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Castiel
Castiel  
Dear Natasha,

Hello there! I am a new rat owner and I have a baby rat (well a small rat as described by the petstore I got him from).  I know that it is better to have two rats but I could only afford one currently because my boyfriend and I are currently struggling.  We plan on getting him a companion once we get some extra spending cash of course but currently we cant afford another one. but let me get back to the task on hand.

Castiel my pet rat has been skittish since we got him.  When we first brought him home he let me hold him and he crawled all over me and was very curious like baby rats normally are I believe.  After we put him in his cage I had to move some things around for him in there while he was in there (for example, his water bottle broke and me and my boyfriend needed to get it out of there and I also put a little house in there for him).  we got him about 3 days ago now.  I put my hand in there and he comes up a few times to sniff and lightly nip at my nails (their painted so im assuming he is liking the shininess or something) but thats as far as he goes.  He doesnt explore further and when I pet him he sometimes will stay still but I think hes scared. I sometimes leave the cage door opened and he peeks his head and his front feet out of the cage, sniffs, then quickly runs back into the cage to hide.  I have started feeding him little treats (cheerios) and he will grab them from my hand and run into his house to eat.  But I know hes skittish because hes been chattering his teeth in his house or corner after i leave him alone.

Natasha, what would be the best possible way to train my very skittish and young pet rat? I dont want him to hate me for the rest of his life, Ive been trying so hard to get him to trust me so he would climb on my arm and I could pick him up. I've even put a piece of clothing in there that i used to wear that has my scent on it so he would see that I'm not a treat.  What should I do?

Answer
Dear Jessica,

Your rat is doing AWESOME!  Just what he is supposed to be doing. Gee, my first rats- from a private breeder, no less- didn't sit still to be petted until they were a year old. Too crazy. They were awesome and loving but couldn't sit still. Anyway you have a great pet store or they have a great supplier, for him to be so socialized. Really.

Now you may be right that he is scared- because that chattering sound, while it usually expresses great happiness, can sometimes mean scared. Still, he won't be scared for long. He already comes to the cage door to sniff you, which means he wants to get to know this big rat. The nibbling is affectionate.

It is normal for a baby rat to be super calm at first and then go nuts. For instance, when I got my three dwarfs, the breeder opened up a little carrier and pulled out these sweet docile creatures, who sat in my hand. Well, the next day I brought them into our rat pen and for the next year I am telling you I never saw them again; they were just blurs of movement! Kidding of course but it felt that way. They were very, very loving, and I started at the very beginning to teach them that although they could be crazy in the pen and on me, when they were in my hand they had to be completely calm. At first, holding them took about a tenth of a second. (Now they are squishes like your rat will be when he is older.)

One of the easiest ways to get him want to come out to him is to put his cage on or in some way (with a ramp) leading to a table. On the table you put a nice blanket, then put some hideys on it, a few treats, etc. Then don't pressure him; just sit there at the table and read or watch TV or whatever. When he comes out, let him come to you. Another place you can do this is the couch, though that might be too dangerous because he might be able to get off. You really don't want to lose him before he comes to you when called, or he will have an early scary experience of being cornered and caught.

Also an issue on the couch is that you definitely want to have a blanket on the couch. Because boy rats usually just kind of dribble when they walk. It isn't gross; it is almost like water. But it will still build up and eventually smell. Also, don't wear anything that you would be upset if it got a hole or two. Best is also something he can climb into, like a baggy sweatshirt. Have some treats and offer them in places where he has to climb on you to get them.

If you want to teach him to walk out of the cage onto your hands/arm, treats are the way to go. The best way is to offer a treat he can't run away with - he will probably love blueberry soy yogurt. First let him lick it off of your fingertips. When he is comfortable with that, put it a little higher on your hand, then arm. Don't pressure him.

You will figure out the rest. Here is a guide to help you. This is the website written by the other expert, Debbie Ducommun. She is a rat expert. She didn't know about this site till I told her, which is why she has so few questions.

http://ratfanclub.org/helpinfo.html

I recommend you read all about rat behavior here right away.

There are actually a ton of great rat info sites. We are a big community. I got my rats two years ago and have collected about 700 rat friends. Check out Rat Fan Club on Facebook.

By the way, when he is happy he will sometimes bug his eyes out of his head rhythmically. This is boggling, but obviously freaks rat newbies out.

Have a ton of fun- and please get him a friend ASAP. They do get lonely by themselves.

Squeaks n giggles,

Natasha  

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Natasha Millikan

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Consider me a sub, when no one else is available. NOTE YOU MUST NOT HAVE ONLY ONE RAT. JOIN MY FACEBOOK GROUP (because there are smarter people than me there!!): ***** https://www.facebook.com/groups/RatsandMiceareAwesome/. ***** Excellent sites: http://ratguide.com/ **** http://lilspazrats.wikispaces.com/ **** http://www.ratbehavior.org/rats.html **** http://www.ratfanclub.org/ **** http://www.sandyscrittercity.com/ **** http://www.ratwhisperer.net/ ****

Experience

I have had rats for 3-1/3 years and have researched them extensively. I am a mouse expert with 40 years' experience with mice. The two species are similar and yet also quite different.

Organizations
My Facebook group is Rats (and Mice) are Awesome. https://www.facebook.com/groups/RatsandMiceareAwesome/

Education/Credentials
I have a Bachelor's and two Master's degrees in Linguistics

Awards and Honors
I am honored that my rats love me!

Past/Present Clients
My Facebook group, Rats are Awesome, serves at the moment 5300 members, and, considering all the huge rescues, probably averages 5 rats per member. That means my clients are about 25,000 rats!!!

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