Presley is either a roan or a patched dumbo rat of some variety.
Presley came from the Pets at Home adoption centre.
I was not planning on coming out of the shop with a rat, but when I saw him, he was so very tiny, housed all alone, and huddled at the back of his tank. He was also written down as a female, but I could tell from what little I could see of his bum that he most certainly wasn't! He was also written as needing 'specialist care', so I decided to ask what that meant specifically, as well as point out that this rat most certainly wasn't female! That may not sound a big deal, but if someone else had adopted Presley and not realised he were actually male, and popped him in with their female rat as a companion, we would potentially have another litter of unwanted rats coming into the world.
When I spoke to a staff member, he said Presley's 'specialist care' just meant that he had issues with other rats and was aggressive with them. He'd also had an eye infection which had been treated by a vet. I informed them he was male, and the name 'pippa', which they had given him, was probably not fitting.
In the end, I decided to take him home as I couldn't bare the thought of a rat so tiny and young being doomed to a life in solitary confinement. I knew with me, he'd get the best shot at having rat company.
On getting Presley home, I really got a chance to see how tiny he was. He barely looked bigger than a 7 week old. He was rather flighty, unused to being handled, and he had a few other issues. While handling him, I noticed something was 'off' about his mouth. He had almost a 'snarling' look to one side of his mouth, and I checked his teeth, expecting to find he was having issues with them. But they looked normal.
After watching him some more, I realised he actually had a facial tic on one side of his face, which made him look like he was snarling. It was erratic, clearly involuntary, and unlike anything I'd seen before.
I failed to find anything online about this kind of thing in a rat, but after talking to some very knowledgable rat friends, it was suggested that he may have nerve damage in that side of his face, and it was also the same side he had the issues with his sore eye.
All in all, Presley's little twitch didn't affect him at all, though it did often give him some rather funny facial expressions. Presley was also very picky about what he'd eat. For the first week or so, he wouldn't touch rat food, or curly kale, or bread or anything that was good for him. The only foods I managed to get him to eat was shortbread, fried chicken and yogurt drops, basically anything fatty or sugary. But I was soon to realise his issues didn't end there.
After a while, I decided to try Presley with other rats, to see what his reaction would be. I failed to believe that a rat so tiny and so young, and so timid, could be 'aggressive'.
I brought Vector in to see him, as Vector is young but patient and accepting, while also being strong enough to defend himself if needed.
Presley seemed to adore Vector, he leapt all over him like one would expect from an excited youngster. Vector took it all well, and soon the two were cuddled up together. There were absolutely no signs of aggression from Presley, and Vector didn't seem to object to him. I did notice, however, that Presley had a habit of excessively humping Vector. This is something rats do either through over-excitement, or sometimes dominance. With Presley, it was clearly pure over-excitement, as his behaviours were all very typical energetic, bouncy, playful baby behaviours. Lots of young rats hump, I didn't think much of it.
Taking this first meeting as a good sign, and proof that Presley didn't actually have any aggression issues with other rats, I had to then make a decision about which group he should live with.
Given that he was small, not terribly robust, and had a sweet and playful nature, I decided to make him a bedroom rat, living in my small group with Crumb, Crouton, Brioche and Icarus. These boys are gentle, mellow, loving boys who still like to play, so I thought they'd be perfect for him.
However, this didn't go as planned. Presley became so over-excited at the other rats that his behaviour became what, by rat standards, would be considered very rude. He would hump constantly, jump on other rat's heads, and basically act like a brat. It was all just pure excitement and desperation to play, but it seemed that Presley had not learned any rat manners.
Rat kittens act like this until they are taught by their littermates and/or mum what is and isn't acceptable. For whatever reason, Presley hadn't learned these things.
His bouncy, over the top behaviour annoyed the other rats, particularly Icarus, who then put him firmly in his place and told him, in rat language, 'knock it the hell off!'
Well.....Presley did not take to this well at all. He didn't seem to understand what he'd done wrong, and become very emotionally distraught. He hid from the other rats, and screamed if they came near him. I must stress, he'd been told off but not physically harmed. But he responded as if someone had just tried to kill him.
I called it a day for intros that day, and decided that the next day, I'd try a carrier intro. I put Presley and the others from the group into a small hamster cage and left them for a day. There was no drama, or any fighting, though Presley still looked worried.
As the carrier intro was so uneventful, I decided to try the rats in their big cage together.
Long story short, Presley was was too scared of these rats, and too lacking in social skills. For some reason, my bedroom group just downright hated him. These are very mellow, accepting rats who never argue, but none of them seemed at all willing to be near Presley, unless it was to be mean to him. A passing nip here, a chase there, just hounding him whenever they passed by and remembered he was there. This was very out of character for this group; I'd chosen them specifically for their accepting, gentle natures. But I took it as a sign that these rats were telling me they just didn't want Presley around. So it was back to square one, and trying to decide which group to put him with now.
I began to worry that if even my most friendly and gentle group wouldn't have him, that maybe no-one would. My next attempt was to house him with Kingdom's group. This may sound an odd choice, given that three of the lads in that group can be rather firm, but we also had Caleb in that group at the time, as well as Jeremy and Humbug: all young rats closer to Presley's age, and all nice rats too. I felt that if he could buddy up with them, he might fit in.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. Presley did his usual trick of going in and humping all the dominant rats in pure joy, and eventually got told off for it. He then withdrew, as I'd seen before, but at least he would go into the igloo with the other rats. This was at least a step in the right direction, as he had not done this with Crumb's group.
No-one was actually harming him, so I figured I had to be 'cruel to be kind' and let him just get used to other rats and figure out rat behaviour, which he'd only do if I let him alone to be around them.
A few days passed, and I found Presley snuggled in the igloo with all the others, I even saw him grooming another boy, so I assumed I'd cracked it.
After a few more days, I realised I had rarely seen Presley leave this hammock. He was always in there when I went to see him. I wondered if maybe all was not as well as it seemed on the surface. So I took Presley out and popped him on the cage floor, to see if he would comfortably explore his surroundings like I'd expect a happy, confident rat to do.
He did not. He fled back to the hammock as if he feared for his life. And after more observation, I realised he was being held prisoner in there. If he tried to come out, he'd be chased back in by Ruble. And in only a few days, Presley had dropped weight and condition.
I felt really bad, because I'd taken so long to realise he wasn't happy, but in my defense, every time I went out to see him, he was sleeping on a big pile of other rats in the hammock; generally, you don't expect rats who are terrified of others to be doing this.
But it became clear he couldn't remain in this group. He had actually been so worried to leave the hammock that he had not dared go and get any food, and had only been able to briefly drink. Others told me that rats are not so stupid that they'll just sit and let themselves starve, but those people hadn't met Presley. This is exactly what he would have done had I not removed him from that group.
So once again I was left wondering what to do with Presley. He clearly had the ability to greatly enjoy rat company, so housing him alone would be terribly sad. But he was so incredibly sensitive that a single reprimand from another rat would destroy him, and he would withdraw and make himself ill.
He was housed alone once again while I considered what to do with him.
At this time, I began asking rat friends whether they had witnessed this sort of behaviour in any of their rats, and came up with some interesting responses.
I was told by a very knowledgable rat friend that she had seen this same behaviour in some of hers over the years: either extreme over excitement and humping behaviour or complete terror with no 'middle ground'. She had always maintained that such rats had some kind of brain damage, and told me about how a rat model of autism had very recently been discovered, too.
Such rats tended to lack conventional social skills. When they do learn something, they learn it at an extreme level, so excitement becomes extreme excitement, and fear becomes extreme, unreasonable levels of fear, with no apparent happy medium. They either love other rats to the point of obsession, complete with humping behaviour, or they are petrified of them. At this point, it was also suggested that Presley probably only had limited vision in one of his eyes, by how his pupils looked in photographs.
Everything I heard about 'autistic' rats described Presley perfectly.
I was told that these sorts of rats sometimes did better being housed with babies. That was because they could not be intimidated by them, but the babies would also grow up alongside Presley and not be thrown off by his odd behaviour, as it would be normal for them. I agreed that babies would probably be a good thing to try. Unfortunately, at the time, our rat numbers were close to our limit, and I didn't feel able to take on 2 or 3 more deliberately, who would take up spaces that I may need to house emergency rescues. It left me in a bit of a quandry.
I still had one option left, however. I had one group I hadn't yet tried Presley in, the only other one I had that would be remotely appropriate for him: the group Vector lived in.
He'd met Vector already, and Vector had been one of the only rats who had completely tolerated Presley, and who Presley wasn't terrified of. But Vector lived in a busy group with other adolescent rats, and the alpha, Dreamweaver, had a tendency to be quite firm. I knew Presley wouldn't take to Dreamweaver, even if he took to everyone else. But I didn't want to split up Dreamweaver's group, who had lived together forever, as I hate splitting bonded groups.
So I decided to give it a go with the group as a whole. Surprisingly, Dreamweaver wasn't too concerned with Presley. He did put his foot down over a few things, but ultimately left him alone. And Presley seemed to bond well to the other rats, so for the time being, he lives in this group.
He is doing better in this group than any I have tried him in so far. He is not losing condition, and I have seen him out and about on his own without seeming like he is being bullied or intimidated. I have still not seen him play with other rats, or display many solid interactions, but he does sleep with them, and they seem to like him. Im hoping I have sorted him for good, but he is a strange little rat and his behaviour has to be watched closely. For the time being, he seems to be slowly re-learning how to interact, though I don't think he will ever be able to do so in a 'normal' manner. But if just one group can accept and tolerate him, that is the best I can hope for.
I adore Presley, he is such a character. He is a tiny rat, and doesn't seem to have grown much since I've had him, and his odd little facial tic really does make him unique. I consider him one of my 'special needs' rats, who tend to need that bit more TLC and a closer eye.
Why Presley? His little lip twitch, his snazzy hair-do, I didn't have to think about it for long.