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Discussion Starter #1
I know rats fighting is a common topic. I did a search and found a couple relevant threads, but most of it seems to apply to newly-introduced rats. My girls have been living together in relative harmony for a few months.

I have two roof rats/Rattus rattus females. They are not fixed. Claudia is bigger and about 10 months and Paula is probably around 6 or 7? Claudia was hand raised and is very sweet and friendly. Paula was also hand raised but with other rats. She has more fear of people and is more timid in general. She's nipped me a few times (to be fair, only when she's sleeping in her nest and I disturb her) whereas Claudia has never bit me.


They've been living together for 4 or 5 months, I think. There was the usual squabbling when I put them together but it sorted out pretty quickly. Here and there I've seen or heard them boxing, but nothing serious.

I'm working on a project for school, and so I've been been holed up in the computer/rat room all day and letting them run around as they please.

I've noticed they are squabbling more than usual, and it seems a little more intense. I've seen Claudia sidling up to Paula and kicking her. Yesterday Paula was hissing during their fights, which I've never heard before. No real blood has been drawn from what I can tell, but Paula seems to have a couple raw spots on her tail.

I can't really tell who is the instigator. They run around independently a lot, then meet up, run around together, sniff each other's butts, and then start squabbling. They don't avoid each other. In fact, because Paula is much more shy and doesn't like being handled, I often use Claudia as a "lure" to get her to climb onto me. She's very timid until she sees Claudia, and then she hops right on. So they don't seem to hate each other, BUT I have noticed they haven't been sleeping together the past few days which is a little unusual.

Is this normal? I've seen other people post about similar issues so I'm guessing yes, but I didn't see much in terms of explanation or outcome.
Could it be from one (or both) of them being in heat? Should I let it play out?

Normally I wouldn't be so worried, but the hissing is new and I'm going out of the country for a week and a half on the 5th. I don't want to separate them and have them be lonely and more stressed while I'm away, but I also don't want them tearing into each other while I'm not here to monitor them. So if there's anything I can do (or not do) to help squash this before I leave I'd like to try it. I've been breaking up the fights when they get especially noisy or when Paula starts hissing. Should I just let them duke it out instead?
 

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Oddly, female black rats in living with humans are even rarer than male black rats, so there are some things about them that we don't have a lot of recent track history on. But female brown rats do squabble too. Female brown rats don't establish as much of a hierarchy as males do and they sometimes wind up in arguments over things that as humans we don't understand. Some female groups almost never have arguments and in some cases one girl seems to always be getting into trouble with another. But the fights are usually not life threatening and the girls do tend to work things out by themselves.

I had an odd sort of situation where my top rat was a smaller, older and weaker than her roomie and moreover she liked to steal her larger and stronger roommate's food which wound up in arguments. For the most part I'd just shout "girls stop fighting" and it was over. What made it more interesting was that my older rat would be a lot more courageous if she knew I was around to break things up. She wouldn't pick a fight that I couldn't win for her.

So, based on brown rats, girls don't usually fight to the death and secondly some rats will pick fights if they know you are there to support them and be more polite when you are not... As to weather to let them fight it out and settle their own differences or interfere... it's in my nature to participate, for better or worse; as a parent, I get involved. I can't say for sure I'm right, but it works for me. I tend to support a certain social order with me at the top, and I support my senior rat. It also makes it easier for her not to get picked on as she ages.

Again keep in mind roof or black rats are a different species than our more common brown rats and most of the black rats that people have written about have been males... Black rats were originally brought into "domestication" at about the same time as brown rats, perhaps even earlier. Oddly in the early 20th century they all but disappeared from the scene and have never made a come back, although those few people who have kept them since, find them to make for really interesting and intelligent companion animals. There's likely something we don't know or recall about black rats that took them out of the fancy... interpersonal relationship issues between female black rats might have been an issue, so to some degree we're learning or re-learning from your experience. I can think of several reasons why black rats should be very much like brown rats and several why something might be different... I suppose you can guide yourself by what brown rats do, but be ready to adapt if something isn't working.

Best luck.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
^ Thanks! I looked up some rat behavior guides, which were obviously made with brown rats in mind but their body language seems pretty similar. I've been watching them. Claudia seems to end up chasing Paula after a lot of these, but sometimes Paula seems to have the upper hand in terms of body language (at least according to brown rat standards). She just had her hands on Claudia's head and was grooming her- looked like power grooming to me?
Yet they still seek each other out to initiate the butt sniffing (and it's all downhill from there). So I don't know what's going on. I put them back in the cage to see if that would help and it hasn't really. It's hard to stand by when it gets really nasty sounding. Just a little bit ago Claudia chased Paula into a corner, and Paula started screeching and hissing. Definitely different than the normal warbling and whining I hear when they squabble. It seemed to die down after that but they're still picking at each other.

Good point about there might be some unknown issues with keeping black rats. I guess I'll find out! Although so far they seem very similar to brown rats. I mean, I've never had a brown rat, but everything I've read seems pretty similar. It's harder with Gus, my woodrat. He's not even a "true" rat, and there's a lot less info out there about keeping them as pets. Plus he's got what seems to be neurological issues, and a malformed eye. Not sure if it's genetics or injury, if it's something that will get worse or indicates the presence of other issues. I really feel in the dark when it comes to him!

I currently have the second level floor removed so they can have branches and lots of climbing room, but I think I'll put it back in. I don't want anyone falling off a branch and hurting themselves (although I've seen them take some impressive spills and come out totally fine). And that way my mom can easily divide them if it gets worse while I'm gone. I'm REALLY hoping it'll pass by then. I feel bad for Paula. Claudia has a deep affection for me but Paula isn't that tame. Without a rat friend she's all alone!

Ugh, they are having another blowout. I really hope they get it sorted and go back to being friends soon!
 

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First as to wood rats, the best thread on them was written by Kucero, it was on the Eastern wood rat but still more similar to what you have. They were quite a bit harder to work with as they aren't true pack animals. You may be able to glean something from his work with them. Regrettably Kucero is still away on a personal matter, but he left us with the best and current Eastern wood rat info there is when it comes to raising them inside the home.

Roof rats are arboreal, they tend to need a lot of room to play and run and climb. Gotchea raised Wilder as a true shoulder rat and let him climb around in her trees... he finally moved outside into her barn and re-joined his rat family, but he still sneaks in through her open window at night to visit her when she sleeps. He actually was very much like a brown rat and perhaps a bit like a squirrel. My mom raised and indoor/outdoor squirrel in the 1950's. It moved into her oak tree in the yard but came inside every morning for breakfast and to hang out. Your issue may be a matter of cramped quarters. Try shouting "girls stop fighting" and let them know you don't approve of the behavior... It works for me, and might work for you. By the time I get up from my desk, my girls are already all chummy... as in "see daddy, we're best friends".

When I brought Cloud home Max chased her around the house for 3 weeks, it was insane. But after an extended megabattle in which everything was knocked onto the floor and I lost a couple of favorite dishes and mugs and Cloud got her ear torn, they became best friends forever. I realized early on that Max was only mock biting, it looked vicious, but there was no blood so I let the madness go on.

When our part wild girl Fluffy came home after being outdoors on her own for 5 months, Fuzzy Rat tried to push her around, and they had a boxing match every few days when I let them out to play. They would fight and then be ok again but every day the tensions built up until the next brawl... Finally Fuzzy Rat who was much larger than Fluffy decided to start power grooming Fluffy to the point she Fluffy's rump was almost bald... then one night she went too far... She bit Fluffy in the rear thigh... The next morning the fighting was over forever. Fuzzy Rat had two puncture wounds on either side of her trachea. Fluffy was a part wild rat, who had actually lived outdoors for most of her life, she terrorized local cats and was found stealing food from pitbulls... She was a very nasty piece of work when she got angry... she bit with machine gun rapidity and tore flesh. During play as a pup she always went for my face and eyes... She could have easily killed Fuzzy Rat anytime she wanted to. But Fluffy exhibited extreme patience, she never picked a fight, but when it got too much she took down Fuzzy Rat by the throat with a killer bite... a couple millimeters deeper and it would have been over. But she didn't make the kill... she just proved her point. Now Fuzzy Rat was anything but stupid... and she wasn't about to put her life in jeopardy twice.... Fluffy's hair grew back, and there were never any more cuts or bruises on either rat and they became best friends....

To be clear, Fluffy was never aggressive, and she never tried to push anyone around... she just had a wicked temper and mad fighting and killing skills. This goes to my point though, she could have easily killed Fuzzy Rat, but she didn't. I suppose in part she didn't want to be alone and in part because she knew it would upset me. She was actually a very well behaved rat, she was always the first one to come when called and very quick to please. So three lessons learned from this experience: First that girl rats may fight but they don't usually kill each other, even when they can... Second that they can learn the house rules and not fighting can be taught to a certain degree... Third, that to some degree rats do have to work things out on their own... Fuzzy Rat wasn't going to give up on her power grab until Fluffy finally took her down. And Fluffy knew all along she had no reason to play second fiddle, she could have taken out her competition any time she wanted and was just playing nice... There were only two ways this was going to work out, and fortunately for everyone, it worked out well for everyone...

After the fighting was over our big fat true shoulder rat and our wild child shown here as best furry friends.


IMAG0050.jpg IMAG0052.jpg

Both rats loved my daughter and she could do anything with them... I wasn't nearly as reckless but I always promoted harmonious group play and bonding. I'm hoping with a little time and effort that you can get the same results.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Yeah, I did check out that Kucero thread (Gus is actually an eastern woodrat, but possibly a different subspecies). It was very insightful, and helped me figure out what kind of enrichment to give. The fact that they are more solitary is good in my situation, as Gus is housed alone (I'm not comfortable putting him with my girls, especially given his condition). So far he's been a very sweet and affectionate little guy. I just hope he doesn't get aggressive as he gets older. I handle him a lot, though, so I think that will help. I also was able to find a couple academic papers on keeping and breeding the endangered Key Largo subspecies, which gave me some insight on a good captive diet. Not too different from Rattus species but it's good to be sure.

Thanks for the anecdotes. It does put my mind at ease. And lord, what a cute picture of your daughter with those fat ratties! Adorable!

I checked on them early this morning and caught them curled up in the same hammock together. They're now both napping in the same basket-turned-nest box. I have a feeling I haven't seen the last of their fisticuffs but it doesn't seem to be as serious as it was sounding. Which from what I've been reading is par for the course with rat battles, but it's so hard not to worry when they are screaming bloody murder!

But yeah, I'm feeling a lot better about it all.
 

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Fluffy our part wild rat changed the soundscape around our house, she was silent most likely never ever having made an audible noise in her life. After living with her Fuzzy Rat became similarly silent, as did every rat after her... It's been a tradition. The first day we had Amelia she mimicked all of the various animals she was raised with, by day three she never made another noise. I suppose as a part wild rat that lived outdoors and in other people's homes Fluffy made her living on being stealthy and somehow she passed that tradition on.

The only exception to this code of silence is when a rat actually wants human attention... as in "Squeak... get your foot off my tail!" or "squeak... help I'm getting beat up". As your black rats are basically wild rats, I've got to suppose that the sound effects might very well be for your benefit, as in someone is trying to get your attention. On the other hand, black rats may be more vocal than brown rats. I just wanted to share the possible option that your rats are screaming bloody murder because they want you to intervene.

Actually in the photo with my daughter in it Fluffy the rat on your right is actually about 50% smaller (thinner) than the one on your left. The size difference is easier to see in the photo on your left. They look the same size pretty much due to the way my daughter is holding them, but yes they look almost like bookends. And in fact when my neighbor grabbed the wrong rat, because he couldn't tell the difference he got mauled. It wasn't a mistake anyone ever made twice.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Yeah, I see the size difference now. Although, all brown rats look big and chubby to me (and I mean this in the most endearing way possible). They're so much bigger than my rats, and they look so squishy! I have reservations about adopting them in the future because they seem to have a lot of health issues, but I have a feeling I'll give in one day.

Interesting point about vocalizations being for my benefit. I don't know how vocal brown rats are, so I've got no comparison. I've noticed Claudia does a rapid series of what sounds like sneezes when she falls or slips, and chatters or whines when I take something away she shouldn't be gnawing on. They do a warbly whine type noise when they fight, but they start making the noise before they even touch each other. In fact, earlier today Claudia started doing it when it was time to go back in the cage, which she clearly didn't want to do. Maybe she's learned that noise summons me to scoop her up and let her hang out in my lap, which was probably what she preferred to be doing :rolleyes:

I will say that while they might not vocalize a lot, my rats love to MAKE noise. I think being noisy is probably their favorite past time. I had little binder clips on the bars of the cage, I would use them to hold up hammocks or treats/toys. They both love to bat them around and make the most obnoxious clatter. They also love to tug on the wire panels I have over their cage and bang it against the bars. While I was still living with my ex, he pointed out that every time she did that I would get annoyed and let her out. It's looking more and more like she's got me trained!

Gus doesn't vocalize a lot, only ever heard soft chattering, loud sniffing, and some bruxing. In his cage he can be a little noisy just by virtue of being clumsy. He doesn't seem to get the same enjoyment out of causing a racket as the other two do, although he does have a fondness for midnight crazies (those little plastic balls with bells inside).
 

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Rats in trees 'might' need to communicate over longer distances than those in burrows. In certain ways roofies are more like squirrels... but honestly, I've never met a particularly loud squirrel. But yes, your rats are training you and possibly entertaining you.

Fuzzy Rat was brilliant, fearless and engaging... she made me re-think everything I thought I knew about rat intelligence and thinking. Suddenly she would just sit there and preen herself... after a long preen she would exhibit some remarkable new behavior designed to get precisely what she wanted. Adapting our behavior to suit her needs was her specialty. As a former psychology major, I couldn't keep ignoring the coincidences. She not only understood much of what we were saying, she was very much communicating with us. Our other rats have been much more subtle, but once you really see how much communication a rat is capable of, you realize that rats do interact with us on a higher level and to some degree train us.

To be honest, brown rats are actually very healthy and durable on an average. But they are designed to live for about a year, perhaps a year and a half. After that it goes down hill. Very much like humans under 30 years old, young rats are almost indestructible. One we humans turn 40 things start going wrong... Both rats and humans are designed with a genetic biological clock, once we hit a certain age it's down hill. Yes there are few humans and rats that seem to go on and stay healthy for a very long time... I've heard about 6 year old rats and I've met a few 100+ year old humans, but I've lost a whole lot of friends to cancer between the ages of 55 and 65 and at 56, I'm already older than most of my male ancestors and I've spent much of the last few months in doctor's offices and medical testing centers. It would seem my warranty has run out too. Just like us, brown rats don't just tend to drop dead for no reason, they get tumors and infections that don't go away and pneumonia and then they die. Really good diet, and care can prolong the life of a human and a rat up to a point, but it really is a lost cause after that. Most of the health issues most rat owners have is in prolonging their older rat's lives.

Some years ago the Japanese released some GMO fish into the wild. They were bigger and stronger and lived longer than their wild counterparts. The wild female fish all selected to breed with the GMO fish because they were clearly superior. The larger longer lived fish out-competed their own offspring and after they died the species was wiped out in the areas where they were introduced. Being small and dying young gave the next generation a chance to flourish. Rats get wiser and smarter as they age; a healthy two year old rat is going to out-compete a six week old rat every time. And even if doesn't, it's likely to be smart enough to avoid most predators and the population is going to bloom with so many old rats not dying of natural causes, creating a food shortage. In the crisis, the older rats are going to be more adaptable because they have more experience... once the younger rats die off, the old ones, who are no longer reproductive, are going to follow their grandchildren into extinction eventually. So rats that get old, may be a very horrible idea for the survival of the species.

There's evidence that shows that mice with two genes knocked out live twice as long as normal mice... so it's very likely that rats that live 6 years have similar genetic defects that cause them to live twice as long as normal rats. If these defects could be isolated, we might wind up with rats that live for six years, but if they ever got loose into the environment, that might turn out to be a very bad thing for wild rats in general.

Way back in the late 19th century black rats were common in the British fancy. There was even a green strain. Then came the first wold war, and the Spanish Flu. Fancies and hobbies and rat shows alike took second priority to world events. In the mean time brown rats made good use of urbanization to exterminate and out-compete wild black rats in England... Not long after the end of WW I black rats vanished from the fancy. And yes, you might argue that the medical research industry preserved some of the strains of brown rats and that there were more appealing color morphs among the black rats, but that doesn't entirely explain their disappearance. I'm sure that some breeders kept notes and some rat fanciers who were around at the time knew exactly what happened, but those notes are sitting in someone's attic or got lost over time or just got forgotten. Exactly how long do black rats stay healthy? How do they age? What illnesses do they get once they reach a certain age? In order to get a good picture of black rat geriatrics we would need to compile the data from at least a few hundred black rats, maybe a few thousand and there just haven't been enough people like yourself adding to the knowledge base.... well until now.

Up until a few years ago there was actually a certain resistance to allowing people with "oddball" rats into our community. People with black rats, wild rats, wood rats and even true shoulder rats were generally excluded from the discussion. A lot of myths about wild born rats being feral and shoulder rats being dangerous to the rat community abounded. There are still web sites out there that prohibit the discussion of wild born rats and shoulder rats. There are still myths that wild born rats need to be spayed or neutered before they can be socialized. In some circles anything but domestically raised fancy brown rats are still excluded, all of which has hurts our knowledge and understanding of rats.

Gotchea, Kucero and I can tell you it wasn't entirely easy coming out and saying we had different, wild or part wild rats or true shoulder rats... Thankfully now, most enlightened people here on Rat Forum realize what a valuable contribution people like you are making to our understanding. Things have gotten a whole lot better for different rats and their humans since I came on the scene. Having survived the early flamings, I make it a priority to help other folks with oddball and one off rats as best I can. Over time, I expect that your experiences are going to teach us a whole lot more than we can teach you. There are lots of soon to be rat owners in emerging tropical areas where it's just too hot for brown rats to survive without constant air conditioning. I see black rats and alternative species filling that niche, but someone has to lay the groundwork and folks like you are who we've got.

I'd also like to add one footnote... Do keep in mind, many people come here because their rats are sick and they need advise. Folks with a couple happy and healthy rats may never log onto the internet to share their stories, but when something goes wrong, they log on to get information before shelling out big bucks on vet bills. So you are going to get a biased view as to the general health of brown rats if you only read the rat health threads. I mean no one posts there to say that their rats are fine and doing great. Wild brown rats survive in places so toxic no human can survive, they have survived nuclear blasts, they are generally incredibly hardy animals that require very little car... well that's until they get old or someone breeds sickly rat to other sickly rats and bypasses the natural selection process in favor of some interesting marking, color morph or ear shape. It's very hard to accept that your best furry friends are going to leave you in one and a half to two and a half years, but that's the deal we make when we own brown rats. Kucero claims that wood rats can reach 9 years old... if they can be socialized, there's certainly a place for them in the fancy. And if black rats get older and don't get sick that's a real benefit for them too, but that remains to be proven.

I know it's a stodgy fancy that's been around for over 100 years, but with the internet, and sites like this one, that welcome all kinds of different rats, lots of things are changing and it's really exciting to be in the vanguard of a brave new world. Over the top? Yes, I know... but it was fun to write it anyway.
 

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My first impression is no. Black rats are Rattus rattus not Norway rats, although they can look similar in photos, one is a tree rat and the other is a burrowing rat. In person, they look smaller, leaner, have pointier noses, bigger eyes, hairless ears and are way more agile than brown rats. If you crossed a Norway (or brown) rat with a mouse, you would more or less get a black rat. And here's the kicker... I've never seen a black black rat, most are actually some shade of off agouti. If you think about it, how many brown wild brown rats have you ever seen? Brown rats, black rats and wood rats are entirely different species.

It can be argued that black rats were domesticated well before brown rats ever got to Europe... Women, mostly, were being burned as witches for having rats as pets (familiars) back into the middle ages and before brown rats arrived in Europe.

For some strange reason, or very likely for some good reason we don't know why black rats disappeared from the fancy about the time or WW I. About the only way to actually get a black rat now, is to live in a tropical or warm subtropical climate and catch one yourself.

Brown rats will generally outcompete black rats and kill them off when they catch them, but brown rats can't handle tropical heat like black rats can... so brown rats live where it's cool and black rats live where it's hot... Depending where you live the rat you catch will be one or the other. There are certain places both species survive, but for the most part one species or the other will predominate.
 
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