Are you wanting to get more pet rats to add to your existing pack? I want to discuss all the things you should consider before taking this leap. Introducing rats can take anywhere between a few days and months, so it is necessary to remain patient and keep trying with the introduction. The easiest rats to introduce are females, neutered males, or younger rats, however, most rats are accepting to other rats given the opportunity. CAUTION: make sure to not introduce baby rats under 6 weeks old, as adult rats may kill unfamiliar babies.
Now let’s get into it…
Things to know before introducing rats.
Can I introduce the rats using 1 cage?
NO! You need 2 cages to successfully introduce rats, as this reduces territorial aggression and gives the rats a better chance of getting along. The new rat’s cage doesn’t have to be as big as the other cage, as this isn’t their permanent home. As well as this, it is good to have 2 cages so that you can quarantine the new rats for 2 to 3 weeks prior to the introduction, to ensure they don’t spread any disease to your existing rats.
What are signs of aggression?
Some signs of aggression include puffed fur, arched backs, walking sideways, swaying and lunging. As well as this, teeth chattering can be a sign of distress. If an aggressive fight begins, where a rat has been or is about to be hurt, make sure to use a towel or something other than bare hands to separate them. Most of the fights you will see, tend to be play fights which can involve squeaking, grooming, and boxing. These activities should be encouraged to allow the rats to establish dominance and learn to live with one another.
Step 1 – Introducing cages.
Before introducing the rats to one another, you should put the two cages side by side (in the same environment). This is to allow the rats to recognise each other’s scents, sounds and looks. CAUTION: make sure that the cages are not too close together, to ensure the rats can’t grab or bite each other through the cage bars. The cages should be organised like this for at least a couple of hours, but for a full day is ideal.
To further the introduction of each other’s scents; it is beneficial to swap an item from each cage and put it in the other. This must be something they use regularly so that it has a strong concentration of their smell. This allows the rats to, in effect, “meet” each other before meeting each other.
Finally, you should put the new rats into the existing cage to enhance this scent introduction. CAUTION: make sure that the resident rats are not in the cage during this process as it can be very distressing for them, as they perceive it as an intrusion. Allow some time for the new rats to investigate the cage they will soon be living in until they seem more comfortable in there than they were.
Step 2 – Introduction on neutral ground.
It is crucial to introduce the rats on neutral grounds, to ensure that there are no scents influencing the behaviour of the rats. Neutral ground is an area where neither group of rats regularly go and leave their scents. Some good examples include the shower base, the bathtub, a sofa/armchair or on a table.
Once you have identified your neutral ground, place the existing and new rats there and allow them to investigate and meet one another. Make sure to keep a close eye on all the rats to check for signs of aggression. When watching the rats, bear in mind that rats commonly play fight and wrestle for dominance. This can look more serious than it is, however, just use your instincts and if it looks to be too aggressive or a rat gets injured, split them up immediately.
It is most beneficial to allow this introduction to continue for around 30 minutes; but if they are struggling to get along this time can be decreased. If you feel as though the rats need more time together before moving into the cage, that is fine and encouraged until they are getting along well.
Step 3 – Making it official.
Once the rats are getting along, it is time to move everyone in together! To get the process started, the permanent cage should be cleaned out, to remove any previous scents. This makes the rats less likely become territorial and show aggression. When cleaning the cage, you should make sure that everything is scrubbed down, bedding is changed, and hammocks are washed.
After the cage is ready, the rats can move in! It is so important to have a big enough cage to house all the rats, ensuring they can all have their own personal space. Also, because rats need constant stimulation, it is crucial to have a cage that can accommodate lots of different toys and accessories.
Making sure to keep a close eye on the rats, is once again key to ensure that the rats are not showing aggression towards each other. You should listen out for any squeaking, banging, and shrieking, as it is not always possible to see the rats in the cage. Hiding is a comfort mechanism for rats, so it can be difficult to establish whether aggression is being shown.
Patience is key.
Male rats especially can show aggression to unknown rats and defend their territory. Most of the time this aggression will go away, after the rats become more familiar with one another. It is fine if you need to repeat some of the steps listed above to ensure their bonding and make a safe and comfortable environment for all the rats. Sometimes male rats can show aggression due to their hormones, which means neutering can be necessary in some cases. But always check with the vets to see if this is the appropriate route to take!
Most rats will be acceptable to other rats eventually, however, sometimes you do have to give up. Whilst staying patient is key, you should know when to give them a break. For example, if a rat fears other rats, it may be best to leave them alone rather than forcing them to get along when they don’t. You want them to bond not be forced into living together!
Bonding is important between rats, to live happily with each other and establish a dominance hierarchy. There are many bonding methods that can be used if your rats aren’t taking to each other without a push. You can put both rat groups on your lap to show them that you have accepted the newcomers and encourage them to get along. Or you can use bath bonding, where you use a shallow warm bath (as rats don’t really like baths) to encourage them to bond to each other from the stress of the bath.
Food can be a great way to push the bonding of the rats along; for example, baby food can be wiped on the backs of the rats to encourage them to groom each other. Also, you can dab some vanilla extract on your rat’s backs, to mask their natural scents and discourage being threatened by the stranger rats. Treats can also be used as a distraction and to teach your rats that they do not need to fight over food, as there is enough to go around.
Free roam introductions.
If you have allowed the rats to meet on neutral ground, and they are getting along but you aren’t ready to move them in together, free roam introductions come in handy. Allowing the rats to play in the free-roam area, gives them an opportunity to interact with the possibility of territorial aggression. This will be a tell-tale sign of whether they are going to take well to being in the cage together, but don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t work right away.
These are most of the tips and tricks you will need to introduce new rats to your original pack, but if you have rats from the same litter, these steps will be a lot easier. Do you now feel ready to introduce your new furry friends? If you decide to get pet rats or know anyone planning to, make sure to do the research and check out our website www.rattyfatty.co.uk for a RattyFatty starter/subscription kit or extra accessories and snacks.