Pet Rats/Adopted rats
Hello! Recently (three days ago) I adopted two adult rats,I have experience with other rodents but they are my first rats. I didn't get much information from the previous owners about their behaviour nor age,they wanted to give away them quickly because of an allergy. They are very relaxed,show no signs of aggressiveness,but since we are still getting to know eachother I chose to not handle them and not let them out of the cage for now. Am I doing the right thing? I talk to them a lot and can put my hand in the cage with no problems,I give them also food from my hand and take it with no stress. I am concerned tehy will get stressed for not being handled and not being out of the cage,is that possible in this initial phase?
Also,they don't build nests and prefer to sleep out in the open. They don't shred paper I leave in the cage for bedding,they don't chew on cardboard,wood,nothing.. Even though I read a bunch of forums in the internet I am still uncertain of how to approach them and how to understand what they are feeling.
And at last,they seem to be very itchy,one of them has a little bit of hair loss around eyes,nose,behind the ears and small bloody scratches . I want to take them to the vet asap but I am afraid it will be too stressful,as they have moved in only three days ago. Do they get too much stress from "travelling"? How much is a normal amount of itching?
Thanks in advance,I hope thats not an awful lot of questions :)
First, congrats on adopting and rescuing these two rats and wanting to provide a good life for them.
You didn't mention if they are males or females. If they are males, then that would explain why they are very relaxed and don't chew much or make nests...those are traits of female rats, most of who are busy busy busy all the time and don't often relax. It's interesting that they sleep in the open. It concerns me that the previous owners didn't provide them with hammocks, igloos, or similar cozy sleeping spaces, which if true, is very sad. Almost all rats try to find small, warm, soft, dark enclosed sleeping spaces. Hammocks seem to be a rattie favorite, for some reason, they love to sleep suspended, and often piled one on top of the other. Hopefully, you have provided at least one hammock in their cage, as well as an igloo and perhaps some other hidey places so that they have choices depending on their moods.
In regards to keeping them in their cage for the first few days, that is fine, but it also wouldn't have been wrong to give them the option of exploring close to their cage right from the beginning. It is great that they are not aggressive and aren't afraid of you. If you haven't already let them out, then I'd suggest starting immediately. Rats should have at least one hour of out-of-cage time every day. If you can offer more than that every day, then even better. And preferably with you spending some if not all of that time playing and interacting with them. Our lives get busy and there are days when just don't have that kind of time to offer them. For those days, you can let them free play in a rat safe area or room where they can't escape from or do damage. If you don't have such a room or space, you can purchase a child's playpen, a used one from crAigslist perhaps. Fill it up with rattie favorite things like blankets, old clothing, boxes, etc so they can climb and explore. Include a litterbox, a water bottle and perhaps some small amount of dry mix or rat blocks. Change around the stuff inside frequently so they don't get bored. You can cover the top of the playpen with some cardboard or mesh if you feel they can jump,or climb out. I hope this gives you some ideas.
The first time you let them out of their cage for playtime, I recommend taking it slow and easy so that they don't get scared. The best time to do playtime is in the evenings, after dark, as that's when rats are active. A good way would be to take their cage into a very small room, like a bathroom. Fill the room with a few piles of towels or blankets and some empty boxes. Basically, you're trying to make the small room feel even smaller so that it's cozy. Rats tend to fear wide open spaces, so the cozier the better. Rats tend to walk clinging close to walls and such, so the more things you put in there the safer they will feel. So once you bring the cage in that room, open the cage door and then sit yourself down a few feet from the cage. Then wait and see what they do. Don't make sudden movements or noises. If they don't come out freely after a few minutes, you can encourage them by offering a treat. If they aren't afraid, you can reach in and take them out and let them explore the room. The key here is patience and letting things progress at THEIR own pace. This may come soon, or may take days, perhaps weeks if they are shy, but it doesn't seem like they are. Just repeat these playtimes whenever you have time. When things progress to that they are comfortable exploring and interacting with you, move playtimes to a bigger room or space. You can also alternate play areas, such as using different rooms, a bed, a sofa, a table top. If they are males, they will be mellow and might be content just sitting with you on the sofa, or on your lap.
Ok. Now to address the itching and scratching. It is quite likely they have mites or lice. Rats scratch a lot, but if you're seeing wounds and scabbing, they are likely itching due to mites or lice. There are ways to treat them on your own, however, because there are different types of parasites and treatments differ for each type, a vet visit is best. Since they just moved in, perhaps you can wait a few more days. Rats do tend to get stressed from new environments, but I do recommend you take them to a vet regardless. If possible, take them in their cage if you can fit it in your car, so that they'll be in a familiar place. If not, then use a small carrier filled with cozy things of theirs like their hammock or igloo, and also filled with scraps of cozy fabric, like fleece p, flannel, or small blanket or towel. If they feel cozy, they will be less stressed. Cover the travel carrier with a towel so they don't stress from the sunlight and all the new scenes during the walk to and from the car. Bring along some favorite treats in their cage or carrier too. They will do just fine. Here is a link to one good web page discussing parasites that infest pet rats...http://www.rmca.org/Articles/bugs.htm
I hope that I've covered everything you asked about. Feel free to write me again if you'd like more help. Good luck with your new babies!