Jessica is an experienced pet mom with dogs, cats, rats, fish, axolotls, a gecko, chickens, and ducks.
So you have done all of your research and you decided that rats are the perfect pet for you. Whether you are already planning on getting a rat soon, or you are still looking, it is helpful to know what to expect the first day you bring them home. A good first day in their new house can make socializing your new rats much easier. Below are some tips on things to do to make your rats first day in their new house go as smoothly as possible.
Rats are social creatures. If you don't already have rats it is really important to get at least two. I personally like the dynamic of having three or more rats, but you should only get as many as you are comfortable with. I really want to stress how important it is for your rat to have a buddy. Human interaction is not enough. In the wild rats live in groups and they have complex social structures. Without interaction with other rats, they will get bored and they can become depressed. Rats are super intelligent, so enriching their lives as much as possible should be a top priority.
There are only a few situations when a rat should be kept alone. Some rats are really aggressive and no matter how slow you take introductions they will hurt other rats. These rats should be kept alone for all of the rats' safety. If a rat has a contagious disease or is healing from something like a surgery it should be kept alone. For both of these cases, it would be best to ask a vet for their recommendation.
Have the Cage Ready.
It will be very helpful to have the cage completely set up before you bring home your rats. Make sure that the rats have plenty of hiding places, some soft bedding (I like to use fleece), hammocks, and some things to chew on. Rats prefer cramped cages as opposed to empty space, so feel free to put as many things as you want in there. Decide where you are going to place the food and water, and have that ready for them. Having everything set up reduces the amount of time that your rats will have to spend in the box or carrier that you brought them home in.
Before you pick up your rats you should check over your cage. Make sure that there are no wire shelves that are uncovered because this can cause bumble-foot. Wire spacing should be 1/2 inch or less, anywhere that a rat can fit its head through it can fit its body through. Make sure that everything feels nice and secure. I used zip ties and binder clips on my first cage just to make sure that the cage was safe. My favorite cage is the Critter Nation because it is extremely well made and has plenty of room for enrichment. You also have the option to add another level. However, this cage is a little bit on the pricey side. If you choose a more inexpensive cage with bar spacing that is a little too wide or flimsy locks there is no need to worry, zip ties, hardware cloth, fleece, and binder clips can fix any of the problems I listed above.
Bring Your Own Carrier When You Pick Them Up.
Transporting them from the pet store or breeders house to their new home might be the most traumatizing part for your new rats. This is only made worse for them by being stuck in some sort of cardboard box. Bringing your own pet carrier with some soft material in it is a small action tht will make a big difference for your rats. If you don't have a carrier it is worth thinking about investing in one. They are good to have for future vet trips, moves, etc. I like to put some fleece and some snacks in the carrier so they are nice and cozy on the ride home.
Give Them Space, But Not Too Much Space.
Make sure to give your rats plenty of time to settle in. They might be eager to explore the new cage and say hello to you, or they might be more timid and hide. On the first day it is perfectly fine to put your hand in their cage and let them come up to smell you, but I wouldn't try and hold them too much if they aren't ready. The first day can be a stressful time for rats, and there is a fine line between letting them know who you are and making them uncomfortable. A good way to gauge how they are feeling is to hold a treat out to them. If they come up and take it then you might try to interact with them a little more. If they are not taking it and avoiding contact I would give them some time to settle in.
Keep a Close Eye on Them.
I make sure to watch out for signs of illness or signs that they don't understand how to get food or water. Sneezing is normal in the first couple of days, but if you hear an excessive amount of sneezing combined with wheezing it might be a good idea to take your rat to the vet. If they have a respiratory infection it is good to get it taken care of as soon as possible. The water bottle on their new cage might be different than they are used to. If they are having trouble try to encourage them to drink out of the bottle by squeezing a little bit of water out. Rats generally won't have a hard time finding food, but I like to scatter some food around the cage just in case.
Bringing home new rats is incredibly exciting! Following these tips should make introducing them to their new home a breeze for both you and the rats. If they are timid at first do not be discouraged. The new environment might be overwhelming to them, and in some instances, they might not be used to frequent interaction with humans. If you give them time they will begin to realize that you are a constant in their life and you bring food and affection. They will be coming to the front of the cage to greet you in no time.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Jess H (author) from Oregon on February 21, 2020:
Thank you Kristen! I’m glad you found it helpful!
Kristen on February 20, 2020:
This is a very helpful article! Thank you so much!