Rats can make great pets. They are cute, intelligent, and lovely little creatures that will conquer your heart quicker than you’d imagine. If you are thinking about getting a rat, you might be wondering, if you can keep a single rat or if you need several rats.
As a whole, rats need a companion. They cannot be kept alone as individuals because they are very social animals. They care for each other, play and cuddle with each other, and need each other to live a happy life.
You can keep only female pet rats together or only males. You can also keep neutered males with females, but you should never keep intact males and females together as they will breed. One litter can include up to 20 baby rats and if you are not a professional breeder, this can quickly overwhelm you.
Do not let them escape or set them free, no matter how many rats you have and no matter how overwhelmed you might feel. House rats are not used to living outdoor and don’t know anything about the world out there. They were born in a pet store and cannot survive without you.
There are animal shelters that will help you if you accidentally breed rats.
How Can I Integrate a New Pet Rat?
When a rat dies, it is always a very sad occasion. But as an experienced rat owner you know that a single rat should not be kept on its own. You might have to integrate one or two new rats to keep your individual rat company.
If you already have one or more pet rats and you want to get one or more new ones, it is important to integrate them properly, otherwise, they might fight or even kill each other.
As a whole, integrating new rats is not easy and will take time. The rats have to meet in a neutral place, and never in the existing cage. You need leather gloves to be able to intervene quickly if a situation escalates. When the integration goes well, the rats can be put together in a new cage.
Rats can be very territorial. They are social animals that protect their family and their territory. A foreign rat is a potential threat and will not automatically be tolerated.
Females are usually more willing to accept a new family member, while males tend to be more aggressive towards new rats.
Most rats are not territorial until they are around 3 months old.
To avoid any fights that can lead to injuries and even death, proper integration is necessary.
Every rat is different and will behave differently when it comes to the integration of new rats. Some will be completely calm, and others will be aggressive. The possible behavior depends on the age, the sex, the size of the rat family, and of course the individual character of every rat.
Preparation Before the Integration
Before you start with the integration, you should have a new cage for the new rat(s) and a second cage for all rats, if the first step of the integration went well. You will also need leather gloves to be able to intervene if the rats are very aggressive and start to injure each other.
Once you got your new rat(s), you should leave it in a different room for a few weeks. This quarantine is important to make sure that the new rat does not bring any diseases that could be contagious.
Integration, Step One
Now it’s time to put your rats together in a new environment. This place should be somehow limited in space and the rats should have no possibility to hide. It is important for them to get to know each other.
If the integration involves more than one “old” and one “new” rat, you should start the integration with the lowest ranking rat. This is usually the youngest rat in the pack.
The rats should be set in this new environment at the same time. No rat should have the possibility to mark the new territory before the other rats come in.
Stay close, but don’t intervene too quickly. The rats might ignore each other at first but eventually will start sniffing on each other and maybe bristling their fur. Dominant rats might (try to) subdue new rats which can look brutal, but usually, no harm will be done.
If you see that a single rat is being chased all the time, or bitten by others, or two rats start to fight and it looks like they might harm each other, you have to intervene quickly. Never ever grab a rat during a fight with your bare hands. Rats can bite through steel, and you really don’t want your hand between an angry, fighting rat.
Always wear protective gloves during an integration.
There are two possible outcomes. The first is, that the rats get along with each other and don’t fight (anymore). In that case, you can proceed to the second step.
But the second possibility is, that the rats simply don’t get along. They won’t stop fighting, and you are afraid that they will injure each other severely. In that case, you should stop the integration and accept that these rats do not like each other and will not live in harmony. They should not live together, because chances are high that they will hurt or even kill each other.
Integration, Step Two
When the first step of the integration went well, you can process to step two. You need a new, fully equipped cage for your rats. Don’t use too much decoration because you need to see what’s going on in this cage.
This cage should be new to all of your rats to make sure that none of them claims the cage its territory.
Observe your rats in this new cage. If they do well together, maybe even start sleeping in the same houses and don’t fight anymore, you have successfully integrated a new rat. It’s time to move home.
Integration, Step Three
After one to two weeks in the new cage, you can let your rats move back in their old cage. Make sure that the old cage is cleaned thoroughly before letting all rats move in there together.
It might take a few weeks for the rats to calm down, but if the first two steps went well, chances are very high that these rats will live together in harmony.
Lisa is one of the two founders of Animal-Knowledge. She has been very interested in animals and insects from a very young age and has owned different kinds of pets such as snails, ants, fish, turtles, mice, rats, hamsters, rabbits, a dog, … you get the idea 🙂