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Odd Rat Behavior

October 29th, 2007, 09:57 PM
About nine months ago I rescued two male rats from being snake food at the science center i worked in. They were about 8 weeks old at the time and were used to being handled because everyone at work loved to pet the baby rats so I thought that they wouldn't have a problem with being handled. When I brought them home I gave them a couple of days to adjust to there settings and then slowly tried to gain their trust by treats and putting my hand in the cage to let them get used to my smell. They got comfortable with me but as soon as i would go to pick them up they would resist heavily by clinging to anything they can get ahold of. They never bit but would scratch (i dont know if it was on purpose) and flail about. My one rat Rupert eve nose dived off a chair we were sitting on (he's ok). I tired over and over again to pick them up, but i was not having any luck. I also realized that i was allergic to rat scratches and had to stop for awhile because my hands and chest were a mess. I decided to just pet them while they were in their cages which they were very comfortable with and let me rub them all over, even on their teeth :D. Sometimes they would run up my arms and sit on my shoulder but as soon as i went to put my hands near them they would freak out (never biting though). This behavior of not letting me pick them up hasn't changed after the nine months, they still protest when they are being handled but love to get pet when they are in their cage. Can anyone explain this, or give me tips on how to handel them? I also moved to a smaller apartment where the cats (i have four) have access to the rat cage. The cats have never paid much attention to the rats except for Penny who occasionally watches them, however I noticed that one of the rats puffs up and hisses and charges towards Penny when he gets closer. Should I be concerned about this? They also seem to be getting more aggressive in general, when they were younger they would both eat out of my hand at the same time, now when i go to do this they start to hiss at eachother. They have also been giving me occasional nips which they never did before, but its usually after I have given then a treat. Can someone please explain all of this odd rat behavior?
Thanks :)

October 30th, 2007, 01:36 PM
The failing, scratching, and nose diving is all panic. They are trying to escape; the best thing to do is not stress them out by trying to handle them when they are acting like this. You have to continue your best attempts using food as a ‘lure’ to get them to come to you. Even though everyone ‘pet’ the baby rats at work, they may have had a traumatic experience with someone that you may not be aware of. Some rats are also more skittish then others. Of my two I have one who nearly chews his way out of the cage just so he can sit on your shoulder and snuggle, while the other is more reserved and for the first month we had him he displayed panic behaviour anytime there was a loud noise or he was taken out of the cage. Over time he became more trusting and less nervous.

As they age, male rats can get aggressive when they have a high testosterone level; this aggression is towards humans as well as rats. Sometimes when they get too aggressive they have to be castrated to help get those levels down, and then they become more docile. It may be something worth talking to your vet about, especially if you can find one that works with small animals. They are always going to be trying to establish dominance and will ‘fight’ with each other, the first time I witnessed this I thought we were going to have to separate them, but then realized that no one ever got hurt, and not two minutes later they were grooming each other.

By the sounds of it they don’t like your cat. I can’t blame them, if I was a rat I would be intimidated by having a predator lurking about my cage, never being able to relax. Is there some place you can put them away from the cats?