How To Introduce New Rats
(Last Updated On: December 28, 2017)
How do you introduce new rats? It’s a question that’s not easy to answer, we have had several rats that have introduced fine, while others don’t. So what’s the deal?
In essence all rats are different, just like people, personalities vary and some are more nervous, some are scared and yes, some as much as we love them can be real bullies.
Introducing rats involves adapting your strategy depending on the rats involved.
What You Will Need:
Introducing rats does take some patience, experimentation and precautions that ensure all of your rats are safe and just as importantly, feel safe. In order to do this there are a few things you will need to help ease the process.
- A Neutral Cage or Space
- Vanilla Extract
- Rat Friendly Disinfectant
- Lots of Cuddles
How To Introduce New Rats:
Here are the best ‘cage tested’ tactics for introducing new rats successfully and safely, in order for them to eventually become best friends and cage mates.
We have also had some of our rats fight even after a successful cage introduction, this is a normal part of the process, especially for males where they’re trying to establish a pecking order. It’s down to you to know when the fighting is getting out of hand and when to separate them. No blood, no foul.
Step 1: Introduce Their Scents
To begin with you should make your rats aware of the new addition. To do this it’s a good idea to introduce both the existing rat/s and the new one to each other’s scent.
You can take a small amount of bedding from each of their houses and place it in the corresponding cages, or you can get some unscented tissue paper and rub it across their fur a few times and place this in their cages.
Another common method is to introduce the new scents outside of the cage, so with the rat on your lap, you can let them sniff and play with some tissue that has the other rats scent on it.
Step 2: Early ‘Neutral’ Introduction
When you’re ready to introduce the rats for the first time, it’s important to make sure it’s done in a safe, neutral environment.
Keeping the new rat on your lap is a good way to ensure he feels safe, especially if you have more than one rat already, this also demonstrates to the other rats that he’s a friend and he’s not just some invading rat!
While it is easier to introduce one rat at a time, it’s not impossible to introduce 2 or 3 at once, but be aware that the new rat is more likely to be scared by 3 rats climbing all over them and possibly even showing aggressive posturing with them.
You should reward good behavior by giving them regular treats, verbal encouragement and stroking them in their favorite places. On the other hand, bad behavior can be discouraged with a spray bottle of water and a strong, firm verbal ‘No’.
To begin with these introductions should be brief, but try not to separate them on a bad note. The longer they stay out without incident, the closer you are to step 4.
Step 3: Increase Duration
Step 3 is just a continuation of the second step, you want to gradually increase the amount of time the rats can stay around each other without a major incident.
Good signs to look out for are grooming of one another, grooming of themselves (which indicates they feel safe) and chittering so you know they’re happy.
Step 4: Unsupervised Time
During steps 2 and 3 you are there to supervise the rats at all times, breaking up fights before they happen and sensing when a rat is scared or unhappy.
After they’ve successfully navigated these early introductions, it’s time to let them get used to each other without supervision.
Using a neutral cage, or a disinfected cage which is ‘anybodies territory’ in their minds, introduce them to each other in the same enclosed environment. You should spritz them with some vanilla extract as well during this stage to mask any potential smells that might frighten them, especially if this is one of the other rats cages to begin with.
You won’t be directly supervising them, but it is important to keep an eye on them as you will still need to break up any bad fights and reward good behavior with treats. Make them all come up to the cage door to get them if you can.
You need to assess this as you go, but ideally you’ll need to be patient and increase the duration of unsupervised time as you progress toward step 5.
5. Permanent Residence:
Once they’re used to being in the same cage for an extended amount of time, you will feel comfortable that they can be trusted to be in the same cage overnight or while you’re not at home to supervise them.
You should make sure the cage is disinfected and that the rats are given a little spritz of vanilla extract to mask their smells from being detected in the cage as you did in step 4.
What If It Doesn’t Work?
While it’s unlikely that following the steps outlined above won’t work given enough time, there are situations where certain rats just don’t take to each other enough to be permanent cage mates for whatever reason.
In some situations this can be down to territorial males with a lot of testosterone, in which case neutering is a good option.
See: ‘Should I Neuter My Male Rat?’
Neutering solves most of these tricky issues with males, however if it’s with females then it might just be a bad fit, remember that rats are like people, and some people just don’t get along.
In these cases, it doesn’t matter how badly you want them to be friends, for their own safety it’s better to keep them apart. However it’s important to not give up too quickly, it can take a long time especially with adult rats.
Introducing new rats is a difficult, and sometimes time consuming process that can involve a lot of stress for you as well as the rats, but with patience it can be done as safely as possible and successfully.
We think that introducing rats safely is important, and this step-by-step guide has helped us successfully introduce our rats.
If you enjoyed our guide, or found it helpful then let us know in the comments. If you have any additional tips, success stories of your own or special tricks then we would love to hear those as well.