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Pet Rats/Playing or something else?


Hello! A week ago I bought my first rats. Both are from a local, small pet-shop, and they've been handled frequently as they were born in-store. Pepper is from a litter before Skye, and are sisters. They were in the same enclosure at the store (they have the grown females in one, grown males in another, and mothers and their pups get their own spaces), and all were puppy-piled on each other. Skye is 6 weeks old, not -exactly- sure on Pepper, but they're about the same size.
At first, they huddled together, and I tried to avoid reaching in to grab them... if they wanted handled, I let them come to me. Skye is now fully settled in, has these crazies that rattle the cage, and has this weird habit of begging for treats, then taking them up to her nest, hiding them, and dashing back down to beg for another.
Pepper, on the other hand, hasn't come out (unless I'm at work or sleeping), and hides in her box still. I feel terrible because I had to remove her to clean the cage today, and she freaked out, hiding her face in my hair and shaking violently. Skye will ambush her in Pepper's nest (they nest in opposite corners of the cage, in every term. Pepper's nest is on the floor in the from left corner, Skye's nest is in the back right corner up in the top), and try to wrestle with her for a moment before scampering up the cage again. Pepper just lays there and takes it. She'll interact with me if I push it, but I don't want to push her -too- far.
So this leaves me with a few questions... Is this play on Skye's part, or she asserting her dominance with Pepper? Do I need to worry about Pepper's lack of activity, or assume she's still stressing and settling in? (She eats, she drinks, she'll leave her box (I've found some toys in her box), but she doesn't run up and down the cage or doing "bunny-binkies" like Skye does) And Skye has been doing this odd thing the last few days, of racing up onto the back of my and dancing, before dashing up the cage again. Any insight? (Sorry for all the questions, but I've spent the last several hours online, and am not finding much information on this!)
Thank you for your time!

Hi Amanda,
Skye is definitely playing, both with Pepper and with you. She is a happy, well-adjusted young rat. Pepper is feeling insecure. It might be that she didn't get as much socialization as Skye, or she might just have a more shy personality. You'll find an article called Trust Training on my website at that will tell you what you can do to gain her trust and make her feel more comfortable in her new home.

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Debbie Ducommun


I can answer any questions about pet rats, but you will probably be able find answers to simple questions more quickly on my website at If you have a life-threatening emergency you can try calling me at 530-899-0605. I am not usually on the computer on the weekend.


I have been "The Rat Lady" since 1985 and am recognized as one of the world's experts on pet rats. I have 3 published books and already answer lots of questions about rats daily.

President of Rat Assistance & Teaching Society

I am a monthly columnist for Pet Business magazine, and my writing has appeared in other magazines. I have 3 published books.

BA in Animal Behavior

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