Introductions - Easy Guide

By Small Furries - June 11, 2019




Having to carry out introductions can be a very frequent occurrence if you keep Rats for a long time. Whether you have adopted a rat or purchased one or more from a breeder or pet store, you will need to do introductions to your current rats.

When adding a new rat to your mischief you should always quarantine them first. This means isolating them away from your current rats for at least two weeks. The reason we do this is to ensure the new rat has not brought a disease or infection with them and if they have, prevent it from spreading to your older Rats.

Another cage should be purchased before getting new rats, but it does not have to be huge. I use a hamster cage and I usually have new babies so they are small enough to live comfortably for a couple of weeks. A large cage can be split into two as long as there is no chance of the rats getting to each other. Alternatively, a cat carrier can be used as a last resort but as they are usually so small, it would not be fair on the rats to keep them in there for 2 weeks, so it is always best just to buy a cheap second cage!

Having a second cage can be used for more than just introductions (in case you are struggling to justify buying another cage!). It can be used in emergencies for ill rats, aggressive rats; it can be used as a hide out during free roam. It could also be used to downsize, depending on the size of it, if you no longer need a huge cage and only have two rats.

Introductions are used to ensure their first time meeting runs smoothly and that you are present to intervene should anything go wrong.

There are a few ways that this can be carried out although my favourite way is to use an unfamiliar space also known as neutral ground.

This space does not belong to the older rats, a space that they usually do not use and are unlikely to have scent marked. They will be slightly uncomfortable here but hopefully will not feel defensive over their territory. It can also aid as a distraction against any negative feelings they are having when meeting their new cage mates for the first time, the new smells are so exciting!

These can include:

  • Your Bed
  • A Sofa
  • An Open Cat Carrier
  • The Bath
  • A small, rat proof enclosed room



Scatter your rat’s favourite treats around the neutral area, this usually allows the introductions to happen without the rats realising. Ensure there is enough so that they do not fight over the food and you may want to add new treats to hold the older rat’s attention for longer.

Allow the new rat(s) to explore the area you are using for 5 minutes so they can relax and feel safe. Remove anything that could spook the rats, such as loud music or bright lights and try to make your rat feel as calm as possible.

Add the older rats to the area and allow them to interact with the new ones. Be wary that even using this method, there could still be a clash and a fight. You should never put your hand into a rat fight (unless you want to lose a finger), so make sure you have something (I use a dustpan) to separate the rats if they do fight.

As you already have rats, you will know that they like to play fight a lot! Sometimes their play fighting can become rough and you may start worrying it is a fight; in these cases, you must let them finish play fighting. This is how they figure out who is boss, which ones are stronger and bigger and just getting a feel of each other’s personalities.

You should have an understanding of the difference between play fighting and serious fighting. Of course, blood being drawn is the main sign of a serious fight; however, if you can recognise signs of aggression, you can break it up before one of them is injured.

Signs of Aggression

Aggression usually stems from territorial, hormonal or maternal instincts but can also mean pain as mentioned above. Some rats may become over protective of the space they are in, or you, which can be a problem for new rats and male rats can become aggressive towards each other when they reach sexual maturity, which may result in splitting them up.

Many of these signs can be completely harmless, but its best to keep a closer eye on your rats if you witness any of the following during introductions:

·         Squeaking – Squeaking can be used as a warning to the new rats that they are starting to feel uncomfortable.

·         Arched Back – Arching their back makes, them look bigger and they may sometimes fluff up their fur to add to their size!

·         Stand Offs – when two rats stand up to each other, it is almost like a square off, they are trying to figure out who is the boss and although most of the times one will back down, it could end up in a full-blown fight, so be ready to break them up. Sometimes you may see your rats boxing, which looks like a pathetic slap fight but they are still serious and figuring each other out!

·         Side Kick – This amazing karate kick is a warning sign to back off, when a rat turns itself sideways and starts kicking with its back legs make sure you watch or remove them until they have calmed down

       Bum Barging – turning their back to the other rat and pushing them with their bum is a defensive act and can be seen just before the sidekick.

·         Bruxing – bruxing is in every single article I write! It is such a common behaviour, but unfortunately, for us, we do not know which emotion it is unless we compare it to other symptoms! In this case, bruxing can mean your rat is uncomfortable.

·         Humping- while humping is not necessarily an aggressive act, it can seem like it sometimes, and they usually do not ask each other permission so you may end up with a very annoyed rat!

·         Biting – gentle nibbling occurs when a rat is grooming you but anything harder is either a warning sign or a sign of aggression. Sometimes rat may bite down hard on your skin but not draw blood, this means the next one will likely be a real bite and you should remove whatever is irritating them. They may sometimes bare their teeth before lunging.

Dragging – Usually it will be females who drag smaller babies with their teeth into a safe space. They are being protective in this case but sometimes males can drag others in an act of aggression.

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Most of the time, introductions should run smoothly and their play fight may only last a couple of seconds! Some rats are very docile and submissive, and having a mischief of submissive rats can ensure easy introductions and makes it less likely a fight will break out whilst you are not at home. However, you cannot choose your rats personality so it is always best to figure out which ones seem more dominant and keep an eye on them.

You may find you end up with two strong dominant characters but usually if you are adding small babies to your mischief, they older ones tend to stand down as they age and allow the new babies ( who are a lot smaller, and less likely to do significant damage ) to take the place of King or Queen!

Once you have successfully introduced your rats with no fights, you will be ready to move them into the same cage. It’s always best to completely disinfect the cage they are all going into, this removes any smell of the older rats and, if you re arrange and add in new toys, it’ll seem like a completely new cage for the older rats!


Alternative method - Cat Carrier Method.

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Small Furries 2019 Extended Diploma in Animal Management

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References

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/
http://www.ratbehavior.org
http://www.ratfanclub.org/

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