• Fishy Roomies: If I have cats can I have rats?

    Posted on August 12, 2016 by in Behavior, Care, Safety

     

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    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 tabout pet rats, pet rats, pet rat, rats, rat, fancy rats, fancy rat, ratties, rattie, pet rat care, pet rat info, pet rat information, rats and cats, pet rats and cats, rats & cats, can cats get along with rats?, is it safe to have rats with cats?, is it okay to have both rats and cats?he 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.

    Two Options for Keeping Rats & Cats in the Same Home

    1. Your rats and cats are in separate areas

    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.

    2. Your rats and cats live in the same room

    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:

    • Place your rats’ cage out of reach of your cats. Positioning their cage on top of a chest of drawers or other tall piece of furniture can be very effective. If there are surface areas around the cage onto which your cats can still jump, block off these areas with boxes, paper grocery bags opened so they stand upright or any other suitable items.
    • If your cage is so large it needs to be on the floor, block off the lower level so your cats can’t reach inside. You can do this with boxes, paper grocery bags or screen door wire mesh to wrap around the areas of the cage within your cats’ reach. Sheets of plexiglass may also work well as long as there’s adequate ventilation so air can circulate inside your rats’ cage.

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      A good place to visit with your rats and cats together is on the couch. Your rats can burrow down inside your shirt if they’re afraid. Even though they’re not truly interacting, getting your rats used to your cats’ scent can be quite helpful.

    • Whether it’s on top of furniture or on the floor, you may also need to place barriers on the top of your rats’ cage. If your cats can jump on top of the cage, again, use tall boxes, opened paper grocery bags or any other items you have on hand.
    • Cover the sides of your rats’ cage at night. Leave the top uncovered for ventilation. If you’ve placed items on the roof of your rats’ cage, leave space so air can circulate inside the cage.

    Together Time – Is It Possible?

    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.

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    These two cats may look disinterested but I wouldn’t trust them alone with my rats for one second.

    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

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4 Responses so far.

  1. Mattie Gallegos says:

    Hi!

    Although I have looked through the internet I cant seem to find the answer to my question.

    Can rats, cats, AND dogs live together?

    I know I sound crazy! But I am a pet lover. I currently have two dogs and two cats. I would love to get a pair of rats and give them a good home, but I do not want to bring them into a place they will not enjoy. I do have a place to keep them separately but its a smaller place so they would always be seeing each other. I know my dogs would be completely fine with rats, as they are amazingly gentle with my cats and other small animals. I also know my cats would get used to them over time (they don’t care about too much)!

    Am I crazy for wanting a pair of rats when I have 4 other animals? I hope not!

    Thanks!

    • Hi Mattie,

      You are definitely not crazy! I would suggest getting babies since young rats can more easily adjust to living with cats and dogs. Another option is to adopt from your local animal shelter. Often the shelter has the previous owner fill out an intake questionnaire for the pet(s) they’re surrendering. This would allow you to find out if any of the rats up for adoption are already used to living with dogs and cats.

      Two very important things to keep in mind:

      1. Unless you are present in the same room and able to closely monitor any interaction, never, ever leave your rats outside their cage while in the same room as your cats and dogs.
      2. You’ve probably already considered this, but it’s really important you have enough time and money when adding two new pets to your family. Although small in size, rats can require a similar amount of attention and veterinary care to what you provide for your cats and dogs.

      I used to do a lot of pet sitting where I stayed in the home with the animals I was sitting. I always got permission to bring my rats with me. Most people with dogs told me that their dogs would go crazy when they discovered I’d brought my rats with me and had them inside their house. In almost every instance, however, the dogs didn’t pay my rats any attention at all.

      I hope you find this information helpful. Don’t hesitate to let me know if you have other questions.

      Jasmine | About Pet Rats

  2. Becky says:

    I have 3 female rescue rats who are about 1 year old, I’ve had them about 5 months and I got a 10yr old rescue cat today and the rats are terrified of his smell, they are in separate rooms and haven’t met, am I being cruel to keep the cat if my rats will live in fear? I’d hate to give the cat up, but I’d hate to neglect the pets I already have. Please help!! Becky

    • Hi Becky,

      I’ve lived with both cats and rats for the past 27 years. Throughout this time I’ve found that some rats take longer than others to adjust to the presence of cats. Some rats don’t ever get used to being around cats. However, I’ve also had rats who’d attack my cats by lunging at them and pulling out their fur.

      In some cases it can take weeks before rats get used to having cats around. A technique you can try is to sit on your couch (or in a chair) with your cat while your rats are safely inside your shirt. If you repeat this exercise for at least 20-30 minutes daily, over time your rats will gradually realize they’re being protected from harm.

      For the rats who don’t ever overcome their fear, I just keep them in separate rooms most of the time. At the very least, my rats have all eventually learned to get used to the scent of cats on my clothes.

      So, no, you’re not being cruel to your rats as long as you don’t force them to be with your cat. Of course you should also never, ever leave them alone in the same room together.

      I would definitely keep your cat. You can work with your rats so they’ll gradually learn to accept that your cat lives there, too. I applaud you for adopting a 10-year-old cat and for adopting cat and rat rescues.

      I hope my response is helpful! Don’t hesitate to let me know if you have further questions or need any clarification.

      Best Wishes to You, Your Rats & Your Cat,

      Jasmine | About Pet Rats