Taming Rats

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I’ve had several comments in the discussion areas about how to tame shy rats, so here are my replies, and a couple of useful links about the subject:

For Nervous Rats

Why not try putting your rats on a bed (with you on it) or a table or kitchen top so that they can’t hide from you. They don’t normally try jumping off. Have a blanket or box they can return to if they feel nervous. Let them sniff your hands and get used to your hands being near to them before picking them up. Some ratties are more shy than others, so try to be patient – they will come around. My older rats prefer to run up on to me rather than me picking them up, but they tolerate it and will keep still for me now, when they were babies they would wriggle and try to run off too. It just takes time, and keep trying – the more contact you have with your rats, the more they will learn to trust you.

How to Approach New Shy Rats

My advice is to offer them treats and try and handle them as much as possible. A way to trust-train them is to keep them on your person for at least 20 minutes a day – I mean don’t let them on the floor or anywhere but where you are. Even if you just keep your hand near them at first – not to pick up – offer treats till they associate you with good things. I used a box with Jinx & Dublin – they could play in the box and I put my hand in the box near them all the time – they were soon running up my arm to explore! Try not to move to fast towards them if you can. I had to put some of my boys (one at a time) in a pouch where they felt secure and let my hand rest near them.

If they don’t like you picking them up out of their cage or don’t come out by themselves – don’t chase them – this will only make them more scared of your hands – either offer food to encourage or get a pouch or bag and get them used to it – then you can use it to get them out (they will run into the safety of the pouch). Dublin and Jinx used to step from their bed to the pouch and I would carry them in it to the box. It was a secure place to explore from while they were getting used to me. I didn’t let them on the floor (main play area) until they were used to me.

The best treat for trust-training is yoghurt on a spoon – rats love it and they have to stay to lick the spoon – they can’t just run off with it!!

Useful Links

Fancy Rats
Rat Guide

Today my lovely rats have been mostly eating coconut pieces.

New Baby Rats!

Oh yes! We couldn’t resist! These two little 8 week old bucks came home with us on Saturday.

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Jinx and Dublin

They were a little freaked out, but very very sweet. I think they’ve been handled, because they were from a local lad (accidental litter) but they’ve had to endure a pet shop environment for a few days, so they are understandably nervous. It’s only been four days, but they are already curious about us and will sniff my hands, and run in and out of my clothes! They didn’t like being handled at first, but today I was very pleased that both of them went slack when I picked them up (a good indication that they trust me). They live in their own cage (a Ferplast Tubeline Mary) for now. Once they are used to me and my daughters I will begin introductions with the big boys. Here they are: Dublin and Jinx.

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Jinx

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Dublin

Dublin is the biggest of the two, and more friendly so far. He comes straight up to us for a sniff, and he already runs to me for safety if there is a strange noise that spooks him. He even gave me a little lick today, which means he is accepting me (or I taste good!). He’s already posing for the camera!

Jinx is a little smaller and more skittish. He seems to like his food though, and will take treats straight out of my hand which is a good sign. Both of them are adorable as you will see by the photos. The older rats are not at all bothered. They know there are some strangers in the room, but seem curious rather than upset.

Today my lovely rats have been mostly eating EMP

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

Handling Rats

My three daughters are aged between nearly four and nine, and all have regular playtime with the rats. Hannah, the eldest is very confident and relaxed with them and I’ve added some photos of her holding the rats to show how children should be encouraged to handle rats safely and gently. My second child, Skye is a little nervous at times, because the rats like to ‘nibble’ (not bite) her clothes! She is learning to trust them more and more though. My youngest, Maya is a bit heavy handed at times, and needs constant supervision, but we encourage her to be very gentle and not to grab her rats. Also, Maya will throw out her arms towards the rats and this is slightly alarming to them as you can imagine! So I’ve found the best solution is for Maya to sit in a chair, while I pass one of the rats to her. She is becoming more aware of how to act around the rats and they are much more at ease with her, especially Pip, who goes as limp as a blancmange in her grasp!

Young children need to use both hands to pick up a rat, firmly but gently around its middle, as in the following images:

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Today my rats have been mostly eating fresh spinach

Rats and kids

All the rats have been to the vet again (sigh) with sneezing and porphyrin around their eyes and noses. He prescribed 10 days of Baytril again, and hopefully that will be long enough to get rid of the Myco for good.

Today my three children all had a go at feeding the rats with a spoon. I put a blanket across each of the girls’ legs and encouraged their rats (each has her favourite) onto their laps. This resulted in lots of food spilt everywhere, giggles and squeals of delight from the girls, and four well-fed, but not too fazed ratties! In fact, the rats were so keen to explore my daughters that they tended to do it three at a time, which was a little too much for my eldest, because she thought they were going to nibble her feet!

Rocky and Hannah

Rocky finds a friend

For some reason Rocky especially has a fascination with my feet and whenever he gets the chance he has a little nibble! All of my rats tend to put their teeth around my fingers now and again, but do not bite. I’m not sure why they do this and I hope it doesn’t mean they are going to bite. Pip (the shyest rat) bit me once (just a tiny nip) when I tried to pick him up out of his bed. I think he was just being defensive, so since then I coax him out with food and then pick him up. The others sit still for me to lift them now, and will stay in my hands for a little while, before struggling to get free and explore.

Stripe whiskers

Stripe looking for someone to play with

There is a rule in my house regarding the rats: to never put fingers through the cage bars, as a rat’s sense of smell is very good, and they might mistake your finger for a strip of pizza, or stick of carrot!

Today my rats have been mostly eating cooked pasta with garlic and herbs.

Treats

Since giving Shy-Shy his medicine disguised in soft food, he is much more relaxed and friendly around me, so I’ve tried offering the other three rats food soft food from a spoon. I started with yoghurt (the fruity kind with no bits – because this is what my kids eat), and the rats love it. At first they would only come to the door of their cage to take the food from me, but after only a few days Stripe and Rocky were eating the food on my lap. Pip is still nervous, but I’m sure he’ll come round once he realises I’m the treat-lady!

Shy-Shy discovers an orange pointy thing

Pip, Stripe, Rocky and Shy-Shy’s Favourite Treats:

Scrambled Egg (A firm favourite, but messy)

Sweetcorn (They can’t resist this!)

Sunflower Seeds ( Not too many)

Yoghurt (Served on a teaspoon on owner’s lap!)

Egg Custard Baby Food (Too tempting for the shyest rat to miss!)

Cheesy Vegetables Baby Food (I found this great to hide medicine in)

Mashed Banana in Lactose-Free Baby Milk (Or soya baby milk is supposed to be OK for young growing rats, and good for poorly rats)

Pip gets his carrot and eats it

Today my rats have been mostly eating cornflakes.

Gaining Rats’ Trust

The rats are 8 weeks old today, and this week has turned up a few surprises. The ongoing taming of the rats is going better than I had expected. When I walk into the room Stripe and Rocky eagerly race to the bars of their cage to sniff me out! Shy-Shy follows shortly afterwards and Pip is usually a little reticent, and hangs back until the rest have calmed down. Pip is a lazy sausage though, he likes nothing better than to snooze in his tube.

Pip flat out again!

I am continuing the regular handling regime, only I have cut it down to 15 minutes per rat, and have started to let my daughters hold their individual rats in a “rat slipper” or fleece hat, so the rats have a little security and don’t feel too exposed. This is a brilliant way to handle them, because they don’t tend to struggle away and often become so relaxed that they fall asleep. When I pick any of the boys up now they actually stay still and relax into my hand which I think is a real breakthrough! Rocky and Shy-Shy have discovered there are interesting things outside of their cage, and will run along my arm to get to the exit! Stripe and Pip are still not sure, so another thing which I have started, when it’s fairly quiet and the rats are active, is to lure them out of their cage with food! This is a great technique to use to gain ratties’ trust which many rat-carers recommend. I attached a blanket from the cage door to my lap and gradually coaxed Rocky out onto the blanket with yoghurt on a spoon. I made sure he sniffed my hand first to let him know it was me bringing the goods! Next Shy-Shy had a go, and I had an idea to put my hand palm down just in front of the spoon, so he had to walk onto me to get to the yoghurt. He wasn’t sure at first, but once he had done it, he kept coming back for more! Stripe was holding on to my hand with his little paws to get more comfortable, while he licked all the yoghurt off the spoon! Pip tried a little but I could only coax him to the spoon, not onto my hand. Then quite unexpectedly, Rocky jumped up from the floor onto my lap, and sat there eating the yoghurt, nonchalantly!

I have read that another method to socialise shy rats is to put their cage onto your bed and lie there till they come out and explore you!

Yesterday I tried the boys with freshly cooked sweetcorn while they were in a box on the floor and they were crawling on my hand again to get to the food (all except Pip). After the corn was gone I was a bit nervous that they would try nibbling me, but they just sniffed me and were very relaxed when picked them up for a short while before returning them to their cage.

I have a terrible dilemma! This week we also found out that my partner is allergic to the rats! We obviously don’t want to take the ratties back, so we are looking at other options: Possibly an insulated rat shed, strict cleansing regime and/or an allergy filter system…

Today my rats have been mostly eating fresh carrot and broken up Bonios.

Rat Diary

After four days of intensive “enforced socialisation” handling of my rats (that’s 20 minutes each times four!) they are slowly beginning to trust me and will sit my palm for a few moments and sniff my nose. It’s been difficult finding 80 minutes in the day, since I’m a mum of three girls, and work part-time too! The only buck who seems to be reluctant to accept me is Shy-Shy who insists on finding a corner of my clothes to shoot out of and scarper off onto the floor! For the other three rats it seems to be working, and my daughters get to play gently with them in a big box on the floor, (but they are not supposed to pick them up yet – although my three year old has different ideas!).

Sleepy Pip

It was clean-out day today. Rat’s cages should be cleaned out thoroughly once a week, and new litter/bedding put in. I do a “spot check” every day to remove any of the previous day’s fresh food that might have spoilt (mould is harmful to rats), and a quick swap of very soiled bits of litter with a new portion. When I did the whole cage I put the young ratties in their “travel tank” (a plastic tank with air holes and a lid), they just snoozed away as it was the morning and rats are nocturnal which means they are more lively during the evening and night. It took me a couple of hours to clean out, but my three year old daughter was “helping” so it probably took longer than normal. I have a Furplast Furet Extra Large cage which is really huge and brilliant for lots of rats (it will house up to six bucks comfortably). On the whole it’s a great cage, the rats love the space, but it’s difficult to get to them, so I have to coax them all to the bottom of the cage, and lift the whole top off. This wouldn’t be a problem with tamer rats, as they would probably just come out by themselves. Hopefully ours will be doing that in the next few weeks.

Today my rats have been mostly eating fresh garlic and herb pasta parcels with (cooked) sweetcorn (maize).

Look at My Lovely Rats!

Welcome to my new site all about the little whiskery fellas.

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Stripe, Rocky, Pip and Shy-Shy at 6 weeks old.

This site is dedicated to my four naughty bucks: Rocky, Stripe, Pip and Shy-Shy. They arrived home on Saturday the 5th May 2007, very timid and freaked out at their new surroundings and being away from mum for the first time. We found them in a rescue centre where they had been born unexpectedly from a very young and shy doe.

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Shy-Shy snuggled up to Pip.

Three days later, the boys are still skittish when we walk into the room, but soon settle down, and since I have been trying the “enforced socialisation” method, they have been a little more relaxed with us, and Rocky the bravest (and we think the boss) will come up to the bars of the cage and have a good sniff at my nose! Enforced socialisation is not as bad as it sounds! It just means that you handle your rat and let him walk up to your shoulder or under your shirt and periodically lift him gently into your hands, but keep him in direct contact with you for twenty minutes. Don’t let him run off, or he will get more stressed out when you try and retrieve him. I found that for my most nervous ratty, Shy-Shy, who hates to be picked up, I had to keep him inside my jacket, let him calm down, then every once in a while lift him gently with one hand and let him down again. This way he will (hopefully!) gradually learn to trust me and get used to being picked up in an environment he feels safe in.

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Rocky looks lost in his huge cage.

A lot of well-respected fancy rat breeders handle rat kittens from birth, and unlike other rodents, mother rats very rarely harm their babies when they have been handled. In fact it is probably better for them if they get used to human contact from at least 3 weeks old, the earlier the better, because then they will be less stressed by human hands later on (which to a little frightened rat look like big predators swooping down toward them!).

7th May 2007

Today my rats have been mostly eating slices of banana and broken up Weetabix!