Its extremely important to take introductions seriously to ensure the safety of your existing mischief and new baby rats. Sometimes this process can take a couple hours all the way months in extreme circumstances depending on the rats personalities and how they interact, no two introduction experience will be they same. Its so import to understand this is just a base line of suggestions and methods to use or alter for your best experience in introductions. You don’t need use my suggestions or methods and recommend doing your own research to find what method works best for you and your ratties. This article is based on my experiences and fellow adopters stories over many years. I’ve had extremely smooth introductions with immediate grooming and cuddles piles but I’ve also experienced intros that took months and even blood that ended in giving up and housing separate. There is so many stories and ideas out there as this is a common thing to deal with intros when owning rats due to them being such social animals. One of the useful resources you gain when adopting from most reputable breeders is getting one on one advise which we are more than have to help with to have your experience the least stressful. We also are always more than happy to take in or help rehome yours its if introductions fail or you don’t have the resources or space to house them separately.
Great early steps for a large mischief of rats or when dealing with extra dominate rats. Or if the carrier method goes badly and you need restart more slowly. Also great for new comers of introductions or nervous rat owners. Before I was a breeder I always took my time with intros and did these extra steps for peace of mind. With more docile or experienced rat owners feel free to skip to the carrier method. The carrier method is the most widely used method for introduction in the rat community. You can even completely skip the slow introductions method and go straight to the carrier method and have great success.
- Step One: You can start off as simple and slow as caging the rats cages next to each other. This is great for rat comfort in new smells and seeing new rats in there home. Place the cages close enough they have sight of one another but not so close that they could reach threw the bars and touch each other. This simple step can be as long as you like with my suggestion of the first day home to give the babies a chance to adjust to there new home and your older rats to loose interest in there new neighbors. If everyone seems to be calm and not extra vocal or fluffed up hair than you can move to the next step.
- Step Two: When choosing a slow intro its very important to keep smells in mind. Very helpful to have the rats already know and be use to each other scent before actually meeting in the carrier method steps. You can start introducing scents by switching out bedding from cage to another each day. This can be as simple as swapping fleece hammocks the first day which we all know have a distinct smell, that will be even more propionate to a unknown rat. Each day you can add more items from each cage till they are completely swapped and the rats cages now smell like each others homes. Very import to note the rats reaction of the additions of new smells to determine how long this step will take.
- Step Three: Neutral territories that neither rat is familiar with such as a bath tub or table or a rat proof area to begin the actual meeting steps. Its very important none of the rats are familiar with this area so theres no territorial aggression. Also make sure that this area is empty with no hides or places to hide from each other the only thing that can be in this intro is a blanket or towel laid flat that they cant hide under. Very important to have some form of barrier such as cardboard or lid to something. The barrier is important to have on hand in case the introductions turn for the worse or are making you to nervous. You can use this to separate the rats quickly to break up fights and keep you safe from getting bitten, even if your rats have never bitten you they could react unlike them self in introductions and its so important to be prepared. This step can be taken in multiple ways, I will be listing the slowest method of this step to the fastest.
-You can start as cautious as possible with taking scent out of the equation, especially if scent was an issues in the earlier steps. You can remove smell from the introductions by using vanilla extract rubbed on their back end and shoulders to mask there natural scent and distract them while meeting. This steps best outcome would be distraction and smooth interactions with each other.
– Another way to distract them from scent and add grooming to the introductions to speed up bonding is by using baby food instead of vanilla extract. You just rub the baby food on the ratties back end and shoulders just like step above. This will help mask the scent and encouraging grooming while also distracting them from the fact there is new rats. The best outcome for this step is to have the unfamiliar rats start licking and grooming each other to enjoy their baby food.
-This last cautious tip especially if you have 3 or more rats is to either intro each of your rats one by one with your new rats starting with your most submissive docile rat and work up to your most dominate rat.
- Step Four: The most important step after that goes hand in hand with step 5 is the initial beginnings of meeting in the neutral territory is to make sure its a happy experience by making it rain their favorite treats and any other things or ideas you can think of that could make this is happy first experience. This initial first meeting is so important to help build a long lasting bond. Or worst case leave the rats first experience and memory of each other as a bad one and is why i find it so import to take these extra steps above or other strategies of extra intro steps you can find or get creative and come up with extra steps you find helpful for the best experience for all the rats.
- Step Five: (You can also skip this step and go straight to the first step ofthe carrier method) With that being said the starting of the actual meeting with the process of placing your rats in the neutral territory and begin distracting them with treats or whatever method you choose. The next step would be to place your existing rats in the neutral area and begin distracting them with treats or other methods. Than start to add your new rats to the neutral area with your rats. Hopefully this step will results in the ratties being in the same area for the first time and be distracted with treats and not even paying any attention to each other. The other best outcome would be friendly interactions of sniffing or grooming. Its completely normal for the older rat to wrestle or pin down the younger rat, usually the younger rats will submit to older. This might be vocal with a squeaks but its important to keep in mind that this is just the older rats way of claiming dominance and showing authority over the new babies. Or you could have an extremely submissive older rat that the younger rats wrestle or pin down. Its important to have your barrier in hand during these first moments especially when they loose interest in there distractions you provided and begin their first interactions. Typically in the rat community the rule of thumb is no blood no foul, this can be an extremely stressful or intimidating time for rat owners. Very important to remain calm and attentive while watching the rats closely in this step. Keep in mind this step does not need to be very long before moving on to the first step of the carrier method which is a staple and commonly used method in the rat community.
-.In instance of the rats forming dominance and higher archery forming where each of the rats fall in place of the dynamics of your rat mischief is an important step. But does not need to be rushed if you feel comfortable or that this step is not working you can try the first step of the carrier method or go slower and go back steps.
-If the interactions are not going as smoothly as you would hope or there is to much wrestling and dominance being formed you can end this step and remove the rats from each other and rethink your options or methods.
-This step might also show signs that you need to go back a couple steps to ensure a positive experience for all the rats or rethink your strategy and do more research for other ideas, Queen City Rattery or Facebook groups as well as youtube videos are some of my favorite sources for more unique and helpful tips for different intro methods.
-Bad outcome being blood during interactions from a fight or wrestling before being able to break up the fights with the barrier or intros gone badly and if this occurs you need to start the steps over and possibly begin to prepare that your rats might not be able to be intergraded or take a lot of time, patience and effort to intro.This could also lead to housing separately or deciding the new rats are not a great fit for you. Could also need to consider other factors listed later in this blog article.
Summary: The logic behind the Carrier Method is to begin introductions in a small space to reduce the chance of injury while gradually adding more space and items, till they are comfortable with one another. The forced closeness means the rats have no choice but to settle any hierarchy disputes, and the rats will have less room to try and run from a fight or hide. Most injuries occur not from scrapping, but from when one rat runs and another chases. This is typically a great method and starts the bonding process off strong and safely. The close quarters of the carrier method not only help with safety but usually forces cuddle piles and snuggles and even grooming. This a great way to make the rats first memories positive and build a life long bond. You know your rats best and can make the best choice on weather to start here at the carrier method or go more gradual with the slower introduction or other methods. Also consider how many sizes in the carrier method will work best for you and your rats. Keep in mind the rule of thumb is no blood no foul, wrestling and squeaking is very normal when establishing the dynamics of your new mischief.
Consider First: The flaws in the carrier method to consider can occur with rats that are very aggressive/ dominate rat who may cause injury to others during introductions or in cases where you have a particularly ill, weak or elderly rat that is being introduced to potentially active and rough baby 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 quickly. 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 it is often necessary to rethink your methods or begin with the slow introductions.
You also need to be very careful in very hot weather with this method, particularly if you are using poorly ventilated spaces like enclosed carriers or show tanks. Rats can overheat and this can be fatal very quickly.
- Step One: Begin with a small carrier that comfortably fits all the rats but also tight enough they cant run away. Usually this carrier would be the one you picked up yours new rats for transport or to transport to the vet. You can keep them in this carrier step for a couple hours or even a couple days depending on your rats successes during this step. Success would be consider grooming and eventually calming down into a could pile.
- Step Two: (Optional Step) After your rats are settled and cuddling and hopefully grooming you can up the size of the carrier to a small cage or storage bin with ventilation or small free roam area, still empty with only food scattered not in a bowl to avoid fighting and water as well as fresh bedding of your choice. This gives them more move to run/ play around and keep a close eye on their interactions. This step can take as long as you like, you know your rats best.
- Step Three: Depending on the size of your cage and if you can section off levels is important to consider when starting this step. Be sure to do a deep clean of the cages wiping down everything and use fresh bedding or fleece, the goal is to remove as many scents as you can. Next start by removing everything from the cage all hides or items they could fight over. You can leave hammocks and chew toys or even a wheel but very important to not have any hides. Removing the hides prevents them from getting trapped where they can’t run away, cornered rats can lead to avoidance, excessive defensiveness or even nasty fights. Important to keep an eye on them closely for any territorial behavior. If this step doesn’t go smoothly start over in the smallest carrier again.
- Step Four: Slowly starting adding items back into the cage start with hides or tunnels that have multiple entrances/ exits. After that continue to gradually decorate your cage back to normal till everything is back to normal and the rats are fully integrated.
- Step Five: Congratulations your rats are together finally! Now all thats left is to keep a close eye on any disputes the rats have to make sure none of them get out of hand. Remember no blood no foul is typically the rat community standard. The hopes is the babies will submit to your older rats and fall in line to there new dominate rat. Sometimes the hyper babies will annoy your older rats with there playing, just remember vocalness is alright especially in these early days.
- Its great to have support in this time and Queen City Rattery is always here to help with any questions or even just to lend an ear.
- Facebook groups for rats are another great resources for advise and community.
- You tube videos can be another great resources for more visual ideas on how other rats react during introductions. I really love Emiology youtube videos, she’s an amazing resources.
- A great tip from an adopter who did intros with dwarfs was using toilet/paper towel tubes as a hide so only the babies can fit in. Usually the babies might be a little to big for this idea but I have adapted this strategy in my intros using baby size hides and PVC pipes, perfect play for the babies to have there own space to run and hide away when over stimulated.
- So helpful to own hides with multiple entrances/ exits. My favorite and a overall rat owner staple would be the Savic Sputnik.
- Become the dominate rat….. I know that sounds silly but in some situations this really works. When you notice who the instigator/ dominate rat is for you to over dominate that rat. This can be as simple as breaking up the fight safely using a glove if needed. After breaking up the altercation pick up the rat by the scruff or under their arms. Sternly tell them “No, I am the dominate rat” and place them in a time out carrier for 5 min. Repeat this method intently for a week or more till the rats except you as the dominate one. This is a great method for rough integration, large mischief and extreme aggression. I typically use this method in the past not in the early stages of intro but actually when the babies hit puberty and become larger and decide they want to become the rat now.
- Hormonal aggression is another thing to consider if introductions go badly. Be sure to do your research if you suspect this and look into neutering or separating your rats.