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Hi

I'm looking for some advice on one of my rats, who is bullying two of his cagemates.

I have 5 male rats - Skippy and Bro are around 2 and a half years old. In February last year, I got three baby boys (6 weeks old at that point, now coming up to 18 months old.) They went into a new cage, and Skippy and Bro moved in with them a week later, when they were 7 weeks old. They have been living together for over 15 months now. Skippy and Bro have never shown aggression to the "babies", and the "babies" get on fine together - scuffles are very rare.

One of the three "babies" gets on fine with both of the older ones - I often see him sleeping with or near to them (inside and out of the cage), and Bro grooms him out of the cage. One of the others has the occasional scuffle with Skippy, but other than that he doesn't seem concerned with them.

The third "baby" is the problem - he bullies the older boys a lot, and it seems to be getting worse. He huffs and puffs at their hammock and batters it with his front paws, and I've seen him chase them back into the cage when he encounters them outside. There have also been some instances where he has bitten their tails, drawing blood! Bro noticably tenses up when he sees the bully (on the plus side, he seems to see me as a "safe haven" so runs to me for protection when out of the cage :)) Neither of the older boys seem to fight back, they tend to try to get away if anything.

At first I had hoped it was just hormones and it would get better over time, but now I'm getting really concerned. My immediate worry is that the wounds, while small, will get infected. I am also concerned that Skippy and Bro, while generally healthy, are showing signs of slowing down with age - he might take advantage of them if they can't get away from him!

I suspect that the bully is actually just trying to be dominant. Is there anything I can do to discourage the behaviour? If I go up to the cage when he's bullying them, he gives me a look that suggests he knows I don't like his behaviour and tends to stop, but this obviously only works if I'm nearby.

If all else fails, is castration likely to help? I would rather not go down that route if I can avoid it - I know there are risks involved, but he does make the older boys' lives a misery with his behaviour.

Thanks in advance for any help you can offer.
 

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As best as I understand it your babies are 18 months old... which is way beyond the age of onset for typical hormonal aggression. I'd say that the power balance is shifting as your older rats become more feeble...

My best advise is to take the lead at playtime, be hands on and assertive and try and teach your aggressor that you don't appreciate his bullying. Kind of take the alpha or parent role and adjust his mindset by reminding him you are still the parent, no matter how old your boys are. When our "family rat" (oldest highest status rat) starts to age and become more feeble, I support her by feeding her first, calling her first, giving her treats first and supporting her status while her physical abilities are declining. I also back our most senior citizen in all fights...

Yes the other rat or rats know they are stronger and faster, but they also know the pecking order as I establish and support it. We've had some of our rats get huge tumors and become almost totally disabled. But I propped up their regime pretty much until they died by supporting and defending them. And yes, I've had sick old rats still drag themselves over to steal food from their much younger and even larger 'subordinates'.. even when it took my help to save their tails from getting chomped off.

Sometimes you have to be very hands on, but sometimes if you create the illusion of order, order will result. Sometimes there's really nothing much you can do except separate the rats when you are away, and other than for supervised play time.

As to neutering... I'm not big on surgery on 18 month old rats and it's likely not hormonal aggression anyway.

Best luck
 
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