There wasn’t a bug in sight so I stepped in closer to find out why our cat was sitting in the corner facing the wall. As I approached, he turned his head toward me. That’s when I saw the thin, long red wound like a paper cut travelling down the length of his nose.
It was then I remembered that, only a few minutes before, he’d been sticking his face through the bars of my rats’ cage. My impression was that, after our cat was injured, he went to sit in the corner as if he were a schoolboy (minus the dunce cap) punishing himself.
Even though our cat was hurt by my rats, I wouldn’t say he learned his lesson. I would never, ever risk leaving cats and rats alone together.
This incident occurred in the year 2002. Fast forward to 2016 and I’ve now lived with cats and rats for twenty-six years.
Some of my rats have been deathly afraid of cats, others have faced them head on and even chased them, jumped on them and pulled out their fur. I’ve observed that, if a rat sees the cat before the cat sees the rat, then the rat will be in charge. It’s the one who’s taken by surprise who ends up afraid. (Just like us humans!) Conversely, if the cat sees the rat first, the rat will be afraid.
Some rats’ fear can be induced just by smelling cats, even if they’re in different rooms. I’ve seen rats spooked by the scent of cats when there hasn’t been a cat in the room for days. Often the fear will subside and the rats will be fine. Sometimes the fear returns seemingly out of the blue and then goes away again.
The easiest way for rats and cats to safely inhabit the same house or apartment is to keep your rats in a separate room. You won’t ever have to worry about your cats sneaking up on your rats’ cage. The risk of your rats being harmed by your cats is eliminated.
When you decide to keep your cats and rats in different areas of your home, you may observe your cats meowing outside the door of the room in which your rats live. They’re letting you know they feel deprived. (Poor kitties!) Usually this behavior stops within a few days. Your cats may still come to the door and meow from time to time. Eventually, however, they’ll adapt and get the message the room is off-limits.
If you have no choice but to keep your rats and cats in the same room, all is not lost. Here are tips on how to keep your rats safe:
If you’re able to do so, it helps to spend some time with your cats and rats together. A good place to visit with them collectively is on the couch. Another spot for them to visit is on top of a bed. If afraid, your rats can burrow down inside your shirt.
Even though they’re not truly interacting, getting your rats used to your cats’ scent can be quite helpful. By being in close proximity to your cats, your rats learn (while safely hidden inside your shirt) that they are protected. Though they’ll smell the cats, your rats will come to understand they won’t be harmed.
You really have to closely observe how your cats and your rats react to one another. Neither of them should ever feel terrorized. If your rats act petrified when your cats are around, it’s probably be best to keep them separate. However, with patience and the willingness to try to make it work, it often is possible to gradually acclimate them to each other.
If your rats are curious instead of fearful and your rats and cats begin to sniff one another, be prepared to immediately separate them by picking up your rat or pushing away your cat. If it happens that your cats and rats are able to develop a relationship, you’ll be able to relax a little. However, ALWAYS monitor closely for any signs your cat’s prey instinct has become activated. Cats, as you probably already know, can totally “fake us out” and act like they’re not one bit interested in our pet rats. The next minute, however, they could be in full attack mode and, before you know it, you’ll find they have a rat in their mouth.
Whenever you observe one of your cats about to harass or attack one of your rats, signal to your cat that it’s not okay. I usually say “Careful!” to my cats in a gentle warning tone when they’re about to do something I don’t want them to do. My cats are now used to me saying this and they know to back off as soon as they hear me say “Careful!”. Once they retreat, I praise them by saying, “Good!” (We all appreciate praise!)
My previous group of rats would actually chase my cats off the couch, especially if they wanted to use the bathroom. I always set up paper towels as “litter boxes” on either end of my couch. My rats are trained to urinate and defecate on the paper towels. My rat, Vera, would chase any cats in sight off the couch so she could use the bathroom in private.
Interactions among cats and rats are so individualized and always require very close supervision. If you’re able to be a dedicated chaperone, it’s definitely worth a try. As long as you’re in the same room AND you’re within reach of your rats AND you’re able to supervise their behavior as it occurs in-the-moment, then it’s okay to have your rats and cats together at the same time.
While it can definitely work out fine to have pet rats living in the same home as cats, I can’t stress enough that you should never, ever leave your rats unattended and accessible to your cats. As much as my cats wish I would, I’d never trust that my rats and cats could just “get along”.
Another post which may be of interest: Inside the Minds of Pet Rats