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Discussion Starter #1
I’ve been asked to put together a guide to the “Carrier” method of introductions. Before it start its worth saying that this isn’t the only method of introducing rats that works, but in my (and many other owners) experience it is the most reliable and works in the broadest range of introductions. If people are interested I can put up some guides to other techniques that I’ve used and some general hints and tips that you can use to your advantage. Its worth saying that when introducing rats I use this method as the core of what I do, but then may mix in elements of other methods if the situation calls for it (say free ranging with them together occasionally first if it doesn’t appear to aggravate the rats).

The Carrier or Small Space method – the basics

What is it: Start off with introductions in a small neutral space (such as the sofa or a table top), then move to an empty small space such as a cat carrier or small cage (a small hamster cage with no levels can work well) until the group is settled (ensure 2 water sources at all times). Cage size and furniture is increased in stages once the rats seem settled and relaxed at each step, until the rats are happy in a large space. Once introduced unless blood is drawn the rats are not separated again. Small scale fighting is allowable, aggressive or violent fighting is interrupted where possible and separated if this fails to work

Why: A smaller space means less area for a rat to control/defend (so dominance does not need to be pushed as far). The smaller space means rats avoid each other less (so resolving hierarchy disputes quicker). A small space also means there is less room to run away (reducing the chance of injury as most introduction related injuries occur when a rat runs from a confrontation and is grabbed). The rats are allowed and encouraged to work out their hierarchy as quickly as possible to cut down on the length of time they are stressed for.

Strengths: It is an intensive form of introductions but generally works faster than any other method. It appears to work particularly well with bucks and those that are hierarchy driven. It works well in most situations (excluding those listed below) and is a good starting point.

Weaknesses: Its weaknesses are with rats that are very aggressive/territorial who may cause injury to others during introductions or where you have a particularly ill/weak rat that is being introduced to potentially active and rough rats. It may also be difficult where you have a group of rats that all actively avoid confrontation but are not ready to become friends (leading to permanent stalemate). In some cases a rat who has been on its own for some time and lost the ability to ‘speak rat’ may also struggle more, in these situations play it by feel and consider mixing in some other introduction techniques.

Hints and Tips: Make sure you scatter feed food at this stage, as it helps rats move around together and mingle. Depending on the length of time try and avoid free ranging, especially in a large area, a bit of out time in a small neutral space for a short time each day works fine for longer introductions. Don’t add enclosed beds like igloos and cubes and avoid tubes until the rats are in their big cage and very settled. Dead ends lead to cornered rats which can lead to avoidance, excessive defensiveness or even nasty fights. If you are struggling with them in the first small space try taking the carrier/cage someone completely new smelling, such as in the car on a drive, or outside if it’s warm, or even a friend’s house. This can distract them and encourage them to bond together against the common scariness. In some cases starting in a neutral space may not work for your rats and you may be better off going straight into the carrier.

Step by Step Guide

1. Get a small cage or carrier, making sure that it is small enough so that when the rats lie down they are forced to be close together but with enough space to add a water source. The size of your group will define how big this is. Ideally it should have more floor space than height, as scared rats often flee upwards to hide. I use a large cat carrier for this for around 4 to 6 rats, with not much height and enough floor room for a bit of movement - but not room to run away and hide. You can either have your carrier/intro cage completely clean and unfamiliar or have it smelling of the expected dominant rats, which will help them feel more secure and so calmer. However for some rats, if they see a space as 'theirs' they may be more likely to defend it, so watch the rats and judge which you think is best. Make sure that it is empty of everything except for a water bottle - or ideally two. You can scatter a little bit of food around to distract the adults but don’t put it in a bowl as this may be defended, or any cage furniture such as hammocks. Ideally cover the floor with a loose substrate or litter, rather than a towel or fleece, as this can be used to hide under and avoid confrontation.

2, Take the carrier and rats into a room that the rats don’t normally free range in which has a small neutral rat safe space in it (table top, couch, bed or bath with a towel down to prevent too much slipping) and add the rats to this neutral space. Where you have a strong, confident Alpha, add them and the newcomers first. Once he is settled then add the calmest rat in your group, going from those you think will be the easiest to intro, to those you think will be hardest, one rat at a time. This doesn’t overwhelm the newcomers as quickly and also with the Alpha being happy with them to start with he will often intervene if any following rat takes things too far. If you don’t have a strong alpha, or the alpha is over the top start with a calm member of the pack then add the alpha.

The key with this step is not to intervene unless absolutely necessary, so when the rats are in danger of being injured or already are. Fighting and scuffles are normal, you should expect pinning and some chasing around and maybe some boxing. You should also expect squeaks and pitiful wails, let them do this, interrupting them will stop them working out whose boss. Look out for the truly aggressive poofing up (hedgehog impression) or sideling (walking sideways towards the other rat, head lowered, possibly tail swishing or chomping his teeth), this is overly aggressive behaviour and can be an indication they plan to bite, don’t separate straight away, try distraction with a loud noise or blowing on them to break their concentration. The idea is to prevent any damage but not stop perfectly natural battles which will let them know there position in the hierarchy, the general rule of ‘No Blood, No Foul’ is a good one to bear in mind. Once things have quieted down and the existing rats are ignoring them (at this stage the weakest or newest rats are probably cowering in the corner) then add another rat, and so on, once they are all added move on to the next step. Note: This behaviour may, and probably will, occur at any step of the process, the same rules apply.

3, Next add the carrier to this space with the door wide open and let them go in and out freely before finally closing the door when things are going well. If you hear squeaking don’t intervene. If you hear bangs don’t intervene (but maybe check and make sure your around). If you hear proper screams (these are very different to squeaks, long and drawn out and very loud) then you need to make a loud noise, spray them with a water bottle or separate with a towel, but only if it looks as though the weaker rats are actually being attacked. Some rats can be very vocal! A bit of fur being pulled out is not something to worry about, blood is not - and this is a point to separate them. What you should see initially is the stronger or older rat going over to sniff the weaker or newcomers and the other rats may well be interested in him too. At some point your exisiting rat will get a bit rough with them and they will try to run away. This will lead to your rat chasing and grabbing the weaker or younger rat by the scruff or bum, but with limited space this shouldn’t result in injuries (hence why this method generally results in less injuries than more open intros). The rat will then probably fluff up and try and pin or flip the weaker rat, they will squeak and struggle (and make you feel cruel and evil). Expect him to furiously groom them - ideally you want them to submit and be still and the small space is to give them nowhere to escape to, so that they have no choice but to give in - when they do he should relax and let them go. He shouldn’t relentlessly pursue them or be constantly pouncing on them, though he may pin them a few times or sit on them for a while. The new rats may become overly defensive, freezing in a corner stood up pushing noses away or threatening to bite there new neighbours often making the other rat reluctant to approach (creating a stand-off), if this last for more than an hour then try taking them out for a drive or a walk in the carrier, this should encourage the new rats to seek comfort from there cagemates and bond.

4. Once things have settled down and everyone sleeping together leave them in the carrier for at least an hour, possibly overnight if it has taken a while to get to this point. Try to relax and breathe a bit! Stay within hearing range but maybe leave the room, as I am sure that rats can pick up on our worry. There may be the odd 'war' again, with squeaks and bumps when you should go back in and check them, but don’t be tempted to split them up unless it’s serious. They will probably have to put the kittens in their place a few more times over the next day or two before peace reigns. This stage can take an hour, or it can take a few days. Times vary a lot depending on the rats.

5. Once things have been settled in the carrier for a while then you can think about moving them into a cage. If you have a big cage then make it smaller or try and find an intermediate cage. I do introductions first in the carrier, then a Ferplast Mary sized cage, then in half my big cage, (SRS – which usually fits 12 in) before moving to the full cage. Start with it completely bare, apart from 2 + water sources. Transfer some of the substrate / bedding from the carrier and add the rats (this helps make the area smell of both of them, and of territory already fought over and resolved). I normally add the lowest ranking rats first at this stage, then the most established rats.

6. The same applies as when they are in the carrier: expect renewed tension and more pinning and squeaking. You will need to watch them until it calms down, then feel free to leave the room but stay in hearing distance (try not to hover around the door - I have been guilty of that one more than once). After a few hours with no fighting they are probably sorted, though there may be the odd scuffle for a few days. Once you see them routinely sleeping together, or even better in mixed groups (so one newcomer with one or two existing rats, and another with others) then it’s done and you can liven up the cage (adding first 1 open sleeping place such as a hammock, then maybe a wheel, some branches etc., don’t use enclosed beds for some time). Next you can make the space bigger again or move into a bigger cage. It often takes a week or two to reach this point and don’t be afraid of taking a backwards step if they refuse to settle at the next stage.

7. In terms of free range when this is going on, leave them together for at least the first 24 hours uninterrupted. After this you can spend time with them but try to do this with the whole group, or in mixed smaller groups (so a new rat and 1 or 2 existing rats) and keep it in an enclosed space, don’t be tempted to free range in normal or large free range area’s until the group is fully settled. Often this can spark of new confrontations if they haven’t fully bonded and established the hierarchy yet. Also if you have a couple of rats who are not bonding or very wary around each other try putting them in the smallest carrier you have together. This changes the dynamics and can often break down barriers and build up individual relationships.
 

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I've had this go wonderfully well with more equally matched rats and gawd awfully wrong when there was a serious (factor of four or better) size difference. Especially when introducing older females to younger ones. The disparity in size can screw up the process as the smaller rat can't properly defend itself in close quarters.

When rat pups are too young, there really is no method that will work for intros... Older females are programmed to reject the pups of another female they don't know, so intro's really should be avoided until the pups are about 12 weeks old.. That said when you have big size disparities you can't reasonably overcome there's the "running room" method I use as a last resort. It's combat to the other extreme... Lots of room for the smaller more agile rat to get away from the older stronger and slower rat.. This method gives the smaller rat a better chance to level the playing field and survive until it wears down the larger older rat. There's really noting better about the large space method, it takes longer, there are more injuries and your whole house get trashed a few times a day, but its what works when the carrier method doesn't. My best intros were done with adult rats in small spaces, my worst were using the running room method. I only go to running room when carrier doesn't work. My most recent incentive to go to the running room method was when doing the carrier (small space method) I had the larger rat chomped onto one side of my hand mock biting me while the smaller was attached to my palm, not so much mock biting me... When rats start drawing blood (especially mine) I change tactics. I might add that watching a big fat bred for meat rat chase a nimble athletic fancy rat was a lot like watching a road runner cartoon. There were several nasty skirmishes but overall it was very entertaining.

So I do small space first and if that doesn't work go to running room. And by running room I mean a whole house, not a large cage or a bedroom.

I've done intros outdoors, and those work very well until you get the rats into the same car for the ride home, then chaos breaks out. Outdoors just about every rat get's along because they are on completely neutral territory and have other priorities, once you bring them back inside they go right back to fighting. After a very successful play session at the park I had two rats rolled into a ball of claws and fangs on my lap and running up and down my shirt while I was driving home... it was very distracting. Outdoor intros at our safe site, with vast space (40 acres) was one of my very best ideas that didn't work... Rats that were both snuggling in my arms on the park bench tore each other up on the ride home in the same car... like so many things outdoors, outdoor intros don't translate into indoor behavior. With more folks with safe sites and shoulder rats, I figured other folks would get the same brilliant idea I did, and this one doesn't work.

Do the carrier method, if that doesn't work you can try the running room method, but forget about the outdoor approach.

I might add that this is about the best guide I've seen on the carrier method to date. Isamurat, you've outdone yourself!
 

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Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
Thanks Rat Daddy, its actually part of a much bigger article I wrote for my rat club magazine, covering some of the things to think about before introing, factors that affect it and different methods of doing intros. Its gone down pretty well so far but the final part (of 3) goes out next month so I am avoiding posting anything that’s not been seen until that’s out, if you’d like a copy for interests sake I can email you one though, I’ve sent out a few to people that are having tricky intros.

Does can really be a pain in the bum, a lot of people say bucks are worse than does but in most cases they aren’t as they don’t take things nearly as personally, it’s all about hierarchy with them in the main. Saying that actually this method generally works well when you have 2 or more baby does (and by babies I mean over 7 weeks but under about 13 weeks) being introed to 2 or more adult does, its less likely to be personal then and the kittens aren’t so likely to plague the adults and get themselves into trouble as they have each other to ping on. Whilst I only have boys now I’ve had plenty of does in the past and a number of my friends have large doe groups too and use this method regularly with young and old, it mostly works.

Boys are quite different though, I would try and avoid putting off a intro to adult bucks after 12-13 weeks. The boys do need to have a decent mass to them to withstand rough and tumble so around 7-8 weeks old and weighing around 200g ish (can be less if the boys your introing them too are smaller bucks, say less than 500g). Leave it later with boys though and the adult males suddenly see it as competition as the babies smell changes to an adult smell (its blatant enough that I can smell the change so to a rat its like screaming out to them that they are a threat now). Most adult males will ignore, tolerate or in some rare cases mother (yep I’ve had some odd boys) young babies, but once they get a little older they put them in their place much more firmly and tolerate a lot less cheekiness. Its still doable but much harder work.

Outdoors does work very well for rat intros, though I still normally have them in a carrier (rats can get upset and flee in that situation and unless you’ve got a really safe place it can be risky) and mine don’t tend to scuffle at all. I actually find car journeys do wonders as well, as do rat shows, all those weird smells and noises make intros go really easily. In fact to be honest I should just post some of the other waffle from the article that actually preceded this, it agrees with a lot of what you’ve mentioned too. Just dig it out (this stuff has already gone to press too), apologies for the length (I talk too much on subjects that interest me).
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Considerations when picking what to do

In order to minimise the stress on the rats involved you can minimise the length of the process, or reduce the amount of stress the rats go through in any one time. Which works best depends a lot on the rats involved, things such as their age, sex, hormone levels, history, self-confidence, individual characters, health and existing group size and dynamics can completely change the approach the fits best. Here are some of the things that you should think about before deciding which method suits you best;

Age – This matters particularly in bucks, a buck kitten under the age of around 13-14 weeks smells different, roughly the age where their fur starts to roughen, thicken and feel more ‘buckish’ their smell changes too (this is a sign that testosterone is beginning to take a role in their development), this is discernible to the human nose (I find they smell sweet as kittens and more earthy as ‘bucks’) so is blindingly obvious to a rats more sensitive nose. Before this change adults bucks will generally not see the babies as a threat or challenge to their position and focus more on making sure the babies know there position at the bottom of the pack. The babies will also generally submit more readily which in turn will make the adults more relaxed. Sometimes does will react in a similar way, or attempt to mother the new babies, but I find this is a lot harder to predict, unless you have a particularly maternal girl. Baby to baby intros (where both groups are under 12-14 weeks) are even easier still, with kittens generally accepting each other as best friends within minutes. One thing to be very careful with though is very young/small babies. Introductions can often become rough, and whilst an adult rat would cope with it very well a real youngster is more delicate and they can get injured. With the very young this chance goes up. A good rule of thumb is to never introduce rats under 7-8 weeks, however rats grow and mature at different rates. A kitten should be nice and solid feeling and be a reasonable size (I would worry about introducing bucks much under 200g and does much under 175g). This will give them the physical strength and resistance to cope well with the situation.

Older rats, particularly bucks, who are slowing down and showing their age often begin to lose interest in cage politics or displays of dominance. In bucks this is linked to a drop in testosterone (you may notice some or all of their fur losing some of its buckish coarseness) as well as the general slowing down and settling that most old rats go through. This generally makes introductions easier, however you do need to take into account increasing frailty or risk of injury, and the fact older rats may become stressed more easily.

Sex – Bucks and does often react in quite different ways to introduction situations. A lot is down to their differing priorities. In bucks where dominance and hierarchy position is key to passing on their genes, establishing themselves securely in the hierarchy is very important (which in my mind makes understanding their behaviour much simpler). In does who do not have the same drivers (hierarchy is a means to the ratty perks in life as opposed to having a major impact on procreation) personalities take on a more significant role. This generally means that bucks will need to establish their dominance to some degree in most introductions and they will do this in a fairly consistent manner in most cases. Does will often be smoother, however they can be more unpredictable as it is more down to the individual taking a like or dislike rather than sorting out who’s boss. This difference can mean that you can be a bit more flexible with Doe introductions, and sometimes it’s necessary to take a different approach, with bucks it is generally better to focus on sorting out the hierarchy quickly

Hormone levels – Hormonal periods effect does and bucks differently. In bucks hormones are at their highest around 6-12 months (though sometimes rats younger and older will get affected), these generally manifest as slowly increasing bolshiness, during this time there fur might get particularly greasy and they may start displaying over the top dominance behaviours that verge on the aggressive towards other rats and or humans (though most bucks get through this teenage phase with only a little bit of grumpiness). As they age bucks hormones levels usually settle then begin to drop into old age, however changes in the group hierarchy (such as the loss of a strong alpha or an illness in the cage) can lead to an artificial hormone surge (a strong alpha can suppress other rats hormone levels) later in life. During hormonal phases bucks become especially bothered about being the highest up the ladder they can and making sure everyone knows it and so introductions can be more challenging. In a settled group where rats are going through a hormonal phase but are not actively causing difficulties then this shouldn’t prevent introductions, however if the group is unsettled by hierarchy challenges it is generally not a good idea to introduce until things have settled down.

In does the hormone levels are quite different, girls hormones will rise and fall over a roughly 4-5 day cycle in line with their heats from around 6 weeks (typical age of first heat). Knowing when your girl or girls are on heat can be massively useful in introductions, especially when they are not going smoothly. Having a girl on heat in the group changes the group dynamic significantly, it creates a very good distraction as everyone is focused on her mad behaviour. If you have a particularly awkward girl try beginning intros when she is on heat (you can judge this from her displaying – ears vibrating, arched back, when touched on the back or rump). Introducing girls to new girls will also often artificially trigger a heat in some or all the girls so don’t be surprised if your cage goes a little mad for a while. The other hormone level issue that can effect doe introductions is when a doe suffers from a condition causing her hormones to go out of control. Unlike bucks, does generally don’t have natural hormone surges longer than their heat (unless pregnant) and so if you have a doe that is becoming increasingly aggressive it is worth getting her spayed before introducing other rats to her as she may well have polycystic ovaries or another ovarian issue. Other than these issues it is worth bearing in mind that both pregnant does and bucks that have recently been mated can be particularly fired up in terms of hormones, so where possible minimising introductions at these times is worthwhile.

History – a rat who has never lived with other rats, or has spent a significant period of time on their own (especially when young) will struggle a lot more with introductions than one who is familiar with other rats. This is all about knowing how to interact with other rats, rats speak a complex language made up of body language as well as behaviours, smells and sounds outside our hearing. There are natural variations (or dialects) to this in different groups of rats but the main themes are the same. A rat who has grown up not knowing these, or one that has spent sufficient time on its own not using them, can find it very difficult to read the signals other rats are giving off and vice versa. If the option is available it can work a lot better to introduce them to one or two very understanding patient rats to begin to learn to be rats again before introducing them to a larger group. Observing their behaviour around these rats should give you an idea if there will be problems. Another element of rats history that can have quite an impact is territorial behaviour. This can be caused by poor treatment in earlier life or learned behaviour (reinforced by whatever was the issue being removed on sign of aggression). A rat who is obviously aggressively cage territorial is not one that you should put in a confined space with other rats without a long and gradual build up or really knowing the rats involved, so in this case small space intros can be a bad idea. In most cases it is worth attempting to resolve or reduce territorial behaviour before introductions start. Looking into neutering (more often successful in bucks than does) and/or lots of time spent training the behaviour away can help reduce this. It is worth considering though that some territorial rats feel more secure in smaller spaces (less space to dominate and control) so if you are confident the rat will not injure other rats it may be worth trying a smaller space intro

Self Confidence – A rat who lacks self-confidence is often the one that will cause most problems in any introductions. They will feel the need to go beyond normal levels to prove that they are superior in any dispute. This being the case having a good feel for any rats who are like this in a group can be very useful. It can be a good idea to introduce a good number of confident rats (including the alpha where he/she is confident) first before introducing these. This will often result in the confident rats intervening if bullying happens (as opposed to more normal hierarchy disputes) and can settle things down much quicker. Introducing new rats that lack self-confidence but are also wanting to be dominant can be difficult too, this can often cause long drawn out stalemates, where the new rat won’t back down but also won’t push to be dominant (typically involving lots of squeaking and standing on hind legs pushing people away). This is generally where it can be a good idea to up the unfamiliarity factor (to break the stalemate a little) by going for a walk or drive with them in a carrier (unfamiliar smells and movements quickly distract them from the stalemate).

Individual characters – this is one of the things that makes rats such brilliant pets, it’s also one of those things that can make introductions a walk in the park or a nightmare. I find doe introductions particularly dependant on this as their likes and dislikes are often more complex. Learning your rats and how they interact with each other normally will give you a better feel for what may and may not work for them, but don’t be surprised if they react differently to what you expect for their first introduction, it is very different to their norm after all. Once you have experienced your first introduction with each rat you should have a good idea of how they will respond in the future and things that can help or make it worse.

Health – introducing unwell or weak rats is always a real concern, with introductions comes stress and stress has a dramatic impact on our rats ability’s to fight infection and illnesses. It is something that needs to be taken into account and keeping stress levels to a minimum should be your primary concern. If the rats have a mild chronic condition that responds to stress it can be worth covering them with medication during introductions and getting them over as quickly as possible. It is also worth taking into account how physically capable the unwell rats are as well as who they are being introduced to. If they are being introduced to boisterous young rats and are very weak, putting them in a confined space together may well be too much. Introducing two old infirm rats should be much more straightforward regardless of method. It is also worth bearing in mind that long drawn out intros can be more stressful to the individual than short quick ones. You need to balance how poorly the rat is, how much stress they may take and whether it is better in a short sharp dose or in smaller more separate ones. In extreme cases where the rat is very ill you may need to make the decision not to introduce them, or select their future cage mate/s very carefully.

Existing group size and dynamics – Whilst it may seem harder to introduce rats into a large group, with all those different personalities and ego’s, it can actually be easier. This is in part due to the new rats being somewhat overawed by all the new faces and strength of the existing group and so submitting quickly. It can also be down to the large group being more familiar with the coming and going of new rats thus lowering overall stress levels a bit. However in the case of rats that have been on their own for a significant time this can actually make situations worse and it can be worth introducing them to a small group first (personality dependant). Group dynamics also makes a big impact, a settled group will absorb new members quickly, an unsettled group will often cause issues and increases the chance of injury’s occurring. The rats in the group are already highly stressed so adding in more will elevate them to even higher stress level. Stressed rats, much like stressed humans, will react in more extreme manners to the same stimulus, this will mean that accidents and truly aggressive fights are more likely to occur. Better to wait until your group is settled before introducing new rats.
 

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Thank you for taking the time to write this all out! This was by far the easiest method of intros that I've done yet and I'm thrilled to have this info on hand for future introductions.
 

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Thanks for writing all of this down, Isamu. Tacking this to the top of the page.
 

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I just want to add a few comments, if I may...

To be clear, when I wrote about outdoor intros, I meant free range at my 40 acre safe site, which worked a treat until I brought the rats back into close quarters. Isamurat is talking about taking a carrier outdoors to change the landscape and induce environmental stimulus not found in the home. That may very well be useful and something I may consider trying in the future. I might add one footnote, because there are new rat owners here that live in different climates, taking your rats into your car or outdoors carrier or no carrier involves not overheating them in summer. If your rats go much over 82 degrees F. they are more likely to die from the heat than the introductions. Cars get hot fast as do rats in cages in the sun. I know no experienced rat owner would make this mistake, but this is an important heads up to you newbies... I suppose a similar warning about freezing your rats might be added, but if it isn't too cold a little bit cool might even induce your rats to cuddle more... But it's summer in the northern hemisphere so lets worry about that first.

New rat owners might notice that there's no mention here of scrubbing your rats or perfuming them to disguise their odors. This has been a long standing myth in the rat community. The idea that rats can't recognize a new rat because you drop vanilla extract on all of your rats is akin to your parents dressing up a stranger in your old clothes and introducing them at breakfast as your brother or sister. Just because someone is wearing your old blue jeans or even the exact same outfit you have on, will not confuse you into believing they are your siblings and you just didn't notice them before living in your house, your whole life. Seriously, rats aren't that stupid they sniff each other's bums when they are even slightly in doubt and they know who they know and who they don't. If it really were possible to confuse rats into now knowing each other, you might actually wind up with your whole colony going through intros again, but I don't think it is.

The next myth avoided here is the cage swap, and side by side cage thing. I've had to put off intros because I've adopted females that were too young to introduce... Over time my older girls didn't get more comfortable having the pups around, rather they became more and more irate that there were strange rats in their house they didn't know. When we adopted Cloud we put her in the big cage and let Max live free range in the house. Max prefers to live in a metal cabinet in the kitchen and has a huge "secret" next there. Day by day she got worse until she started spending most of her waking time clinging to her old cage... the one she never wanted to be in... hissing and snarling at the new rat. She has natural brown eyes but I actually saw them flash red in the right light one night... After about two weeks of being kept away from the "invader" she was becoming completely irrational. The new rat swiping at her nose through the bars wasn't helping much either. Long drawn out side by side cage type intros can do more harm than good from my experience. No you can't introduce big girls to pups, but the sooner you get the intros out of the way the less painful they might be.

Now, Isamurat does bigger groups than many of us do, so if I may add for those of us with smaller groups, there's a real benefit to socializing your rats before you do intros. If you do immersion, this can usually be done in a few days, so you don't have to wait too long to introduce your rats, in fact I once did about 3 hours of immersion and went right into close quarters intros during the same session. Socialization and intros were over in less than 8 hours and the rats were living together. The advantage to socializing your rats to you first is that you are less likely to get bit if you have to break up a rat fight and you will have a stronger influence on the flow of activity during introductions. In smaller groups you should be the human alpha, and you can set the tone of the introductions better if all of the rats participating respect and know you. Carrier introductions and immersion introductions are basically very similar (overlapping) in method, the difference being in how much the human guides the activities. With larger rat packs there may be an established rat alpha, in smaller groups you are more likely to be the human alpha. When working in smaller groups, you might want to intervene more whereas in better established rat societies you most likely can let your rat alpha do more of the work. Either way, you can't get too hands on... as your rats do need to settle their arguments between themselves or you will only screw things up and draw things out.

This thread is likely to get better as it goes along, just about everything anyone really needs to know is already covered at this point, but there's a certain element of actual hands on experience that those of us who have done more intros have that really translates poorly into words. After you've done a few intros, you know exactly when to intervene and when not to. You make judgment calls pretty much on the fly. As examples get added and questions asked terms like "going smoothly", "no harm no foul", "other approaches" etc are going to better define themselves. There was a particular point at which I realized that close quarter's, hands on intros were going terribly wrong for my current two girls. But to truly explain what I mean by "terribly wrong" would take at least another 5000 words and it might only make sense to those folks that have actually seen it. As this thread goes on, I expect things will become even more clear...

This is a great thread. Every rat owner has to do intros sooner or later, and there is so much misinformation out there. Isamurat has really presented something that we can all get behind. Every experienced rat owner has their own tweaks, but this is a great place for a new rat owner doing intros to be... right here right now. Although I've never done two intro's that even vaguely resembled each other, I honestly would have benefited from having a thread like this when I first started out with rats. I can't wait to see how this tread evolves.
 

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I just wanted to thank you for this method! It's been a little tricky introducing my two new girls. When I got them the big girls were a little rough and scared the little ones and I was worried they were too small so I let them grow a little. I left them in there all together a few times, most recently last night for about 8 hours and put them in the cage last night and they're great. Even caught my alpha cuddling with one of the new girls. They sorted out the hierarchy pretty peacefully. The carrier really helped them bond. I like it more than the bathtub (plus they can't jump out).
 

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Sounds scarey ,,my older fellow is probably about 10 mos, old grew up in a glassed pet store cage,,,probably has not had any interaction with his own kind. He is big(450grams) and pushy. New guy is about 7/8 mos,,,half the size,maybe a dwarf,,,he has been very socialized with other rats, ,tried the tub method,,,little one got bit twice,,,and me too. little one now seems afraid to be near older rat. The bites were tiny,,,is it possible the older rat just cannot be with others? I feel the carrier method , might mean death to the little one. Could use some advice,,,not ready to trough the towel ..thanks
 

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I have had my PEW for about a year and a half now so she is pushing 2 years old. About a year ago we brought a friend home for her and we introduced them on the bed where they jumped and played and hit it off instantly. Never once was there a scuffle, pinning, aggressive grooming, etc. the next day we put them together and it was as if they had been together since birth. Well, with that said we just added a third girl (12weeks old) to the pack. Peanut who is the friend that my PEW got along so great with is showing usual signs of pinning down the new girl and aggressively grooming making her squeak but they sleep cuddled together once in a while. We added my PEW the alpha to the intro and it turned into an all out brawl with the new girl, I didn't intervene until I saw her do the "waltz" as I call it(arched and walking sideways) I put my hand between them before she got to the new girl and she kept trying to reach around my hand and charging my hand so I removed the new girl. We placed them one at at time in the bathtub starting with Alpha PEW and they did not even pay attention to one another. So after about 30 minutes they were just jumping out and we brought them back to the cage where the fighting between my PEW and the new girl continued(note this is not the PEWs cage) once again I did not intervene until my PEW pounced on the new girl and they turned to a ball of fur fighting. After I sprayed some water to break it up they cleaned each other and my PEW would pin her and force groom her with squeaks as well as my PEWs friend joining in and sitting on the new girl. I removed my PEW and left her friend and the new girl together as they don't fight. Any tips on what I can do at this point? I wish I would have read your article before we did the intro but I hope the "No blood, No foul" is true for rats and they can still become great friends. Thank you in advance!
 

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Someone recommended this method to me when I posted about our situation in a rat group on Facebook.

We got a new rescue rattie (Cocoa) three weeks ago tomorrow. After two weeks separated, we began the introductions (like we always have, using typical methods most often talked about) with our other seven ratties, one at a time. The very first introduction with one of our least aggressive ratbabies (Judith) didn't go so well and they started fighting. So we called it quits that day. The next day we managed to introduce three others to Cocoa one at a time without incident (that particular day I started rubbing tuna juice on all of them - I also discovered that Cocoa was in heat and wondered if that accounted for anything that happened between her and the others). And the day after that, we did the same thing with the last three. No major incidents.

After that, I started switching them out into each other's cages without doing any major cleaning so they could get more used to each other's smells. And then today we started all over again with the first rat (Judith) and the same thing happened - they started to fight. But I was right on top of them to stop it more quickly that time. We moved on to another rat (Pixie) and no fighting, but she kept humping and chasing Cocoa (who's in heat again), and Cocoa would also chase back. There was also some sideways walking (which I just read about in this thread). Tomorrow we'll do some more introductions.

All of our other rat intro have gone easily compared to this one - most likely because:


1) the other introductions involved younger, non-adult rats, and
2) none of the other ratties had been alone during their life - they had regular cagemates/siblings.

This rescue is an adult, about one years old, and while she did have siblings, they were all adopted before she was because she was the most scared/shy out of them all. And before she ended up in the shelter, she'd been at a store. So she hasn't had the easiest time of it.

After our initial difficulties I'm considering the carrier method but in all honesty, it scares me. Especially seeing how Judith and Cocoa started fighting.

Have you considered making a YouTube video about this method? I tried looking for one but there's nothing there.
 

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We have 2 does that we bought at a pet store. We don't know their ages but are guessing approximately 4-5 months for one doe (sniffles) & 5_6 months for the other doe (snuggles). We just got 2 new does cocoa and pooh. Cocoa is a little over 7 weeks old and pooh is only a little over 6 weeks old. We tried introducing them to our older girls and things didn't go too well. We'll at least my wife didn't think they went well. Snuggles was fine with both the new girls, just a little tail grabbing and grooming. But sniffles started pinning down the youngest doe and was nipping at her. When she sees them near her cage she makes noises kinda like spitting sounds and tries to grab them through the cage. Should we wait until the new girls are older, around 12-13 weeks old to try to introduce them again or should we try the carrier method now? Our older girls are in a big double critter nation cage and our new girls are in a smaller, but still fairly large cage and we feel bad for them. We want them to be able to have more room and enjoy the big cage too. Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated. If we have to wait to do the introductions then so be it, but we'd like to be able to get them all together as soon as possible. Thanks in advance for your suggestions and help.
 

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Have you considered making a YouTube video about this method? I tried looking for one but there's nothing there.
I keep trying to video it, the trouble is my current rats are little angels and tend to just get on. I've been trying to get a good video of the kind of bad behaviours to look out for for several years lol. I will give it a go next time I do one, or next time I assist with a more awkward intro and homefully there will at least be some posturing or something to film. Recently its been so smooth I've been able to get them in a full set up srs in a few days. I suspect part of that is I don't stress too much about it any more and they pick up on that. Though part is my current group (and previous boy group) are very settled and good rats.
 

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My neutered male has been alone for over 6 months. He is 1 year old now. I introduced to him two neutered 14 weeks olds. There has been only a couple interactions. No boxing, no pinning down, no grooming...I think he might have forgotten to "speak rat" and I know it is a weakness if the carrier method. Any suggestions as w
 

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My neutered male has been alone for over 6 months. He is 1 year old now. I introduced to him two neutered 14 weeks old males. There has been only a couple interactions. No boxing, no pinning down, no grooming...the two new rats are together on one side of the cage, and my resident rat on the other sided the cage. No interaction except a few nose touching. I think he might have forgotten to "speak rat" and I know it is a weakness if the carrier method. what other intro trick should I use? I put the cage they are in on top of my dryer and empty water bottles in it- it makes tons of noise. I just had a pick and they are all together, which didn't happen until now. So is that a good sign or should I stop stressing them? They have been in the same cage for 8 hours now with nothing much happening at all as explained above except for getting together when stressed by all the noise.
 

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I currently have an adult and two juvenile females in a carrier. It's not terribly exciting, (my juvis basically play dead when the adult approaches, not much boxing or fighting back) but I can share video clips if someone else wants to use them for teaching purposes.
 

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My twins are 8 months old and I am looking at a 2.5 month old up for adoption. I know older females are harder to intro, but how about these ages? I'm thinking of having New Girl bunk with me in the bedroom for about a week before I put all three of them together. Has anyone started intros the day they bring the new girl home?? If the rescue club says she's already been quarantined, should I still wait a couple hours before handling my girls or do you think this could help them learn her scent? I mean we all come home smelling weird at the end of the day, would they be able to recognize it's another rat?
 
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