Dealing with bad behaviours
There are two kinds of Roof Rat “bad behaviour”:
- Behaviour that is annoying or inconvenient, but is mostly harmless to them, their cage mates and their owners.
- Behaviour that is harmful, dangerous or otherwise totally unacceptable.
Annoying Roof Rat behaviours:
- Playing with their water bottles: Many Roof Rats love to play with their water bottles, and will enjoy endless fun, poking the little ball to get the water out, until the bottle empty and they and their litter are soaking wet. They will sometimes use the water to bathe themselves, or sometimes just toss it away as it comes out. Once they start doing this, they will never stop until you replace their water bottle with a water dish.
- Kicking their litter out of their cage: Roof Rats are pretty active, especially at night. If you have more than one in a cage, they will probably chase each other around occasionally for no apparent reason. If their litter is lightweight or their litter pan is too shallow, they will kick it out of their cage, and you will be sweeping it up every morning. Even if you use heavier litter, like Yesterday’s News, and your litter pan is deep, they will probably still kick some out anyway. Oh well.
- Chewing on stuff: Chewing is normal for Roof Rats and even necessary to keep their teeth from getting too long. They might chew on anything they can reach with their teeth. It’s your job as a responsible pet owner to make sure that they cannot reach anything dangerous or valuable. And that they cannot chew their way out of their cage. Hammocks, toys, even water dishes or bottles will all need to be replaced from time to time, so factor that into the cost of pet ownership.
- (Gently!) nipping fingertips: if you poke your finger near a Roof Rat’s mouth, they will sometimes gently nip or nibble on it. Sometimes, when you take one out, it will start gently nipping your hand after a bit. This is all about food. They want treats now. And you haven’t delivered quickly enough for them. Or, if they are used to you giving them treats through the bars of their cage, and you poke your finger in there instead of an almond, there could be a case of mistaken identity. Regardless, your roof rat isn’t trying to hurt you. If he actually wanted to bite you, he would do so to the best of his ability: in nature, Roof Rats don’t get a second chance to defend or attack, so if that’s what he wants to do, he’s not going to mess around. If it didn’t hurt, he didn’t want it to hurt.
- Making noise all night long: My Roof Rats’ cages are next to my bedroom door. I can confirm: they really do make noise all night long. They love rattling stuff and “arguing” with each other. Roof Rats are much more vocal than Norway Rats. If you are easily disturbed, it’s best to keep your Roof Rats away from your TV watching room and bedrooms.
- Screeching at strangers: some Roof Rats are territorial and really don’t trust people they don’t know. If a stranger comes near their cage, they will open their mouths wide, bare their teeth and screech or hiss at the trespasser. Kind of like this scene in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but much cuter:
Once they start doing this to strangers, you probably cannot make them stop until they learn to accept the “stranger.” Which may happen. Eventually. Someday. Or not…
- Peeing everywhere: Roof Rats often pee on stuff. It seems to be their way of saying “I like this, it belongs to me.” or “I’m the boss around here, so you get peed on.” The thought of a Roof Rat peeing on you out of love might seem a bit odd at first (and second, third…), but try to see it from their viewpoint: that’s how they mark you with their scent, so they and “everyone else” knows you are “their” person. Anyway, at least Roof Rats are small: imagine if a dog did that to you (I don’t have to imagine, unfortunately.)
Harmful or dangerous Roof Rat behaviours:
- Cage mates fighting: Sometimes, if you put an adult Roof Rat in the same cage with another adult or, sometimes, a baby, they will fight. Some amount of squabbling is acceptable, even expected, as the two Roof Rats figure out who will be the alpha in that social group. But, if it goes on for more than a few hours, or if one or both gets injured, then you need to separate them. An adult Roof Rat is fully capable of hurting, even killing a rival who is unable to escape, so always exercise care when introducing them.
- Biting: Roof Rats rarely intentionally bite people to hurt them. I’ve never been properly bitten by an adult Roof Rat, and only once or twice by very fearful babies. Which didn’t hurt very much (except for my pride.) But there have been a few close calls, where a female Roof Rat nursing her babies clearly wanted to bite me if she could. Your Roof Rats probably won’t have babies, if they do, don’t stick your finger in a cage with a mommy rat in it. Seriously, don’t.
Sometimes, while play fighting with your Roof Rat, it might get too excited, and bite too hard. If that happens, you should pull your hand away, and make a loud “Squeak!” noise: he will realize he’s hurt you, and be more gentle in the future.
- Escaping, running away, hiding: This is a problem with baby Roof Rats, before they are properly socialized. In nature, Roof Rats are prey animals at the bottom of the food chain. Baby Roof Rats are defenseless little snacks for any carnivore that can catch them. So, they have evolved to be paranoid and as hard to catch as possible. Remember, these are prey animals, not apex predators like cats, so they will naturally react differently to exactly the same things:
Fortunately, we have selectively bred our Roof Rats to be less timid and flighty than their wilder cousins. Notice that, although Anya and Walter were clearly frightened by Baby Groot in the video, they did not jump down and run off, as a wild rat would have. However, always keep in mind that Roof Rats are still very good at escaping, evading and hiding when they feel like it. Follow our instructions on socializing babies, and make sure to handle them someplace safe until they trust you. Or get adults, instead.