Bites are not common but painful and possibly require treatment when they happen. Sylar Pouchies have noted that up to 70% of males before neutering display aggressive behaviour related to hormone levels. Not surprisingly these figures drop to 5 to 15% after castration.
Arthur’s sexual behaviour started early – at around 3 months old he developed an very strong attachment to me and would “mock hump” any available part of my body at any opportunity. This behaviour was soon joined by grasping, scratching and biting. It was becoming increasingly difficult for me to handle him, but the perceived rejection was also making him unhappy. At 6 months and after a lot of advice, we had him castrated by and experienced Exotics vet. His recovery was uneventful – the incision was no longer visible after a couple of days and no complications with healing were observed. Initially Arthur was subdued, groggy post surgery and quite clingy. As he recovered, he also recovered some of the past habits that were in fact behaviour and part of his personality. He is still overcome with excitement, he still grabs and mouths me, but the frustration behind this is declining, and like a puppy, he is learning an appropriate amount of force he can exert in play. While some of the undesirable or inconvenient behaviour remains, we are happy with the decision to neuter and by now can recognise we may have had a very forceful and dominant pet had we declined the option to neuter. It also gives him more options in the form of a possible companion of his own kind – something an entire male would have had trouble accepting.
Regardless of gender or inborn temperament, any pouchie that is not handled on a regular basis can become defensive or territorial and bite out of fear. They are not domesticated and the hard work needs to start and continue with their owners. As an owner you have to prepare yourself for the likelihood of being bitten. If this happens do not pull back as it’s possible you will tear your skin and the animal, if acting in aggression, will think it has “won”. If you believe the bite was not malicious you can try a loud “no” or yelp, but continue to stand your ground and don’t (if safe) move the bitten part away. Punishing your pet or screaming at it will instigate fear and antagonise it more, they don’t understand our intentions like a dog or cat might.
Pouchies can also bite if taken by surprise. They have very poor eyesight and cannot identify us as we do them. Unlike fancy rats, they cope well with handling from behind – a firm hand on the rump or a stroke is well tolerated. We have learned, for example, to speak to Arthur, run a hand down his rump and grasp the base of his tail. He is not lifted by his tail! The other hand can then be slid under his body and he is happy to be lifted facing away and then laid against my body on the other arm.
A lot of animals and humans need space to call their own and in this instance a pouchy’s nest is his kingdom! It is a place of safety, for sleep, and where food and treasure is hidden away. The instinct to nest and hoard is strong and it’s no surprise that they do not like their nests invaded. It’s important to respect this space while being of the understanding that despite protest sometimes things need to be retrieved. We tend to coax Arthur out before cleaning etc. To thrust a hand in on a sleeping rat would be likely to result in a sharp nip. Owners find their own way through from a stance of mutual respect.
It’s important also to recognise that pouched rats have very distinct personalities. Some may be very tolerant, others highly strung. Some are outgoing, others are shy. Far easier and more ethical to accept the animal’s personality and work with what you have. Like human children, animals respond well to consistency and positive reinforcement.
Remember – there’s always support and advice available from our experienced keepers and breeders within the NPRS.