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This is a bit long, sorry!


A few years ago I got my first pair of rats from a breeder. They never bonded properly and ignored eachother nearly all of the time, although they never fought. They always slept separately, didn't groom eachother, etc.
One of them died young, so I got two more to keep the remaining boy company. The remaining boy died shortly after, and the two I had left fought very badly in their old age, where there was bloodshed and screaming. (one had a suspected brain tumor, due to an odd gait, bulging eye, and sudden behavioural change... although at no point did I suspect he was in pain, as he was still active and inquisitive, wasn't squinty, didn't brux, etc)


I didn't castrate them as they were so old and everyone I spoke to (multiple vets and a couple of respected rat breeders) agreed that the symptoms pointed to a brain tumor and so castration wouldn't help, but I separated them for about a month and reintroduced them from scratch. (I know this was not the best idea, but at the time, I didn't know what else to do) After this, they never had any more issues and bonded very closely.


Then I got two more boys from a rescue, and they both fought. It happened when they were about 1 year 6 months old, when I was on holiday, and the pet sitter didn't notice the massive amounts of blood in the cage. (needless to say, I was not happy!) The boys were wounded (although they healed very well) and I separated them. I asked for advice from vets and the rescue, and they all said that they would be uncomfortable with getting them castrated. (they were also very, very small, and both had visible tumors at this point) They passed away a few months later.


I now have a group of 5 boys which are 6 months old, and multiple ones are fighting. There has been no bloodshed yet, although there are tiny cuts on their ears. They scent mark, wag their tails at eachother, chase eachother, etc. I'm thinking of getting at least two castrated, possibly 4. (there is only one which doesn't seem to be hormonal at all, and two which are not too bad at the moment but are getting worse) They have standard coats, but you can visibly see a decent amount of buck grease on them. They still sleep together, groom each other, etc.


They are all cleaned out regularly, kept in a liberta explorer, given 24/7 access to fresh food and water (as well as various tidbits) and their cage is full of things for them to do, on top of free range time (usually an hour or two a day). I also teach them tricks to try and keep them stimulated, give them puzzles and other ways for them to work for their food, etc. (they also have food readily available so they don't have to work if they don't want to, although they seem to prefer the puzzles anyway) There are no female rats kept in the house, and none of them have ever been mated.


I'm happy to castrate my boys if it comes to that, but I don't want to put them through an operation if it's my fault that they're fighting, and there's something else I should be doing. Is there some magical testosterone suppressor people put in their diets? Guided trust exercises? Have I just been unlucky?
As I say, I am 100% happy to castrate them if it is what is best for them. But I know that if I castrated them and one of them died because of this, and I later found out that there was something else I could have tried, I wouldn't forgive myself for it. If anyone has any advice or input, I would really appreciate it. :)


Thank you. :)
 

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It is fairly common that boys will go through a hormonal change and fight. Not all boys will but alot.

There are some things that can help.

Getting your rats from a really good breeder who breeds for good temperament and health can and does make some difference. It may be something to look into for the future. As you seem to have had quite a bit of bad luck :( Or getting females lol
Large cage so they do not feel cramped. Your cage seems good enough for 5, I didnt look at the measurements though. But it seems 5 would be fine in that. I'd run it through a cage calculator (just google rat cage calculator) and preferably go by 2.5 cubic feet per rat.
Making sure they have different areas of the cage to go to to avoid confrontation- multiple food dishes, multiple water bottles, multiple hammocks, beds, all on different levels and sides of the cage.
Getting a second large cage and separating them into two groups, may help if you know the groups dynamics well and can give them all more room. But it may not.
Cleaning the cage in some perfect balance where it is not too dirty but you are not over cleaning either- which can lead to stress and more marking which may annoy the other boys.

Besides that there is not much you can do. It is genetics and just chemistry that their hormones hit them like that.

If there are not blood or injuries then you can let it go for now. Little spats do not mean much. But if it progresses, they need to be separated right away.

Neutering does come with some risk but in many cases it is all you can do to keep your boys together. It is not any easy situation to be in.


I had two boys who were older and began viciously fighting. I had to separate them. I felt they were too old for neutering. But I was able to reintroduce them and so far it is going well. But I had outside influence as I think my other boys (in same room but different cages) or girls were causing the fights. Now they are in a bigger cage and in a new room.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thank you very much for your help!


I'm a massive sucker for sob stories when it comes to rescue ratties. :/ I need to learn to have some self control lol.
The current boys were dumped on the doorstep of a home-run rescue that was just starting out, along with the parents, which were mostly pregnant. (see what I mean by a sob story?) They had over 80 to rehome, and they haven't had any issues with the ones still seeking homes and none of the people who have adopted have contacted the rescue saying they've had problems. (they're very good at asking for updates, too) That's why I'm really starting to get suspicious now, because out of about 40 male rats, what are the chances that only a handful would get hormonal, and I'd get all of them? Hopefully it's just a phase for them, but if not, I reckon whoever is in charge of the luck game is a bit annoyed with me for something. :p


The explorer is basically the same as the critter nation and savic royale, but it has vertical bars. (it's also a bit more rattley and the paint job is worse, but I don't think the boys care too much about that lol) The dimensions are almost identical, and the calculator I looked at said it was good for up to 9.


Thank you for the excellent advice, though! :) I'll definitely take those points into account.
And it's very reassuring to know there aren't any glaring problems, and that it's not too uncommon. :)
 

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The explorer at full size is big enough for 12 so a great size for your boys normally

What happening at the moment is the boys are turning into men and going through the teenage stage. As they are all going through it together it means that they all want top spot badly and so a good few are throwing there weight around. this is actually made worse in a larger space as they can set up territory's and have a larger area for the would be alpha to control (free range can be a pain too). Normally they do better in a large space but not when the hierarchy is up in the air

I would try what I call going back to basics, I do this if there is hormonal tension to try and settle things before resorting to castration, often a few weeks resolves issues. This is essentially doing a kind of carrier method intro. I would either get the boys in a small hamster style cage (think Alaska or hamster haven) for a week or two with nothing but each other and 2 water bottles and some substrate. Scatter there food around and leave them in there until they are calmer as a group. You can get them out, but only in a small neutral area (say a sofa), not a full free range in a familiar space. Once they are settling down I would then add a hammock in there, only one open hammock and see how they go. If they do well with that then half a bare explorer before adding a hammock, then furnishing it as they get better. Once they've spent a week in half an explorer I'd move back to the full cage and normal business.

This seems counter productive but does generally work well for settling the heirachy down. It may be that whoever ends up as alpha is a bit rubbish (doesn't control the others well, is very inconsistent or heavy handed etc) or you have a problem character who wants the spot but cant handle confrontation (known as the bum biters) who still need neutering but you will have a better idea after a few weeks of small space.

I would say that you can have a nicely balanced buck group, and what tends to work better is to aim for a rolling group of different ages, these form more stable heirachys as you introduce youngsters who come in at the bottom, and it can often settle the older rats and so on. One to think about for the future possibly.
 

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Sorry I haven't responded!
As I say, they have hurt eachother a little bit on the past, and I'm a bit worried that if they have nowhere to run it'll either work really well and they'll sort things out, or they'll fight and won't be able to run away.
Do you have any concerns about doing it, generally? Any signs I should stop immediately? The one thing that comforts me about the large cage is they can hide from eachother if need be.
The fighting does seem to have settled at the moment a little. They're still not 100% happy families, but it's a lot better than it was last week. (hence my lack of responses)

That's very interesting, I'll have to think about varying age groups in the future.
 

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If your worried then this tends to work best in a small cage, you get better visibility in there and its easier to step in. I have what I term “mini cage” which is about 40x30cm floor space. The other advantage of these is you can leave the top unclipped from the bottom, meaning in an emergency its easy to pull it off and step in. If your really worried a spray bottle of water handy can help break up a proper fight.

To be honest though if you watch the signals it can work well. Bucks will tend to fluff a little when first meeting strangers and feeling unsettled. If they decide that they are going to escalate things they start to puff up more and stomp around often keeping there heads lowered and sometimes sidling, chattering or swishing there tail. This has gone from unsettled to aggressive. At this point I find a loud noise, or bang on the side of the cage snaps them out of it way before anything happens. If they keep getting into the posturing state then I’d take the whole cage for a walk or a drive somewhere. This again disrupts it. If anyone is really intent on staying in this elevated aggressive state then I would stop and separate.

Don’t worry too much about boxing, humping, forceful grooming, pinning etc, it’s the signs that they are really getting pissed off which point to danger rather than specific actions. A scared rat may lash out but its not as likely to cause damage as an aggressive angry rat.

You may get the odd occasion where things go from tense stand off to a sudden scrap (complete with bangs and rolling). I would bang loudly on the cage to stop it, if this fails the top needs to come off and you need to step in (id recommend using a towel, you don’t want your hand between fighting rats). If you have to take the top off I would check each for injuries, and assuming it’s a nothing then try them together again.

If they are really being stubborn giving them both a bath (as much as I’m not a big fan of bathing rats) just before and sticking them in the intro damp and miserable can help, again your creating something which moves them out of there comfort zone.

If you don’t have a little cage you can use you can do the same with a carrier (these are actually easier to bang on), just try and make sure you can quickly open to intervene.

If it goes well then work through the steps slowly, don’t separate again. If it doesn’t then there are other methods we can try, that’s just nearly always my starting point and tends to work in most cases.
 
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