Loving Predators and Prey
With so many animals in the world who need a loving home it is easy for a household to have pets that may be on different levels of the food chain. My girlfriend and I have both rats and a cat in our home, and this combination usually surprises people. We have been able to make it work by putting in the time to safely socialize our animals with each other.
Be warned before you try to put two animals together that certain animals may not have it in their personality to socialize. The interaction of two different species is hard to predict and that makes it very important to be vigilant during their social times.
A good strategy I use for creating a relationship between my animals is by keeping the rat cage as a safe space from the cat. He is discouraged from putting his paws on the bars or from spending too much time near the cage as it can make the rats nervous. I like to make sure that my rats don’t feel like they are in danger, especially in their home. The only exception to this rule is that Sebastian can lay on top of the cage where we have created a perch for him. We made sure they wouldn’t be able to see each other when he is up there but it helps them get used to each other’s scents which is a good start.
Socializing a caged animal to a larger predatory animal can be difficult; some of my younger
rats still play it safe when Sebastian is around. One way I like to begin the socialization is by switching the power dynamic between them. In the beginning, I wouldn’t let Sebastian come too close. When he watched from afar he lost interest more quickly and the rats became more confident during their playtime. As the rats became more confident and felt safer I allowed Sebastian to start to get closer, with one stipulation. If Sebastian stared for too long at the rats or his pupils widened at them we would distract him or shoo him away. It may sound harsh but it is important to discourage predatory behavior toward your smaller animals. When I finally allowed Sebastian to get right up next to the rats he was much less interested in them. In fact, sometimes Sebastian will even run from the rats when they get too close.
One final trick I like to use to socialize my pets is to hold my rat for Sebastian so he can investigate safely. I hold the rats in a way that covers all of them except their head just in case Sebastian were to try anything they would be protected. Not all animals will get along together, that is a point that cannot be stressed enough. If you see a lot of hostile behavior in an animal, take the sign. No matter how much I would love to think my Sebby wouldn’t hurt my rats, I know he could easily hurt them if he wanted to. Taking precautions before socializing your animals will help keep them calm and make them more open to the interaction.
By trying to get Sebastian and the rats to interact positively with each other we are going against their nature which means we must try to teach our cat to NOT do something. This is a difficult task. Animals understand more easily if you teach them to do something rather than trying to get them to stop doing something. I use this to my advantage by encouraging Sebastian when he displays docile behavior towards the rats. Sebastian is learning that we like when he stays relaxed and allows the rats to explore what is normally his space. After the rats return to their cage we give Sebastian treats and praise him for behaving himself. In my experience animals respond well to affection so be sure to give praise when your pet does well, and don’t be too harsh if they make a mistake. Loving a lot of different animals has its difficulties but being able to provide these animals with a home makes it more than worth it.