LONDON (Reuters) - It has four legs and a tail like a dog or a cat, so why shouldn't man's best friend be a...rat?

Demand for rats as pets has surged thanks to the latest Disney/Pixar animated film "Ratatouille" featuring the adventures of a gourmet rat Remy demonstrating his culinary prowess in the top kitchens of Paris.

Pets at Home domestic pet chain says rat sales have surged 50 percent since the film opened in Britain on October 12.

"It's early doors yet, but it seems 'Ratatouille' has done wonders for the image of rats," said company spokesman Steve Fairburn said on the Web site.

"Contrary to popular opinion, rats are actually one of the cleanest and least smelly pets you can own. They are incredibly responsive to learning and can be taught to do amazing tricks, much in the way that dogs and cats can," he added.

Indeed, the British experience appears to have been echoed wherever the film has been screened.

The United States reported a surge in demand for pet rats during the summer, and pet groups in Germany and Sweden have also said rat sales have surged thanks to the film.

But they also warn that, as with demand for pet puppies and kittens that can fade once the cute factor diminishes with age, a rat is for life not just the holidays.