Our older pet rat seems to hate our new little one - beating her up and pulling her fur out. We fear we won't be able to put them in the same cage ever. Introducing them in neutral territory doesn't seem to work. Advice?
Hi There, korastus!
Without knowing a whole lot of the details, it sounds like you may have introduced them too rapidly. Sometimes it can take several weeks for introductions.
Whenever an intro is not working, the best thing to do is to go back a step or two…..or even back to the beginning.
I’m not sure if you’ve already followed these steps so, at the risk of telling you things you already know, here are the steps I use for introducing pet rats to one another:
Quarantine any new rats for 3 weeks. (I realize you have probably already done this, but thought I’d include it here in case there are other pet rat lovers who might be helped by knowing about this.)
While in the quarantine phase it’s important to:
- Keep you new rat in a part of your house/apartment that
doesn’t share “airspace” with your current rat(s). It’s absolutely necessary
they be in a different room. In addition, the room in which your new rat is housed should be as far away from your
current rat(s) as possible.
- Change your clothes after being with your new rat. This
helps prevent the spread of any disease.
- An extra layer of cautiousness can be exercised by showering
after visiting with your new rat and before visiting with your current rat(s)
- Have your new rat examined by a veterinarian familiar with pet rats. This way a doctor/patient relationship can be established and your veterinarian may catch something you haven’t yet noticed…making it lots easier to treat or take care of and lessening any risks for your current rats.
Tips for intro sessions:
- Conduct at least two sessions a day, ideally at least one in the morning and one in the evening.
- Keep the sessions brief, lasting for only 10-15 minutes. Your goal is
to not even give them a chance to get upset, anxious or aggressive. If you see
they’re about to get into a negative/combative attitude, stop the intro session immediately and do so in a calm manner.
- If you’ve observed aggression and/or non-receptivity, either 1) back up a step, 2) keep repeating the phase you’re
in or 3) even go back to the beginning until you see your rats are comfortable with each particular phase.
- While introducing your rats, talk softly and let them know everything is okay. They’ll definitely pick up on your emotions so it’s important you’re calm and relaxed during the introductions.
Place your new rat and current rat(s) in separate small cages. Cat carriers work perfectly for this. Position the carriers a few inches apart and allow your rats to sniff the air and to see one another through the bars of the cat carrier.
If you any of your rats start puffing up, sidling toward the door of the carrier, making “hissing” sounds or ANY sign of aggression, stop the intro session for that day.
The next day repeat the intro, but place the carriers farther apart than before. When all goes well, repeat intros gradually placing the carriers closer together.
As always, conduct this intro phase for no more than 10-15 minutes. If any sign of distress is observed, stop the session for that day.
After you’ve observed them being curious and interested in one another while in their separate carriers, switch out the carriers so they’re each in a different
carrier than they were before.
Repeat, allowing them to sniff and see one another while in separate carriers.
Do this for 4-7 days.
If they seem comfortable after 4-7 days (i.e. they seem curious about one another instead of aggressive or anxious), it’s time to move to the next phase.
Place dabs of food (the consistency of a thick liquid or pudding) on a dinner plate. The idea is you want to create a communal dining experience. I choose to feed only organic foods for my rats (and for myself).
Types of Food That Work Well:
- Baby food – organic chicken is a great choice
- Soy yogurt
- Tomato sauce
Dab samples of various liquid foods around the perimeter of a dinner plate:
Cover a bed or a large table with a blanket and place the dinner plate in the middle. Alternatively, the floor in a rat-proofed bathroom also works well.
Have on hand a bath towel as well as a roll of paper towels. These can be used to quickly separate your rats from one another in case you observe aggression.
Here’s a video of Phase Two introductions with two of my own rats. Notice one rat flips the other onto her back. The rat being flipped doesn’t mind it—so this means the introduction is going successfully.
Often one rat will need to be in charge (regardless of age). As long as the non-dominant rat accepts being flipped and pinned on his or her back, there’s no problem.
If your rats are food motivated and really like eating the
foods on the dinner plate you’ve provided, each day choose a smaller size dish until you’re down to the size of a
soy sauce dish:
For this phase, I like to use a separate cage from the normal cage in which my rats are housed in. I love using the Rat Manor for this. Place your new rat and one of your current rats in the cage together. The idea behind this is that both rats are in a totally new territory. They become “united” while they explore the new territory together.
As always, the first session should be only 10-15 minutes. If they seem to be getting along fine, increase each session by about 5 minutes until you’re up to 30 minutes—at which time you’re ready for Phase Four.
ABOVE PHOTO (Day One in Phase Three): They’re co-existing on two levels apart from one another
ABOVE PHOTO (Day Four in Phase Three): They’re sleeping side by side
Before placing your rats together in their regular cage, make sure to clean and disinfect your regular cage. Once your rats’ regular cage is cleaned, disinfected and completely redecorated, place your rats together in the cage.
Be prepared with a towel and a roll of paper towels in case you need to separate them.
At this point, if they seem to be getting along well, you can leave them together.
As an extra precaution, however, plan on being in the same room with them for several hours. If you see them behaving peacefully (i.e. cuddling, eating food side by side, building nests together) you’ll know it’s a success.
If you observe any sort of animosity, however, this is your cue to go back at least one step or phase.
I hope my response gives you some ideas with how to improve the situation with your older rat and the new, younger, one. One thing not mentioned above is to make sure that your older rat knows you care for her the most. She needs to know she’s Number One and you can show her that by giving her extra love and attention.
If I haven’t properly or thoroughly answered your question, feel free to let me know additional information and I’ll be glad to answer further. Don’t hesitate to to ask if you have any additional questions.
Best Wishes to You & Your Rats,
Jasmine | About Pet Rats