Teaching your old rats to get along with your new rats.
Now you’ve had your pet rats for quite some time and you have likely realized that you are hopelessly addicted. Don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal and happens to the best of us. A sudden urge strikes…”I must have more rats!” But will they get along with your current rats? Well, there is no guarantee that any given group of rats will get along, but you won’t know until you try. More times than not, all goes well with a little time and lots of patience.
The first thing to keep in mind is that adult rats will be more likely to accept a baby rat than another adult. Baby rats are of less threat to them and will usually succumb to the adult rat. Before you go out to get new rats be sure that you have plenty of time and patience for the task ahead of you. Introductions can be a long process and may not work at all, which means you should be prepared to be able to house rats in two different cages if necessary.
First of all, it is recommended to get two new babies, rather than just one, when you add to your colony. This way you don’t have one little, new rat cowering alone in the corner, and it will have a buddy when facing the original resident rats. When you first bring home the new rats DO NOT put them directly into the current rats cage or territory. In fact, don’t even let them in the same room. You never know what unseen illness a baby rat could be carrying. You should always quarantine new rats for at least 2 – 4 weeks before bringing them near your current rats. This will give plenty of time for any sickness they may have to fully develop and be treated, rather than giving it directly to your current rats.
After the quarantine period is over and you are sure that the babies are healthy it’s time to start introductions. Begin by taking something from each rat cage and putting it in the other cage. This gives each rat a chance to smell the new rat without actually seeing it first. This is their first sign that something is new. Do this for a few days, swapping back and forth. While you are doing this you may want to also place the cages close together so they can see and smell each other, but don’t put the cages so close that they can touch each other. Rats will find ways to bite each other through cage bars if they are determined enough to do so.
Next you should swap each rat into the other’s cage. Do NOT do this while the cage is occupied by the other rat. Take one rat out, then put the other rat in. This gives each rat a chance to explore the other’s territory and learn each other’s scent. There will be much sniffing about and marking during this time. Leave them in the opposite cage for a bit, 20 minutes or so, and then swap them back. Continue to do this for a few days.
Now the real fun begins. Choose a neutral spot that neither rat is accustomed to. Many people prefer to use the bathtub for the first face-to-face meeting. To mask any strong scent you may want to dab some vanilla essence or perfume on each rat. This will make them both smell similar. Be prepared to see some scuffling about during the first moments of the introduction. There may be aggressive grooming and some slight squeaking going on. The resident rats will often puff out their fur to appear as big as they can in hopes of scaring off the new rats (see photo on right). This is all normal. It is also common for the current rat to throw the new rat on its back and heavily groom it. This is the rat’s way of showing dominance over the new arrival. Have a water gun or squirt bottle handy in case a serious fight breaks out. In the case of a serious biting fight be very careful in separating the rats. A rat bite, even if not meant towards you, can be very painful. Wearing gloves or keeping a towel handy can aid in this type of separation.
If they seem to be getting along fairly well, continue to let them wander around for 20 minutes or so. Do this every night for about a week while carefully observing their behavior. This time period will give you a good idea on how things are going to go. Still do NOT put them in the same cage yet. The cage is each rat’s own territory and they will not be happy to share it at first.
After these many successful “play dates” it is time to move them to the same cage. Choose the cage you wish to use and remove all objects. Thoroughly scrub the cage and all cage accessories of any scent that may be on them. Use a diluted bleach, soap, or Lysol mixture and be sure to rinse them well. Put in new cage bedding. Dabbing vanilla essence or perfume on each rat again may be a good idea. Place each rat in the cage and carefully watch them. Again, you will most likely see much scuffling and aggressive grooming. They are determining dominance at this point, finding out who the boss of the house is. As long as they are not seriously hurting each other, leave them there while keeping watch over them for a while. Hopefully this will be the beginning of a wonderful, new relationship.
You will probably notice much scuffling and squeaking over the next several days. Once they get used to each other they will usually be quite content. You will begin to find them sleeping and eating together, grooming each other and play-fighting.
And then they live happily ever after….until your next new addition, that is.