World Rat Day is April 4th! In honor of this amazing holiday, let’s deep dive into a question that we at Oxbow Animal Health receive frequently: “Does my pet rat need a friend or are they fine living by themselves?”
Those who have pet rats know what sweet and social creatures they are. Not only do rats exhibit amazing intelligence (just check out this fun video by NanaBorderCollie if you don’t believe us) but they are emotionally intelligent animals as well. In the wild, rats thrive in nesting groups of 5-10 and colonies with up to 100 individuals!
The more we can model and support the instinctual behaviors of small animals in the home setting, the better. Providing your rat same-species companionship in the form of a cage mate will help your little social creature remain mentally stimulated and emotionally engaged all throughout the day.
Why do rats need other rat playmates and friends?
Much like humans, every animal species communicates in a unique way. Rats interact with each other by exhibiting a series of behaviors to establish dominance or grooming to communicate affection. Rats also love to chase each other and play, cuddle up during naps, and simply enjoy each other’s company. While pet parents can provide their active pets with social and physical stimulation, it isn’t quite the same.
What’s the ideal gender pairing for my rats?
In regard to pairing by gender, same-sex pairs tend to get along and won’t give you the potential issue of unintentionally creating a family!
How do I introduce and/or bond my rats?
If you’re a pet parent thinking about getting a second (third, or fourth) rat, it’s essential to spend the time and effort to properly bond and socialize your little ones so that they can have a safe and healthy relationship.
- Quarantine your new ratty. This can seem like an extreme measure but separating your newly adopted rat for 2 weeks at a minimum will keep everyone safe and healthy. You can interact with your new family member during this time, but keeping your pet in a separate cage – even a separate room during that time if you can swing it – will help to guarantee that they don’t have any health issues such as transmittable illnesses that may affect your other pets. We also recommend not sharing toys, food dishes, or water bowls/bottles between your rats’ habitats during this time.
- Post quarantine side-by-side time. Once you’ve finished quarantining your little one and there aren’t any signs of sickness, it’s safe to put your rats’ cages next to each other. This is a great first step in introducing your pets to one another. They’ll be able to pick up each other’s scents and interact through the bars of their habitats. We recommend doing this for one week.
- First-time introductions. It’s time for your pets to officially meet each other face to face. We recommend doing this in neutral territory, which means that you shouldn’t place one rat in the other’s cage. This can cause territorial issues and habits that can be difficult to break once they’ve started. Introductions should last 10-15 minutes. Watch out for behaviors such as hissing and unfriendly scuffling. If you feel that things are taking a turn and your pets aren’t playing nicely, gently separate them and try again tomorrow. Instant friendships don’t always happen in the animal kingdom and you want to ensure that everyone remains safe.
- Move-in time! After 1-2 weeks of introductions and supervised playtime, you can transition your newest family member to their new habitat. We recommend cleaning your rat’s cage before this transition to quell territorial behaviors. Supervise when you can to make sure that everyone is adjusting well to their new living arrangement. It may take a few weeks after the initial move in for your rats to become best buds, but with patience and care, most rats will become fast friends.
What if I can’t get a second rat?
While rats are social creatures, not every pet parent has the option to care for more than one rat at a time. Rats are not inclined to exhibit extreme negative behaviors (e.g. self-starvation) as a result of living alone as long as pet parents spend time interacting with their rats daily. By taking your rat out of their habitat and playing with them, you can stave off loneliness and give them much needed social interaction. As we mentioned earlier, rats also are big fans of playing games and solving puzzles for treats! Check out our Games with Pets Handout to learn more. Also, make sure to include plenty of enrichment opportunities in your little one’s cage so that they can play and entertain themselves when you aren’t available. Rats love to climb and burrow, so make sure that you have accessories in their habitat where they can get plenty of practice!
Want to keep your little one busy? Play a little Treat Hide and Seek! Fill a box with one of Oxbow’s grass hays and hide your rat’s favorite treat inside. They’ll enjoy the treasure hunt!