As rats are super sociable animals, only having one rat should be avoided. Solo rats can get ‘depressed’ and show abnormal behaviour. Therefore, here are some top tips for introducing a rat to other rats in your household:
Introducing rats to other rats should always be done slowly and with patience. Even though rats need the company of other rats, allowing them to sniff around at their own pace and use their sense of smell to recognise others means they can take in all the ‘information’ they need – e.g. where the other rat(s) have been, what they have been up to; just all-round rat ‘news and gossip’ about each other!
A rescue rat that has been brought up alone can find it difficult to communicate with other rats and may need a much longer introduction.
Some rats that are territorial can also be happier in a smaller group with less to defend. Remember - there is no ‘one cage fits all’ approach to rat housing. You’ll need to monitor and respond to any of your rat(s) needs to create the perfect set-up for them.
Here are some tips and tricks that you can try out to create the perfect setup:
Use a new ‘neutral’ cage to house them together – otherwise, the rat that has lived in the cage you are using may defend their territory from new rat(s) and show unwelcoming signs of aggression.
Keep them in their separate cages near each other - within sniffing, not biting distance, and they should slowly become accustomed to each other. You can also swap the rats around, putting them in their fellow rat’s cage and vice versa so they can get used to each other’s smell. This can take a matter of days or a few weeks.
If you do not see any of the following signs, they are ‘ready’ to be introduced into a ‘neutral’ cage together:
Raised or fluffed up fur, wagging tail from side to side and looking to approach other rats’ side on.
Once housed together - adult rats may still display high aggression toward each other. This should stop once they establish a dominance relationship. Don’t be alarmed!
But do look out for ‘fighting’, which is a clear sign that these particular rats cannot live together as one or all may get hurt.
‘Fighting’ behaviour to look out for includes:
- An attacking rat has raised fur
- One rat hides from the other
- Aggressive vocalisation
- One rat injures another
This ‘fighting’ behaviour can happen when the rats involved cannot reach a stable dominance relationship. This means they should not be housed together as there is no escape and nowhere to hide if stuck together.
Note: Have a water spray bottle and a thick towel at the ready to rescue the situation in case a fight does break out.
You can help reduce this aggression behaviour if you:
- Avoid anything that alters the smell of an individual rat (including too much handling), as this may cause your rats to over-investigate their cage mate more, which could lead to aggression.
- Provide enough feeding resources such as water bottles and food bowls so that all rats can access them, and they don’t need to jostle or share if they don’t want to.
- Provide multiple enrichment resources that can act as places to hide and escape too, such as tunnels and shelters, and other visual barriers to help break up any aggressive encounters.
- Provide a multi-layer cage with multiple exits, so the different layers and exits can also act as places to ‘hide’ and escape to.
- If aggressive behaviour continues, even within a usually stable group of rats, this could indicate that there is an illness problem. For example, rats can show aggression when they are in pain. Please check the health of each of your rats and contact your vet immediately for advice. Separate your rats until your vet has given them the ‘all clear’.
Once rats accept each other, there may still be some scuffles, but they should be mild and random.
Note: Please always monitor your rats' living arrangements and don’t leave strange behaviour unchecked.
Once happy together, you can help your rats' living arrangements along with a couple of reward tips:
Hand feeding your rat(s) treats in equal amounts. This hand-feeding can also help bring your rats physically closer together and create shared and rewarding experiences together and with you!
Additional toys and hammocks can be added to their cage when you are confident that no rats are being ‘cornered’ by another. More toys and hammocks mean they can enjoy more enrichment together or separately.