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.

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!

Rocky and brothers: Part Custard, Part Meringue

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

Territory Issues

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!

Stripe grooming Shy-Shy

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

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

Today my lovely rats have been mostly eating curly kale 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.

stripe ears

“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).

pink pip

“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”!


“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”!

Shy Shy

“Mmm.. time for escape plan B”

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