This article is from the Summer 2002 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
By Helen Pembrook
Carrie Carso-Dimitre, Ashland, OR
Q I am the owner of seven rats and was hoping that you or some of your members could give me some suggestions on how to deal with one particularly aggressive rat. My six other rats are happy, healthy, and well adjusted. I spend at least fifteen minutes a day one-on-one time with each of them. I have never had to deal with behavior problems that some hands-on training didn’t take care of—until I got El Hefe.
El Hefe was given to me by an acquaintance who had owned him for about ten months. El Hefe was never abused or neglected by him. El Hefe had been kept in a very small cage (it measures 1 foot by 1 foot) and has never had a companion rat. The problem is this: El Hefe is better suited to be an attack rat, rather than a pet. He tries to attack my male rats when he sees them, and has taken several good bites out of me. I have never struck him in retaliation, but don’t know how the suggested “time out” punishment method will discourage this behavior, as it is what he expects anyway. I have moved E1 Hefe into a much larger cage with toys and treats, and have begun hand feeding him. Although his behavior has become slightly less aggressive, he still lunges at my hands, for no apparent reason.
El Hefe does enjoy the company of one of my female rats, yet I am not yet equipped to breed any of my rats. I am currently considering having him neutered so that he may have a companion, but can’t really afford it. Another problem with putting him in with my females would be my reluctance to get them out to play, as his attacks come with no warnings.
My vet and I are at a loss as to what to do, and I am open to any and all suggestions that you or your members may have. Thanks for your time!
A Neutering would definitely be the suggested route to take with your aggressive male. Perhaps your vet could work out payment options with you on the price.
Unfortunately, there is not much you can do at this point to make this rat into a pet. Much of a rat’s innate personality is inherited genetically. Even if you had gotten him when he was a very young baby, he probably would have turned out just as crabby. You definitely DO NOT want to breed him, as he will pass these same aggressive traits to his offspring.
There was an article written by Elizabeth R. TeSelle in our January-March 1994 issue on “Trust-Training Nervous Rats.” You may get some ideas that might help you to better deal with your aggressive male. Hand-feeding, as you have been doing, is one suggestion. However, seriously aggressive rats caused by hormones or poor breeding can’t be helped in the same ways as a rat that is afraid from lack of handling and has no trust of people.
If you can’t get him neutered, then the best thing you can do is let him live out his life in a large cage with lots of toys and keep handling to a minimum as he obviously does not like it. Always make sure you wash your hands and arms thoroughly before going into El Hefe’s cage. Some aggressive males will attack a person just by smelling another rat’s scent on them. Some people have also found a different type of cage sometimes helps. If he is in a wire cage, try putting him in an aquarium. Some rats don’t like a person getting them from the front, and reaching in from the top is not as threatening to the rat. Rat bites can potentially be very serious, not only because of infection, but because they can sever arteries and tendons requiring surgery to repair, and the possibility of permanent injury.