Rat Health Care & Information
Introducing New Rats
It's always exciting to bring home a couple of new rats, whether it's your first rats or an addition to existing rats. If you're relatively new to rat-keeping, however, you might be a little concerned about whether the new rats are settling in all right. One important thing to keep in mind is that rats are very social creatures. They are happier and live longer when they are kept in groups of at least two of the same sex.
Rats should not be kept on their own, there is an excellent article on the NFRS website on why rats should not be kept alone. Rats thrive with company of their own kind and it's much easier to let someone else scratch and groom the bits you can't quite reach. Also even the rats who get the most attention are likely to spend about 20 hours per day in their cages.
There are two areas to watch: health and behaviour. Both are likely to be under stress, because the rats are experiencing some very large changes in their lives. Nearly everything around them will be new. Their cage will be different, the litter and bedding may be different, their diet may be changed, and the people around them will be new and strange to them. If you're introducing them to an established group of rats, that's an additional strain on them - it's better to wait for a week or so before introducing them to existing rats and also good to consider quarantine procedures.
During the first few days they may exhibit signs of physical stress, including mild diarrhoea and porphyrin staining around the eyes and nose. (Porphyrin is a red pigment in their mucus which can make it look like they've had a nosebleed.). During this time especially, you need to make certain they're getting proper nutrition and a comfortable cage environment. Watch them closely to make sure they're eating and drinking enough, although it has been noted by quite a few that during the first 24 hours of being in a new home, they don't seem to eat much food.
Your new rats may take a few days or weeks to settle down in their new environment. They may be shy and skittish at first, and may act like they don't want to be handled. Be patient with them but don't let them hide away! Ensure you take them out of the cage and handle them daily, several times a day if possible and handle them for at least 20 minutes at a time. You need to confidently assert your status as the rats alpha and by doing this, it helps build their confidence and trust in you.
If they are particularly nervous, reduce the size of the cage they are in to a small cage, even a hamster sized cage or similar for a few days will do, and get them out loads during that time. Their confidence and trust will soon build.
Another behaviour that many of our new rats have demonstrated is a habit of pooping everywhere when they are taken outside the cage. This is a bit of a nuisance, but once they have settled, they should house train themselves and not do it outside of the cage as much.
Also, if you're new to rats, you might be a little surprised by the marking behaviour of male rats and some females. They may leave a little trail of urine on carpet, furniture, and even (perhaps especially) their owners. Although neutering male rats certainly does diminish this behaviour, it's not recommended having a rat castrated merely to stop him marking.
Remember that these young rats have just gone through a huge upheaval and it is natural for them to be a little frightened and uneasy at first. Don't give up on them if they don't seem friendly right away. Once they realise their new home is safe and stable and that you won't hurt them, they'll relax and start enjoying life in their new home and hopefully with their new companions as well.
Tricks and notes to help with new rats and introductions to existing rats
Do bear in mind that not every introduction will go perfectly and some rats are not destined to live together so be prepared when you take on new rats, that you may need to keep an extra cage for them if they won't settle in with the existing group. You can attempt to retry the intros later as sometimes the older rats mellow with age, but do not force a situation as this will almost always result in either injury to the rats or a nasty rat bite when you try to separate them.
If you are trying to reduce a lone buck to additional bucks or buck kittens and he is refusing to accept company, you can consider castrating him and introducing him to does instead as this often works. I do not believe that castrations should be routine for cosmetic or convenience though, only for temperament and health reasons.
A couple of good online articles on rat introductions and socialisation methods are linked below:
The Forced Socialisation Method - by Jane Adamo
Article written by Estelle
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Last modified: September 06, 2009