Pet Rats/Introducing a new possibly blind rat to established group
QUESTION: Hi I got my first ever rats at the beginning of September - 4 gorgeous girls who live in 5 level purpose built cage. Our local pet shop knows us well as we also have gerbils, hamsters, cats & fish and we are always in for something! Two weeks ago someone dumped a female rat on their rabbit pen - a distressing experience for rat and rabbits. They are looking after her and when she has been quarantined they are going to find a home for her - I would like to have her but when we visited today and got to see her for the first time the staff said they were concerned she was blind. She is very nervous and jumpy, reacting badly to loud noises. Apparently she moves her head around a lot and doesn't,t seem to be aware of people until she is actually touched and then she jumps wildly (we witnessed this while there). She is a champagne colour with red eyes which I believe have poor eyesight anyway. the staff have said that they are going to try and handle her more now in preparation for finding her a home. Can a blind rat with her life experience be successfully introduced to an established group in a multi level cage or should I accept that she may need a different home? Any advice would be much appreciated as I really would like to give her a forever home and the love she has clearly not had so far. Many thanks. Sarah
ANSWER: I cannot imagine the fate of this poor rat if you DON'T take her in...I am fairly certain it would not be good. You sound like you have a huge heart. By all means, you should adopt her...it may well save her life.
It sounds like you already know this, that all rats have very poor vision to begin with and red eyed rats are nearly blind. All rats depend on their other senses so much more than sight...their sense of smell, hearing and whiskers for feeling and depth perception primarily. So if she is in fact blind, her other senses will do just fine for her.
I am happy to hear that the pet shop is actually quarantining her. That is wise of them to do that but I have to admit I am surprised as most pet store employees are not educated to know that is necessary. It is also wonderful that they plan to handle her daily...you are lucky to have a premium pet store like this.
I am fairly certain that her jumpiness is not due to her blindness. She was probably kept alone and probably mishandled or not handled at all, or God forbid abused. But trust-training even the most skittish rat is possible with enough patience and effort, which I imagine you are willing to give.
I have a few questions for you. What is the age of this rat and what are the ages of your 4 new girls? I'm going to, for now, assume that your 4 girls are babies (under 4 months), and the blind girl is a little older, just so I can give you some answer to begin with. But if I hear from you otherwise, I might revise my advice.
So based on my age assumption, it is an ideal situation to introduce the older girl to your babies. Babies are still "unassuming" and probably won't give her too hard a time. Blind or not, her instincts will allow her to recognize she is with her own kind. Taking to 4 babies will help her to adapt and feel "at home" much easier than it will be for her to accept humans. That will be your challenge in the future once she has become comfortable in her rattie home.
Since you are a new rat owner, I will assume that you don't know this, but in a rat's social system, generally, rats "fight" for dominance and one rat will usually establish herself as the "alpha" rat and the others will take their places as the submissive ones. Every time a new rat is introduced into this family, the fight for dominance begins again until an alpha rat is established - it might be the same alpha rat as before, or perhaps a new alpha may emerge. Don't be surprised if the blind girl becomes the alpha because she is older.
Here is how to introduce the blind girl once you bring her home. You will need a seperate cage for her, a small one-level cage will be fine as it will be temporary. Perhaps the pet store can sell you a used one or you can find one on craigslist. Place her in her cage and place her cage a couple of inches away from your large cage and let all the rats co-exist this way for a couple of days. They will be able to smell each other and get used to each other. In a few days, find a neutral small enclosed space (a bathtub or small safe room is good) and place the blind girl in there with one of the other girls (pick a more mellow girl). They might fight...monitor and don't interfere unless it is really violent or blood is drawn. Limit this session to 15 to 30 minutes. Repeat a few times each day, switching to a different baby rat next time, and if that goes well, do it again with 2 of the babies with the blind girl. This should be repeated a few times a day for several days until you feel that things are going fairly well.
At this point, you can have all the rats explore each others cages. Move the 4 babies to the blind rat's cage and the blind girl to the large cage. Let them explore each other's environments for a little while and smell each other's scents in there. Then transfer everyone back to their own cages. Do this step once or twice a day, while continuing the neutral space "playtimes". You may not need to repeat so many times if you feel things are going rather smoothly.
Once you feel comfortable, the next is the BIG step: place the blind girl in the large cage with the other 4 girls. Regardless of how well things went during all the other phases, be prepared for some major fighting now! Rats are very territorial and the 4 young girls will look at the blind girl as an intruder to their home, even though they have already met her. Again, monitor the fighting closely but you must allow them to work things out on their own. Again, don't interfere unless it gets very violent. You may see hissing, rats standing in fight stance on their hind legs, kick-boxing, etc. This may subside and then restart again and again. They may settle it in a few hours, or it may go on for a couple of days. You may feel sorry for the blind girl and want to take her out of there but if it looks like she is holding her own and fighting back, or laying on her back and being submissive while another girl pins her down, let it alone but continue to monitor. If you feel bad for her and take her out, this whole thing will have to start from square one the next time you put her in there.
If my assumption is right that your 4 girls are young babies, I don't imagine there will be much fighting as babies are more accepting of a new "playmate".
Let's however say that it does become too violent and you must remove the blind girl for her safety, after you've given it a few fair attempts, you may have to accept that it may not work out. At that point, you can take one of the submissive babies and let the blind rat and that one live together just the two of them moving forward in their own cage. Or keep the 4 babies in the large cage and buy an older mellow girl as companion for the blind girl.
Finally, I'm going to give you information about trust-training the blind girl to ajust to you and other humans. Be advised that this will take a good amount of patience and time on your part. Take things slowly, and work at her pace. I'm attaching a link to a website about trust training a pet rat. You can also find plenty more written on trust training rats on the internet if you are interested in more ideas.
Here's the link --> http://ratguide.com/care/behavior/training_playtime.php
If you do everything you can to patiently work with her, I am confident that it will pay off. I feel that once the blind girl adjusts first to ones of her own kind (which she may never have even known before) it will make it easier for you to train her to trust humans, especially if she sees the other rats unafraid of you.
I hope I haven't overwhelmed you with information but I felt it is all important to know. I do hope it is helpful. Please feel free to reach out to me again if you need any more help.
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QUESTION: Hi - many thanks for getting back to me. My 4 girls were 8 weeks old when I got them the 1st weekend in September so they are now about 19 weeks (4.5 months). By the time blind girl is ready to leave the pet shop they will be just over 5 months - does this make a difference? I have no idea how old blind girl is although the shop said they did not think she was too old. She is bigger than my girlies but then I think they are naturally small - several people who have seen them who have some experience of rats have commented on their size. My husband has said no to another cage but has said he could turn the bottom level in to a sperate cage temprarily, with a mesh so they can still see and smwll each other. If necessary the cage could becaome 2 cages. What do you advise now? Looking forward to hearing from you - am aware you are maxed out so really appreciate your time! Regards Sarah x
Rats are fully grown at about 8 months, but the older they get, even the difference from 4 to 5 months, may make a difference in how they accept a newcomer to their world...the younger the rats, the easier. I'm sure there will be some fighting, but it all depends on the temperment of your existing girls and how dominating their personality is. You may already have noticed which of the 4 is your "alpha" rat, or dominant one. But please don't let any of this give you second thoughts about adopting the blind girl...she needs you. Just be prepared for a challenge and to be very patient working through the introductions.
That's too bad you cannot get a second cage. I suppose the bottom level for the blind girl would work ok but remember that the bottom level was the 4 girls territory too. Maybe if you block the 1st level now in preparation for the blind girl, the 4 girls can begin to live on the upper 3 levels for a few weeks and get used to that, so the bottom level would be vacant for a while. Change the bedding in the bottom level before the blind girl arrives and clean it thoroughly to make sure there is no remaining scent of the 4 girls there.
Are there 2 doors to this large cage so that when the blind girl is living below and the others are above, you can get them in and out of the cage without having to disturb each individual space? I think that's important.
I am a little concerned that if this new rat is really blind that the 4 levels might be a hazard to her, as far as falling off a ramp or something, in the future when you are able to have all the rats live together. It may work out, but you should probably plan on keeping the food and water bowls on the first level, or perhaps keeping a 2nd set of food and water on an upper level. If she is indeed blind, you will want to keep the food and water in the same spot on the first level all the time so she doesn't have to hunt for it. She should also have a hammock and/or igloo on the first level that she can easily climb into.
Everything else as far as introductions should be done just as I explained before. I sure hope this all works out so the blind girl can finally have a good life with loving companions she can enjoy and snuggle with.
I would love it if you could keep me posted on how this all works out once the blind girl comes home. And if you have any questions or concerns along the way, I'd be happy to help.