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Pet Rats/Helping Rat Deal with Death of Cagemate

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Question
Sadly, we had to have one of our ratties put to sleep Thursday night.  Our remaining rattie, Rosie, is clearly still processing this death.  We did as our vet suggested, and let Rosie see her cagemate's body so she would understand that Gilda wouldn't be coming back.  In general, Rosie is a more reticent rat.  Her sister was the outgoing rattie and often served as a buffer between Rosie and new things.  Rosie likes to be snuggled, but often attempts to evade being picked up to be taken out of the cage (she's fine once out of her cage).  She has always preferred her cage (a two-story critter nation) to any other place.  The first night and following day, Rosie was extra snuggly and for the first time was grooming us (licking and gently gnawing on our fingers and hands).  She slept nestled in my neck, and when it was time to go back in her cage, for the first time, she went willingly but did not try to leap into it.  Starting last night, and again today, however, she is staying hidden in her kleenex box.  She pokes her head out when called, and will eat a treat if given to her but she won't come to get the treat.  This is VERY unusual, as she is nicknamed "treat monster".  She's already on meds for respiratory illness (both girls have had respiratory illnesses off and on since we rescued them), but I do not see any signs that this illness has progressed (she sounds much better the last few days).  We do not want to add a new rattie b/c we are worried about her chronic respiratory illness (which may or may not be myco) being transmitted to a new rattie.  We've read the advice on several websites, but they all talk about giving her extra snuggles, playtime, etc...but she doesn't seem to want it right now.  I'm wondering if you have any advice...should we give her some space if she wants it or should we force her to come out and be social so she doesn't get more depressed?  She's generally been the healthier rate, but I'm worried her immune system will get depressed if she's unhappy for too long.

Answer
Dear Meadow-

Thank you for your question.

Personally, I would just give her some time. Rats are emotional animals, they have empathy for one another and its likely she is sad about the passing of her friend.  I would be looking around for a new cagemate. By the time you have quarantined the new rat, she should be more accepting of a new friend which may make introductions a little easier. Just be sure to do it properly, such as in a neutral area like the bathtub. Let me know if you need additional information on this.

Good luck! Hope that helped!

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Shawna Laufer

Expertise

Nutrition has always been an interest of mine as well as creating stimulating environments for rats. I conduct product reviews on my blog so I can take questions regarding products marketed or intended for rats. Other questions regarding basic husbandry, feeding, grooming, and other pet rat care will be accepted. I have very little breeding experience so I would not be able to answer much in the ways of breeding or genetics questions. I can help with some basic health care questions but am not a vet and always suggest contacting your vet for serious inquires.

Experience

I have over 13 years of experience with pet rats, having worked in several pet stores, as a veterinary tech assistant, and with my own pet rats. I run a highly regarded blog on the subject of pet rat ownership (www.ratwhisperer.net) with a corresponding YouTube channel and Facebook page. I have been and always will be open to questions and comments.

Publications
A photograph of my lady rat's cage is being published in Worth Publishers' college textbook "How Children Develop, 4e" by Robert Siegler, Judy DeLoache and Nancy Eisenberg on the subject of how complex, stimulating environments and how they relate to the brains of rats.

Education/Credentials
I have some college experience, but not in the field of animals. I completed the majority of an at-home Veterinary Technician course which I was unable to complete due to financial reason. The majority of my knowledge on rats have come from personal experience, conducting my own research with the help of published medical studies and journal, the internet and through other knowledgeable 'rat people'.

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