I suggest getting two rats. I think having 2 rats is better than having 3, 4, or 5 rats, and better than having just one. You see, rats need attention, and lots of it. I believe that rats are generally happier and healthier animals when they have a buddy. Even if you have just one rat and aren’t planning on another, you should know how to introduce two rats. For most of us, the time will come eventually. Most of us DON’T know what to do, though. Some of us think you can just put two rats in the same cage and everything will be fine. Some of us think you can stick them in the bathtub a couple of times and THEN put them in the same cage and everything will be fine. Some of us are wrong. It’s actually quite a bit more complicated than you might think, and can sometimes take a long time. Introducing males is more difficult than females (that testosterone can be quite a pain), but females can give you trouble, too. The fact of the matter is, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you could end up with trouble. It’s usually easier to introduce babies to babies rather than adults to adults. Never introduce baby rats under six weeks to an adult male. There is a tendency for males to kill babies. Read on to find out the best way to introduce your two little ones.
Step 1–Supplies & Preparation
This entire process takes quite a long time. I’m not talking hours, here, I’m talking weeks. Over the entire process, you’re going to need:
- Two cages, one for the old rat, one for the new one, preferably wire
- Spray bottles
- A place where you play with both of them (at different times, of course).
Also, before advancing to step 2, make sure you quarantine the new rat just in case it develops any symptoms of disease. Have the new rat as far away from the current rats as possible, and between handling the rats, wash your hands and change your clothes. Many diseases, including Myco, are transmitted not only through the air, but also from hands and clothing.
Step 2–Love at first sight?
The first step is to place the cages close together, so that the rats can smell each other but not touch. This way they can identify that each other are present, but the worry of fights or other problems is not there. You should keep them next to each other for about a week, so they can get used to the idea that they’re not the “only” rats anymore. After this amount of time, move onto step number three.
Step 3–The Great Exchange
By far, this is one of the most interesting things to watch. Put the current rat in the new rats cage and the new rat in the current rats cage, so neither is in the right cage. Whatever you do, don’t put the new rat in the current rat’s cage while the current rat is still in there, or vice versa! This is a death wish. You may see the fur on the rats puff up, and there could be a lot of marking. Let the rats explore their new friend’s cage for a while. Do this several times over the next couple of days.
Step 4–The First Introduction
The first introduction should take place on neutral territory, so that neither rat feels the need to defend his or her territory. If neither rat has been to this place before, neither considers it “his place”. The best place to do this is in the bathtub. It is a good idea to have a towel and a spray bottle nearby. This is where the first examinations are done. If you’re lucky, the two may just start grooming each other, but there may be some squeaking, pouncing, hair raising, and fighting. If there’s any squeaking or hair raising, let them alone, but if you (or they, for that matter) start to feel uncomfortable, give them a quick squirt with the spray bottle. Any fighting should be stopped. Don’t put your hand between the rats. You could get hurt. Use the towel to separate them, then replace them in their cages. It helps to give them treats together. According to Debbie Ducommun (the Rat Fan Club), eating together helps rats bond. Never leave these rats unattended!! Do this every day for a week, then move on to step 5.
Step 5–The Scary Second Introduction
Next, put the rats together in their playspace. They should have never met here before, and they should have had this be where playtime is conducted. This introduction is where some fighting is likely to break out, since you are introducing these rats on territory that each considers their own. As always when introducing two rats, have the towel and spray bottle close on hand. Do this for about a week, feeding them treats together daily.
Step 6–The Big Leap of Faith
The cage you want to have both of your rats living in mayor may not be the cage the resident rat lives in. If the resident rat does, in fact, live in this cage, you need to thoroughly clean the cage with soap or Lysol and rinse it cleanly to remove all odor. Rearrange the “furniture”, so the cage looks and smells different to the current rat as well as the new one. Before putting them in the cage together, it’s a good idea to clip their nails (to minimize large wounds in a fight), and dab each rat with perfume or vanilla extract or bath spray. Make sure not to get it in their eyes. This makes the rats smell alike. The best time to introduce rats is when they’re sleepy, which is usually in the morning.
This meeting might frighten you a bit. I know it scared me!! The resident rat will probably flip the newcomer onto his or her back, causing the new rat to squeak. Keep in mind, just because a rat is squeaking, doesn’t mean it’s getting hurt. If the current rat is showing signs of big-time aggression, you should remove the new rat. It’s normal for the resident rat to beat up the newcomer. He or she needs to establish dominance. As long as no one is getting seriously hurt, you should let them do their thing. It’s also normal for the “beating up stage” to last a few days. In most cases, the “tiffs” will be over quickly. The first fight is usually the worst, then the rats become friends after a week or so.
Every so often, there are rats that “just don’t like each other”. If the rats fight all the time, or just don’t seem to care about each other, you might consider getting different cage mates for each rats, or just keeping them alone. Aggression in males can also be solved by neutering. Good luck!!