One of the most rewarding things I find about owning pet rats is watching their interactions with each other and the way they relate to each other. Rats are such social animals and rely very strongly on the group dynamic in terms of their survival and happiness.
Introducing new rats into a group or one lone rat to another can be a difficult process but one which, if managed carefully, can result in a happy and fulfilled living arrangement for both parties. We have done this twice, first with a group of three girls, and then with two young boys and two adult boys; both times having found it incredibly interesting to observe.
I’m not an expert on rat behaviour, only know what I’ve learned from loving so much watching my little ones play out their natural behaviours and interactions, but just wanted to document the stages we went through with the introductions we’ve had as it was a nerve-wracking but fascinating process.
(Just to add in case anyone reading is looking to introduce, I know although we’ve been lucky in both our introductions that there can be the possibility of serious injury in some cases. We have seen a glimpse of this too having had one failed attempt to introduce – our old Pipkin, who I’d love to write about in more depth at some point, one of the most special rats we have owned but our most “damaged” rescue when he first arrived – he was a truly lovely boy who did live a happy little life with us but who we were never actually able to settle with any of our other boys due to his many problems interacting and severe aggression during all attempts. Introductions can have their risks, and this article on the Fancy Rats forum is very informative and advises on how to anticpate and avoid extremely aggressive behaviour if needed: http://www.fancyratsforum.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=52)
Our first experience of introducing rats was of adult females – our girl Peatie was on her own following the loss of her cagemate Smokie when we adopted Sylvie and Lizzie as company for her.
(L-R Peatie, Sylvie and Lizzie)
I believe from the reading we did on the topic beforehand that with adult to adult intros girls can be slightly less prone to aggression than boys and I have to say ours did handle the situation in a very ladylike manner!
Sylvie and Lizzie already lived together and were comfortable in their pair, and Peatie had lived as the more dominant rat with her sister Smokie until only a few weeks before so all were used to a pair scenario; and it was very interesting watching the dynamic of three and how each of them handled it.
(L-R: Sylvie and Lizzie, Peatie with Smokie)
At the time obviously we knew Peatie far better than we did Sylvie and Lizzie, who were new to us, but as we would come to know them all over time as much-loved pets, it comes as no surprise to us with the gift of hindsight that the first interaction to take place was Lizzie very quickly taking herself out of the battle for “top rat” that went on to play out. Probably our most timid and submissive rat ever, Lizzie was by nature always going to settle herself happily at the bottom of the pecking order – as she did, without any fuss, when first installed in her new mischief of three; leaving Sylvie and Peatie to continue their negotiations head to head!
We first introduced them all on a towel in the bath, in order to give them all a completely neutral area:
We did this every day for a few days for longer each time, and also kept their cages close by each other when they weren’t out, to let them get used to each other’s smells and behaviours, before eventually fully cleaning out the main rat cage, which Peatie had been living in, in order to try to make it too as neutral as possible, and letting all three settle in it.
We weren’t sure if we’d have to do this in stages too, but after a few tumbles and a bit of wariness, very much concentrated between Sylvie and Peatie, there was calm very quickly; although we did keep an eye on them for several hours to be sure. In most of these pictures Liz can’t be seen, hiding out of sight and observing Peatie and Sylvie’s discussions – she didn’t seem stressed at any time witnessing all this though and was just generally as we would come to know very submissive and content to take her place below both her cagemates quite happily. Most of Peatie and Sylve’s interactions were eye contact, often poised staring each other down for several minutes, but never fluffed up and seeming aggressive, more dancing round each other and testing each other out. It didn’t take too long for that to settle and ultimately it seemed that Peatie established herself as the most dominant of the three, but really in the end didn’t meet too much resitance with that at all, and the three girls were a very good fit for each other.
I think we were very lucky with this as our first experience of introducing rats, and I was so delighted to find this sight greeting me when I got home after their first day left together:
The three girls worked very well as a group and spent many happy days in dens and hammocks happily in their cage, and also playing together out free ranging, with never a glimpse again of any of the brief arguments they had at their first meeting! Just a few pictures of them all being very chilled…
Will write soon about the experience of introducing our current boys Harvey and Ty to our oldies Winston and Chae who they used to live with – this was when H & T were very young so it had its own dynamics, but was equally fascinating to me!
Love to hear about other experiences and stories of how your groups were formed so please feel free to join in if you have any and if any questions ask away 🙂