Owning a rat comes with a range of considerations. One of which will be where you home them and setting up optimal living conditions. On this topic, you will likely wonder whether you can keep them alone. Do they need the company of other rats and should you be looking to keep them in pairs or more? Intrigued, I decided to take a look into the research. Here is what I was able to find.
So, can rats live alone? Rats can live alone, but they should not do so, if at all possible. Rats do best in pairs or even better, in groups. Rats are naturally sociable animals and instinctively stay together (in what is called a mischief). You can observe this in wild rats. Solitude is known to negatively impact a rats well-being and quality of life. A pet rat that lives alone may not necessarily have a shorter lifespan than rats with at least one other companion, but they are likely to be depressed.
Rats by nature are sociable that enjoy the company of their fellow rats. Rats, in the wild, live in large groups.
This way of living is healthy for them, and they have complex hierarchies and relationships within their groups.
They groom one another and sleep together in heaps. Rats look out for each other, and they survive by taking cues from their fellow rats.
Its how they have managed to procreate and survive – its what has given them the ability and confidence to forage, navigate and educate themselves about the environment.
Pet rats are very playful and curious, but they do require a buddy to feel safe and happy. A pet rat doesn’t need to be part of a community, but one other companion will make such a difference in their life that putting at least two together is preferable and makes sense if you can.
Let us now take a closer look at some of the most common questions relating to the topic, and giving you all the information you need to decide how many rats to get.
Can I Just Have One Rat?
You can have just one rat, but it is not recommended or advised. In fact, there are few reasons to be made for keeping one rat, but several for keeping and looking after several together.
As a loving owner, you want your rat to have the best quality of life and being as happy as possible for those years.
Rats are naturally very social animals. They gain a lot of enjoyment and stimulation in the company of others. It is best for a rat’s health, development, and survival to have the company of at least one other rat.
We can see this in wild rats, where they live in large groups known as a mischief.
As owners, we must therefore try to replicate this in captivity – attempting to give them the most natural life we can. To do this, we can keep them in pairs or more.
Rats that live in groups will have a lot of fun with each other. They will play, groom, sleep, wrestle, communicate and form close bonds with one another. They will spend the majority of time in the company of others, rarely going off to their own peace and quiet. But if they do, they can always return.
A single rat however, can only sleep, eat or wait for their human owner to provide some attention.
Some owners will tell you that they have just one rat, and that their rat appears to be happy. But, this only appears to be the case when the owner is around and actively playing or spending time with the said rat.
You have to consider that when an owner leaves to go to work, run an errand, meet friends, or even during the nighttime hours, the rat will be all alone with no playmate.
Rats that live in groups will have a more varied and stimulating life than what a single rat can ultimately have.
And the truth is, even a small amount of time alone is not conducive to the well-being in this rodent.
Even if you were able to spend all day with your rat, it’s just not the same for them to not be with others. As mentioned, they love to partake in activities together. This is the kind of behavior you will never be able to fully replicate as a human.
So, depriving your rat of the company of their own kind is only likely to lead them to become lonely and depressed.
Isolated rats often develop behavioral issues, like hiding away, being neurotic, chewing on their fur as they are kept in unnatural conditions.
Ultimately, a rat on their own is not likely to be a happy rat.
Do Rats Need To Be In Pairs?
Rats should live in pairs, if not more. So, if you have a large enough cage and you can accommodate more rats, you should do so. Generally, the more, the merrier.
If you are looking for a great cage to house several rats, take a look at this one on Amazon – its ideal.
Rats teach one another social skills; so they will soon learn to become familiar and good in the company of others in which they are homed with.
It is generally advised to keep the same sexes together. In other words, males with males and females with females, as breeding can quickly get out of control.
Entire male, or entire female rats do well in single-sex groups. Equally, male rats that have been neutered could be kept with the opposite-sex.
It has been reported that male rats can become aggressive and begin to pick on other cage mates. This typically occurs during mating season as hormones fluctuate.
While a fair amount of play-fighting is natural and to be expected, bullying, hissing or the fluffing up of fur is usually a sign to look out for that things are getting too much. It is uncommon but important to be aware of.
Neutering tends to reduce aggression, so if often advised by veterinarians to keep aggression under control.
Ultimately, having multiple rats together will also benefit you as an owner. You’ll have the reassurance of knowing your rats are happy in the company of others and able to play together. It takes the pressure of having to be around all the time.
Can Rats Die Of Loneliness?
Rats will not die of loneliness as such. But it is fair to say that loneliness is not conducive to health. This in turn does lead to a greater risk of death from all causes.
Pet rats that get depressed due to a lonely state will eventually give up on their life. This means that they will stop grooming; they will not eat properly and will ultimately die from health issues that are related to this. Its an indirect cause, but its one to be aware of nonetheless.
In other words – a pet rat doesn’t die from loneliness or being alone; a rat’s health can deteriorate and weaken by complications related to the loneliness that can result in death.
One thing is for sure rats need the company of other rats; it does not matter how much interaction they get from their owner – it is not the same.
What Do You Do If You Have One Rat Left?
As rat companions die, the one rat that’s left suffers greatly. It’s a terrible situation for any pet rat and they will grieve.
You must understand the rat’s grieving process; many rats need to see the body of their deceased friend. It may seem odd, but you should place the dead rat’s body in the cage to let the other rat look at it.
The living rat will try to get their friend to move at first but will walk away understanding that their buddy is no longer there. This process can take some time, anywhere between a couple of minutes, if not hours. Its not nice, but it is important.
Your pet rat will start the grieving process, and during this time they will be extra sensitive. You should not leave them alone for long. They will need your company and the more you can give during this time, the better.
You should also consider getting another rat. This will reinstate the group environment company and to help your grieving rat recover long term.
When doing so, factor in the age. If you want to get a younger companion, it is best to get at least two instead of one. This will help reduce future grieving when the older rat inevitably dies.
If you choose not to get any more rats, you must provide your remaining pet rat with all the love and attention they require. They are likely to suffer from loneliness, so it will be a lot of work on your part.
How To Introduce Rats
We now know that keeping rats together is best; but how would one introduce new rats together safely and effectively.
Firstly, it is important to do so gradually and slowly. It is recommended that you also do so away from the cage at first to prevent any territorial behavior and to keep them more easily separated.
From there you can look to place them in the cage together when they are more aware and familiar with one another. Just make sure you clean the cage first because rats are known to pee and scent to mark their territory and this can lead to aggressive behavior.
Rats may become acquainted with one another quickly, or it may take some time. It usually takes around a month for them to become completely friendly to one another.
Either way you need to ensure that fights do not break out. If they do and it does not look like playing, quickly separate them and look to re-introduce them again later after they have had some time away and an opportunity to settle.
Younger rats are generally easier to introduce, but it is possible to introduce older rats to one another. It may just require a bit more time and persistence.
Ultimately, ensuring your rats are comfortable and safe should be your utmost priority.
While rats can live alone, it’s not what is best for them.
Rats, like most rodents, are social animals that live happiest and healthiest in the company of others.
In the wild, baby rats learn from the adults how to groom, play, feed, and scavenge for food, and as adults, they continue to look out for each other by getting cues from each other. The community of these rodents is based on a complex hierarchy.
There is no reason why a pet rat should do without the company of at least one other rat.
As any loving pet owner, you want what’s best for your pet rat, and you want to avoid any health complications associated with loneliness.
It is reassuring for you, as an owner, to know that your rats have one another for company, you don’t have to worry about the happiness of your pet so much.
These rodents need to play, sleep, groom, and interact with each other to maintain top mental and physical health.
Can rats get depressed? Rats can get depressed with the most common causal factor being loneliness. Common signs that could indicate depression include: over-eating, under-eating, sleeping more, playing less or a general lack of thirst and enthusiasm for life. You may notice a more lethargic nature in your rat. Depression is likely to follow the death of another rat if you are keeping more than one at a time.
What do rats do when happy? Rats that are happy are more excitable, inquisitive and likely to: burrow, make specific noises, gnaw, climb, lick, and groom. You can also detect that a rat is happy by their ears. A happy rats ears will hang in a relaxed way to the right side, whereas a stressed rats ear will be perked up and situated to the left.
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.