A Real Rat Race?


Newsweek / University of Richmond


It might seem impossible, but science has proven that rats are capable of driving, too. 


Scientists at the University of Richmond worked on a study to look at a rat’s neuroplasticity - the brain’s ability to change over time- with the hope of finding information that could help with treating mental illness in humans. 


To accomplish this, scientists used rats split into two groups. One group had access to enrichment toys, such as ropes and ladders, while the other “standard” group did not. CNN reported that rats were taught how to use a “rat-operated vehicle” or ROV, made with a one gallon plastic container turned on its side, an aluminum floor and three copper bars for steering. After hitting a target, the rats could enjoy some Froot Loops cereal as a reward. 


The experiment proved that, yes - rats have the ability to sit in a mini car and steer themselves to a designated location. However, scientists saw a much greater rate of success and interest in rats that were exposed to an enriched environment, as compared to rats that were not.  


As we’ve seen before with other small animals, having enrichment toys makes a big impact on a pet’s mental well-being, and in this case, the rats with access to enriched experiences proved to be better drivers. 


In addition to picking up a neat new skill, the rats stress levels also decreased. When scientists examined the rats’ feces, they noticed less of corticosterone and DHEA hormones in both groups, which therefore “suggests that driving training, regardless of housing group, enhanced markers of emotional resilience,” according to the study. 


“It is likely that driving gives rats the sense of control over their environment,” said Kelly Lambert, study author and head of the University of Richmond’s Lambert Behavioral Laboratory to CNN. This sense of control can help rodents - and potentially humans as well - deal with feelings of stress. 


While lab rats are raised differently than rats raised to be domesticated, all rats can benefit from having enrichment for mental stimulation. Lessening a pets stress is one of the greatest trends right now. Whether it’s CBD calming oils or interactive toys to distract pets from the cause of their stress - pet owners want pets to be as stress-free as possible. 


Love them or hate them, some believe that rats make great pets. And now, as an added bonus of providing enrichment and for a pet owner’s entertainment, rats can have their own real life rat race. 


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