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Hello! I have two female rats who have been together for a couple of months now, they were introduced properly and everything has been going well so far! During the introducing process I noticed that the younger rat was (still is) super dominant and on top of that, incredibly skiddish; the older rat is super nice and her personality could be compared to that of a dog (loves grooming people, curious, very people oriented). After introductions, everything was going super well except for feeding time. The older rat has a tendency to store the food and then steal the younger rats food (basically keeping it all for herself) whereas the younger rat prefers to eat the food there and then (I give them both equal portions). This created a problem, there was lots of squeaking during feeding time but no blood was drawn so I figured they were just being dramatic over sharing food but, recently the squeaks have gotten louder and more desperate, I started noticing that hair was being pulled and that blood was being drawn around the head and neck area, but the older rat was the only one with injuries. I believe the younger rat is defending her food and I am positive the older rat is the one instigating the quarrels that lead to her injuries. I'm currently trying to separate them during feeding time and a few hours after, but I'm not sure how to handle the situation. What do you recommend I do? (Fighting is happening at night, right after I feed them so I am assuming it is because of the food)

Answer
This is a difficult situation.  It sounds to me as if you have done everything right, from careful introductions, to feeding equal amounts of food, in a bowl for each girl, to separating them during feeding.

The problem here is the differences in their eating behavior as well as the fact that one is very dominant over the other.  Personalities cannot be changed so you will have to figure out a way to make this work.  It may take much trial and error.

Let me ask you...do you keep a bowl of dry food mix in their cage at all times?  And the dinner you serve I assume is a fresh food meal at night...is that correct?  If not, pleas reply with the details.

If you do not keep a bowl or two of dry food mix in their cage 24x7, then that may be part of the problem.  Rats need to have access to food at all times during day and night because they must be able to graze often.  They cannot wait to eat one meal a day...that is not how they are wired and it is not healthy.  And if you are only giving one meal a day, then they must be starving by that time, thus spurring fights over portions.   

If however you DO indeed keep dry mix plus offer a fresh food dinner....which is the correct feeding plan...then I suggest that you give the fresh dinner much earlier than you do, ideally a few hours before you go to bed.  Continue to give each girl her own bowl and feed in separate places.  For example you can take the younger girl out of her cage and give her her meal on the kitchen table while you sit by her, since she's the one who likes to sit and eat at the bowl, while the older one eats in her cage.  Or perhaps reverse it because the older one likes to stash....this way she won't be able to stash on the table and there won't be fights over stashed food later while you're asleep.  

Regardless of how you do it, be sure that at the end of feeding time, after each girl has had her share, no fresh food remains in the cage.  Only the dry mix remains.  

This is probably the first thing I would try if these were my rats.  Hopefully this will do the trick.  But remember, if one girl is very dominant, they may squabble about other things as well.  

One last thing...quarrels between cagemates are more apt to occur if their cage is on the small side.  You may consider a larger cage, with 2 or more levels and one that is at least 30" wide x 18" long.  A single or double Critter Nation or Ferret Nation are a good size.  I personally like the Martins R685 which can be purchased on martinscages.com for about $100.  In additon to a larger cage, make sure there at plenty of tunnels, igloos, hammocks and other hiding places in the cage so if the girls want to be away from each other, they'll have many options of where to go.

Please write back and let me know how things are going after you've tried my suggestions.  Good luck with your girls!  I hope they will find a happy medium and learn to get along.

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Irene Murphy

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I can answer a variety of questions regarding adoption and care of pet rats throughout their lifetimes, including questions about their health and well being, temperment, diet, bedding, cages, toys, etc. I will try to answer your questions to the best of my ability in a timely manner and I have an abundant amount of resources to help me to help you with your pet rats. I love rattie pictures, so include pics with your question if you can. You may ask me medical questions, but please be advised that I am not a vet. I may use my resources to answer some medical questions, however, I will need to refer you to your local vet with medical questions that I feel I am not qualified to address.

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I have a college degree but not in the area of animals. I have obtained my extensive experience and knowlege of pet rats all on my own because in my eyes, pet rats are the most interesting and fascinating creatures you can ever imagine to have as pets. I also am saddened by how mislabeled and misunderstood these amazing and extremely smart animals are by the majority, and my mission in life has become to educate and change as many people's perceptions of rats as I possibly can.

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