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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
My boy Meemer has been displaying some new behaviours recently and I think they are hormonal.
His fur is a lot courser than my other two rats, and he is beginning to get back grease. He keeps digging the fleece in the cage and has been getting puffy during play with the others. Recently when I pet him during free range he jumps, or swings round and licks my hand.

Yesterday I was stroking him, stroking his back which he usually likes but this time he started whining in a way I've never heard from any of them. I lifted him to make sure he wasn't injured in some way, and he shrieked and went stiff in the same way that rats do when they are in a nose to nose stand off. Very tense all over. He avoids me during free range now, and will only come for food. The other boys interact with me and seek me out as usual but Meemer is preoccupied.

I feel like it's may be a matter of time before he bites.
Of course I am avoiding touching his back from now on.

He's also quite rough with the power grooming and his cage mates have been complaining bitterly. Mooshie has a bald spot and a scratch on the nap of his neck today. He's seems hyper and agitated outside of the cage.

Meemer is six months old on the 4th of Nov so he is the right age for hitting puberty. Is this a phase or is it time to book a neuter?
 

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If the plan is to neuter the boys, there is probably no reason to wait. If you are only doing if they are aggressive, many boys his age will go through an adolescents period and can be pretty hormonal and aggressive. Most will out grow it and go back to sweet hearts. A small percentage will stay aggressive.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
I'd rather avoid neutering unless absolutely necessary. Good to know that it could be a passing phase and that it's not inevitable that he becomes aggressive. I think he must be a mind reader because for 15 mins this morn he sat allowing me to pet him and he was bruxing. Afterwards he was approaching me and being a little more like his old self. I will keep an eye on it for the time being and keep my fingers crossed.
 

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Well, untill recently I never had a lot of rats at once, but I have had them over the last 3 decades and mostly all boys. Maybe lucky, but I never had an aggressive one. Had a few woosy babies, prone to crying and being scared of their own shadow, but never angry. Hopefully it isn't just luck, and from reading other peoples experiences, I don't think it is, all should be good for your little man.
 

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Your reaction is perfectly normal, but it's not the right thing to do for Meemer. I forget how old he is but it is natural for male rats to hit puberty, and like for boy humans this can be very confusing. There's something in his brain that's telling him to rise to the leadership position and take control. To some degree or another every rat goes through this, even female rats have a hierarchy. Power grooming the other rats is telling them he's taking charge. If your rats were in the wild he would lead them and care for them as his family and use his new found strength to support his leadership position.

Well, even in the wild...(which may actually be an old warehouse) he's likely to meet the preexisting alpha who most likely would be power grooming him at this stage of the game and if Meemer didn't get the message really bad things would happen to him if he tried to push around or bite the current alpha of a wild rat pack. The last thing a wild rat pack alpha is likely to do is to back off and give Meemer space and understanding. And rats understand social structure as well as humans do... Your boss pays you and "grooms" you for promotion and you respond by doing the tasks he gives you for about half your waking life. Politicians make laws and give you benefits and you obey the laws. Human society and rat society is based on social order. Every police officer will tell you teen age boys are trouble and they are fast to issue tickets and keep order when dealing with teens.

Your behavior of backing down or backing away from Meemer is rather confusing to him. It's telling him he should be asserting himself more and that he should be taking charge more. This is exactly the wrong message he should be getting. Now that he's in puberty you have to be much more hands on and much more in charge, you should be power grooming him so he understands that you are the parent or the alpha and that he is not. This will actually make him more relaxed and comfortable as a subordinate in your family.

We tend to think that every rat or human would want to be an alpha, in fact this isn't true at all. Most humans would rather have comfortable well paying jobs than lead their nations to war. Some nations still maintain ceremonial nobility so that everyone can feel comfortable that there's a benign and caring alpha in charge and know exactly who it is. Yes, it's good to be the king, but sometimes it's way better to have a king and a well paying job and a pension and an annual vacation benefit. Like humans rats in mixed human and rat families thrive best in a subordinate role. Some really crafty humans will groom certain rats to be their rat alpha's when they have larger packs, but this usually only works well when you have a larger mischief. Isamurat can give you some ideas on this, I prefer to be the human alpha, but even I do feed and groom my top rat first and show my top rat a little extra deference in front of any other rat. But I don't ever back down and I don't put up with challenges.

Long ago, I mean when I was in college there were lots of studies done on rat social structure in a relatively new field known then as social psychology. These studies also got caught up in a certain warped effort to castrate repeat sexual offenders and aggressive humans, so they are't very politically correct today and aren't often cited. It was interesting to note that when a rat started taking on the alpha role it's hormone levels would dramatically increase. The boost of testosterone would actually make the rat stronger and larger and more aggressive so that it could better fulfill it's role as pack leader. It really was one of those remarkable cases where the body adapts to what the mind is doing. But when a superior alpha was introduced, or another rat rose to power, there was almost always a pretty vicious battle, but it rarely ended in death. The former alpha would become subordinate to the new one and then his hormone levels would decrease back to normal as the new alpha's hormone levels would rise. As he no longer needed the strength boost he lost it. Again it's a matter of the body adjusting to the mind set....

This is actually a very important study. Originally it was believed that hormones lead to aggression and this was a linear function so if the hormones always came first and aggression followed then, the only fix would be to neuter or castrate. Once it became clear that hormones were dependent on the social environment and mindset it turned out that if you address the behavior you also reduce the hormone levels which lead to less aggression going forward.

Please keep in mind hormone levels don't work like a light switch, it takes time for them to catch up with reality. Once you take charge, Meemer is still going to push back a bit for a while, you should be able to see noticeable improvement pretty quickly though.

So your first instinct to back off and give Meemer space is normal (for a human) but it's really bad for an alpha rat. Meemer expects you to fall on him like a truck load of bricks and reestablish order, or to back down in which case he has to go after you...

I don't think he's that far gone yet that you have to fall on him like a cement truck, but you definitely need to step up your game and not put up with his nonsense. Flip him, groom his belly, pick him up handle him intervene if he's upsetting the other rats. Basically be the alpha, read this as leader...(normally I say parent but this is more like teacher or cop).

To be clear, Meemer doesn't love you any less and if you were a rat and you were living in the wild, he might make a great alpha and he would lead you and his brothers through adventures and food and water gathering missions and he would protect you from threats and he would use his new found hormonal strength to be a great leader, but he can't run your home, he can't head your household and he's all revved up with no place to go.

Being a parent is hard, you always want to give your kids the best and to just love them and let them have their way, but you can't always do that. You have to sometimes be in charge and set the rules and when your kids push you, you have to push back.

Eventually if you let things go too far, Meemer is going to challenge you head on and this is the stuff of extreme immersion or neutering, I think you can still head this off if you really stay on Meemer, try to keep him engaged with you and try and keep him occupied with other interesting things to do... teacher's pet kind of stuff.. Don't back down or back away, don't punish him but don't be afraid to be stand your ground and be confrontational and make and enforce rules about what he can and can't do to his roomies.

Some folks tend to be natural leaders and are very hands on with their rats they are generally pretty assertive types, they don't often see this kind of alpha confusion, other people are more laid back personalities and more nurturing types and historically they back down from challenges, these folks will more often see these kinds of alpha issues and have to resort to neutering. Which leads to an interesting phenomenon where some folks never neuter and other people do it almost as a matter of course. It isn't that one person just has bad luck with choosing the wrong rats, it's a matter of management style. Chances are that once Meemer is neutered another rat of your group will take the alpha challenge and you might be in the same boat all over again. Same issue, different rat...

It's your choice, but your situation should still be fixable without extreme measures.

Best luck.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
I have generally been pretty hands on with the boys, but I feel that touching that lower part of Meemers back is being interpreted as an aggressive move right now. He's been letting me stroke him all over today but I can see he just tenses if I touch the portion of back above his tail.
I want to be hands on but at the same time I don't want to wind him up unnecessarily, which is why I wanted to avoid touching him in that spot.

When I was petting him today he was sitting much like the other two do when they get power groomed and being quite submissive. Perhaps I have been giving him less cuddles or scritches than the others because they have been more forthcoming than Meemer during playtime. He's always been quite independent and wilful. During freerange Meemer has been so busy running about doing his own thing, I've maybe inadvertently allowed a distance to build up.
Muffin has been getting time with me doing tricks since the is the best at learning, and Mooshie has been getting more cuddles because he is very bruxy and boggly these days. When I first got the boys Meemer got all the attention because he was the bravest and most confident, and at some point I felt guilty the other two weren't getting the same level of attention.
I think I might have went too far in the opposite direction and now Meemer has been a little left out.

Jeez RatDaddy, I think this is why he has been grumpy! I didn't realise until I really thought about it! Poor little guy.

Spending that time grooming him today seemed to help his mood. I will make a point to spend a bit more time with Meemer to strengthen our bond.

Thanks for helping me!
 

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This sounds kind of like my new boy Odo! He is 1 year old and is also puffy and squeaky when I touch him as well. But it seems like you might have an easier time with your guy than I do since you have had him all this time and he has already bonded with you. I just got Odo a week ago and he has a pretty dark past (I was told hes aggressive with other ratties and that he had killed his cage mate, yikes!) so Ive pretty much decided that Im not introducing him to my two boys until he is neutered, I figure that Im not going to take any chances with his raging hormones... My vet told me this type of aggression (squeaking when touched) is hormonal related as well. I agree that it would help to spend more time with him though and see if you can get him back to his old self first before getting him neutered right away.
 

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This often boils down to a communication issue. A friend got into an argument with his girlfriend (they were teens at the time). His girlfriend insisted he let her out of the car and he did. Well, not having any money she walked and hitchhiked the ten miles through several bad neighborhoods to get home on her own... It turned out that the argument changed complexion entirely thereafter and became more about why he didn't go back and get her. Yes, she did say "let me out now!" and yes he did comply but no it didn't solve the original disagreement and it sure helped to make things a whole lot worse. So just because your first thought may be that your rat wants to be left alone, that may not be the appropriate response.

Some rats are more inclined towards alpha confusion, this is true, but most really would prefer to be reigned back into the family and loved by a kind and caring human parent. Somehow when my friend's girlfriend insisted on being let out of the car it was in all reality about the last thing she really wanted.

You should be able to handle Meemer however you want without him getting defensive, his hormones may be starting to pick up, but keep working with him until he stops pushing you away. You are the alpha and you can scratch him where ever you want even if he's not exactly in love with the idea. My big girl Max has lots of rules about how she likes to be touched and when. And she'll let me know when she doesn't prefer something, and try and pull away, but she won't challenge me over it. She's a free range rat and she gets a very wide latitude and a lot of respect, but she knows there are limits.

Sounds like you are on the issue and hopefully you will get things under control pretty fast, remember it take a little while for male rats hormones to return to normal.

Best luck.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Meemer has been getting big lots of attention today, and he has been allowing me to pet the whole length of his back, and has been bruxing and boggling his eyes. He hasn't done that for me before! Result!
 

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Rats are so very bright and they are always communicating with us and trying to understand us... Sometimes it's hard to understand them... I suppose that was Fuzzy Rats most amazing faculty.. she just kept trying and trying and she never gave up until I suddenly just got it... Once you really open a dialogue with your rats, you will find there aren't too many issues you can't work out. Meemer wanted you to be his mom and his leader and he wanted your love and he was acting out like a kid that's being ignored... sound about right?
 

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Discussion Starter #11
I think we definitely hit the nail on the head here. Wee boy just needed some reassurance and love. We all had a morning freerange and then I while they were sleepy and relaxed in the afternoon they got lots of cuddles and skritches, with special attention payed to Meemer. He really seemed to enjoy it.
Tonight he's been popcorning all over me, actively seeking me out, and having a lot of fun with an empty paper takeaway bag :p His mood seems really positive and he's generally being his sweet mischievous self.

I feel guilty I didn't realise sooner that he was being left out! I'd been concentrating so much on sorting out Mooshie that I didn't notice the effect my shift in my attention was having on poor Meemer.
Glad that it seems to be something that's easy to put right. It's amazing how much of an affect my behaviour has on my rats behaviour.
 

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I've been having a similar issue. My boy Pepe has started wrestling and chasing his siblings, and everyone is just getting tired of his antics. The other day I was cutting up cloth to make cage liners and he got too close to the scissors, so like normal I grabbed him and gently tossed him away. Instead of shaking it off and moving on though, he ran back at me and started trying to get the scurries again and when I grabbed him he bit me. It wasn't hard, but it was still more than a nibble. I couldn't believe it since he has always gone floppy like a pancake when I touch him. He kept getting in the way so I kept tossing him, and whenever I would touch his back in the exact spot you were talking about, he would turn around and charge at me. I grabbed him and brought him to my face and started power grooming him which got him really worked up and he started fiercely nibbling and licking my hand. Hopefully it's just a phase
 
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