Varieties of fancy rat
Our pet rats are all the same breed (Rattus Norvegicus), the brown rat, but over the many years that they have been bred in domestication, a number of gene mutations have ocurred which have given rise to the different varieties around today. This article is intended to help pet owners to identify what varieties their rats are, but will only include the simple more readily available varieties. For complex and rare combinations of genes, it is worth browsing through the Hawthorn site here. A rat can combine one or more colours, with a marking, with a shading, and with physical differences to coat and or ears - these 'add up' to give the full variety, e.g. a black Berkshire, or a Russian blue agouti point hooded Siamese dumbo rex!
For most varieties, the National Fancy Rat Society have defined a standard which rats will be judged against at a show, but rats of a particular variety will vary, and not all will match the standard. The NFRS standards are here. Rats may also 'rust' which gives them a brown tinted patch, often over their rump.
a rusted russian blue rex
a rusted black
A rat which is not exhibiting any colour gene mutations will be an agouti. The agouti gene is the one that gives wild rats their brown colouring, and causes their hairs to have bands of colour over the black, known as ticking, as well as giving them a significantly paler belly. The full colour effect of an agouti coat will become stronger over the first few months. There is a recessive mutation of this gene which in the absence of any other colour mutations creates a black rat. Here the top and belly fur are one solid colour, and because of this, such a rat is often referred to as a self. All colour varieties will have a self version and an agouti version. Note: '"self" may also be used to refer to an unmarked rat.
close up of agouti hairs
close up of black hairs (with silvering)
Black - genetically black rats are rarely truly black, they may appear to be a faded black, or even dark brown.
Agouti - some agoutis have a greyish or very dark tone, whilst others are quite fiery.
a pale looking 'bad' black
a brownish 'bad' black with a ruby glint in his eyes
greyish agouti (and belly)
Chocolate - the chocolate gene is not bred by most mass producers, and therefore most petshop rats which appear chocolate are in fact likely to be bad blacks. Some chocolate rats look the same as a bad black, like bournville, but others can be a cadbury or even galaxy shade.
Chocolate agouti - these have a warmer overall appearance than agouti, because the black in the coat is replaced by the chocolate shade, and their bellies are more creamy than the normal grey of an agouti.
a lighter chocolate (also silvered) in front of a darker chocolate
a chocolate agouti (and belly)
There are two blue genes in the UK, British blue and Russian blue.
British blue - the standard for British blue calls for a dark shade, but most British blue pets will be lighter, some with a pale or even yellowish undercoat. The paler shades are often called American or powder blue.
British blue agouti - also called Opal due to the overall impression of blue/cream in the coat.
dark British blues
a common shade of British blue
powder blue (with yellowish undercoat)
a young powder blue next to a normal British blue
British blue agouti
British blue agouti hooded
Russian blue - the Russian blue coat texture is quite different from other varieties, it is more dense with few or no guard hairs, and has a speckling in the colour known as heathering. The colour is usually quite a dark blue, and is quite prone to rusting.
Russian blue agouti - this has a similar look to British blue agouti but is not as bright.
Russian blue, and close up of heathering
Russian blue agouti
There are two mink genes in the UK, English mink and American mink.
English mink - this is a grey brown, but is very variable between different rats, and also throughout a particular rat's life. Mink is prone to patchy moults.
English Cinnamon (the agouti version of mink) - often a quite orangey colour, but still with plenty of darker hairs (mink) visible within the coat.
American mink - generally a warmer brown than English mink, sometimes with a pinkish tone. American mink based rats usually have dark ruby eyes rather than black.
American cinnamon - not as bright as an English cinnamon, the American cinnamon coat is a mix of muted tones.
Champagne - this colour dilutes the eyes to light red, and may be so pale as to look almost like a PEW, or strong enough to look like a buff.
Silver fawn (the agouti version of champagne) - generally a distinctly strong orange colour, but can sometimes be quite pale. The ticking may not be easy to detect as the variation between the bands of colour on the hair is small. White belly and silver guard hairs.
a champagne hooded kitten
an adult pale champagne hooded
pale silver fawn
an orange silver fawn
silver fawn showing white underside
Buff - this colour makes the eyes a ruby red colour, fairly dark in natural light, but more red in the light of a camera flash. The coat is normally a dark cream.
Topaz (the agouti version of Buff) - a slightly softer shade of orange than silver fawn, with a blueish undercoat. Creamy belly and silver guard hairs.
A marked rat will not necessarily fit a description exactly, and some countries try to have a name for every possible arrangement of the coloured areas. In the UK we have just a few that are named, choose the closest, and call it mismarked if it's not an exact match to the NFRS standard. All marked varieties can come in any colour and or shading variety. Some will have either a head spot, or a blaze which can be anything from a broad triangle to an irregular line. Where a white marking touches an eye it will be lightened, sometimes producing a rat with odd eyes.
a topaz variegated where the blaze touches one eye
Berkshire - a Berkshire rat will have some white on their feet, tail, and belly. The belly patch(es) should cover most of the belly in a symetrical pattern, but range from being one large patch to several small patches, or may even be only a couple of hairs. A berkshire with a blaze is known as a badger.
english mink Berkshire
undermarked black Berkshire
overmarked silver fawn Berkshire
Hooded - colour is found on head, shoulders, and stripe down the back. The back may have an entire stripe or only a couple of splodges. There should be no colour on the belly - but often there are random patches of colour.
solid black hooded
mismarked broken black hooded
mismarked agouti hooded with head spot
undermarked black hooded (with rusting)
Bareback - colour is found on head and shoulders but not on the back or belly. These rats often have stray splodges of colour scattered around the body.
silver fawn bareback
Capped - colour is only found on the head, down to the jawline. Again, stray spots of colour are common.
Masked - colour is only found on the face. The rat should look like it is wearing a mask. Stray areas of colour are common.
agouti mismarked masked
Variegated - similar to a hooded but with a much wider area of colour across the back. Some or all of the colour on the back is broken up into spots. They will have either a head spot or a blaze.
mismarked black blazed variegated
more solid black variegated with head spot
two black blazed variegated
Irish - similar to a berkshire, but the white forms a small patch on the chest between the forearms.
well marked black irish due to the patch being triangular
mismarked black irish
Essex - the colour on an Essex gradually fades down its sides, and the main colour will seem lighter. They will have either a headspot or a blaze.
russian blue agouti Essex and an agouti Essex
agouti Essex showing the white under the body
Roan - a roan is born looking like a blazed Berkshire rat, but as it grows, white hairs appear whithin its coloured areas. This process makes the colour appear to fade and is called roaning. Some rats will roan completely in their first few months, ending up looking like a white rat, others will keep a fair bit of colour throughout their life. They may also be referred to as husky rats, which is okay in the UK as we don't have any real huskys so there is no confusion, but in America, a husky rat is a variety that doesn't roan. A striped roan has colour limited to the top of the head and a wide stripe down the back (sometimes called a banded husky).
a russian blue roan adult
the same russian blue roan as a kitten
a very faded mismarked black roan
an agouti striped roan
Silvered - lots of coloured rats will have some white hairs growing in their coat, and if there are enough to be noticeable, this is called silvering. Silvering develops when the rat is two to three months old, and often fades away after about a year.
silvered english mink
Pearl - either of the two mink genes will enable the Pearl gene to take effect if it is present. A pearl rat has pale roots to the hairs and is either very pale off white overall with a hint of colour on the tips of the coat, or may be a dark phased pearl (DPP) which just gives creamy roots, and may look very much like a mink or cinnamon with heavy silvering.
dark phased pearl, and close up of pale hair roots
a cinnamon pearl, and roots
Albino and PEW - the albino gene prevents the colour of the rat from showing at all, and so is a white rat with pink eyes. It is often called a PEW, a Pink Eyed White, but not all PEWs are albinos, there are other ways that a rat can end up being white with pink eyes. The agouti gene has no visible effect.
Himalayan - a white rat with points. This gene only allows the colour of the rat to show on its coldest parts, the feet, ears, nose, and base of tail. The colour will also be shifted to a browner tone e.g. a seal point is a black himalayan rat, but the points show very dark brown, and a blue point himalayan will have blue-brown points. The agouti gene is difficult to detect on a himalayan rat though often gives paler points. Himalayans will have light red, through to mid red eyes unless the black eyed gene is also acting.
seal point himalayan
Russian blue point himalayan rex
black eyed himalayan berkshire dumbo rex
Siamese - this gene results in a beige, through to cream coloured rat with points as per the himalayan, but there is usually darker shading spreading up over the rump, but this might be very patchy. An agouti based siamese may have less solid, or paler points than a self. Eyes will normally be a mid red through to ruby, unless the black eyed gene is present. Young siamese are beige all over before their kitten moult.
black eyed siamese
Note that both Himalayan and Siamese may appear to be missing some points if they are also marked. A berkshire will have white socks which may completely or partially cover the feet points. A hooded will also not show feet points, and may even be missing the point at the base of the tail. A Roan may be missing all the points except perhaps the ears. A very young siamese will show their full markings as there will be a visible difference between their beige kitten coat and the white areas of the markings, but these markings will seem to disappear when they moult (however they may return to some degree when the siamese gets darker shading as they age).
a siamese hooded
a siamese bekshire dumbo - note the white socks
a siamese badger dumbo
Burmese - this is a brown bodied version of a siamese, and will have darker points on an overall mid brown body (if its a black burmese). A russian blue burmese will be a grey brown colour. A sable burmese is darker still, such that the points may not be discernible.
Wheaten burmese (the agouti version of burmese) - this is a wheaty looking colour, sometimes with orange tones, sometimes not.
russian burmese dumbo
Top eared/dumbo - normally a rat will have ears that are slightly furled and sit pointing upwards on top of the head (although some may generally hold their ears at an angle and are colloquially called hat eared), but a dumbo rat's ears are positioned lower, on the sides of the head, and are opened out, making them appear bigger. Note that rats can change the angle of their ears to some extent, in order to focus their hearing.
a top eared rat
a top eared rat with 'hat ears'
a dumbo eared rat
Rex - rex rats have a curl to their whiskers and coat, caused by a lack of guard hairs. Some may have only a slight curve, others may have tight curls. If the coat is particularly curly and soft, then the rat will generally end up with some threadbare zones on their flanks in their older age.
a tightly curled chocolate agouti rex
wavy coated rex dumbo
threadbare rusted black rex dumbo
whiskers on a rex
Double rex/hairless - rats with less hair than normal are either double rex or hairless. They may have some amount of fuzzy hair all over, or just around their faces, or may be totally naked.
black double rex dumbo
a young hairless dumbo covered in fuzz
a hairless buff
The Fancy Rats Team would like to thank all those who have given permission for their pictures to appear in this article.
Author: Mary Giles
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