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Pet Rats - What To Do With Pet Rats Which Bite!
Biting and Nipping
Biting, out of fear or aggression, is unusual in pet rats. It is not something that you should have to put up with. Here are some of the situations where it may occur, and some possible solutions.
Male rats occasionally become aggressive towards humans and/or other rats at some point between 3-12 months of age, although if this happens it is most common at 4-5 months.
The rat becomes 'super macho' if his levels of male hormones are too high. He will puff up his fur, hiss and huff at other rats and people, and may attack or bite cage-mates or his owners. He may also scratch at the floor, rub his sides against hard objects (to leave his scent), and leave trails of scent-marking pee wherever he walks. Normal, happy bucks may also scent-mark like this, but problem rats take it to extremes.
If a male rat starts to squeak when you pick him up, or threatens to bite you when he is playing outside the cage, then we recommend that you take action quickly and do not leave it until you get bitten. This condition can usually be cured by having the rat castrated, and his hormonal levels and behaviour will return to normal after a few weeks. Castration also stops excessive scent-marking.
A rat whose hormones are driving him to obsessive levels of aggression and sexual frustration is not a happy animal, and it is unfair to leave him in such a state. If you must have a buck neutered, make sure that you use a vet who has done this operation on rats before! Rats have an internal muscular structure unlike that of dogs and cats, and a slightly different procedure must be used (the base of the inguinal canals must be stitched closed).
Female rats sometimes bite when they are pregnant or have babies. This behaviour usually disappears when the babies are weaned. Although such biting is perhaps understandable, most female rats do not bite in these circumstances, so we believe that the biting doe should not be bred from again - she may pass the trait on to her offspring, and also the breeder may avoid handling the babies if she is worried that the mother will savage her. This means that the babies may not be as well socialised as they should be.
Intervening in a Rat Fight
Intervening in a rat fight is a common way to get bitten. The rat may think that you are another rodent joining the scrum, and bite in self-defence. To avoid this, break up rat fights by squirting the animals with water from a plant spray, and separate the animals for a few hours until they cool down.
Finger nipping may occur if your rats are used to getting treats through the cage bars. This is not true biting, but merely an accidental nibble. If a finger is poked through the bars too, the rats may nip, mistaking the finger for food.
Train your rats to tell the difference, by telling them when food is arriving - eg 'Sweeties!' - or fingers, eg 'Be gentle!'. If this fails, stop feeding treats through the bars; instead, open the cage door to put your hand inside when hand-feeding.
Sometimes you come across a pet rat who is just nasty. This is rare amongst rats from responsible breeders, but more common when indiscriminate breeding occurs.
Not surprisingly, it is particularly common when rats which bite are bred from - the tendency towards bad temperament is often inherited, and may be recessive. This means that breeders need to select for good temperament in every generation, because even friendly rats may have the odd nasty child. Biters should never be bred from, no matter how pretty they are.
If a rat continues to bite for more than a few weeks after castration or continued gentle handling, you should consider having the rat put to sleep. This is a difficult decision which no-one apart from the rat's owner can make, but it must be known that a savage animal, kept permanently in its cage because people are scared to handle it, is not having much of a life. It is better t to offer homes to other rats which could enjoy their lives more.
FancyPetRats.com last updated 8 Feb, 2017