Need advice taming an older rat

Topics on behaviour, taming, companionship, introductions, and training
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Need advice taming an older rat

Post by jstark1372 » Thu Apr 04, 2019 6:29 pm

Hello all! I feel the need to give some context for this problem, so I'll try to be quick.

I got 2 young male rats around a year and a half ago from a pet store (which I regret - will definitely get from private breeders/rescue in future). One (Varjak) was very easily socialised and became very friendly & affectionate with me within the first couple of weeks. The other (Spangle) never responded to the same socialisation/taming techniques I used.

I think Spangle's problems are a mixture of trauma from poor handling when he was very young (I noticed when I got them that the staff at the pet store were quite rough with them, and he was dropped at one point) and a neurological issue. I suspect a neurological issue because his balance seems to be quite poor, and he hasn't responded to any of my taming techniques even though I've been consistent with them for well over a year now.

He's not unhappy, still enjoys playing and having time out of the cage, still eats and drinks fine and is in perfect physical health. However, the situation is now more difficult because Varjak passed away recently (due to a sudden infection that my vets could never find a cause for). This means that Spangle is on his own. He seems a little less energetic since his brother's death, though he has perked up a little since.

I worry that if/when I need to take him to the vet, I simply won't be able to because he really isn't handleable at all. He bites any hands that try to pick him up or restrain him, and he bites hard (like a "food bite" not just a warning nip). I also worry because I'm well aware that rats are social creatures and shouldn't be kept alone, but with his behaviour as it is right now I don't feel comfortable introducing any other rats to him in case he might act aggressive towards them.

Does anyone have any tips? Right now I'm just spending most of my time in the room with him, often with the cage doors open so he can come and explore/play. I'm also trying to give positive enforcement (via treats or new toys to play with) whenever he's acting particularly calm. I also spend some periods of time with my hands just resting inside the cage, but I don't bother trying to handle him because he still bites and doesn't respond to my warning squeaks.

I'd love to get him some new cagemates so he isn't so lonely, or at least get him to the point where I'd feel able & comfortable to take him to the vet. Any advice is welcome, thank you.

[Edit: I should add that neither of my boys were ever neutered/spayed, and I know that a lot of owners have noticed decreased aggression in male rats after neutering, but I still have no idea how I'd get him to the vet without him biting really badly and/or failing to be restrained!]

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cyber ratty
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Re: Need advice taming an older rat

Post by cyber ratty » Fri Apr 05, 2019 10:51 am

If he does have a neurological cause for his behaviour then there isn't likely to be a way round it, however he may improve with some more rat companions.

Do you forewarn him when you approach? Could he be deaf or blind, does he respond to sounds or to visual signals? It is possible to pick up an aggressive rat without getting bitten, but it takes confidence and speed... imagine your hand forming a backpack with thumb and 3 fingers forming the straps around his neck and under his armpits. Rats can go through their whole lives without requiring vet treatment, so even if you can't handle him it should still be possible to provide him with a good life.

Since he wasn't aggressive to his brother there's no reason to think he would be with other rats, and he really shouldn't be on his own. I would look for some confident babies, and introduce them using the carrier method when they are at least 250g and no more than 12 weeks.

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