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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
So some background:I picked up my 6 month old girls, Starbuck and Boomer, around 3 and a half weeks ago. They came from a very noisy family who had 4 dogs and 2 screaming toddlers who I think kept the rats caged at all times. They'd only had the girls for 2 weeks and unfortunately I don't know their history before then.

I took them on expecting them to be poorly socialised and possibly a little traumatised (I would have been in that house!). So I've been taking it slowly, and have had some good progress. They both lick yoghurt off my fingers with no problems and will come to the cage door when called to collect treats. I've had them out in the bathroom too and they seem to trust me as they will keep running back to behind me or in my hoodie after short bursts of exploring the room. So far so good.

However, I'm a bit confused by Starbuck's behaviour. Starbuck is the more bold of the two (Boomer can be rather nervous and is submissive to Starbuck during forced grooming etc). Currently, whenever I put my hand in the cage to put new food in, empty the litter tray or pick up stray droppings Starbuck will actively come after my hand and lunge after me. She's biting me to the point of drawing blood and doesn't stop even if I protest with squeaking. I've tried petting her before doing my jobs in the cage and just doing the stuff without bothering her first but I'm getting bitten either way :/.

I thought this might be cage aggression at first, but the other day when I had her out in the bathroom she climbed onto my shoulder. At first she was nibbling my ear gently but then she bit down harder and drew blood! I squeaked very loudly and she stopped still, sat for another couple of seconds on my shoulder and them climbed down. Is she asserting dominance with this behaviour? Is this the dreaded hormonal teenage phase I've been reading about? I've been trying to establish a hierarchy during our sessions in he bathroom by trying to initiate play fights by prodding her (gently), but this doesn't really seem to be leading anywhere.

I'm a new rat owner so any advice would be very welcome, I've been reading around as much as I can, but I can't seem to find anything that's specific enough for this situation. I know it's only early days yet, but I'm really keen to let the girls know I'm on their side so we can start playing and having fun. Also it would be lovely to be able to feed my girls without constant fear of injury. Thanks very much in advance!
 

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Hmm...that sounds like cage aggression to me.

Sounds like it is time for a pair of thick gloves and an immersion session with Starbuck.

How perfectly named she is, haha!
 

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First let's do a little mind set adjustment... Lets begin with understanding that rats aren't shy wilting flowers, they are really very competent big animals in a small package. And yes they can get a little pushy. I really don't advocate animal abuse but when your rats bite you shout NO BITING! and perhaps give them a bop or a swat to drive home the point that you aren't a chew toy. Honestly, they won't take it personal, but they hopefully will get the message fast that biting is never, ever an option for any reason.

Now remember you aren't trying to punish or hurt your rats, you are just communicating that biting is out of the question.

I realize that you want to socialize your rats to be your friends and you want to build a good relationship with them and encourage their confidence and competence... but you can't start until they stop biting you.

I realize that this seems counter-intuitive, but in all reality you have to start from a position you can build off of. Now if your rats really just have a problem with you cleaning the cage, you can remove them while you do it... but no matter what, biting rats are not pets nor friends... they are hazards or liabilities. So you have to deal with this issue before you can do anything else.

Best luck.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thanks for the advice. I've started wearing gloves to clean out the cage day to day- it seems to stress Starbuck out much less as she hasn't tried to go after it at all. It looks like the biting in the bathroom was a one off incident, I've been spending lots of time with them, prodding, bopping and picking them up and there's been no biting so far :). They don't seem very interested in play fighting with me just yet, although Starbuck was nibbling (grooming?) my forearm gently earlier today. Is this something that will come with more time if I keep trying to initiate it? Or do some rats not really like to wrestle with humans?
 

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Our two girls don't actually wrestle with our hands, but they love the "I'm gonna get you!" game. We say it as we reach to gently grab them. They usually run away but immediately come right back to see if we'll try to "get them" again.

We got them from Pet Smart when they were 3 weeks old, so we've never had any biting issues. Sometimes if I reach for Louise behind my back, or behind a pillow, she'll gently take my finger in her mouth and push my hand away. It's really funny. Thelma doesn't do that. She loves to lick fingers and hands.
 

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Misty is still play fighting and she's several months old, Max was a very serious rat and never much liked to play. Each rat has his or her own personality.

It's good to hear the biting is behind you. So it's time for play and lovin... I realize sometimes I come off as harsh, but rats that bite really can't be kept as pets, they are dangerous to humans and other pets. We've had members here hospitalized due to pet rat bites and I've personally seen people badly hurt by rats attacking them... One emergency room visit without health insurance can cost you a month's pay or worse. Before anything else biting has to be stopped then the loving and the good stuff can take over. You can't let little kids play with matches and you can't allow rats to bite... there's nothing cute about it and the risks outweigh the emotional damage taking the matches away or discouraging the biting will cause.

Best luck.
 
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