Posted: July 11, 2012, 8:05 p.m. EDT
Q: My wife and I have had two rats, Hank and Artie, for around nine months. Recently, we rescued a third rat, Louie, from the humane society. After over a month, it seems that a harmonious integration is not in the cards. We have had Louie in a separate cage next to Hank and Artie, and have slowly socialized them in neutral areas; however, Hank remains aggressively focused on Louie without even a minute drop in intensity. We are not going to take Louie back to the humane society, so our options are to get a new companion for him, a second cage, and let each group out for playtime separately. Time constraints make this approach problematic. Another option is to try to find a local rat owner who could take Louie in and have better luck in introducing him. Or, should I let them fight in order to let them establish their hierarchy? My wife and I will always break up the fights whenever they begin. Do we need to let this play out before peace can occur? We don't want to stress out any of them, but this is our first rat intro, and we're unsure if we're on the right path. Can you also give me your thoughts on having them bond over a semi-traumatic experience such as a car ride or the like, or in neutering Hank (the main aggressor)? To us, it seems like Hank would kill Louie if we let them fight. Is there a sign we should look for to know that the fight is going too far?
A: When introducing any pet, all introductions are permanently put on hold if blood is drawn. If Hank is puffing up his coat, rubbing his body along the sides of his cage or aggressively charging at Louie, then the attempts at introducing them are probably not going to go well ... ever. You could try a stress introduction (car ride) or letting them fight it out, but the risk that one of the rats will be seriously injured or killed simply isn't worth it.
Because other options are available for Louie, I think it's time to pursue those. Obviously the best choice is to find him an acceptable companion. Louie came from a shelter, so you may want to consider finding a rat rescue group that will help you choose a suitable cagemate and will assist with the introduction. While it can be challenging having two separate groups of male rats, the end result is that the boys will all be very happy and will bring you years of joy. For many people, rescuing rats (as you've done with Louie) and watching them blossom in a loving, stable home is a pleasure that far outweighs the challenges.
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