Pet Rats/Behaviour and Bonding
QUESTION: Dear Irene,
I got two baby rats from a breeder 2 weeks ago, they were 4 weeks old when I got them. I am absolutely obsessed with them and love them to bits however I have two jobs and work long hours which worries me as I read that rats are social animals and need to get out of their cage often. I just have a few questions regarding their behaviour and how much time I should be spending with them. I have two boys Mowgli (Gray) and Tommy (White) Mowgli has been confident from the start and loves to play, however Tommy is very reserved which worries me a bit. I try to take them out for an hour every evening when I get home and when I come to the cage both rats run to the cage door, Mowgli will climb onto my hand but Tommy is very hesitant and usually I have to pick him up quickly. When they are out Tommy hides in my hair for most of the time and falls asleep while letting me stroke his head, Mowgli runs around and jumps and every so often will run up to me to give me a sniff or little lick, both sometimes go to sleep in my shirt or cudddled in my hair while making a funny little noise. Last night Tommy seemed to be biting my hair and fiddling with it while making that little noise. Are those signs of them bonding with me? I am just worried about Tommy because all he seems to do is cling to me and hide. he also sometimes bites if i put my hand in the cage but I think he thinks i am giving him a traet as I often do. I would really appreciae it if ypu could kindly tell me if this is normal beahviour from them and how often I should be taking them out? Does it sound to you like they are bonding with me?
ANSWER: You sound just like me. I became completely obsessed when I got my first 2 babies years ago, and now many rats later, still am. They are just the sweetest little creatures on this planet :)
You heard right that rats are very social, but you solved that problem right off the bat when you adopted TWO babies instead of just one. They have each other for company when you are away, and that is perfectly fine. Many people make the mistake of getting only one rat, who then often suffers from lonliness. Just a small tip while I'm thinking of it, and since you are so "obsessed"...you may want to consider adding one or two more baby rats either now or somewhere down the line for this reason: a rat's average lifespan is 2 years, although some may live past 3. But sometimes a rat may fall ill beyond cure and you may lose him very suddenly...trust me this has happened to me and it's a horrible thing. People often don't think of this and when it happens, they are suddenly left with one very lonely and depressed rat. If you have 3 or more, then if you lose one, the others still have each other.
Sorry for going off on a tangent but I thought it was important for you to be aware. You say you work long hours, but don't worry. If you give them 30 to 60 minutes of free play time each day, then that perfect. Remember that they mostly sleep all day, so if you're away during the daytime, they won't even miss you. You will see that your boys will learn to look forward to their free play time, and if you do it around the same time every day, you'll find them waiting at their cage door when that time is near. That's what mine do every evening...it's so adorable. If they could talk, I'm sure they'd be saying "come on hurry, we're waiting to play!"
To address your concerns about their behavior: like people and all creatures, each rat has its own individual personality, regardless if they are from the same litter or not. Each rat I've ever had had her own little traits and quirks. Some of mine have been very mellow, others high-strung. Some were lazy, and others curious. I had one that would lick me constantly and others that didn't lick at all. One girl I had would "groom" me with her little teeth, it was the cutest thing, as if I were another rat. So I wouldn't really worry about Tommy, as he does seem to have bonded with you in that he trusts you enough to cling to you and fall asleep when you pet him. As long as he is eating, drinking and pooping normally, and behaving as he always does, he is fine. Do watch for signs of illness which would be changes in eating and drinking, wheezing and sneezing, and/or lethargy. Hopefully, you have located a good vet in your area who has experience with rats. If not, please find one right away, so you will be ready if one of them should become suddenly ill.
You didn't mention if your 2 boys get along with each other. Do they play together and snuggle together at sleeptime? The fact that they have opposite personalities should actually make them compatible. In the rat world, there is always one rat that is more dominant than the others, called the alpha rat, and usually he fights to gain that status. The other rats then take their rightful place as submissive to him in their little community. If 2 very dominant rats are placed together, it usually is not a good situation as there may be lots of nasty fighting, both trying to win the alpha status. So I imagine your two boys should get along just fine. If you consider getting a 3rd rat, I suggest you do so while your current boys are still very young, because with male rats, existing ones don't take too well to a newcomer. If you wait until your boys are a little older, that is still ok as long as the new one you adopt is no more than 6 weeks old (before the male hormones come into play). Talk to your breeder...I'm sure she can give you lots of insight on this.
I hope that this has been helpful and do feel free to write me again if you have any other questions. Enjoy your new babies and send pictures next time!
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Thank you so much for your reply, I really appreciate it! It is nice to hear from someone who understands how amazing these little guys are! My family and friends are not really interested in hearing about my babies haha and think I have gone crazy as they are all I ever talk about. Most of them do not understand and see rats as dirty. It is funny that you mentioned getting another one as it did cross my mind that when that terrible time comes for one, the other will be left alone. However my boyfriend will not hear of it. He was against me getting rats at first but now he is in love with them too, I often see him stop by their cage now. Their father is extremely big, in fact I have never seen a rat of that size and it looks like Tommy is going to be just as big so my boyfriend says three will just be too much when they are adults as we live in a tiny flat and cannot get a bigger cage. (Their cage is quite big as it is.) Mowgli and Tommy have a strange relationship and I am glad you asked me if they get along because sometimes I am not sure? They sleep together in their igloo however last night I noticed Mowgli was sleeping on the bottom level of their cage while Tommy was asleep in the igloo. When I take them out they chase each other and play but Mowgli (despite being much smaller than Tommy) seems to be the more dominant one and often when I put my hand in the cage he pushes Tommy out the way to get to me. I have noticed he is always the one chasing Tommy when they play and quite often I hear Tommy squeak which worries me and I always run to the cage and see them rolling around but he seems to be fine. I was not sure if they were actually playing or fighting. I have noticed as well that if I take one out the cage (usually Mowgli for a quick cuddle because Tommy takes a while)and not the other, when I put him back the other one will chase him and wrestle him for a few seconds. They also steal food from each other.
Tommy has seemed to start coming out of his shell a bit more, last night I put them under the covers on my bed and both ran around and jumped and played so nicely, they seem to be less nervous under there as my boyfriend plays his xbox extremely loud and they are very nervous when it is on.
Tommy even came up to me and nibbled and started licking my lips, my mom is a hamster fan and she told me she had read that you should not kiss hamsters on the head or let them near your lips as they can get sick, does this apply for rats as well? I also wanted to know how often should I be feeding them? Every evening they get a fresh bowel of their Reggie Rat muesli and some fresh food like cucumber, lettuce, potato or a very tiny bit of what I am having for supper. Am I feeding them to less, to much or just right?
I really appreciate you conversing with me as I want to give my babies the best life possible. I was feeling a little down before I got them and they have really made me happier. I look forward to getting home and seeing them waiting at their cage door for me :) It makes me so happy!
My rats make me happy too...they bring sunshine to each day! Well, based on everything you told me about your boys, you have nothing to worry about. That they sometimes sleep apart is perfectly normal. All of my rats have been like that, sometimes snuggling together in a hammock, and other times in seperate hiding places. Your boys playfight and wrestle, normal for baby rats. Tommy squeaking is just his way of protesting the dominance of Mowgli, but as long as you don't see any bloody nasty fighting, this also is normal.
I don't know anything about hamsters, but I can tell you for certain that rats will not get sick from us, nor we from them. I have been letting my rats lick my lips, and even pick at my teeth (sorry if that sounds gross) for years and no one has ever gotten sick.
I have been extremely fortunate with all of my rats health. Other than one girl who took ill and died suddenly just short of age 2, I have never had to take my rats to a vet for illness. I can attribute some of this fortune to my being very selective in the breeders I adopt from (those who are reputable for breeding for health and longeavity). But I also attribute a great deal to the healthy diet I feed, which I will share with you since you asked about feeding.
If I understood you correctly, you seem to be feeding your boys once a day. If so, that is wrong. Unlike larger mammals like dogs and cats, rats have a very fast metabolic rate and need to be grazing often throughout the day and night. It is essential that you provide a bowl of dry rat mix in their cage 24x7 and make sure you refill it when it is close to empty.
Rats require a very low fat/low protein diet. Their diet should be high in grains. I highly recommend making your own dry rat mix, as the ones sold at pet-stores for the most part are amazingly unhealthy as they are too high in seeds and corn and are high in fat. I make my own dry mix and have been doing so for years. It is very quick to make and much less expensive than pet store bagged mixes. I buy most of the ingredients in bulk from farmer's market type stores. I mix a whole bunch of it in a very large airtight container, and refill their bowls from there. This large container can last me for several months before I have to mix up a new batch, so as you can see, very easy. Here is my own recipe (I mix equal amounts of all ingredients, except for the last few, where I state specifically):
- Plain Cheerios cereal
- Total cereal
- Rice Crispies cereal
- Corn Flakes cereal
- Whole grain rotini pasta
- Organic rolled oats
- Organic barley flakes
- Dried peas (about 1/2 the amount of the above grains)
- other dried fruits and veggies such as strawberries, blueberries, tomatos, banana, mango, etc. (about 1/4 the amount of the above grains)
- Plain unsalted shelled sunflower seeds (small sprinkling)
- Plain unsalted shelled pumpkin seeds (small sprinkling)
- Plain pine nuts (small sprinkling)
This dry mix is always in my ratties bowls 24x7 so they can graze. Rats will only eat what they need and generally don't overeat. Like people, rats tend to be picky with food. They will pick out all their favorites from the bowl first. Therefore, it is very important that you don't refill the bowl until it is almost empty (I use a large bowl and only refill about once a week). This way, after they've picked out the "good stuff", they will have not choice but to eat what's left, and they need to in order to get a well-rounded diet. My rats always eat the pasta and nuts first, and like the kamut the least because that is always the last thing left in the bowl right before I fill it up.
In addition to this mix, I provide some fresh foods a couple of times each day, so the fresh veggies you've been giving them is fine. I never feed meat or seafood. The following are my ratties favorite fresh foods: grapes, bananas, blueberries, canteloupe, apples, peas, green leafy lettuce, broccoli, and many other fruits and veggies. I also give portions from my own family meals but only if they are healthy (prior to adding salts, seasonings, oil, butter, etc), which include: rice, potatos, egg whites, pasta, bread... Once every couple of weeks when I cook a whole chicken, I give each of my rats a nice big leg or thigh bone (after I remove all the fat). They adore chomping on this special treat and by the next day, I find the bones almost disintegerated in their cage. I imagine the extra calcium can't hurt either :)
Please let me know if I can help you with anything else.