Rat Terrier Dog Breed: Essential Info & Insights 2024

two tri color rat terriers looking at camera
Image by Angel LeBlanc

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Are you looking for a dog that is loyal, independent, and full of personality? Then you may be interested in the rat terrier – a small breed with a lot of heart. This hardy little working dog has been known to charm many an owner with its charming good looks and winning character. Whether you are living on a farm or in an urban apartment, the Rat Terrier makes an excellent companion due to their intelligence and affectionate nature. In this post, we take an in-depth look at these lovable dogs – exploring their unique history and temperamental traits so that you can decide if they’re suitable for your family.

Overview of the Rat Terrier

At a Glance

Life Expectancy: 12 – 18 Years
Height at the Withers: 10 – 13″ (miniature), 13 – 18″ (standard)
Weight: 10 – 25 lbs
Shedding: Moderate
Grooming Needs: Light

Rat Terrier History

The Rat Terrier is an American breed developed through strategic breeding that involved a variety of breeds. This expansive family included the Bull Terrier, Fox Terrier, Whippet, Manchester Terrier, Beagle, Smooth Fox Terrier, American Hairless Terrier, Greyhound, and many more. These dogs were initially cultivated for their proficiency in ratting and farm work, making them adaptable and eager canine companions with a keen instinct for hunting rodents and small game as a farm dog.

The breed has a rich history dating back to the early 20th century, with the moniker ‘Rat Terrier’ popularized by Teddy Roosevelt. Despite its longstanding presence, it wasn’t until 1999 that the Rat Terrier gained official recognition in the terrier group from the United Kennel Club (UKC), with the American Kennel Club (AKC) extending its recognition in 2013.

Rat Terrier Traits

Appearance & Coat Color

The Rat Terrier presents a striking, particolored coat in two distinct sizes: Miniature and Standard. The Standard variety is marginally larger than its Miniature counterpart. This breed boasts a compact, proportionate physique that exudes strength and agility, contributing to a robust yet refined profile. The demeanor of a Rat Terrier is one of keen alertness paired with an intelligent gaze.

Sporting a sleek and glossy coat, the Rat Terrier comes in an array of pied patterns and a spectrum of colors. The breed’s aesthetic diversity is celebrated by the American Kennel Club (AKC), which acknowledges 18 color variations and nine specific markings for this breed.


Rat Terriers exude a playful and cheerful disposition, positioning them as excellent family pets, especially in households with considerate children. They are intelligent and typically respond well to training, although they may exhibit a touch of the characteristic terrier stubbornness.

Their compact stature, coupled with their spirited nature, makes them ideal companions for those who love to travel and seek a small, adventurous dog to join in on their journeys. A Rat Terrier bred with care will generally display sociability towards other dogs and warmth towards humans, often after a brief initial reserve.

Rat Terrier Care

Training and Exercise Needs

Rat Terriers are bundles of energy and intellect that thrive with adequate mental stimulation and physical activity. These dogs are at their best when engaged in daily outdoor activities that allow them to satisfy their curiosity and innate desire to roam and sprint. Due to their inherent prey drive, Rat Terriers should only be let off-leash if they have undergone comprehensive training for such freedom; otherwise, they should be provided with a secure area or a lengthy lead to ensure their safety during exercise.

Early socialization and structured puppy training classes are crucial for Rat Terriers, setting the stage for a well-adjusted adult dog. Despite their small size, they possess a significant amount of vigor and require appropriate channels for their energy. Rat Terriers excel in various dog sports, including agility, obedience, rally, and barn hunt, showcasing their versatility and eagerness to perform.

Grooming Needs

Rat Terriers are an ideal choice for individuals who may need more time or have little desire to engage in extensive grooming routines. They boast a low-maintenance coat, requiring only a weekly brushing to maintain a healthy sheen and minimize shedding. Baths can be infrequent and generally recommended every 4-8 weeks, aligning with their seasonal shedding pattern.

Grooming Tools

  • A soft-bristled brush for routine grooming sessions.
  • A rubber curry brush can be particularly effective during periods of increased shedding.

Dental Hygiene

Maintaining your Rat Terrier’s dental health is essential. Regular brushing of their teeth can significantly reduce the risk of plaque and tartar accumulation. For those who prefer an alternative to brushing, offering a daily dental chew or a marrow bone under supervision once a week can be effective. These items work to clean teeth mechanically, much like a toothbrush, by removing plaque through the action of chewing.

Rat Terrier Health

Rat Terriers are generally known for their robust health, but like all breeds, they have certain health conditions to which they may be predisposed. Ethical breeding practices, including thorough health screenings by responsible breeders, are vital in mitigating these risks.

Rat Terrier Lifespan

On average, a Rat Terrier lasts 12 to 18 years, offering a long-term commitment of loyalty and companionship to their owners.

Health Issues

While Rat Terriers are hearty dogs, they can be prone to specific health concerns that prospective owners should consider. These include:

  • Hip Dysplasia: This is a genetic condition where the thighbone doesn’t fit snugly into the hip joint. Regular vet check-ups and maintaining a healthy weight can help manage this condition.
  • Patellar Luxation: Also known as ‘slipped stifles,’ this common problem in small dogs can cause lameness or an abnormal gait. This condition may require surgical intervention in severe cases.
  • Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease: This involves the degeneration of the head of the femur bone, leading to hip joint collapse and arthritis. Early detection and surgical treatment can improve the prognosis.
  • Cardiac Problems: Rat Terriers may be susceptible to certain heart conditions, so regular veterinary heart evaluations are recommended.
  • Eye Disorders: This encompasses a range of issues, such as cataracts and primary lens luxation, which should be screened for to ensure early treatment and to maintain quality of life.

By being aware of these health issues and working with a vet to monitor their Rat Terrier’s health, owners can help ensure their pets lead a full and active life.

Recommended Health Testing for Rat Terriers

The Rat Terrier Club of America (RTCA) is deeply committed to the well-being and longevity of the Rat Terrier breed. To safeguard the health and preserve the distinctive qualities of these dogs, the RTCA mandates comprehensive health testing for breeding animals among its members. These preventative measures ensure that Rat Terriers remain free of genetic diseases and maintain the breed’s hallmark size, disposition, and characteristics. The RTCA’s dedication to the breed is reflected in its advocacy for responsible Rat Terrier ownership.

The RTCA requires the following health tests to promote the breeding of healthy Rat Terriers:

  • Cardiac Evaluation: To screen for any hereditary heart conditions that could affect the Rat Terrier’s health and longevity.
  • Hip Evaluation (OFA or PennHIP): To assess the integrity of the dog’s hip joints and to screen for hip dysplasia, a condition that can lead to pain and mobility issues.
  • Patellar Luxation Examination: To check for the dislocation of the kneecap, which can be a common issue in small breeds.
  • Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease Screening: To detect this degenerative disease early, which affects the femur bone and hip joint.
  • Primary Lens Luxation (DNA test): To identify carriers or dogs affected by this genetic eye disorder that can lead to blindness if not treated.

By adhering to these testing protocols, the RTCA aims to support the breeding of healthy Rat Terriers and assist prospective owners in making informed decisions when selecting their pets.

Puppy Cost

Investing in a Rat Terrier puppy from a conscientious breeder may require an initial outlay of $800 to $1500 or more. This expenditure is often justified by the value it brings over time. Esteemed breeders are committed to the breed’s standard, focusing on temperament and optimal health in their puppies. The joy and companionship of owning a Rat Terrier are unparalleled, making the initial investment a worthwhile decision for a healthy and delightful canine friend.

Responsible Breeders

The issue of overbreeding is a significant concern within the Rat Terrier community, underscoring the importance of responsible breeding practices. Rat Terriers that come from unscrupulous breeders may face a host of preventable health problems due to neglect and a lack of selective breeding protocols.

Ethical Rat Terrier breeders prioritize the health of their dogs by conducting thorough genetic screenings and adhering to humane breeding standards. Prospective Rat Terrier owners should engage in diligent research to ensure they are adopting from a breeder who is committed to the well-being of their animals. A healthy, well-adjusted Rat Terrier is often the hallmark of a responsible breeder.

Rat Terrier Breed Rescues

Rat Terrier rescue organizations are a compassionate alternative for those looking to welcome a Rat Terrier into their lives. These rescues provide a sanctuary for purebred Rat Terriers and their mixes who have been relinquished, deserted, or lost. They offer these dogs a new opportunity to find loving, permanent homes.

The individuals behind Rat Terrier rescues are often profoundly knowledgeable about the breed and are dedicated to ensuring that each dog is placed in an environment suited to their needs. For those considering adopting a Rat Terrier, these rescues are an excellent place to start. They not only help potential owners find a match but also contribute to the welfare of these dogs by reducing the number of animals in need.

If you’re interested in adopting and are ready to offer a Rat Terrier a loving home, consider reaching out to the following Rat Terrier rescues:

Books About the Rat Terrier


  1. “Rat Terrier AKC Breed Standard”. Rat Terrier Club of America, https://ratterrierclubofamerica.org/
  2. “Rat Terrier”. American Kennel Club, https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/rat-terrier/

Meraki Dogs only uses high-quality sources to support the facts within our articles.

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