Saying goodbye to Molly in November 2017 left us with just one ratty: Ivy. We weren’t going to rush to get more, but it was obvious that Ivy wasn’t going to be happy on her own, so friends had to be found.
I fell in love with Smoak the moment I saw her; such a beautiful grey-brown girl, a bit skittish, but utterly gorgeous. She proved herself to be the rattiest of rats: when we brought her home, she escaped onto the floor as I tried to get her from the carrier to the cage and the sight of her bounding along the skirting board under the sofa… just so incredibly ratty.
Such a pretty rat
Nyssa was more forthcoming and curious; she didn’t want to be held, but she was more than happy to be around people, especially if they had snacks. She quickly discovered that the inside of a t-shirt was a fun place to explore (I’ve used tucking ratties inside my t-shirt as a socialising technique before but Nyssa did it all on her own). She has to be the focus of attention, if anyone else is getting any fuss — or worse, food — then she will quickly place herself front and centre.
On the move
Raiding the snacks
Smoak was beautiful and a little aloof, with the softest fur. Nyssa was and still is, energetic and sleek, with a beautifully silky coat.
Smoak quickly learned her name and would acknowledge you, even if she then chose to stay exactly where she was. It took a lot longer for Nyssa to even understand what a name was, she recognises it now and does respond, but I’m convinced she just thinks it means “snack time”.
The loss of Rommie left us with just one rat for the first time ever, so we had to find some friends for Quorra; she was only alone for a few days, but she obviously wasn’t happy. Having said that, I’m not convinced she was always particularly impressed by the presence of two lively youngsters either. The two newcomers are Molly and Ivy, named after characters in the Dresden Files books.
And once again I managed to forget exactly how energetic young ratties are; a situation that was made worse by having to look after them by myself for the first week as my other half was away visiting family. Molly was particularly trying as she would attempt to use me as a jumping off point to absolutely anywhere else she thought she might be able to reach. Ivy just didn’t want to be picked up and was quick enough to avoid it much of the time.
Molly is a wonderfully sleek mismarked black Berkshire. She has the cutest little white feet and belly and a tiny dot of white on the top of her head. Luckily she has grown out of her initial habit of trying to leap off in random directions; now she is happy to just run around at full speed, including in the wheel at five in the morning…
Ivy doesn’t really fit into any of the markings categories; she has black from her nose to her shoulders and the rest of her, including her chin and throat, is white with a couple of stray spots of black. She is decidedly skittish, twitching at most noises (especially crinkly plastic) and is not keen on being held. That’s not to say she’s scared of people — she will happily come up for food and will let you stroke her — she just doesn’t want the interaction to go on for too long; she would much rather find a comfy spot to hide in. She loves her food and is destined to be another “fat rat”.
This is Midge. She’s a two-year-old top-eared chocolate-coloured hooded ratty. And we’ve just adopted her from our neighbour — the one who introduced us to rats as pets in the first place. Midge’s last remaining cage mate died recently and our neighbour isn’t planning on getting more rats, so rather than leave her on her own, she is joining our mischief madhouse.
Midge is older than any of the others (Rocket and Rommie are just over eighteen months now), still very perky and friendly, and dashes to the front of the cage any time we go near. She loves to explore and is fearless — the other day she leapt down to the floor, something that no other rat here has done deliberately — so we will definitely have to keep a close eye on her during free range.
I was a bit concerned how introductions would go, especially after the grief we had the last time, but it all went remarkably smoothly, better than I would ever have expected. The only issue we’ve had is, surprisingly, with Quorra, our adorable tilty ratty. And even then, the main problem is that she insistently grooms Midge, who then gets fed up with it and tries to get her to stop. There’s been a fair bit of squeaking and fluffed-up ratties, but only a couple of minor scratches, so I’m calling that a success.
Rocket is not overly impressed and seems to be sulking a bit more than usual, though this may just be a ploy to get more attention (she is a very cunning rat). Rommie doesn’t really care, as long as she still gets her food. And Yori is just Yori.
We were going to wait until the end of October last year — when Rocket and Rommie would turn one — before getting more rats, but then some became available at the end of September and little ratties are so cute that, once seen, they just cannot be left behind.
Yori is a tiny grey hooded dumbo. Her fur is very slightly longer than the others, which means that, no matter how much she grooms herself, she always looks like she’s been dragged through a hedge backwards. She came down with a respiratory infection soon after we got her home; luckily it was nothing worse than a lot of sneezing, but it did mean she didn’t put on weight as quickly as her sister. At nearly nine months old, she is still small enough to comfortably sit on the palm of my hand.
Even though she is the smallest ratty, she is convinced she should be the boss of the cage: she always has one or two little scratches where one of the others has got truly fed up with her following them around the cage, indulging in power grooming and inappropriate sniffing.
She is the lickiest rat we have ever had, by far, and will happily sit and lick her way over your hand given the chance. She is also a little horror for hiding food. When I feed them she goes around picking up anything the size of a pea or bigger and systematically carrying it off into the hammock or hut to “hide” it. This doesn’t fool anyone. I wouldn’t mind so much if she was storing it to eat later, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
Quorra is a roan dumbo. Roans are the con artists of ratty colouring: when we got her she was a lovely dark grey with an unusual black patch across the back of her neck, now she is mostly white with a few darker bits scattered around.
At the end of January, she developed a bit of a head tilt. A course of steroids and antibiotic injections seemed to sort out the underlying ear infection, though she has been left with a permanently skewed outlook (which is utterly endearing). The twisty head has given her superpowers. She can rotate her way out on to the top of the cage, or down into a t-shirt, with remarkable speed and ease. Although she does sometimes forget to check whether there is actually any ground underneath where she’s heading, the tilt has really not slowed her down at all.
Quorra loves the “disappearing down a t-shirt” trick. I let her get away with it because it is just so adorable when she spins round and pops her tilty little head out the top and stares at you (it helps that she is neither the heaviest nor spikiest rat).
She also loves drinking from people’s cups of tea. And then splashing around in them.
Where Yori is licky, Quorra is kissy. Many times when she pops out of the top of my t-shirt, she follows it up with a face or lip lick as I look down at her. This is cute. Not so cute is when she decides that she must investigate further and tries to pull my lip out of the way with her pointy little ratty claws; this behaviour is not encouraged.
Together they are a wonderfully entertaining addition to the madhouse.
The new girls now have names! After much pondering we’ve decided to abandon the idea of trying to find a female SF name that easily splits into two nice ratty names à la River Song.
The splodgy black hooded is Rommie. We got as far as “female ship’s avatar” as a potential theme and Rommie (from Andromeda) seemed to suit her.
Unfortunately I wasn’t taken by the other options we came up with — Holly (Red Dwarf) or Moya (Farscape) — for the grey roan, so she is Rocket, mainly because of the speed at which she moved when we first tried to get her out of her cage to come home with us.
At first I assumed that Rommie was the most sociable as she was the easiest to pick up, but I soon realised that that was only because she was freezing in place at the horror of someone having the temerity to try and lift her off the ground. She is a brave and curious creature who will now happily climb onto me, but only on her terms. She is lightning quick and, even if you do managed to pick her up, she can extricate herself at incredible speed and launch herself off in unpredictable directions. Once on you, she will eventually try to get away by digging — between arm and body or through legs — and will squeak her annoyance if she isn’t immediately successful. She is definitely “most likely to escape”, but we are making progress.
Rocket is a gorgeous blazed roan with the prettiest face. I do hope she doesn’t lose all of her colouring.
She is much easier to pick up than Rommie and will tolerate being held for a couple of seconds before trying to wriggle free. Her favourite thing is to climb, mainly, it seems, with the aim of finding a way out of wherever she is and go exploring. She has yet to learn that fingers are not food. She has the potential to be an awesome shoulder rat. Or shoulder-mounted Rocket. We haven’t yet tested her suitably as a pocket Rocket.
We hadn’t had Seven and Nine for long before I was sure that I would want to Get More Rats, but, being practical and aware of their relatively short lifespan, I decided that it would be sensible to wait until the first pair were at least a year old before adding to the horde.
So, less than eight months later, we found ourselves in the local pet shop making arrangements to pick up two adorable, tiny ratlets.
Named, by Codepope, after River Song from Doctor Who; this too has to be explained to everyone they are introduced to.
They are both white with chocolate-brown hoods. Song is slightly darker brown, has a distinct spot on her back below the hood, another tiny one just above the base of her tail, and a narrow white stripe down her throat. River has a broken stripe below her hood and a much wider stripe down her throat. Song has a wonderfully silky coat, whereas River has a tendency to look like she’s been dragged through a hedge backwards.
Song started out as the smallest of all our rats, but over the last few months she has turned into fat rat the incredible food thief and is now the largest of them — though if Nine hadn’t become lumpy rat then she would still outweigh her. Song is always hungry and will, very deftly, steal food from anyone else who has some; her speed and precision is quite remarkable to watch. It’s hard not to admire the skill, even as you’re admonishing her for removing food from the mouths of other rats.
River isn’t far behind in the must-have-food stakes, though she is more selective as to what she has to have. I once made the mistake of trying to eat a shortcake biscuit while they were all out and, after fending off the ratties crawling along my arm to get at it, ended up with River hanging off the biscuit by her teeth. Hard to be mad with them when you’re practically crying with laughter.
In the first few months we had them, their energy and their extra-spiky claws earned them the nickname the demon twins; they are now nineteen months old and far more chilled than they used to be. River has her spot on the back of the sofa from where she can survey her domain — not that she looks that impressed with it — and Song no longer runs around like a lunatic all of the time, although she still has the ability to teleport around when she’s in the mood and she still dives under my t-shirt whenever I take her out of the cage — skin, apparently, being her preferred climbing surface.
And then, having written that a few days ago, Nine obviously decided I was getting too complacent about her health and decided to give us a scare.
In the early afternoon, I suddenly noticed a lot of raspy, wheezy, respiratory-problem type noises coming from the cage — it was Nine. I took her out and held her and could feel the rattling through her rib cage. Knowing how quickly ratties can go downhill and given that she’d been fine earlier that day, I worried that this could be the infection that would be the last straw for her — so I phoned the vet and got an appointment for that evening. Once she’d settled down a bit, I put her back in the cage and went to try to find something to distract myself with for a couple of hours.
When I went to get Nine into the carrier, she was laid half in and half out of a fabric cube in the corner of the cage — nothing unusual there, her lump is large enough that it can be tricky to manoeuvre at times. What was unusual was all the other rats (we have four in total, I’ll introduce the others soon) being in there with her. Normally, she either has a corner to herself or just one of the others for company. And the others did not want to move. I had to lift them out of the way so I could get to her. Her lump was cool to the touch and she didn’t respond when I moved her tail. Now I was really worried, thinking that maybe the vet appointment wouldn’t be needed.
I lifted her out of the cage and she woke up. Not exactly her usual perky self, but responsive. I sat with her for a while, letting her doze under my t-shirt, and then we headed out to the vet’s.
And by the time we were seen, she was absolutely fine again.
I felt like a fraud describing how poorly she had seemed only an hour before. She had a bit of a chest infection — the vet had “heard worse” — and was prescribed a course of antibiotic injections. She was so much better by the time I took her for the second injection three days later that the vet didn’t think she needed any more. And that was two trips to the vet.
The third visit was with Seven. When the ratties came out for their evening lazing around on the sofa, Codepope noticed that Seven’s right eye was looking very pink, like the light was reflecting in it oddly. She didn’t seem to be in any pain and her vision didn’t seem to be affected, but it definitely wasn’t right. I did some reading around and came to the conclusion that it was probably the lens slipping out of position. So off to the vet again. Trying to keep a very wriggly rat still enough for someone to get a decent look in her eyes is almost impossible, and I have the scratches to prove it — she even squeaked to show how unhappy she was with the whole palaver. But eventually the vet got enough of a look and agreed that a slipped lens seemed the most likely diagnosis.
There isn’t much that can be done about the lens, it’s really a case of watching out for secondary problems like increased pressure in the eyeball which can lead to glaucoma. She has to go back the next time Nine goes in for her regular check-up and fingers crossed there are no more problems in the meantime. If there are, then she’ll probably have to be given a whiff of gas so they can get a proper look at her eyes and we could even end up having to see a specialist with her.
Health-wise, Seven has, so far, been pretty lucky. The occasional mild respiratory infection and one gunky eye which we had the joy of putting cream into — drops would have been relatively simple, but it was a definite two-person job to time getting cream onto her eye and not have it blinked straight off again.
She’s two years and two months old now and showing no signs of her age other than being less manic and enjoying curling up on the sofa more than dashing around on it.
Unfortunately, Nine hasn’t been so lucky. Along with the intermittent mild respiratory problems, she has turned into a lumpy rat.
Just before Christmas last year I noticed a small lump on her rib cage, which was diagnosed as a mammary tumour and removed. She recovered well from the operation, but, in late January, I noticed another, less well-defined lump near her groin. This one was deemed inoperable.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d read up on these things and knew that they could quickly grow to overwhelm a rat or leave them weakened and vulnerable to other infections, so I wasn’t hopeful of her lasting another month, never mind reaching her second birthday; however, with the aid of a prescription for Tamoxifen, she did, and she made it to the second anniversary of coming home with us, and she’s still fighting now.
Her movement is being limited and she can’t climb any more. I think I find it more painful than she does, but I can see it is slowly taking its toll on her. Still, her appetite is very good, she’s alert and doesn’t seem to be in any pain, so we have to take each day as it comes.
Update: Rats being contrary creatures and obviously aware that I’ve been writing about how stable their health is at the moment, both of them have decided to prove me wrong since I prepped this post and I have my third vet visit of the week this afternoon… Details later.
Our first pair of rats. Both girls. Seven and Nine. Named, by Codepope, after Seven of Nine from Star Trek; this has to be explained to everyone they are introduced to.
They were born on or around 1st June 2011, not sure of the exact date as we were just told they were about eight weeks old when we took them home on 25th July.
Nine is a black-eyed, blue, mis-marked Irish (has a small lop-sided white triangle on her chest), top-eared rat. She weighed around 180 grams when we got her and has always been the biggest girl, breaking 500 grams at one point; her physical stature matching her position as alpha rat in the cage. As alpha, Nine ruled the cage quietly, though she always has had her manic moments when dashing around was the thing that had to be done right there and then.
Seven is a ruby-eyed, white with a smattering of grey, top-eared rat. She has always been the smaller of the two girls and also the most energetic. She is the sweetest rat and also the derpiest, and she has the most luxuriously strokable fur.
They both liked to run in the wheel when they were younger: Nine ran smoothly and elegantly, while Seven bounded along in a way that never failed to raise a smile. Nine would jump when the mood took her, but Seven never seemed to see the point (or possibly she never saw the destination — being ruby-eyed her vision isn’t that good).
Always a bit clumsy, Nine’s the most likely to slip while walking along your arm, leaving a nice set of scratches. And, yes, they both have very sharp claws. Nine is also the only rat to have ever bitten me and drawn blood, but, of course, it was my fault, or at least the result of my inexperience… No matter how much research you do, there are always a few salient facts that pass you by, like the fact that rats can sleep with their eyes open. I reached into the cage to stroke her, thinking she was awake and could see me coming, when in fact she was fast asleep and very startled. Live and learn.
They have very different personalities, but are both utterly adorable.