Rats

How many rats should you keep?

Rats are extremely sociable and really thrive when they have the companionship of other rats. Lone rats crave this attention so will often become depressed or display aggressive or nervous behaviour.

Rat companionship

Rats are extremely sociable and really thrive when they have the companionship of other rats. Lone rats crave this attention so will often become depressed or display aggressive or nervous behaviour.

Rats can be housed in pairs, although a trio or more often live in better harmony as they create their own social network. Pairs of rats can sometimes get agitated with one another and will tend to show dominant behaviour. Time spent out of the cage and fun training can help prevent this.

It’s usually best to keep rats in same-sex groups. However, males can be castrated so they can be mixed with females if they don’t bond well with other male rats. Females can also be neutered by experienced, rat-friendly vets if they are particularly tricky to mix.

Introducing your rats to each other

Unlike the other small pet species, introducing rats is best done in a smaller neutral space, this reduces the chance of potentially dangerous fights starting out and encourages mutual feeding, grooming and the building of strong relationships quicker. Always start mixes early in the morning so you have plenty of time to monitor initial interactions.  The size of space very much depends on the number of rats that are going to be mixed, if mixing 1-4 rats, a top opening cat carrier is ideal.  Place some bedding on the floor such as short shredded paper and scatter a small amount of food on the floor with a water bottle attached to the side. Avoid placing any enrichment or hides/hammocks in at this stage.

Place the rats in at the same time, expect to see quite a bit of activity at first whilst they assess who is who and decide who is going to be dominant.

Typical acceptable behaviours likely to be seen include:

  • Bottom sniffing
  • Sniffing and
  • Shuffling round the bedding,
  • The more dominant potentially fluffing their coats and regularly placing their paws on the back on the others to try to be assertive.
  • Self-grooming,
  • Small amount of squeaking.
  • Submissive rats will move around less
  • All rats choosing to sit apart after a few moments of initial full on activity.
  • Eventually falling asleep curled up alone during the first few hours
  • Sleep bundles when they are more content

In most cases the rats will need to stay in this small space for 24 hours and in some cases when doing a tricky mix with rats known to be strong characters 48 hours is needed. If the mix is showing positive behaviours and they are choosing to sleep close to each other, movements are slower and there is clearly less tention, you can consider moving them into a slightly bigger space. A large hamster cage with no enrichment is ideal, add some of their bedding from the small space over to the next stage cage and again scatter food and add a water bottle.

If after a few hours they are relaxed, and no signs of a bond brake down is evident, a hammock can be placed in to add a bit or interest.

The rats shouldn’t need to stay in this space for much more than 24 hours, if all rats seem content and a clear hierarchy has been achieved, they can then be placed into their permanent cage.

For the first week or so keep enrichment simple with a few hammocks, ropes and even a suitably sized wheel. Slowly add a few new enrichment items every few days including more enclosed hides until you are at your normal enrichment level.

Keep a close eye on your rats for the first two weeks

Health check each rat regularly throughout the first two weeks of introductions to monitor for any injuries. Fight wounds can get infected, you may need to take your rats to your vet for a check-up.

If you are unsure of how your mix is going or you need support mixing your pet rats please contact us.

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