American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association

This article is from the WSSF 2014 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.

Beginners’ Corner

Happy Rats

By Karen Robbins

Tina Marie Carter, Romulus, MI
QI would like to know from the pros exactly what it is that has to be done to keep rats happy. A perfect example of course is that the main thing is the rat must have a companion because rats are more of a together and colony type animal. But even though this may be true, I have many questions behind questions like this. For instance, if two rats are together, and one rat just doesn’t get along, then would it be proper to separate the two and house the aggressive one by itself? I would like to own a rat, but I would want one by itself that can’t be housed with others. I do not want one because it’s aggressive, but more because they are considered forgotten after so long. It is like the similar situations with certain cats and dogs that have to be alone because they don’t play well with others. I want to be able to give one special rat that one chance at true happiness.

AYes, the first thing one needs to consider to make a rat happy is to meet its basic needs, one of which is to have another rat for a companion. Being very social animals they need a fellow rat(s) to interact with and to deprive them of this is not fair to the rat. The N.F.R.S. has a good article on Why Rats Need Company and there is another article from the Rat Fan Club The Case Against Single Rats.

If two male rats don’t get along, then neutering the aggressor usually solves the problem so they can continue to be housed with a buddy. What some people do is get both males neutered so they can also be housed with females if for some reason they still won’t get along with the male they were originally with. I’ve only known of a couple cases where an aggressive male had to live alone, never ones that are forgotten (neutering did not help; they were aggressive to people as well; euthanasia is best in cases like this as the rat’s quality of life is not good being mad all the time and a severe rat bite can leave permanent damage). Also, there are many ways to introduce rats to newcomers so they never need to be alone—placing the cages next to each other so they get used to each other’s smell before introducing them together, giving everyone a bath, using vanilla, eucalyptus, or another strong-smelling safe oil on everyone’s nose and genitals, putting everyone in neutral territory, putting each cage of rats into the other rats’ cage for a couple days, putting a female into a cage of new females when she is in season, to putting everyone in the same carrier and taking them on a long car ride are some of the methods used to get rats used to each other so they can live together (,,

Next is to give them enrichment in their cage. The cage itself can be a form of enrichment if it has places for the rats to climb (sides, ramps, shelves). Then adding simple things like a box for a house that they can chew up, wooden chew toys, putting their lab blocks in a feeder that they have to work at to get the food, and a wheel (especially enjoyed by females; minimum 11 inches in diameter) gives some basic items. The bedding used can be enriching if it is something the rats can burrow into such as fluffy shavings, shredded paper, or large clumps of paper. There are many other things you can do or make for your rats that would be enrichment such as toys that you put treats in that they have to work at to get the treat, adding a hammock to the cage, putting a box stuffed full of hay in the cage, give them a shallow dish of water with peas or corn or other small pieces of veggies or fruit they have to go fishing to get, make a maze, teach them to run an obstacle course (agility) or train them various tricks, make a play table or counter with various items for them to explore, and many other things. If you swap the toys around every week, then they will think they are getting new toys to investigate. We have an article on enrichment that includes social enrichment as well as other fun things you can provide for your rats, along with many fun items you can make in our Pet Projects section. *

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Updated November 6, 2017