Mara won't stop sudden, unprovoked biting-- possible neurological/hormonal issue?

Discussion in 'Behaviour' started by SqueakingJellybean, May 12, 2019.

Help Support Rat Shack Forum by donating:

  1. May 12, 2019 #1

    SqueakingJellybean

    SqueakingJellybean

    SqueakingJellybean

    Mission Control -- All is ratness

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2013
    Messages:
    189
    Likes Received:
    137
    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    Mara, our small and stocky rescue girl, is a biter. In the 17 or so years we've had rats, neither The Mr. nor I have ever been bitten so much. She's bitten more than all our other rats put together. Some of it we've learned to mitigate-- make sure not to startle her, don't smell like food, the usual stuff. What breaks my heart is that she's started biting just because.

    Tonight, for instance, I'd just finished giving Mara and her sisters some treats during out time on the bed. They were all cheerful and zoomy, when out of the blue she lunged at my hand, sinking her teeth into my finger and yanking repeatedly, her whole wee body shaking with effort. The Mr. picked her up and put her back in the DCN so I could go and wash my hands, giving her a brief "time out." After about ten minutes, we let her back out. She comes up to hang out on my lap, and grabs on to my other hand teeth-first. Back to the DCN she went.

    We've never hurt her. We wash our hands before handling her. We don't pick her up unless there's a darn good reason, since she's usually perfectly happy to climb straight up us or to hop into a housecoat sleeve. She's been really good for the past few days, getting better at being gentle (licking is okay, chomping is not). Today, though, she's all teeth. Over the past few months she has also attempted to protect HandRat from FootRat (I was scratching my foot and she chomped on my big toe, possibly thinking it was attacking my hand). We both have numerous marks from getting bitten out of the blue. She's never bitten when picked up. She didn't bite the one time we took the bunch to the vet. We know some of the triggers, but not all.

    I don't know if it's hormonal, neurological, or something else. The vet seems to think she's got some PTSD from when she and her sisters were taken from their home. It was a hoarding situation and I believe the police may have been involved. She's a red-eyed Himalayan, so her eyesight isn't too good to begin with; there's a chance it may be worse than usual, since while her sisters sometimes do the head-weave thing, Mara does it a LOT. We don't put hands near her when she weaves, since we know she's nervous.

    Elsa and Della have adjusted just fine. Della's still occasionally skittish, but she's only ever attacked the wet sponge that was invading her home (she decided to scale me and climb back in while I was cleaning-- sponges are not her friend). Elsa is a people-person and loves attention. No worries on that front. That's part of why we think there's something psychologically or neurologically wrong with Mara.

    We're not giving up on her, but we're not sure what to do.

    Does anyone have any experience with sudden, unprovoked biting?

    Would it be worthwhile tracking the behaviour to see if it's cyclical and possibly hormone-related?

    How can we help our tiny ferocious muffin become less hazardous to our hands?
     
  2. May 12, 2019 #2

    Dena

    Dena

    Dena

    Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2018
    Messages:
    42
    Likes Received:
    174
    Location:
    Texas
    I wonder if rats could have psychological issues like humans? And if so, could it be treated, like we do for humans? As in like a mold antidepressant, or other meds for bipolar, etc? I'm sorry you have to deal with such unpredictable biting. But ay least you have the patience to try to deal with it and get answers, and the understanding that not every rat is the same. That's more than many people would do.....
     
  3. May 12, 2019 #3

    SQ

    SQ

    SQ

    Senior Member - Vegan for the animals

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2007
    Messages:
    17,017
    Likes Received:
    1,189
    Location:
    central New Brunswick Canada
    please check out joinrats.com
     
  4. May 13, 2019 #4

    SqueakingJellybean

    SqueakingJellybean

    SqueakingJellybean

    Mission Control -- All is ratness

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2013
    Messages:
    189
    Likes Received:
    137
    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    That was the first place I checked. It addresses many causes of biting and offers some great techniques to help with those scenarios, but none of them really apply here. She’s not being aggressive in the cage (unless I try to move something). She’s not pregnant or nursing. She’s not new.

    She got me again tonight. She’d been mostly fine for about fifteen minutes, even running through my sleeve and out my robe. She was okay with sniffing the back of my hand and being petted a little. A bit later she came back to clamour for treats with the other two; they’re getting a bit seagull-ish about treats, so I’m reducing the amount they get during out time. I let her sniff the back of my hand, and she tried to chomp my wrist. She drew blood, but only a little.

    I am trying hard not to leak fear all over the place. I don’t want to be afraid of her. The unpredictability of her behaviour hits me in a really bad place.
     
  5. May 14, 2019 #5

    jorats

    jorats

    jorats

    Not So Much Staff Member Admin

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2007
    Messages:
    45,145
    Likes Received:
    2,040
    Location:
    Northeastern Ontario
    How old is she and how long has she been with you and her buddies? Did anything change in the home or near the cage?
     
  6. May 14, 2019 #6

    SqueakingJellybean

    SqueakingJellybean

    SqueakingJellybean

    Mission Control -- All is ratness

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2013
    Messages:
    189
    Likes Received:
    137
    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    Mara and her sisters were born on Canada Day last year, so they're just a bit over ten months old. We've had them since the first week of September. They were a package deal, which we were fine with. there was no way we'd leave just one behind-- that would be needlessly cruel, especially after being seized from their home and separated from the rest of their family. (I'm not sure where the others were or what shape they'd been in when rescued, but they weren't anywhere visible if they were even at the local shelter. They might have been elsewhere getting medical care, I don't know.)

    Nothing has changed in the home or cage. We try introducing new toys, boxes, or layouts every so often to keep things interesting, but there haven't been changes like that recently and she's never freaked out over changes before. She'll gladly explore things, but heaven forbid we move a house item while she's at home. Being taken from her first home really scarred her deeply there. That's been a trigger point for her from day one.

    Something I think might be contributing is overdoing it with treats. Maybe she's getting too worked up and just doesn't know what to do with all that excitement.

    I'm also a bit concerned that it might be physical/developmental. She's... stubby. She's got a shorter, rounder face than most other rats I've seen; her whole wee self is round and compact, and her coat is unbelievably soft. I'm wondering if she's missing guard hairs or some other element of fur. Could be that her Chomp-Stop-Check reflex is glitchy. Something might not have developed properly. I was dropping some supplies off to Field Agent Eurus' training facility today and showed Mara's picture to their Ops. She remarked that Mara looked very young; there was definitely a noticeable difference in her face. (I can post more pics if that would help.)

    We could handle this with less emotion if her biting was predictable. We know some of the things that set her off, but the sudden unpredictable biting makes us wary. I'm trying to see if changing the routine helps any. Instead of sitting in my housecoat on my side of the bed, I'm sitting in my computer chair in jeans and t-shirt. The way I figure it, if they're expecting treats and I'm not in the "treat spot," maybe the change will reset things a bit. It's a long shot, but I'm running out of options.
     
  7. May 14, 2019 #7

    Dena

    Dena

    Dena

    Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2018
    Messages:
    42
    Likes Received:
    174
    Location:
    Texas
    She was born from the same litter as her sisters? Could she be an ASF?
     
  8. May 14, 2019 #8

    SqueakingJellybean

    SqueakingJellybean

    SqueakingJellybean

    Mission Control -- All is ratness

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2013
    Messages:
    189
    Likes Received:
    137
    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    The folks at the Humane Society weren't sure if they were all from the same litter or not. I think they wound up together because they were all Himis around the same age and taken from the same house. I had figured it was Elsa who was the oddball because she's got about 100g on the other two and is blue-point. The other two are darker points. Della is the only Dumbo in the trio. Given how rats are, they could all be from separate litters, maybe two from one and one from another, or all from the same litter. In our last bunch, Cleo had about 125g on her sister Raven; Cleo was Himi, Raven was black Irish. Their brother Chess was Siamese Dumbo.

    Just looked up pics of ASFs. If it's possible to cross-breed them with non-ASF rats, she might have a little of that in her bloodline. Her eyes are large and deep ruby, but not as large as ASF eyes. The search also turned up a listing for ASF breeders in Kitchener, so it's not outside the realm of possibility (unless biology dictates otherwise). I'll see if I can get a better pic of her next to her sisters for comparison. If you put their physiques and personalities in D&D terms, Elsa's a human, Mara's a dwarf, and Della's a wood elf.

    [Edited for clarity.]
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2019
    Dena likes this.
  9. May 14, 2019 #9

    SqueakingJellybean

    SqueakingJellybean

    SqueakingJellybean

    Mission Control -- All is ratness

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2013
    Messages:
    189
    Likes Received:
    137
    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    Come to think of it, there has been one change. I added kamut puffs as treats. They all really like them, but Mara LIVES for them. She got more aggressive after those were introduced.

    I’ll try removing those from her diet and see if that helps.

    She was a very good girl today. She hung out some with my husband and sniffed the back of my hand twice without biting. It’s a start.
     
    SQ and Dena like this.
  10. May 15, 2019 #10

    jorats

    jorats

    jorats

    Not So Much Staff Member Admin

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2007
    Messages:
    45,145
    Likes Received:
    2,040
    Location:
    Northeastern Ontario
    It's definitely interesting this change in behaviour. Hopefully she continues having good days. Her description is worrisome though with her body and face being different. Maybe with the food, go back to basics, just staples for now, no treats and see how that goes.
    When my bichonpoo was put on a raw diet several years ago, he began resource guarding and even bit me. I was shocked at this change in behaviour and when put back on kibble, he became his regular sweet self so it might very well be diet related.
     
  11. May 15, 2019 #11

    SqueakingJellybean

    SqueakingJellybean

    SqueakingJellybean

    Mission Control -- All is ratness

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2013
    Messages:
    189
    Likes Received:
    137
    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    Mara had a good day today. She was out this morning and this evening; she hung out on my lap and shoulder, explored the back of my chair (and had to be dissuaded from exploring my desk), and even let me pet her some. Not one attempt to chomp me! Yay!

    I was shaking the entire time. Biters have always been something of a limit for me, but I'm willing to stretch that limit because I can't imagine losing her. It's just going to take some time to trust her again. Dialing back my fear response is harder than I'd hoped.
     
    Dena likes this.
  12. May 15, 2019 #12

    jorats

    jorats

    jorats

    Not So Much Staff Member Admin

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2007
    Messages:
    45,145
    Likes Received:
    2,040
    Location:
    Northeastern Ontario
    When I had biters in the colony, I just changed how I handled cage cleaning and how I handled the biter which made my life easier and the biter's as well. I learned to respect her space, I gave her fair warning when I approached and I used boxes which she loved to climb into to transport her from cage to floor sometimes.
     
    Dena likes this.
  13. May 15, 2019 #13

    lilspaz68

    lilspaz68

    lilspaz68

    Administrator Staff Member Admin

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2007
    Messages:
    23,079
    Likes Received:
    1,817
    Location:
    Toronto, Canada, Earth
    Have you posted a pic of Mara, or a video so we can see her body language when she's on her own, or when she's near or interacting with you?
     
  14. May 15, 2019 #14

    SqueakingJellybean

    SqueakingJellybean

    SqueakingJellybean

    Mission Control -- All is ratness

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2013
    Messages:
    189
    Likes Received:
    137
    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    Not yet. When I do, it will go in this thread.

    She was very friendly this morning, hopping up into my lap and hanging out on my shoulders and the back of my chair. I didn’t get as much time with them as usual this morning because of an unexpected phone call (the fuzzies hung out with my husband) but the interaction we had was positive. At one point I was standing and offered the back of my hand. She sniffed me, then put her hands on my wrist in her usual “Imma run up your arm now, ‘kay?” gesture. The lack of a floofy sleeve made her pause.

    We’ll see how she does tonight. I’ll try to get a couple of decent pics if she’ll hold still long enough.
     
  15. May 16, 2019 #15

    SqueakingJellybean

    SqueakingJellybean

    SqueakingJellybean

    Mission Control -- All is ratness

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2013
    Messages:
    189
    Likes Received:
    137
    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    Another good day. Woo!

    She asked for social time again tonight, putting her hands on my wrist. I pulled up a chair and she hopped into my lap. She does not appear to be aware of either her recent behaviour or my fear. Anxiety is a jerk; having two good days in a row is helping. Mara seems to be getting back to being herself.

    It’ll take a few more days before trust is really restored, but this is good progress. Looks like the new treats may indeed have been the culprit, or at least a contributing factor.
     
    Dena likes this.
  16. May 16, 2019 #16

    jorats

    jorats

    jorats

    Not So Much Staff Member Admin

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2007
    Messages:
    45,145
    Likes Received:
    2,040
    Location:
    Northeastern Ontario
    That's good news!
     
  17. Jun 5, 2019 #17

    SqueakingJellybean

    SqueakingJellybean

    SqueakingJellybean

    Mission Control -- All is ratness

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2013
    Messages:
    189
    Likes Received:
    137
    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    Well, we had a couple of good weeks.

    Mara has bitten my husband twice in the past four days, completely unprovoked. Near as we're able to tell, she might be overexcited and not sure what to do with herself. She'll happily hang out in his shirt for a while, then climb back down to the bed, run away, then zoom back and chomp his hand. She only drew a little bit of blood, quite a difference compared to some of her earlier biting. She's given him a couple of blood-free hard pinches, too.

    When Milo got overexcited, he'd zoom around and dance/groom/play-wrestle with/at the others. He was just so wound up he didn't know where to stick himself. I wonder if Mara's dealing with the same thing but is unsure how to channel it? If that's the case, it may pass with age. Milo's overexcited behaviour petered out once he was well into adulthood. These wee ladies will be a year old next month, so Mara might have a bit before she simmers down. She gets excited very easily. It's like watching a kid with ADHD get wound up and act out.

    I still plan to ask the vet about anti-anxiety treatments for pets, but we might just have to accept that we've got a fuzzy with The Issues and work with her as best we can.
     
    Dena likes this.
  18. Jun 6, 2019 #18

    jorats

    jorats

    jorats

    Not So Much Staff Member Admin

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2007
    Messages:
    45,145
    Likes Received:
    2,040
    Location:
    Northeastern Ontario
    Ok so this is what I recommend for your overly aroused little girl... when she starts to zoom and go nuts and comes back to her human ready for a bite, take your hand and place it over her body and do a gentle squeeze, this will comfort her in the exact same way thunder shirts comfort overly aroused and reactive dogs. So essentially, give her body hugs, in fact, do this at all times whenever she's around, give her a body hug with your hand and talk to her soothingly. Lets see if that helps.
     
    Dena likes this.
  19. Aug 23, 2019 at 5:59 AM #19

    Shuka

    Shuka

    Shuka

    New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 6, 2019
    Messages:
    0
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Seattle
    SqueakingJellybean Would you mind updating your post as to what happened to Mara? Did this behavior get worse or better?
    I am asking because my two year old male rat suddenly began having the exact same thing happen. He will be chittering and happy one minute and the next second he is puffed up and attacks my hand. He was also a rescue and has always been pretty jumpy with bad eye sight. However, he has NEVER bitten before or shown any aggression towards us, until now. And it's completely unprovoked!
    He has randomly bitten/attacked my hand twice now within the past two days when I've tried holding him and he has now drawn blood. I can't think of anything that we've done wrong with him. He was always such a happy little rat.
     
  20. Aug 23, 2019 at 6:56 AM #20

    Kye

    Kye

    Kye

    New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2019
    Messages:
    3
    Likes Received:
    40
    Location:
    Maine
    Would you mind making a new thread for your boy.? It will get more attention that way. And if he's un altered it could be a hormonal male issue that would be fixed with a neuter.
     

Share This Page