Ratty Corner

Introducing the Newbies

The is the story of the introduction of Pirate and Zorro, aged 6 weeks at the onset, to our six bigger boys, Gonzo, Pogo and Quicksilver aged 9 months, and Merlin, Jasper and Fox aged 4 months.

Zorro and Pirate at the show
Saturday 25th May 2002 - Day 1
My three children and three of our big ratties came with us to collect our new baby ratties at the Midlands Rat Club first birthday show today. The two new boys, Pirate and Zorro, were sniffed over by the Gonzo and Pogo as they were handed to us, and were dismissed as unimportant. Quicksilver's first reaction was to try to take a chunk out of Pirate's face. This is going to be fun.
On arrival home, I expected the newbies to want to stay in their new cage after all the excitement, but there they were, begging to come out. Once the kids were in bed, I turned off the babies' light and left them in the hope that they would calm down and settle in.
A note on quarantining: Some of you may disapprove of this, but as the newbies and the old boys had already met each other at the show I didn't quarantine them. The UK seems to have less of a problem than the US with disease being passed between rats, and I assumed that anything that was going to be passed across had already happened.
Sunday 26th May 2002 - Day 2
Despite saying that I wanted to leave it a while before starting introductions, the kids had different ideas. I was woken up this morning with 'Muuuuuum, Jasper's bleeding!' It seems that Jasper and the new boys had met, and Zorro had bitten Jasper on the mouth. There was blood there, but it wasn't actively bleeding, so after a cuddle he went home for some peace. I've now stressed that I don't want the newbies to meet the oldies for a while. The babies won't be able to go into the big cage until they've grown larger, so there is no hurry. Even if it doesn't work out, they would be fine in the cage they have now.
Monday 27th May 2002 - Day 3
Mmmmm, baby smell!
I swapped over some of the cloths in each cage. The youngsters got all excited when they smelt them, and went bouncing around the cage. The older boys had a group sniff-in, and then pulled the cloths into their bed. I'm hoping that they will get so used to each other's smell that they'll take it in their stride when they actually meet.
Tuesday 28th May 2002 - Day 4
I did the cloth-swap again, with similar results.
Wednesday 29th May 2002 - Day 5
The cages together I know I can squeeze through hereI finally got around to clearing some space so I could put the cages next to each other. At first the occupants of both cages lined up along the sides, sniffing at each other. Gonzo did his bogbrush impersonation and did a lot of huffing at the newbies, and Fox was desperately trying to squeeze himself through the bars of the cage to get at them. Then the newbies went to hide in their nest, while the big boys sat inhaling the smell and looking puzzled. It's probably just as well that they couldn't reach each other, but it seemed to be so much fun trying.
Quicksilver on guard
Big Brother is Watching You! Quicksilver has taken up his post on the low shelf near the newbies' cage, keeping his eye on them just in case they come his way. He even stood guard while they had a nap.
Thursday 30th May 2002 - Day 6
It's so funny the way they are interacting with each other between the cages. Fox and Merlin had a 'standing on back legs and boxing' type sparring match in the bottom of their cage, with the two newbies hanging on their cage bars cheering them on - just like two naughty little schoolboys watching a fight.
Friday 31st May 2002 - Day 7
Today was cage cleaning day. I popped the two tinies and the base of their cage into the Great Wall playpen whilst I cleaned out their cage, taking away the base when I was ready for it. All of their bedding cloth stayed with them, so when they wore themselves out running around they just went to sleep on their bed heap.
The big lads went into the play pen later, and had a good sniff at the babies' bed. It seemed to provoke less interest than before.
I weighed the newbies, and realised that they would probably be big enough to move into the big cage in a week or two. Time to start intros in earnest.
Jasper and ZorroWe didn't get much done, because it's hard to catch the newbies awake at the same time as the big boys. Merlin met Zorro on Kim's lap, and was a total gentleman. Zorro was completely submissive, practically turning himself over to be sniffed. Jasper also had a quick sniff at Zorro, but backed away from him and didn't seem to want to know.
Saturday 1st June 2002 - Day 8
I tried a full cage-swap today. The little ones went into a giant cardboard box while I transferred the big boys into the small cage, then the newbies went into the big cage. The oldies spent the whole time sniffing the babies bedding and raiding their food bowl. The newbies thoroughly explored the big cage, and didn't want to come out again, but they were able to stick their heads through the bars so they couldn't stay there without being watched.
The scary bit of the whole exercise was that the newbies found a small packet of silica gel that I had missed in the cardboard box. I think/hope that I caught them before they had done anything more than eaten a hole in the packet, but I'm really worried that they might have eaten some of the beads.
Sunday 2nd June 2002 - Day 9
This morning I swapped their bedding over again, and it got so little reaction that I thought we'd do some more intros. All of the oldies met the two newbies, and they got along without any trouble at all. Except Fox. He went straight for the attack, first nipping Pirate on the face, then nipping Zorro underneath. I think Fox is contending for Alpha in the big cage. He's certainly the rat with the most attitude, and after several months at the bottom of the heap, he's piling on the weight and throwing it around.
Monday 3rd June 2002 - Day 10
Wow! They've all been out together in various combinations, and there's been NO fighting! Fox got very very hyper, but behaved himself all the same. So with any luck, if I keep swapping bedding cloths over and letting them play together, they'll all end up living happily together.
Tuesday 4th June 2002 - Day 11
Continuing the campaign of intros and bedding swapping, Pogo and Jasper seem to be fine with the newbies for extended periods, Gonzo and Merlin are OK for a while, and Fox and Quicksilver can stand them for short periods only.
Wednesday 5th June 2002 - Day 12
Well, I was sitting in the playpen with Pirate and Zorro when Fox and Quicksilver came to the edge of their balcony asking to come out. When I offered my arm they both came up at once, so with some trepidation I let them both come to meet the newbies together.
It was such an anti-climax. There was a lot of bottom sniffing, some squeaking, but mostly the four ratties enjoyed a climb over me in peace, and no-one was hurt at all. Maybe we're getting somewhere now...
Thursday 6th June 2002 - Day 13
We had a quick cage swap this evening. The newbies were ecstatic, bouncing around the big cage. Unfortunately they can still fit their heads through the bars, so they can't move in yet, but they don't seem to be able to get their bottoms through the bars so it won't be too long now. The big boys seemed very interested in sniffing the newbies' bedding, but they seemed to fill the small cage to bursting point.
Friday 7th June 2002 - Day 14
The ratties are being allowed to meet whenever they're out now, but we're being very careful not to let the newbies into the big boys cage while it's occupied. I think war would break out!
Saturday 8th June 2002 - Day 15
Still all in harmony. The ratties all seem to have accepted one another. The newbies just need to grow up a little.
Sunday 9th June 2002 - Day 16
Jasper surprised me today - he actually got aggressive! He's usually the rat who gets beaten up by everyone else, but he has obviously realised that Zorro is lower in the ratty hierarchy than himself because he has been flipping and grooming the poor little mite whenever the opportunity arises. Very noisy, but no bites as far as I can see.
Tuesday 11th June 2002 - Day 18
Friends
Quicksilver bit Pirate today. They were sitting together on my lap, and seemed to be getting along fine. Then Quicksilver started hissing and took a large mouthful of Pirate's side. No blood, nothing but a surprised squeak. I'm hoping that the boys can all go in together next weekend, but we're going to have to watch them.
The newbies seem to have unsettled everyone. There are fights in the big cage, and fights in the newbies cage. I think that part of the problem is that Fox is challenging Quicksilver as Alpha in the big cage. But why does that mean that poor little Jasper keeps getting beaten up? It's not as if he is a threat to anyone. He had bites under his chin, but I don't know who's responsible. I'm trying the suggestion of adding Bach's Rescue Remedy to the water bottles to calm everyone down. We'll see.
Wednesday 12th June 2002 - Day 19
Still a few scraps going on between cagemates. The big boys and the newbies are getting OK though.
I've decided that the newbies should be OK to go into the big cage this weekend. Saturday is busy, but I'm going to clear the dining table on Saturday evening and get it all set up as a ratty living area for Sunday (day 23). I don't want to put them in the playpen because they need watching to stop them jumping the walls, and it will get in the way of cage cleaning.
I'll put as much interesting stuff as I can find on the table, hide Rice Krispies all over it, then scent the boys with vanilla flavouring and stick them all on there together. Then the big cage gets taken apart and scrubbed till it shines, while the children keep an eye on the ratties. I've got a new igloo that they can have, the shelves can be rearranged and I've got a different type of litter for the base. With any luck it won't seem like anyone's territory. It takes me around 1.5 hours to clean the cage usually, so I'm reckoning on three hours to strip, wash and rebuild it. It needs a really thorough clean anyway.
I'll watch them as long as I can on Sunday, but they are usually exhausted by the effort of being cleaned out anyway. I don't work on Mondays, so I can supervise then too. By Tuesday they should either have settled down or been re-separated. It should go smoothly - the babies are too small to be a threat to the big boys, and I'm hoping they'll have the sense to keep a low profile.
Saturday 15th June 2002 - Day 22
The table's ready, with a plastic sheet covered with towels and a heap of interesting stuff to do. Most of the ratties have already visited it - all except Gonzo who slept through the excitement. I think the most likely cause of trouble will be Fox, but the boys mostly got along fine. I'm in two minds as to whether I'll need the vanilla essence or not tomorrow. I've given them a digging box of compost too, just to give them plenty to think about.
Sunday 16th June 2002 - Day 23
Well, that went so well that I still can't quite believe it! The boys spent most of the day on the table, scented with vanilla and with loads of toys, pea fishing and a digging bowl seeded with yogurt drops. Fox did get down once to come home to his cage, but he stayed put after we returned him to the table. Eventually they wore themselves out, so by the time the cage was finished they'd all had a nap and only the newbies had woken up. They were first to explore the new cage layout, followed by Fox, who behaved as if they had always been there. The others were added one at a time, and all seemed to take the presence of the newbies for granted.
I expected it to take me three hours to clean the cage, but it took more like four to strip it all down, disinfect, rinse and rebuild. Then I still had to clean up the mess on the table and scrub out the cage the newbies were in before.
11pm - they're still fairly OK in there, although there's a lot of (I hope) stress sneezing going on. It's very tense though. Zorro is screaming whenever anyone looks at him, which seems to completely baffle the big boys. They've had a few scuffles, mainly between the big boys rather than big against little, but nothing serious.
Monday 17th June 2002 - Day 24
Can I stop holding my breath yet? I really didn't sleep well last night, thinking about what might be going on downstairs in the cage.
There's been no real trouble. Quicksilver has bogbrushed a few times, but he and the newbies just freeze nose to nose for a while, then eventually snap out of it and wander off again. I think we have success!

I'm assuming now that peace has broken out. I think I had several things in my favour.

Introduction Day
Introduction Day Photos



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