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No success with terrified rat for months (terrified both for people and other rats)

1325 Views 6 Replies 3 Participants Last post by  Tinytoes
Hi everyone,

This is the first time posting on the forum, it has been extremely helpful to read threads after threads of people facing similar issues as me and also reading the success stories. I am currently at a loss of what I should do and I hope that someone with similar experiences would be able to help me.

I have a colony of four rats (all male, un-neutered, all 1 year+) who come from various backgrounds, pet store and breeders, who all had their own little issues but nothing major. I handled everything pretty well in the past years and they're a happy family.

A few months ago I decided that I had enough time and space to see if I could adopt another rat. I adopted one (male, un-neutered, 9 months) from a random person on the internet without much consideration what living conditions the rat might've been living in. When I picked it up there were a lot of red flags that I did not take into account. Something I learned from.

Something I always did first was to quarantine the rat for 2-3 weeks and slowly build up trust. I handled him like my previous boys and realised that something was different with this rat. First when he would see my fingers, by grabbing him or giving him a treat, he would nib and bite hard enough for me to bleed. Nothing too deep though. I figured, and asked online, that this was purely out of fear. He never fluffed up in anyway for example.

Secondly it turned out he was coughing and I found out that he had scabs all across his body. I brought him to the vet and it turned out that he had mites. He got antibiotics for the coughing and anti-mite medicine. It took another few weeks until most health issues seemed to be fading away.

I read online that rats can be more fearful or aggressive if they're not feeling healthy. I figured this was the case but continuing the trust training did not really help. He continued to bite and I felt that with every bite we were moving backwards.

After losing much hope I turned to the internet and people said that it might make sense to introduce him to the others. If he would be fine with the other rats I could more easily build up trust by him seeing that the other rats were not fearful of me.

I started with the neutral place method (bath-tub introductions) as that helped me in the past with the other rats. I tried various options with him only introduced with the most dominant rat, other times with them all together. In all cases he was continuously and literally terrified of the other rats. He would scream and stand up, showing teeth, when they would get too close. He never fluffed up, therefore I feel it's not aggression per-se, but rather pure fear.

Again losing hope I read more about other introduction methods and the carrier method seemed to be the most promising. I figured that if he had no place to run, he would have to be fine with the others eventually.

It has now been 3 days since I started the carrier method. I started last Friday (Currently Monday) and put them in a small carrier with limited space and wooden bedding. Enough breathing room but little space between them. This seemed to go okay. A lot of screaming from the new rat. A lot of showing teeth from each other. He seemed in some situations to be cornered by two other rats. Other times everyone would raise their hands standing in a circle. It seemed cruel but it also seemed normal from what I read on the internet.

After 24 hours it seemed the screaming got less. I decided after 1 hour of silence in the early afternoon on Saturday that we could move to a slightly larger cage (with wooden bedding) which did not go very well I think. All my existing rats were huddled up in one corner while the new one was in the other. It seemed that by using the slightly larger cage they would not really have to be engaged with each other. I decided that they had to go back in the smaller cage. Another 24 hours passed.

Early Sunday morning I had heard no screaming and it seemed to go very well. I moved them up to the slightly larger cage which went okay. I left them alone for a few hours and when I came back I saw the new rat sleeping against one of the more dominant ones. I was really excited to see the progression.

This is where I might have made the mistake. I decided that it would be time, after 6 hours, to move to an even larger cage. This was a cat transport box, nothing too large. That also went well as this was the first time the new rat did not scream when I put him in. This was also the first time that I used fleece instead. I thought that it might be nice for them to hide somewhere.

They did not seem to hide and instead lay on top of the fleece. The new rat was sitting next to the door of the transport box and everything seemed to be quiet. One of the dominant rats went over and laid to the opposite side with his head, slightly sleeping. I saw as the new rat slowly approached his head, no fluffed hair or anything, and in a second trying to snatch the dominant rat by its head. He jumped up and a large fight bursted out, luckily no blood.

As I saw this happen I decided to downgrade their box to the smallest cage which I used in the beginning last night (Sunday). They have slept in that cage for the rest of the night until today. It seemed very quiet so I moved them up, once again, in the slightly larger cage this morning. After some boxing and rat-balling it (a slight nib on it's leg, nothing serious I would say) it seems to be very quiet and the new rat seems to lie down with the more dominant rat the last 30 minutes.

I would love to hear people's opinions to understand if what I am doing is okay. I also feel like I am losing hope as this is taking an extremely long time. Around me I have friends telling me that I should stop. They say it is cruel. Others say that I should accept the fact that this could be a solitary rat, that maybe it wants to be alone. Has anyone had carrier method introductions take this long? Is it fine to keep them confined in such a small space for such lengths of time, or should I give them breaks in between, back to their original cages? Is this behaviour considered aggression?

The last resort I also read is that I could neuter him. I don't know if this would help anything though, as I don't know if the fear is hormonal or not.

Sorry for the long post. Any information related to anything that I mentioned would be really helpful... I thank you in advance for reading my post! If anyone needs more information I am happy to provide.
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Hey Morbius! Thank you so much for your reply! It really means a lot to hear that someone says that it is going good. I will make sure to clean the main cage throughly when it's time. I also wanted to update that it seems to go much better than I expected a couple of days ago. Since yesterday they have been getting in a lot less fights and have been cuddling up against each other! I am ecstatic.

Two days ago I saw that the new rat (Robbi) snatched, similarly to what he did before, to another rat (Ebi) who was sleeping. I figure that it's because they're sleeping too close to him.

What happened next was so strange but awesome to see: Ebi did not get really angry at all. He pushed Robbi around, pinned him down, but not aggressively. Robbi was constantly screaming. It turned out as a stand-off, paws in the air, against each other. What was so fascinating is that Ebi seemed to comfort him instead. He was not angry but he kept putting his paws on Robbi.

Robbi screamed every-time Ebi put his paws on him, almost to the point where his little body was twitching of fear. Ebi would remove his hand, and repeated to do it again. This happened for 20+ times until Robbi slowly calmed down. Just a story that I thought would be nice to share. I don't know if rats comfort each other, or if they understand that another rat isn't aggressive but just very scared. It was amazing to see.

The past two days have been amazing to see them slowly getting closer. One point they decided to all lie down in the toilet area, Robbi on the bottom and everyone else on top...
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Here are some pictures:

Yellow Wood Hood Material property Gas

One of my more dominant boys, Merry, on the left and Robbi, the new rat, on the right. Sleeping together since Monday evening.

Mesh Pet supply Grass Net Cage

After Monday it went pretty good and decided to put them in a hamster cage. This was very nerve-wrecking for me...

Vertebrate Mammal Fawn Rodent Pet supply

Robbi and Merry seemed to be getting more friendlier with each other.

Photograph Vertebrate Mammal Fawn Snout

After a small fight between Robbi and another one (Coco) he jumped on the two others trying to rest on the toilet...

Vertebrate Mammal Terrestrial animal Comfort Tints and shades

At this point I was scared that I traumatised them in those small carrier cages to be conditioned to only sleep huddled up like this... 😁

Liquid Bottle Blue Water bottle Drinking water

Since yesterday went so well I decided to put a hammock and two lava ledges in the cage. When I woke up (some screaming during the night) they all were sleeping together!
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Thanks for your response! I'm really happy to hear that you both think I am doing a fine job. It's always hard to guess and especially if you're alone, it's hard to judge.

Don't mind at all if you use the information! I hope that it is useful to you and others. Also if you, or anyone else reading, has any other questions, let me know. Happy to connect.

For anyone that is interested I combined the neural territory and the carrier methods together:

I put the new and my existing more dominant (not aggressive rat) together in the bathtub. New rat first. I figured it would be helpful to see how the new rat would act with another.

Based on their interactions I realized he was very scared of the other rats, the situation, and me. That was very good information because, knowing now more, I realized that it was not (hormonal) aggression.

@Morbius made a very good point regarding the deconditioning, which I wasn't aware of. By using the carrier method I deconditioned that other rats were not scary and can even be a comfort for the new rat.

It took up to 48-72 hours inside a very small carrier cage (20x30 cm / 8x11 inch) for him to warm up to the other rats. We had to move back to that small cage twice after upgrading.

My patience and Robbi's willingness to trust paid off in the end. It was so hard for me, as a relative new rat owner, to understand what the right approach was. I care so much about the well-being of the rats, I don't want them to be unnecessarily hurt or stressed.

I even got to the point where I was so exhausted and lost almost all hope. I spoke to a good friend of mine who mentioned, what I think, something important:

You should do your best to help the animal you have with the knowledge you have. If at any point, for whatever reason, you lost control or hope, you should seek immediate help. In my case this was to reach out to the forums and in the worse case, find a rescue nearby to take him away.

It was really hard to think about having to give him away, but I also knew that it wouldn't be a life for little Robbi if he'd end up dying alone in a cage, being afraid of the rats nearby and the scary human walking past.

It was also hard to hear close people giving their opinions about the situation while they had no experience with rats. It was very discouraging and I believe that my very limited time on the forum here already gave me so much more new energy to interact with my rats, rescue new ones, and help people on this forum.
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