions about rats - at least the pet kind - are probably way off the mark.
I chose a rat because I wanted a pet, someone to keep me company, but my apartment complex does not allow animals. Among all small animals, rats are the smartest (hence why they are so often used in lab testing). Rats have often been compared to dogs in terms of intelligence. You can even train them to do tricks just as you would a dog! On top of that, they are fun, affectionate, and yes, clean. Rats are actually very similar to cats in their cleanliness - I catch my little buddy cleaning himself all the time. No one likes to feel dirty, rats included!
Rats are also great pets if you have a low budget. The cage and everything to get started was expensive (I think I spent around $70 when I first bought everything including the rat), but after that it is incredibly cheap. The food I get is around $2 and will last my rat 2-3 weeks. The bedding for the cage is a little more costly, at around $3 for a bag that will probably last you 2 weeks. All in all, that's not much spent per month at all! Plus, they don't need shots or anything like larger pets do.
Rats are very social animals and love to hang out, both with each other and with their human owners. They are so social, in fact, that I highly recommend you get your rat a friend to hang out with when you aren't around. Without constant social interaction, rats can become very depressed. Don't worry, owning two rats is no more difficult than owning one! (My roommate got a rat after I got mine, and we raise both of them together).
And one more great thing about pet rats: they are cute. I know, I know, you probably don't believe me. Neither did any of my friends, until I made them come over and meet my pet. Now they can't get enough of him! He's energetic, and loves climbing up your arms and sniffing you, which tickles because of his whiskers. He'll run around the floor for hours, gathering things up to make little nests for himself. He's nothing like the classic image of a big, scary black rat either: he is very lean, and white with a tan patch on his head and a couple of tan spots. Truly adorable!
Overall, if you are considering getting a new pet I recommend that you at least give rats a chance. They have a bad rap, which they really don't deserve. Just go to the pet store, try holding one, and have someone who works there explain all the cool stuff they can do. Chances are you'll have more fun than you ever imagined!