Of Rats and Jen (Inactive)

Tales of a Perpetual
Work In Progress

Christmas for Ratties

Filed under: Rats! — folkcat at 8:08 pm on Monday, December 8, 2008

By late Saturday night, it was a done deal. The new cage was tricked out and the Seven Little Ratties were introduced to their new home.

Our First Attempt at Rattie Decor

This cage is at least three times the volume of the franken-cage our kids have been living in, and it’s much better laid out, too. We’ve never had the room to consider more than the most minimal of accessories before, and suddenly, we can put in almost anything we can imagine.

Our initial set-up includes three hammocks of various types, some rugs, a few fabric bowls, a litter box, a Wodent Wheel, and a dryer vent hose snaking around the ceiling in the middle. We’ve since swapped out a couple of the hammocks – our kids are more used to tunnel and bunk-bed types than these envelope hammocks. They expressed their displeasure with our selection by sleeping in a grumpy-looking line all across the upper shelf, right under the offending hammocks. We also added a cracker box – which usually has at least two or three rats in it.

Once we’d installed all the furnishings our non-rattie brains could imagine, we added the rats.

Milling About

They spent a long, long time wandering the cage. This is new for every one of them, and change is a scary thing for rats. The floors are covered in rigid plastic, not metal grid. The walls are wires spaced far enough a small rat can almost, but not quite, get their entire head through.

A Home Gym

Some change was quickly embraced, however. We’ve had a Wodent Wheel ever since our original two Ratties, Star and Sable. Although we tried it with every rat since, not a one of them has considered it worthy of anything but stuffing the holes with bedding. So we never kept it in the cage, because if it wasn’t going to be useful to them, there wasn’t room to have it taking up space.

Until now. When Laura and Trixie came back to us, they came with a small wheel. So we made sure to put our Wodent Wheel into this huge mansion when we set it up. As we saw it, there’s so much space here, they can use it however they like and we won’t care.

Well, Laura immediately hopped in and went for a spin. All the other Ratties stood and stared in amazement. You could almost hear them thinking, “Oh! So that’s what it’s for!”

A little while later, Leo decided to try his paws at the wheel.

Leo goes for a run

He loved it. It seems like nine times out of ten, when we hear the wheel spinning, it’s Leo doing a few laps. He even tries to sleep in it now and then, as if to reserve the track for himself.

This Way to the Egress

One of the problems we faced with this new castle was Rattie access. Mind you, it’s ridiculously easy for us to get into the cage. Each of the two cage sections has two doors. Each door is an entire half of the front of the cage section. They unlatch easily, and even lift completely off the hinges if you want.

Cleaning the cage, re-arranging the furniture, all those little chores are going to be a breeze.

No, the problem is Rattie access – how easily the kids can get in and out of the cage when it’s play or snuggle time. The old cage sat low enough that all I had to do was pull it over close to the arm of my chair, put a couple small pillows on the arm, and open the door. Ratties streamed in and out with ease.

Now, there are two large lower doors that I can’t fully open while the cage is near the chair, and two upper ones that are far above the arm. What to do?

I had an inspiration. I opened the top left door, the one sitting most directly above the arm of the chair. I took it off its hinges, threw a small blanket over it and, resting the bottom edge on the arm, I leaned the door against the cage.

As you can see from this image of Lily and Laurel passing each other on their respective ways in and out, it works.

This way to the Egress/Ingress (is that even a word?)

The system isn’t perfect. The first step is a big one, the hill to climb down is long, the fabric slips. But it works, and the rats are going in and out. We’re going to improve matters by attaching a layer of half-inch hardware cloth to the surface of the door, to make a more rat-friendly climbing ramp out of it.

Family Politics

As for inter-Rattie relations, they’re still a little rough. I think the shared trauma of being moved into a new house may have helped, but there are clearly still some issues being worked out.

Trixie must have gone into heat recently, because I noticed Leo deciding she was woman enough to, well – do what boy rats do with woman rats. Laura is still being assertive about making sure everyone else knows she’s here and not going to be anyone’s doormat. Lola mostly just goes about her business, allowing anyone into the sleeping pile if they behave themselves, and ready to give a mild smackdown if they don’t. Laurel seems to be having some mild issues about who’s the boss, because she’s been following new girl Trixie around and mounting her. (Female rats are known to mount other females as a dominance maneuver.)

The Littlest Rattie?

Lily – poor little Lily. She’s not the littlest in size, certainly, but she seems to have become the littlest in status in the colony.

Lily and Laurel, you may remember, were the two youngsters we adopted in July, right before we started fostering. Up until now, they’ve been the babies in the family. Being here first, and being about a month older, doesn’t seem to guarantee a higher place in the totem pole, however. Lily seems to be somewhat less assertive than the two new girls, and I frequently see her getting a little bullied.

Throwing the new cage into the mix really unsettled her. The first twenty-four hours, she spent her time as close to me as possible, staring out of the cage in my direction and clearly pleading to come out. If I offered a finger for a lick, she would instead grab it hard with her teeth and try to pull me into the cage – a clear indication that what she wanted was ME, and NOW.

Lily says, “Please, Mom?”*

As a five and a half month old female rat, she would normally be way too fizzy to sit still for much snuggling. But that first day or so, I frequently took Lily out for a little comforting, and she would snuggle into a prone position cupped in one hand, while I skritched her around the head and shoulders thoroughly. It’s actually somewhat distressing to see in so young a girl.

We considered separating her and maybe her sister, Laurel, from the others for a bit. But we decided we should be strong, let them all work it out, and just give Lily what comfort we could without otherwise interfering with the power struggle. Today, things seem to have calmed down, and I expect it will get even better with more time.

Lily still seems to be at the bottom of the totem pole, perhaps tied or close enough to Trixie as not to make a difference. But she seems to be dealing with all these changes better, and finding her way to fit in, and she’s being a little less picked on.

And in the end, sometimes that’s all you can hope for – to at least fit in somewhat, and not be too badly picked on. Reminds me of my own grade school days.

Lily, I’m here for you. Mom understands.

* Yeah, this one’s the new desktop on my computer.


Comment by christina

December 8, 2008 @ 8:18 pm

It looks like a rattie mansion!

Comment by Carol

December 8, 2008 @ 10:47 pm

Hopefully they will all settle down. alas, Lily may well be the bottom of the totem pole,but somebody’s gotta be there. Unfortunately. It would be nice if they could all just get along without the whole dominance thing, but even us hoomans get our knickers in a twist about that sometimes. Hopefully once everyone knows the pecking order, calm will return to the Rattie household.

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