Issues with rat behavior

Jess5

Active Member
Joined
Sep 25, 2020
Messages
32
Location
Reno Nevada
Hi everyone!
I haven’t posted here in a while but I’m in need of some more advice. I have 3 female rats that I’ve had since September of 2020. They are my first rats but I have (and have had) many small pets like mice and hamsters with no issues. I love my rats so much but I don’t know if they’ll ever like me, and I’ve been feeling like a bad owner for a while now.
For reference, they live in a double critter nation with a modified base that expands the cage into the previously storage area (about 8 inches of bedding). Their cage is also packed with tons of toys, chews, hammocks, etc.
Ever since I got them they’ve been very shy and skittish. It was very hard to build any trust at all but after a lot of work I was able to get them all to eat from my hands and they still happily do that today with some petting too. I can pick 2 of them up but they’re never happy about it. Despite the multiple hours that I’ve tried to get them to explore out of the cage they are just terrified and end up sleeping under a blanket the entire time. I’ve also tried leaving the cage open and surrounding it with a playpen so they can come out by themselves but they refuse to leave the cage.
Scrabble has a biting issue and will bite me hard if I do anything that scares her on accident, she’ll even chase my hand aggressively while I clean the cage (I’ve had to block her off to one level while I clean the other). But other than that she’ll let me pet her when I have food and pick her up most of the time if I need to. Twister doesn’t bite but she’s the most skittish and won’t let me pick her up period (despite countless hours of patient taming efforts). This makes it extremely difficult to get her out of the cage, and she has started barbering her sisters backs which is very concerning to me (she has done this in the past and stopped for a long time but that was on herself). Jenga is by far the best behaved but just generally skittish and uninterested in me/out of cage time.
I feel like a terrible owner because I can’t get them out of the cage to explore. I got rats in the hopes that I’d be able to spend a lot of time with them outside of the cage, but despite my efforts they don’t seem to be interested or willing (without me bleeding). I know that it takes some rats a long time to become tame but I don’t have the time or energy to do the same things with no progress anymore.
I’m worried that my rats are bored. I try to help this by giving them interesting toys, having them forage, making them climb, but I don’t think it’s enough.
Lately I haven’t been putting as much effort into their behavior because I’ve been very discouraged and busy, and I feel really bad. I’ve pretty much just been hiding their food around the cage and keeping it clean for the last couple weeks, but I want to do more.
If anyone has a similar experience or just ideas on what I could try please let me know! Are some rats just happier in their cage without humans or do I need to try something else? I just want them to be happy! :)
Thanks so much
 

Dena

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 13, 2018
Messages
360
Location
Texas
I'd start by reading Www.joinrats.com for ideas on socializing them. Also, they can pick up on your emotions. So try not to get discouraged. The last thing you want to do, is not interact with them. They need that to be able to keep their trust, and help them be comfortable with you. They probably don't enjoy out time, because they are still insecure. Make their play area very enticing with yummy treats, lots of places to hide, like cardboard boxes, with holes cut in them, and things they generally don't have in their cage. When cleaning, always block off the top, and put them on the bottom, clean the top part, then move them to the top, and clean the bottom. For some, cleaning can be really stressful, and if they are territorial, it will trigger the biting behavior. Food is always a great motivater. Use something like suger free yogurt, to entice them to come out of the cage, or to climb on your shoulder. Stay near the cage, and let them immediately hop back in. I have gotten a rat who would dang near take my finger off out of fear and aggression, to hopping out of the cage onto my shoulder, and grooming me. She actively see ked out my attention and affection. I have also recently got a rat who was unsocialized and alone, to being a shy, yet affectionate girl. She TOLERATES being picked up, but still will dash away from me and hide if I move too fast. Also she seems to be better with being handled if I do the two hand scoop method. She has to be put on my chest, or shoulder immediately, or she lays her ears back and tries to flee. She will now jump out on my shoulder from time to time, especially if I have yummies, or she thinks it's play time. She has even started playing with my hand. Food is a powerful motivator, so try different things until you find treats of high value. I taught one of mine that had drawn blood from us multiple times, to do tricks with pieces of cheerios. I found out he was biting because of fear, and we smelled like our other animals. Once I started washing my hands prior to contact with him, he calmed down. The tricks gave him confidence, and he looked to me for those "special" treats. Good luck. Most importantly, keep in mind each rat has different personalities, and DON'T GIVE UP!
 

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