Rat Teen Troubles

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Dublin and Jinx feigning innocence

Yes, it’s true – rats can have hormonal mood swings and teenage angst too!
My youngest two rats have been doing a lot of posturing and having increasing skirmishes.
Jinx has been a complete bully to poor laid back Dublin, by chasing him off the fresh food I put in the cage. I’m not intervening, because Dublin certainly doesn’t look underfed – in fact he’s the bigger of the two rats. It doesn’t help that Stripe has found a way to climb up their cage and agitates them both to distraction, if I don’t get there fast enough!

I’ve had to improvise a makeshift wall to seal off the cage from climbing rats, especially after Jinx discovered he could scale the cage too.

Last week, Jinx attacked Dublin for a dog biscuit, and chased him across the room. Half way along, Dublin changed direction, and ran straight up to my shoulder for protection!!

Stripe, Shy-Shy and Pip are still the best of mates. Pip tells them off if they get out of line, but he’s a fair boss. It still seems strange without their brother Rocky – the cage seems quieter with only the three of them.
Here’s some recent shots of them:

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is my cheesy wedge!

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it tickles

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hi!

Today my lovely rats have been mostly eating sunflower seeds

Dublin and Jinx

A little post all about the new boys.

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Dublin the Bold

Here’s our lovely big buck Dublin. I think he’s going to be a big rat – but he’s not fully grown so it’s hard to tell. He’s more laid back than his brother Jinx, and more outgoing. After all the traumatizing introductions with the older bucks, he still keeps coming back for more and continues to try and makes friends with them. In contrast to Jinx, who squeaks loudly whenever Stripe or Rocky approach him! He’s people friendly too, and has formed a strong bond with myself especially. His favourite place at free range time is on my shoulders, where he will sit for ages grooming himself, and enjoying his great vantage point! The two rats have also been known to jealously fight for a place there, and I have often had to intervene! I don’t stop their play fights usually, but I intend to keep the back of my neck unscathed and unscratched!

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Jittery Jinx

Jinx, or Jinxy as I affectionately call him is a sweet little hyper-active drama queen! He is a bit on the neurotic side and can appear quite nervous at times, but he is human-friendly, and can be easily coerced into an excitable frenzy, by tickling and play-fighting with him. He is sometimes a bit of a tearaway, and in a spritely mood has been seen intentionally irritating his brother or the older bucks, just for the hell of it – then he runs away squealing, feigning complete innocence! He hated being picked up at first – I had to resort to retrieving him from his cage via a bag – but after only a couple of weeks he would stay still in my hands just long enough to be placed on the floor. He just likes to be on the move and has a lot of energy.

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Free Range Time

Today my lovely rats have been mostly eating couscous

Stripe

All the rats seem to have recovered from the sneezing and they have put on weight (again!). I will have to put them on a diet soon. Rocky and Pip let the other two to wait on them, by sitting in the food larder, while Stripe and Shy-Shy frantically store the food! Stripe is very sweet. He’s always sat at the top corner of the cage waiting for me lately. When he knows he’s got my attention he “chitters” excitedly and “bruxes” at me. When a ratty chitters (grinding teeth rapidly to make a ch-ch-ch sound) it can sometimes mean nervousness, but it is usually associated with excitability and/or contentment. During “chittering” often a rat’s eyes will bulge noticeably in and out and this is bruxing. Stripe always bruxes when he sees me getting ready to open the cage and let him out. He knows it’s playtime!

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Stripe waiting for cuddles

Today my lovely rats have been mostly eating pieces of dried fruit.

Rat Foofing and Fur Coats

The latest events in the Rat House:-

1The boys have had yet another bout of Myco with Shy-Shy suffering the worst. I’ve no idea what set it off this time. Shy was making the dreaded “foofing” noise again and all of the rats were sneezing. All the boys were treated with 0.3ml per day of Baytril and all have responded well to the antibiotic.

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The first day I gave the rats their medicine, I sat down on a chair and gave one rat at a time some yoghurt (with Baytril) on a spoon. The following day they had already learnt the equation: chair=food, and as I finished mixing the first spoonful of medicine and yoghurt, I turned around to see Shy-Shy sat on the chair waiting for his treat! I continued with the next batch, and as soon as it was done I went to sit down, and Pip was sitting there on my chair looking expectantly at me! Then guess what? With the following spoonful Stripe was there by himself on the chair as if to say “It’s my turn!” Rocky is not one to come running (he’s far too laid back), but as I sat down and called him, he sauntered up towards me and flopped onto my knee like a blob of custard, and soon lapped up his yoghurt too. The same sequence of events happened every evening almost without exception, if they weren’t in the chair when I reached for it, they were there the instant I sat down, individually, which was all the more astonishing. Why didn’t they all converge onto the chair at once? The usual behaviour when treats are offered is for all four rats to pile up as near to the food as rattily possible (including standing right up on tippy-paws as far as they can stretch; arm-swatting a brother out of the way; grabbing for it or jumping advantageously onto my hand to get to the treat!

All I can conclude from this is that either:
1/ Rats are very fast learners
2/ Rats are habit-forming animals
3/ Rats are able to change behaviour quickly to suit their changing environment
4/ Rats are ruled by their bellies
or another suspicion: 5/ Rats are tiny people in fur coats!

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Rocky and brothers: Part Custard, Part Meringue

Today my lovely rats have been mostly eating strawberries from our very own garden!

Territory Issues

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Shy-Shy maturing into his Ginger coat

Shy-Shy my Berkshire Agouti rat is a bit of rascal at times regarding what he deems to be his space. I can’t blame him of course, if a giant stuck it’s hand into your house and started moving stuff about, you’d probably be a bit annoyed too! This morning I was waking up the boys to move them to a tank which they sleep in while I’m cleaning out their cage (I’ve given up trying to do it with the rats free ranging, because they just try and get back in their cage and “help” me! Shy-Shy regards any movement of his bedding as a personal affront, and sets on the perpetrator (my hand) with full-on biting action! Anyway, I’d effortlessly transported the three good beige boys to their tank, without so much of a sniff (in fact Stripe just gave me a nonchalant lick). Shy-Shy was sitting in his box looking agitated and slightly disgruntled for the fact that I’d woken him up. So I spoke to him gently and reassuringly, and slowly moved my hand towards him to let him sniff me and let him know it was only mum. Well.. he shot out at me and gave me a warning bite (I knew it was a warning bite because it only slightly caught the skin – if he’d have wanted to he could have sliced a little chunk out of my finger!). I’ve read lots and lots of rat-owners comments that rats never bite, but I think it simply depends on the rat’s early experiences and it’s genetic predispositions. They are as different in temperament to each other as dogs or even us. My rats were rescues, so unfortunately they weren’t handled much until I got them at six weeks old. Apparently, very tame rats have been handled as early as possible (for short periods) during the first three or four weeks, this period being crucial to their developing trust in human contact. I haven’t had experience with newborn rats, but we used to keep Guinea Pigs, and I handled two sets of litters literally from birth and they became extremely tame (Tufty and Flash would sprawl out like a cats on our laps while we watched TV!). I must point out that it did not unduly stress the mother Guinea (Marmalade) because she was already comfortable with us. I would presume that a nervous mum may not like her babies being “stolen” from her for those few minutes! Rodents have been known to kill their own young if they feel threatened, but I wouldn’t imagine this ever happens in an environment where the rodent mothers are tame and relaxed with human company.
Shy-Shy seems to have a wild streak in him, he’s much more alert and faster than the other boys, and definitely the brightest of the bunch (it’s maybe the agouti line, I don’t know) and he reminds me a lot of Ratty (agouti too) who was also very territorial. If any one has any thoughts on this please feel free to add a comment.

I nearly forgot to add – Shy-Shy said he was “sorry” afterwards by tenderly licking my fingers – awww!

Today my lovely rats have been mostly eating chickpeas and wholegrain rice

Bonding, Bruxing, Boggling

At just over a year old my rats have a strong bond with each other. No one seems to be left out and they are extremely caring towards each other. If one of the boys (who ever it is) has to go to the vets, when he arrives home, his cage mates run fondly to great him and begin to gently groom him. They seem to sense that he has had a bit of an ordeal. There are a few scuffles (to reinforce the hierarchy), on a regular basis, but it looks like play most of the time, and none of the rats have suffered any real injuries from it, except for a minor nick on Shy-Shy’s back, which could equally have been a scratch from his own claw.

Towards us, they are now much more at ease, and will positively race to me or Hannah if we call to them individually (probably expecting a treat or two!). They are all so trusting they will sit on our laps and eat treats, or run up my arm to the haven that is mum’s shoulder. To show us we are “accepted” members of their clan, they will give our hands a quick lick, and now and again Shy-Shy particularly will “groom” our fingers. Rocky likes to give my ear a light chew (not a bite!), and Shy-Shy’s favourite place to nibble is the tip of your nose! Of course they know their own names, and behave like little enthusiastic puppies sometimes, and playful kittens at others!

Stripe is always the first at the top of the cage, waiting to come out and “greet” me in his own ratty way. He grinds his jaws together, making a quick che che che sound, which is his way of showing excitement. It’s called bruxing and is often followed by an odd rapid bulging or boggling in and out of the eyes. It’s the weirdest thing! All the boys brux when it’s time to come out and play, but Stripe and Pip are the only two I’ve seen “boggling”. This morning I was cleaning out their cage while the boys slept in a tank. When it was time to wake them Maya and I stroked them gently, and Pip and Stripe bruxed and boggled. Shy-Shy was a bit disgruntled to be woken and made annoyed squeaks at us! He was soon placated with a few pieces of grape though!

Another sign that the rats are happy and excited is the funny little “hops” and “skips” they make when they’re running about. This sometimes turns into chasing and scuffles, and hyper rats!
All in all, I think we’re very lucky to have such a chilled group of rats that seem to genuinely look out for each other, and they don’t seem to think their human family are that bad either!

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Stripe grooming Shy-Shy

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Shy-Shy in sheer bliss just before succombing to a deep sleep

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“Don’t worry buddy, your yoggies are coming soon”

Today my lovely rats have been mostly eating curly kale and grapes.

Naughty Smelly Rats

Yet again I’m having to modify the rats’ cage! Recently one or two of the rats have for some unknown reason decided to “tidy” all the poos in their cage from their toilets to the large “Acroplatform” which is supposed to be a kind of general run around area. Not only that, they have been diligently urinating over the same platform/shelf, so that when it comes to cleaning time, I am almost reduced to tears with the sheer stench of it! I must add that I give their cage a thorough clean every week religiously. The main culprit is Shy-shy, who among other things, has obsessive nesting instincts, and territory issues! An example of this would be the time I tried to remove some spoiled bedding to replace it with new stuff, and Shy-shy lunged at my fingers, mouth wide open and teeth flashing! He didn’t bite me but I didn’t give him much chance! He’s the only rat that is defensive about is home, and is never aggressive outside his cage or to his cage mates, but I give him a healthy respect, and “knock before entering” the cage (let him sniff my hand – and never try to move bedding/food/stuff once he’s claimed it as his!) I’m sure it’s quite common this behaviour and it’s just a natural instinct which serves wild rats very well.

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Shy-shy “redecorating”

To combat the problem of messy cage habits, I had the ingenious idea of adding a couple of new levels to our huge cage, which have been filled with cardboard litter to absorb the yucky rat by-products! I have removed the Acroplatform for now and got hold of two cat litter trays which I’ve drilled holes into. The trays are attached to the cage with metal loops. So far so good, the ratties haven’t turned their home into a tip quite yet, but it’s only Monday!

Today my rats have been mostly eating their boring old rat food again!

Rat Personalities

I just thought I’d make a post about the fact that rats are as individual as we are, having different tastes and eccentricities. For example, if the rats are out exploring on the floor, and I feel one pounce onto my back, I know without looking that it is Rocky. He always climbs onto my left shoulder and sniffs my ear, then more often than not he nibbles my ankle in the same place every time! I’m not sure why he does this, but my boyfriend is getting jealous! From the very beginning I’ve always worn shoes when the rats are about as they seem to be overly fond of the taste of feet!

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Rocky enjoys Cycling

Stripe is always the first to greet me at the cage bars, and when I hold him he tends to flop in my hands and tolerates me stroking him alot longer than the others. He’s probably the most submissive of my rat family, and the most human-friendly. He always runs up my chest and gives me ratty kisses on my nose which is very endearing :)

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Shy-Shy seems to have more of a wild streak in him, and squirms to get away if I hold him, although he never hesitates to run to me if I call him, and will happily climb up onto my shoulder, where he likes to be carried about. He’s the most active of all of the boys, and his ears and whiskers never stop twitching. If I have food with me Shy-Shy will shoot towards me like a rocket, and eat out of my hand.

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Shy-shy scouts out area Shy-shy getting better view

Pip, or Pipsy as I fondly call him, is a bit shy and enjoys his food, is always the last out of the cage, and first to hide if there is a funny noise or the kids are being too excitable. He tends to lounge about most of the time, or follow his brothers about when he’s feeling more energetic. If there’s a scrap between the rats though, Pip can hold his own! He’s the strong silent type. If I call him, he will come along cautiously, and creep up onto my lap via the side of me. He usually gives me a brief salutary sniff and then hides under my leg.

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Today my rats have been mostly eating small coconut pieces and grapes.

Teaching Rats English

It is probably no surprise that rats learn to recognize their own names. One day the four brothers were relaxing in their giant pink checked “beehive” (an abhorrent choice of rat decor – I admit), when I decided to test out the theory that they had learned their own names. I called Stripe first, and he emerged all bright-eyed and enthusiastic (probably thought there was food being offered), then one at a time I beckoned the others out of the beehive and each answered to his own name.

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“I know there’s scrambled egg around here somewhere”

Learning names is one thing – but last week Shy-Shy learned the phrase “Do you want to play on the floor?” Every day their play-time begins on the table, as this is the easiest place to let them get used to us, but after a short time they get agitated and want to explore. As soon as I say “Do you want to play on the floor?” Shy-Shy belts over to me like a caffeine-induced whippet, and launches himself onto my person (he knows I will place him gently on to the floor).

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“Are you looking at me?”

I am convinced that the ratties also know the words “out to play”, “scrambled egg” and most definitely: “eggy custard”!

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“I’m lost”

My daughter is actively encouraging this penchant for human speech in the rats, and she is teaching them more useful words from the English language like “Happy Birthday Daddy”!

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“Mmm.. time for escape plan B”

Today my rats have been mostly eating mashed banana in milk and popcorn pieces.

Egg and Ninja-rats

During their playtime today I gave the rats a hard-boiled egg to see what they would do. I put a small nick in it to give them a head start. Ten minutes later the egg was rolling around on the laminate floor with four rats chasing it! Rocky, the big macho rat tried to run away with it in his mouth, but I was very mean and made him share it with the other boys!

“What heck’s this?” “Dunno. It smell funny”

After getting very hyperactive, as young ratties do, Rocky (who always starts fights) picked a fight with Stripe. Stripe is a bit smaller than Rocky, but is not intimidated by him at all. In fact he defended himself by making an impressive ninja high leap attack, which Rocky had to block with his tiny paws! Here’s the two of them throwing their weight around:

“Ha-haa! I has you in arm-lock!”

“I givin you a kickin!”

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“Torrrrpedoooo!”

During rats’ adolescence (3 to 8 months) the males will fight to establish dominance within the group, or pair. They will box or pin their opponent down, and ‘power groom’ one another. As long as there are no injuries you should leave them to it, but if you see more than a little scratch on your rat, it might be advisable to separate the guilt party, and seek the vet’s advice. Sometimes rats are given a drug called Tardak which inhibits the hormones which can make your rat more aggressive towards it’s cage-mates. Sometimes a vet will suggest castration for a male rat, if he is particularly aggressive. Within a few weeks after this operation, he is usually a lot calmer, but it is an invasive procedure and should only be a last resort, in my opinion.

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Stripe looking totally innocent

We got our first rat Ratty and after about three weeks realised that he desperately needed some company. So we went back to the pet shop to see if one of his brothers was still there, and came home with Ratty’s brother, who we called Ruby. Well, not knowing what we do now about rats, we put Ruby into Ratty’s cage. We assumed that the two brothers would remember each other, but Ratty obviously decided that Ruby was an outsider and shouldn’t be in his territory! There was a lot of raised fur and noise and posturing, and Ratty would not let Ruby anywhere near the food bowl. This is a natural territorial instinct, but to us it looked like Ratty was being a bully. Both of the rats were obviously scared witless at each other, so perhaps wrongly, we separated them, and gave each his own room to run around in. In hindsight, I would have tried to socialise them slowly, but we didn’t have a clue about how to do that at the time. The rat books I had at the time were really rubbish and brief, but thankfully there is so much more information now on the net.

Pip, Stripe, Shy-Shy and Rocky have little scraps and skirmishes quite often, but they always snuggle up to each other in the end, and seem to get on really well.

Today my rats have been mostly eating sliced baby sweetcorn.