It is likely that at some point, you will need
to introduce new rats to your existing colony. How difficult this is depends hugely on whom is being
introduced to whom.
Introducing baby rats to adults, or other babies, is fairly easy.
Introducing two adult bucks to
one another can be quite hard, and on very rare occasions it can be impossible.
The important thing to remember is to never just
dump two new rats in with your existing rats from the offset, because your resident rats will usually defend their territory. This can be at best traumatic for the new comers, at worst, lethal.
I have, in the past, put new rats straight into the cage with my existing group without issues, but only because I knew that group very well and knew they were non-threatening to new additions. I would not advise doing this unless you know your rats extremely well and know how they will act to a new-comer. Even the most sweet and lovely rat can show another side of himself when an intruder is placed in his group!
Introducing new rats
can take as little as a day, or as long as several weeks.
Introducing two baby rats to one another is child's play.
Rat kittens will readily accept other rat
kittens from different litters with no problems.
Introducing baby rats to adult rats can sometimes be a little more
involved, but its often just as easy as introducing two youngsters to one another, as adult rats don't naturally attack youngsters.
When you consider getting a new rat kitten to introduce to your
existing rats, it's always better to get two babies. This is because they will make company for one another
and the entire experience will be less nerve-wracking for them if they have a same-age friend for moral support.
Also, in the rare event that the new rats are never accepted by the existing colony, they will need to live
in a seperate cage and obviously it's better that theres two of them than having one rat live alone. It's also important to
ensure the baby rats are at least 6 weeks old before you try and introduce them as adult males will
sometimes kill strange baby rats younger than this.
The first thing to do when you bring your new babies home is think about quarantine. See this page for more info on this.
Some adult rats will accept a new baby from the offset.
I have done several intros where baby rats were accepted into the group within minutes. It depends very much on the personality of the rats involved. Some will simply accept the newbie quite happily and curl up to sleep with them, while others will chase them around and harrass them. You will know your own rats best and how you think they will react. I will often hold the new babies up to the bars and let my resident rats sniff at them. You can usually tell from their reactions how they feel about the newcomers. If they are busily sniffing and seem interested, this is a good sign. If they puff their fur, hiss or try to lunge at the new baby, this is an aggressive action and might suggest you will need to take things slowly
If this is the case, there is a process to introduce new rats which is commonly used and has a good success rate.
Admittedly, it is a process I rarely, if ever use anymore. I feel I have enough experience to do more direct intros and can cope with the drama that might occur. Most experienced rat owners do not follow this whole procedure through all that often.
But I would definately reccomend that new rat owners follow these steps, as it will make the introduction process easier, if a bit longer. Until you have a handle on rat behaviour and body language, its best to do things 'by the book', so to speak.
This method can be used in introducing any age of rat.
Put your new rats into a seperate cage which is
close enough to the resident rat's cage that they can smell and hear the new comers, but cannot reach through the bars and grab them! It's probably best to leave the new rats
in this cage for the first day or so, so they can settle in and the residents will have plenty of time to get used to their smell.
The next step is to do a cage swap. Put the new rats in the resident's cage, and put the resident's in the new rats cage. Leave them in there
untill they no longer seem interested in exploring.
This lets each group of rats get used to being on the other's
territory. Some people advise you spend several days just switching cages like this but it really depends on
your rats reactions. If your existing rats don't seem overly bothered by the smell of the newcomers, thats a
good sign. If any of your rats puff their fur up or show agressive signs just at the smell of a new comer, then you'll want
to take it slower.
When you feel happy with the cage swaps, then you can move on to the first actual meeting.
There is a step that you still hear from time to time which involves covering all your rats, the resident ones and the new ones, with vanilla essence. This is supposed to make
sure they all smell the same so the resident rats are less likely to view the new ones as intruders. However, I personally don't think this is very likely to make a difference. Rats are not stupid, and they know who is familiar to them and who isn't by more than just smell.
Put all the rats somewhere neutral. This should be somewhere that neither group of rats view as their
territory. A popular choice is the bath tub, or the sofa. This means that neither rat feels he has
a territory to defend, and also that all the rats will be more preoccupied with exploring the new turf
than attacking one another.
It's common for the rats to completely ignore each other at this point and
just wander around seemingly oblivious to one another. But the rats should be left together until
they begin to take interest in each other. In my experience, this takes around 10 minutes.
It's likely that the first sign you will see of the adult rats noticing the new ones is some power grooming.
Power grooming is when one rats grooms another, but hard. It's a rat's way
of saying 'well, I'll accept you so Im going to groom you, but I want you to know who's boss, so
Im grooming you hard'. It's likely that the subordinate rat will squeak during
this process, because it's a little nerve wracking and uncomfortable for any new rat, but
rest assured that it's perfectly normal and you shouldn't intervene.
The general rule
of intros is 'no blood, no foul'. As long as the rats are not agressively attacking
each other to the point where blood is shed, they are doing well and should be left to sort it out.
The picture at the top of this page was taken while introducing a young Luke to the group. On either side of him, you can see Mandylor and Henry in typical 'angry' poses. Rats tend to walk sideways towards their target and lower their head.
Luke, however, has a typical 'scared and defensive' body language going on. His ears are back, he is up on his hind legs and his paws are poised in case he has to fight. His whiskers are also pushed forward, another sign of fear.
It's always tempting to rush in and split up the rats, especially if one is a youngster and the other
is a big adult, but by interferring too much, you can actually pro-long the process. Rats need
to sort out who is who in order for their group to run smoothly. If you don't allow them to do this, it
can make things more difficult for them, and thusly make for a longer, harder intro.
If you do need to split the rats up, such as if there is some serious agression and bloodshed, it's
important to remember not to just stick your hand in between the two fighting rats. This could easily result in you
being bitten or scratched, and take it from me, rats can do a lot of damage to human hands in this
A much better idea is to have a thick towel on standby. If things get hairy, wrap your hands in the towel
before plunging in there. Another good idea is to have a squirt bottle filled with water on hand and to give a quick squirt
when things get nasty. This will usually make the rats stop what they're doing immediately, and sometimes
make them pause to wash.
If things go well, you will need to repeat this 'both sets of rats on neutral territory' step a couple of times, or untill you feel confident with how the rats
are getting on. Play this by ear and take it as it comes. There are no concrete rules. It's all down to how
you think things are going. If this step doesn't go well, then take a step back. Return to the cage swaps and
keep doing this for a little longer.
Once you've passed the bath tub/neutral territory stage successfully and everyone seems to be getting along, it's time to put the
newcomers into the resident rats cage. Firstly, clean out the cage thouroughly, including all toys
and hammocks, and it can also help to do a little re-arranging of the cage furniture. This is to cause a little bit of distraction when all the rats finally go into the cage together; the resident rats will more concerned with why all their toys and igloos are in different places than they will be in bothering the newcomers.
Place all the rats in the cage.
It is not uncommon at this point, no matter how well previous introductions have gone, there will be some squabbling.
This is perfectly normal and, as with the bath-tub stage, should be allowed to run it's course as long as there
is no blood. I usually remove igloos and any boxes/tubes so that the resident rats can't back the newbies into a corner. Leave the rats untill they are no longer bothering with one another.
Even if this stage goes well, it's not generally advisable to leave the newcomers in the cage unsupervised at this point.
Whenever you are not in the room, or not actively watching them, put the new rats back in their own cage. This is just for safety, and is advised if you are new to intros. If you're an experienced rat keeper, you can usually judge whether or not it is safe to leave the rats all in together. But if in doubt, remove the new rats to their own cage until you're able to supervise them again.
Remember that if a rat really doesn't like another rat, he'll
take action as soon as possible. If your rats were going to take exception to one another, they would generally do so
within the first few minutes of meeting. If you've gotten through all these stages relatively calmly,
you can be fairly sure that everything will go well from now on.
Be aware that some dominance scuffles and power grooming
will happen for a while, just to remind the new rats where in the pecking order they are, and to
bring them into line if they play up. But this is perfectly normal and is like us telling a toddler
off for being cheeky or pushy! As soon as you see all the rats curled up asleep in a big pile together, you'll know everything is fine.
The more intros you do, the more confident you become at them, and the more you learn what is normal, and what is abnormal or needs intervention. I rarely follow the 'textbook' intro process any more. I evaluate the new rat's temperament, I work out which group a rat of his personality would best gel with, and I take it from there. If its a very docile group that takes to newcomers with ease, I might just put the rat into the cage, or do a very quick neutral territory meeting first.
If its a group that tend to be a bit less welcoming at first, I take things slower.
You will learn your individual rats temperaments and it will make intros easier as time goes on.