Introducing pet rats to one another is an art. The complex process usually takes over a month to accomplish. Despite the difficulties, it’s one of the most rewarding experiences you can have with your pet rats. What could be more satisfying than successfully introducing new rats to one another?…..and then having them end up as life-long buddies?
Here are instructions starting with how and why to quarantine your new rat. Next are easy-to-follow guidelines designed to develop trust and teamwork resulting in lasting rat friendships.
Quarantine any new rats for 3 weeks. This is important in case your new rat is diseased, has external or internal parasites or any other compromising health condition. Be sure to familiarize yourself with signs of pet rat disease or illness if you haven’t already done so. The quarantine period helps keep your current rats healthy and safe and it allows you and your new rat to become acquainted.
While in the quarantine phase it’s important to:
Keep your new rat in a part of your house/apartment that doesn’t share “airspace” with your current rat(s). It’s absolutely necessary they be in a different room. In addition, the room in which your new rat is housed should be as far away from your current rat(s) as possible. Ideally this means on a different floor. Some people even choose to have their new rats quarantined in a separate house or apartment altogether.
Change your clothes after being with your new rat. This helps prevent the spread of any disease to your current rats.
An extra layer of cautiousness can be exercised by showering after visiting with your new rat and before visiting with your current rat(s)
Have your new rat examined by a veterinarian who’s both knowledgeable and experienced with pet rats within the first week of bringing him or her home. This way a doctor/patient relationship can be established and your veterinarian may catch something you haven’t yet noticed. When problems are detected early, they’re so much easier to treat. You’ll also be making sure your current rats will be introduced to a healthy new rat friend. If you don’t already have a trusted vet for your pet rats, readChoosing a Veterinarian.
The quarantine period helps keep your current rats healthy and safe and it allows you and your new rat to become acquainted.
Use these tips and best practices for all phases:
Conduct at least two sessions a day, ideally one in the morning and one in the evening.
Keep introduction sessions brief, lasting for no more than 10-15 minutes. Even a 5 minute session is helpful. Your goal is to not even give your rats a chance to get upset, anxious or aggressive. If you see they’re about to become negative or combative, calmly stop the intro session immediately.
Use yummy treats reserved for introduction sessions only. Especially in the beginning stages, your rats may be too distracted to eat. As you progress through the introduction phases, however, the special treats will give them a positive association for each session.
If you do observe aggression (or avoidance) you can:
1) Back up a step
2) Repeat the phase you’re in
3) Return to the first step of Phase One until you see your rats are more comfortable with getting acquainted
While following the guidelines below, always use your common sense to choose what best fits your rats. Your goal is to help your rats be as comfortable and curious about one another as possible.
During introductions, talk softly and let your rats know everything is okay. They’ll definitely pick up on your emotions so it’s important you’re calm and relaxed throughout each session.
Be especially attentive to your current rat. He or she needs to know they’re still very much loved even in the presence of a new rat.
If you’re introducing a new rat to several current rats, first try the introductions with all of your current rats. If this doesn’t seem feasible—-or if you find the new rat gets overwhelmed OR if your current rats gang up—introduce your current rats one at a time, then in pairs and, if needed, as a group to your new rat.
Place your new rat and current rat(s) in separate small cages. Cat carriers work perfectly for this. If you don’t have two cat carriers, small cages will do.
Position the carriers about six inches apart and allow your rats to sniff the air and to see one another through the bars of the cat carrier.
Give them each a treat. As mentioned above, they may be too distracted to show an interest in food during this phase. However, it’s still worth associating each session with food they love whether or not they eat it.
If any of your rats start puffing up, sidling toward the door of the carrier, making “hissing” sounds or ANY sign of aggression, stop the intro session for that day. The next day repeat the intro, but place the carriers farther apart than before.
When all goes well, keep repeating Phase One while gradually placing the carriers as close together as possible without your rats being able to touch one another.
After you’ve observed your rats being curious and interested in each another while in their separate carriers, switch out the carriers so they’re each in a different carrier than they were before.
Repeat for several days, allowing them to sniff and see one another while switching their carriers for each session.
If they seem comfortable after 4-7 days (i.e. they seem curious about one another instead of aggressive or anxious), it’s time to move to the next phase. If they act as if they don’t care there’s another rat, that’s fine. Just be sure they’re not cowering in a corner due to fear. If they show fear, continue with Phase One for as long as it takes for them to become untroubled when being near one another.
Dab samples of various liquid foods around the perimeter of a dinner plate
Place dabs of food on a dinner plate. Choose foods that have the consistency of a thick liquid or pudding. (Organic is best!) The idea is you want to create a communal dining experience.
Foods that work well for introductions:
Baby food – organic chicken is a great choice
Decide where you want to conduct your rats’ one-on-one meetings. A bed, dining room table or the floor in arat-proofed bathroom are all great spots for pet rat introductions. Just make sure it’s an unfamiliar area for your current rats since it needs to be a neutral territory.
Spread out a blanket on the surface you’ll be using and place a t-shirt or two on top of the blanket. Sometimes both rats will burrow into a t-shirt and get to know one another very comfortably inside the small space.
Put the dinner plate dabbed with food in the middle of the introduction area. Have on hand a bath towel or a large t-shirt as well as a roll of paper towels. These can be used to quickly and safely separate your rats from one another in case of aggression.
Bring your rats to the introduction area in separate carriers or have one rat in a carrier and the other on your shoulder. Put the new rat in the introduction area first. This helps your current rat feel more secure since there won’t be the surprise of having a new rat suddenly appear in front of him or her.
Have on hand a bath towel or a large t-shirt as well as a roll of paper towels
Here’s a video of Phase Two introductions with two of my own rats. Notice one rat flips the other onto her back. The rat being flipped doesn’t mind it, which means the introduction is going successfully. Often one rat will need to be in charge. As long as the non-dominant rat accepts being flipped and pinned on his or her back, there’s no problem.
Eating side by side from a soy sauce dish
If your rats are food motivated and really like eating the foods on the dinner plate you’ve provided, each day choose a smaller size dish. By the time you’re down to the size of a soy sauce dish, they’ll be side by side enjoying their shared meal.
Repeat this phase for several days until your rats are at ease with one another.
PHASE THREE Day 1: They’re co-existing but still two levels apart from one another
For this phase, I like to use a separate cage from the normal one in which my rats are housed. The Rat Manor is perfect for this. Place your new rat and current rat in the cage together. The idea behind this is that both rats are in a totally new territory. They become united while exploring this new frontier together. It’s a shared adventure and a bonding experience.
PHASE THREE Day 4: They’re sleeping side by side
As always, the first session should be only 10-15 minutes. If they seem to be getting along fine, increase each twice daily session by about 5 minutes until you’re up to 30 minutes—at which time you’re ready for Phase Four.
Before placing your rats together in their regular cage, make sure to clean and disinfectthe cage. Once your rats’ regular cage is cleaned, disinfected and completely redecorated, place your rats together inside the cage.
Be prepared with a towel and a roll of paper towels in case you need to separate them. At this point, if they seem to be getting along well, you can leave them together. As an extra precaution, however, plan on being in the same room with them for several hours. If you see them behaving peacefully (i.e. cuddling, eating food side by side, building nests together) you’ll know it’s a success.
If you observe any sort of animosity while they’re inside their regular cage, this is your cue to go back at least one step or phase. Otherwise, CONGRATULATIONS on creating new rat friendships!
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