Two anxious "alphas"?

Topics on behaviour, taming, companionship, introductions, and training
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Joined: Sun Feb 07, 2021 4:04 pm

Two anxious "alphas"?

Post by Xiphium » Sun Feb 07, 2021 5:12 pm

Hello folks, hope you're all doing well.

I'm looking for some guidance, or maybe even just venting at this point.

The tl;dr version is I have two rats (Possum and Nigel) that need to sort out their hierarchy, but Possum keeps avoiding/fleeing. I've tried the carrier method and taking them for a drive, neutral space, and putting vanilla on their fur, but it hasn't helped. Any advice?

We had a mischief of 5 rats. Originally Lou and Beans, then added Del, and finally Linus and Nigel. 3 were neutered (Lou, Beans, and Linus), and 2 intact (Del and Nigel).

Lou passed suddenly back in September, he was the second in command. The boys seemed a little down, so we got another rat to introduce, Possum, in November (was supposed to be two, but one turned out to be a girl. Long story, but we realized when we got her home, and she was instantly moved out before anything happened). Since Possum was so tiny, we were afraid of Nigel and Linus picking on the baby, so we kept him seperate until we could find another solo rat to go in with him. In retrospect, this was a horrible idea.

Later that month, the other two older cagemates (Del, the alpha, and Beans, a lower ranking rat) passed. This left Linus and Nigel alone. I felt like they never really fully integrated into the mischief of 5, usually causing tiffs, but I was concerned about them being a duo and being depressed. They would hide and sleep a fair bit previously, but now they weren't really doing much else. In the meantime, Possum was in a solo cage, but we had lined up two more babies to take in (Rex and Gilman, soon to be Winnie).

The two babies were added to Possum's cage, and that was fine and dandy.. until one of the new rats had a litter. Again, cutting a long story short, she had 6 people fooled, plus 5 veterinary staff. The night before labor she was at the emergency vets for an assessment of ?URI, but as we found out the next day, was pre-labor noise.

So, we take the two boys and put them in a large carrier. The cage the mom was in became a nursing cage. And Nigel and Linus are still vibing in the large cage by themselves.

We introduced the four adult boys via neutral ground method. They were a little stand-offish, but got along well enough. We come completely scrubbed the large cage, put in new toys and hides, and put the four boys in. There were some tiffs, Possum has superficial wounds from running away when Nigel is trying to investigate him, and Nigel was still chasing the Possum and Rex around the cage. We thought they would work it out, but it's been a month, and they haven't sorted it.

We introduced the two male babies that Winnie had via the carrier method. Starting them in a small carrier with food sprinkled around, they settled in two groups on either side of the carrier, but would occasional mingle. We moved them into a Kaytee cage, but that's when Nigel and Possum started to really kick off. One would try to investigate the other, and at a certain point Possum would scream and jump away. Nigel would sometimes chase, sometimes just stay put.

With this disrupting everyone else, I thought it might help to have the three older boys work things out (Possum, Nigel, and Linus as a middleman). It ended up with Linus and Nigel just cuddling, Possum being excluded, and the sniff/scream/jump dance occasionally happening with Nigel and Possum. After some time, I took Linus out. The two were mostly avoiding each other at this point, so I took them out for a car ride for an hour. No luck with bonding, they stayed separate the whole time.

I kept them in the cage overnight with scattered food and water, there were no squabbles except one this early morning. I thought maybe some very limited free roam might do something positive, but they just did the same song and dance.

I don't know what to do. Possum won't work things out with Nigel, they won't get close enough to each other to do it. If they're forced close, they just deal with being close until they're separated, they don't get comfortable.

Should I split the boys into two groups? Maybe start over from scratch, separate and reintroduce? Could a bath for some/all of them help? Should I put them in the Kaytee cage with the others, and see if having the other members around helps them sort it? Get Nigel or Possum neutered? I really don't know.

It makes sense to start from the least and working up to the most invasive/intense options, but I don't know how much time to give it, or when to "call it quits", like if the two boys just aren't going to get along and should be kept apart from each other. I don't think that's the case, but again, I've never had to do that. I don't know what the signs are.

Thanks for reading all of this.

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Joined: Sun Feb 07, 2021 4:04 pm

Re: Two anxious "alphas"?

Post by Xiphium » Sun Feb 07, 2021 5:18 pm

Some additional information, Nigel is about 16 months, and Possum is about 6 months.

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cyber ratty
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Re: Two anxious "alphas"?

Post by cyber ratty » Mon Feb 08, 2021 9:38 am

You are right that poor Possum has suffered through not having a same age companion while growing up, but splitting up the group for repeated intros isn't going to help.

I would go back to the beginning with all 6 bucks - give them at least 6 hours in the carrier (it should be small enough to ensure they are squashed together), and if they are still not relaxed, then leave them in it overnight (you'll need to set up a water bottle), and possibly even for another 24 hours. I don't know what size the kaytee cage is, but the next stage needs to be a small bare hamster cage with about twice as much floor space as the carrier. I'd suggest one of these: ... 08BFXY1Q4/ ... 00UVK963Q/

Leave them in there until they are sleeping together (on the floor at first, then add a flat hammock and wait until they are sharing that), before moving into a bigger bare cage - this might take 3 days or 3 weeks, don't rush it. There should be no free range during intros.

If Possum still hasn't relaxed after 3 weeks then I would recommend having him neutered, as that will reduce his stress levels.

Incidentally, it's not hard to sex rats, but vets don't get any training on that, and it's fairly common to find they mistake a doe for a buck. If you have queries like that, it's better to ask experienced owners.

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