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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Rats in the News: Pet Rats Star in RatsPacNW Show at the Washington County Fairgrounds


Article: Pet Rats Star in RatsPacNW Show at the Washington County Fairgrounds

If you happen to live in the northwestern states, you might be interested in attending this rat show this weekend. But even if you don't, this is a quality informative article about keeping rats that gets the facts right for a change.

When I see good press for rats, I like to share it. Wish I were closer so I could go.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Liner Instructions for Critter Nations and Martins R695 Cages

Since the rat cage liners backed with U-Haul furniture pads have been a success so far, I put together some instructions with proper cutting dimensions for Critter Nation cages and for Martin's R695 cages. Note that these dimensions may also be appropriate for Ferret Nation cages as long as they use the newer pan style levels and shelves with a small rim instead of the flat style that was used on older models. The Martin's dimensions likely also work for the shelves and levels in the R680, R685, and R699 - (as long as the upper level has the cutout in the same place as the R695). I do not own those cages, so you would have to verify this yourself.

I will eventually do a step-by-step tutorial and add it to the hammock tutorial pdf, but for the most part, these instructions are simple (the same premise as a flat hammock) and the hardest part is figuring out the dimensions - especially for levels that have a cut-out for the ramp.

Critter Nation
A Dual Critter Nation will require one bottom liner, one top liner, and two shelf liners. Each liner will need one piece of fleece and one piece of furniture cloth, cut to the following dimensions:
 
 
Martin's R695

A Martin's R695 will also require one bottom liner, one top liner, and two shelf liners. Each liner will need one piece of fleece and one piece of furniture pad, cut to the following dimensions:


 

 


The Martin's Bottom Liner is sized a little long so the
cage sits on top and secures the liner to the floor.
The dimensions for the Martin's Bottom Level are a little extra long (about 1.5" on each side), so that the cage will sit on top of the liner with enough overlap to hold it securely in place. The edges will curve up the short sides of the pan. If you would like your liner to be sized exactly to the bottom of the pan, the length should be cut to about 32" instead of 35".

Instructions

Note that when the liner is not a perfect rectangle, but has a notch cut out, you will need to make sure to cut the fleece piece as shown with the right side up. This should match the layout of the shelf or level. (The furniture pad has no right and wrong side, but if it did, you would cut it as shown with the wrong side up.)

To sew the liner, pin the fleece to the furniture pad, right sides together, wrong side out. If it is a notched liner, the layout will look wrong with respect to the layout of the actual level, but after it is sewn and turned right side out, it will look right again.

Sew along all edges of the liner with a 1/2" seam allowance, leaving an opening large enough to turn the liner right side out. Trim the excess seam allowances, and turn the liner right side out. Push out the corners and flatten to the proper shape.

Slip stitch the opening closed by hand (or machine stitch it closed very near the edge), then top stitch around the entire liner to hold the proper shape.

One Set of Dual Critter Nation Liners

One Set of Martins R-695 Liners

Using Large Binder Clips to
Secure CN Liners
The Critter Nation liners can be set inside the pans. Large binder clips (2 inch clips with 1 inch capacity) can be used to secure the liner in place if necessary.

The Martin's bottom liner sits in the bottom pan. Because it is a little longer than the cage itself, the weight of the cage on top of the liner will hold it securely in place. The Martin's top level liner should stay in place by itself, being held in place by the surrounding cage walls. However, if you would like, a large binder clip can secure the liner in place at the ramp opening. Shelf liners can also be held in place with a large binder clip. Alternatively, you can install grommets in the corners of the top level and shelf liners, place a split ring through each grommet, and a lanyard hook in the split ring. The lanyard hooks can then be clipped to the cage wall to secure the liner in place.

The one thing I might try a little differently with the Critter Nation liners, since the corners of the pans are slightly curved, in the outer four corners, instead of doing an angular corner, sew a slight arc, so the corner point doesn't stick up as much.

Dual Critter Nation with Liners
 
Martin's R-695 with Liners
 
Related Posts:
Using U-Haul Furniture Pads with Rat Cage Liners - Part 1: Construction
U-Haul Furniture Pads with Rat Cage Liners - Part 2: Early Review

Monday, October 28, 2013

Jo made the 2014 Rats Rule Calendar


Jo's picture from the 4th of July earned a spot in the 2014 Rats Rule Calendar. Her pic was the top vote getter for July/August on the GooseMoose Pet Portal forums. Be sure to check out the other finalists here: http://www.goosemoose.com/rfc/index.php?topic=4091412.0

Friday, October 25, 2013

Navigating Fleece

I noticed recently that JoAnn's has a new budget-friendly fleece option available in 8 colors, bringing their fleece offerings up to three. I thought I would take a moment and talk about the differences I have noticed between these fabrics, so that you can make appropriate purchasing decisions.

JoAnn's fleece falls into three categories (not including micro-fleece):
 
  • Anti-Pill Fleece

    This is the most expensive of the choices, but in general, also the nicest. My JoAnn's usually has more color options available in the anti-pill variety. Anti-pill comes in both solid colors and prints, with prints regularly priced at $12.99 a yard and solids at $9.99 a yard.

    Anti-pill is special because there is a slightly noticeable difference between the right side of the fabric and the wrong side. The right side is generally shinier and a little fuzzier and softer. The right side of the fabric is also supposed to resist pilling (having the fuzz sort of ball up into small clumps) when washed. I believe this to be true, although if you mistakenly sew with the wrong side of the fleece out, you will likely notice significant pilling after several washes.
    The right side of anti-pill fleece is shinier and fuzzier.
    When you pull on the selvage edge, it will curl toward the right side.

    Note that if you find it hard to tell the difference between the right side and the wrong side of the fleece, you can always check by stretching across the selvage edge. The selvage edge will curl toward the right side of the fabric when released. Conversely, if you stretch the cut edge (perpendicular to the selvage edge, it will curl toward the wrong side of the fabric). This holds true for all types of fleece.

    Anti-pill is my favorite of the fleece varieties, but it took me a while before I could tell the difference. However, it is also more costly, so for rat hammocks, if there is a suitable color available in blizzard fleece, I will often opt for the less expensive option - unless there is a really good sale on anti-pill. However, often the specific color I want is only available in anti-pill, so in that case I pay more for the good stuff.
  • Blizzard Fleece
    Blizzard fleece is JoAnn's name for polar fleece. Blizzard fleece is a little less expensive than anti-pill fleece, and also comes in both solids ($8.99 a yard) and prints ($9.99 a yard). My JoAnn's has a decent selection of basic colors, but often the specific shade I need can only be found in anti-pill.

    Blizzard fleece has the potential to pill after several washings. However, I haven't noticed this to really be a problem in any but the most used hammocks and liners. Perhaps this is because most of my hammocks will usually be chewed before they ever reach this stage.

    Blizzard fleece doesn't have the same nice sheen that you get from anti-pill fleece, but you can only really notice this close up. From a distance, I can't tell the two apart. I am sure the rats don't care much about this.

    It can be difficult to tell the right side of the fabric from the wrong side of the fabric, but for the most part, it is not going to matter. If you can't tell and the rats can't tell, it doesn't make much difference. However, if you want to check, you can stretch the selvage edge as described above.
  • Fleece Essentials
    Fleece Essentials is the new offering of budget blizzard fleece, coming it at a regular price of $5.99 a yard. It comes only in eight basic colors and only in solids. The first thing I noticed about this fleece is that it appears to be very thin. It was marketed in my flyer as for "crafters," so I am guessing it may not hold up well after repeated washings - although that still remains to be seen.

    I was not too impressed with the thickness or softness of this fabric, but I decided to pick up a half yard that I found in the remnants bin (the sale price was $2.99 a yard - remnant are half the current price, so $1.50 a yard, resulting in a whopping 75 cents for the half yard of fabric). The remnant available was the orange peel color. It is not as bright and vibrant as the neon orange I have for some of my Halloween hammocks or the warmer toned orange I am using for my fall hammocks. It was a duller and more salmon tinged color. I am trying it out on a shelf liner as that will be the true test of its durability.

    I have heard people talk about the cheap Walmart fleece. I suspect this budget fleece is probably on caliber with that fleece - although my Walmart does not sell fabric, so I have never bought fleece from them

Which Fleece Should I Choose?

Color
I usually put color above everything when I am making a specific set of hammocks and liners. I look for the colors that best blend with the cotton fabric I have chosen. While I prefer the anti-pill fleece to the blizzard, I care more about finding the right color. The rats don't make any distinction between the two types that I can tell and both are nice and thick and soft.

Price
I never buy fleece that isn't on sale. If there is a color that is close enough in the type that is on sale, I will choose that. Or, I will wait until the other type goes on sale. If I have a coupon for a regularly priced fabric, I will use that as well. I go through way too much fleece to pay regular price.

That said, I personally would avoid the new budget fleece. It just doesn't feel as soft or durable to me. The exception would be if you have voracious chewers that destroy your hammocks in no time or you want to make a set of hammocks on the cheap because your budget is very tight. My current rats are not so bad about chewing their hammocks and if the hammocks are going to be around a while, I prefer to use a more durable and nicer fleece. However, if the rats are going to demolish the hammocks in a few days/weeks time, you don't want to be investing in the good stuff just to have to pitch it right away. In that case, it would be much more affordable to go the cheap route (especially when the cheap fleece is on sale) - if they are going to destroy it anyway, no use investing in durability.

For the budget conscious who don't want to sacrifice quality, always check out the remnants bin when there is a really good sale. Blizzard fleece sometimes goes on sale for under $4 a yard, and remnants at that time will be 50% off that price - so under $2 a yard. You won't necessarily be able to pick and choose your colors and you can't choose the size of the cut and sometimes there is nothing there, but standard colors always come in handy - and if you find them in the remnants bin - it is a great time to grab them up. If there are some good deals in the remnants bin, that might be a better option than the budget fleece essentials.

Solids Vs. Prints
I also recommend avoiding the fleece prints except for those most have ones that you just can't resist. Prints are more expensive than solids and their use is not as flexible. Sometimes I think I want to buy up some Christmas patterned fleece and make some nice Christmas liners. However, if I stick to basic red, green, and white solid liners, I can re-use them for other themes (red is also good for Valentine's day and 4th of July and also went well with a Pirate theme I did once). Liners use a lot of fleece and are not as exciting to make, so anytime I can reuse a liner I already have, it is a bonus. Fleece prints also don't always blend well with cotton prints, even when the theme is similar.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

U-Haul Furniture Pads with Rat Cage Liners - Part 2: Early Review

Halloween Cage with Furniture Pad Liners
On Sunday, we started using the new cage liners made with a layer of U-Haul furniture pad and a layer of fleece. Today is day 5, and they are still going strong.

I have to say that I was cautiously optimistic about these new liners. They are inexpensive to make and nice looking. They are softer than the Zilla liners and can be made in any color combination that works with your cage d├ęcor. They are heavy enough to feel durable and absorbant. They require less than half the amount of fleece I would have to purchase to make a pillowcase liner and no towels to go underneath. They are easier to change than pillow case liners.

But the key questions were (1) would they hold up to chewing and (2) would they control odor well enough?

Furniture Pad Liner with the Corner
Pulled Back by the Rats
I am very pleased to report that the preliminary results are looking very positive. On Day 5, I still cannot detect any rat urine odor. None of the liners have been chewed. The worst they have done is to pull on the corners and bend them inward.

I fully expect that they will eventually start chewing on the corners/edges or maybe at the fleece in the center. However, with the pillowcase liners, they had already made huge holes in the corners and sometimes the center after only a day or two in use.  There is no temptation to burrow underneath these liners, so there is much less need to chew a hole and dive in.

I have the two large level liners clamped down with a few large binder clips. But the liners on the shelves just rest there unsecured and the rats have not cared to bother with them. While I don't think that they are indestructible (how many things really are?), I am hopeful that they will be durable enough to last longer than the pillowcase liners with towels and maybe even longer than the Zilla liners. They definitely control odors better than the Zilla liners.

I am so optimistic at this point, that I have started working on liners for fall and Christmas themes as well as liners for Loki's Martins R-695. The Zilla liners have really worked fine for Loki, but I prefer the bright colors of these homemade liners and the softness of the fleece and the machine washability. Also, with Loki potentially having had a urinary tract infection, I want to be able to easily check for blood on the liners, so I will know if his infection has returned. The dark green of the Zilla liners made it hard to detect blood.

The furniture pad is quite large. I used two pads and was able to cut the backing for the following liners: 2 sets of Dual Critter Nation liners plus two extra Critter Nation shelf liners, 2 sets of Martins R-695 cage liners with extra long bottom liners so that the weight of the cage will secure the liner in place plus one extra Martins bottom liner. Note that one of the Martin's shelf liners was made using two fragments of furniture pad pieced together to make one piece. Based on that, the average cost for the furniture pad for one set of liners comes in at about 4 dollars a set (less for Martins cage liners). Add that to the cost of the fleece, assuming 1.5 yards at about $5 a yard on sale, and a set of Dual Critter Nation liners comes to about $11.50 a set plus tax. You can't do better than that (unless you buy your fleece from the remnant bin at JoAnn's while it is on sale and get 1/2 off the sale price!).

Related Posts:
Using U-Haul Furniture Pads with Rat Cage Liners - Part 1: Construction
Liner Instructions for Critter Nations and Martins R695 Cages
Furniture Pad Liners - Update

Monday, October 21, 2013

Halloween Cages


Halloween is almost here and the rat cages are all decked out in spooky style. This week the pattern is full of Jack-o'-lanterns in the cemetery, combined with the new U-Haul furniture pad/fleece liners in shades of orange and black. The new liners are really nice so I am hoping they will do well controlling odor. So far, no chewing, but it is way too early to tell.
 
 
 
This is the alternate design: a Halloween town pattern with some bats, ghosts, pumpkins, and candy corn for variety. This design is a lot more colorful, pulling in the oranges, purples, greens, and a fluorescent yellow. The picture below was taken a few weeks ago when Pirate was still with us. Seeing him here doing well, it is hard to believe he will go downhill so quickly after this.

 
 
Loki gets Halloween hammocks as well. I've taken out his Zilla liners and put in fleece ones because I previously noticed a little blood coming from his penis area and I want to be able to easily see if he spots any more blood. I suspect he has a urinary tract infection (UTI) in addition to the respiratory infection we are treating him for. Perhaps the UTI is the immune stressor that triggered the respiratory infection. It is possible the UTI was caused by bacteria from his skin infection getting into the urethra. If so, that infection responded to Baytril and he is currently on Baytril for the respiratory infection, so it is possible both infections can be treated with one drug. Since a couple days after starting the Baytril, I haven't seen any more blood and I am hopeful that it is working. He has a recheck with the vet tomorrow, so we will know more at that time.

 
Loki is the only rat who really likes the cuddle cups. In this pic, he is in a cuddle cup from an old hammock set because I didn't finish the new cuddle cup by cage cleaning day. When I went to change out the old cuddle cup with the new one, he quickly snatched the old cup and dragged it into his litter box where he thinks I can't find it. So I let him keep it. Now he has two cuddle cups. I wonder how long it will be before one of them is moved into his cube. He seems to think his house should come complete with a sofa. He is a very particular rat and he doesn't like me messing with his stuff.
 
Tutorials for making the cuddle cup along with all the other hammocks shown in these pics can be found in the Hammock Tutorial section of the Ratropolis website.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Using U-Haul Furniture Pads with Rat Cage Liners - Part 1: Construction

U-Haul Furniture Pad
We previously blogged about our experience using Zilla Reptile Liners for lining a rat cage:

Zilla Terrarium Liners - Part 1
Zilla Terrarium Liners - Part 2 (Martins R695)
Update on the Zilla Liners

While they worked fine in the R695 with just Loki in residence, they didn't work as well in the Dual Critter Nation with the three girls and Pirate. The cage started to smell after only a couple days and while they held up better than fleece, they still suffered some chewing damage. Switching the Critter Nation back to fleece was the best option for us.

While the pillowcase style fleece liners + towel combination handles odor well (we only have to change the liners and towels once a week with the four rats in the DCN), it still has some serious drawbacks:

  1. It is a wasteful when it comes to the fleece. The fleece layer on the bottom of the pan is never used. Plus, the pillowcase design requires the fleece pieces to be longer than the shelf itself, with extra length included for folding under the shelf.
  2. The young girl rats love to chew the fleece and burrow underneath it. I am repairing or replacing liners every week.
  3. The rats, once under the fleece, start chewing on the towels, leaving them in tatters. Replacing towels at this rate, even if they come from the thrift store, is expensive. Leaving them chewed is a hazard because loose threads could eventually get tangled around rattie feet and cause them injury.
Rather than continue to throw money at a solution that isn't working as well as we'd like, we are going to experiment to see if we can find a solution that might work better. Because my husband does not like the mess and dust associated with litter and because I do not like to produce so much waste or spend money on all that litter on a weekly basis, litter alone is not an option. Plus, the girls have just started to figure out the litter training.

We have read about a material that Guinea pig owners have been using for a while now as an absorbant layer in their cage liners. That material is a Furniture Pad sold by U-Haul. It is about 1/8" thick and measures 68" x 85", is made out of recycled denim (although the pad itself does not resemble jeans fabric in any way - it is much thicker and softer), costs about $8, and it is supposed to be very absorbant.

I have reservations about how well this material will work in a rat cage, however. To my knowledge, Guinea pigs are not extensive chewers. This material may not hold up as well with rats. And I don't know how rats compare with Guinea pigs regarding odor and urine production. Rats are notorious markers - I am not sure if the same is true about piggies.

Before using the furniture pads, I washed them in hot water 3 times (the water drained a slight blue color and I was hoping that repeated washes would rinse out any dyes that may run - but no luck). I then dried it in the dryer to preshrink it. For this first set of liners, I started cheap and simple - constructing them from a top layer of fleece to wick away moisture and a bottom layer of furniture pad to absorb it.
Dual Critter Nation Liners Made from Fleece and Furniture Pad

The pad is designed to sit on the tray, similar to the way the Zilla liners do. I can clip them in place with large binder clips, or, if that doesn't work, add grommets and clip the liners to the cage bars so that they cannot be completely tossed aside by the rats.

I cut my fabric to the following dimensions for a Critter Nation:

Dimensions for the Top Level of the Critter Nation

  • Shelf (top and bottom): 16 1/2" x 22 1/2" (15 1/2" x 21 1/2" finished size).
  • Bottom Level: 23" x 34 1/2" rectangle (22" x 33 1/2" finished).
  • Top Level: Same as the bottom level but with a notch cut out in the corner that extends 5 1/2" into the long end and 9 1/2" into the short end.
One furniture pad contains more than enough fabric for a set, with plenty of material left over. For the fleece, about 1 1/2 yards will make one set. Assuming an average price of $5 a yard for fleece when on sale, the total cost for one set of DCN liners would be around $16 - and this includes having a lot of extra furniture pad left over for future projects. That is about the cheapest liner option I know of so far - if they are absorbant enough and hold up as constructed.

It may turn out that we need an extra layer of furniture pad in order to control odors well. It may also turn out that the exposed layer of furniture pad is a temptation to chew and that I need to add a layer of fleece to the bottom to keep the pad from being exposed.

My hope is that the rats will be less likely to chew these liners because they can more easily burrow underneath them without chewing. That may be wishful thinking. We will have to see.

Supposedly, the furniture pad can also be used instead of batting for things like cuddle cups. I haven't tried this, but given its heft and thickness, I can see this working well. Many people do not like to use batting because it is hard to work with and it's fibers can be hazardous to little feet, so keeping excess furniture pad material for these projects may be worthwhile.

I will be installing these new liners with a new set of Halloween hammocks in a few days when I do the big cage clean. I am curious to see how they will hold up.

Related Posts:
U-Haul Furniture Pads with Rat Cage Liners - Part 2: Early Review
Liner Instructions for Critter Nations and Martins R695 Cages

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Recognizing Illness Even When the Tell-Tale Signs are Missing (Loki has a Respiratory Infection)


It seems that health problems start popping up at 1 year for me and that at around 1 1/2 years, things step up.

After recovering from an abscess and skin infection, Loki now has a URI. Ironically, he hadn't shown any respiratory symptoms except for the occasional sneeze. He did, however, suffer from a lack of appetite over the last few days. One of my litmus tests for rat health is that a healthy rat should come running to me in the morning to get to his/her breakfast. Loki stopped doing this a few days ago. He hadn't completely stopped eating - he would eventually eat the corn and a few peas - but many peas were left behind in the dish. Leaving broccoli or green beans or even carrots is not unheard of for him, but he never would leave a pea behind when he was well.

He seemed a little less active, but Loki is not a very active rat any more on a normal day. His eyes were not bright and wide like they should be; instead, they were squinty or half opened.

So in to the vet he went. Loki doesn't like the vet much. He doesn't like having his abscess drained - although he has been mighty good about it - he squeaks and cries a bit, but he doesn't bite. And unfortunately for him, the vet rechecked the abscess and found she was able to remove more pus - hopefully it will heal for good this time. He also has another small abscess developing, although it is not yet read to come to a head.

Abscess and lack of appetite aside, Loki had not shown any tell-tale signs of a respiratory infection. Yes, he would sneeze occasionally - but nothing that triggered my URI alert. There was no wheezing or congestion or porphyrin. But as soon as we got to the vet, all of Loki's defense mechanisms failed him, and his respiratory symptoms erupted. Suddenly, his breathing was loud and crackling/congested. I was quite surprised at how those symptoms just suddenly exploded out of nowhere.

Rats are prey animals and as such are great at hiding weakness and illness. Apparently, Loki had been doing double time at covering up his respiratory infection, because I hadn't noticed a thing and I am always on URI alert. At the vet, however, he reached his tipping point and the symptoms were quite obvious.

This is a good lesson for me. We need to use all of our instincts and observational powers to keep our ratties healthy. I knew something was off. He was eating, but not enough. He was even less active than usual. His eyes were not quite right. There was no one thing that screamed URI or any other specific problem, but my instincts were keyed in enough to realize that something was wrong. I think it is important for us to listen to these instincts and get them seen before the more obvious signs surface. The earlier we detect the problem, the easier it will be to treat.

This is actually a lesson I learned from keeping finches. Small birds are also prey animals and they are masters at hiding their symptoms. Finches don't bond to people, so they don't let their guard down ever when people are around and they do everything they can to look healthy until they are near death and can't do it anymore. The old saying is "A Sick Finch is a Dead Finch" and it is both true and false. Finches can be treated with proper diagnosis and medications - but you have to catch it in time. By the time a finch is obviously ill, it is nearly always too late to treat. I learned that I actually had to catch signs of illness by observing the nature of their droppings - and by looking at the droppings under a microscope - diagnosing things like yeast infections, some bacterial infections, protozoal infections, and parasitic infections before the symptoms show up. That was the only way to catch problems in time to treat them. For those who may keep birds and who are interested in learning to do this, I wrote an article on it a few years back: How to Do Your Own Fecal Smears.

Most problems that rats develop, however, are not detected via their feces. This is because they are usually not exposed to parasites via wildlife in outdoor habitats and they don't usually eat live insects, so those types of problems are less common in rats. Intestinal problems are not usually a major concern. Respiratory problems, however, are a dime a dozen. Fortunately, our rats learn to be comfortable around us and they do drop their guard when around us most of the time. We can catch problems in time to treat them. But we have to remember that sometimes we have to look at behavior and other signs that are not as obvious in order to catch problems as early as possible.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Rats and Witches?

Photo from the article. I am thinking these little ones are mice. Nice try, though.


From the Pittsburgh Post Gazette: Animal Tales: Rats Make Fine Pets, And That's Even if You Are a Real Witch

Here's a kind of cute story about a mom and her child's first rat, even though it clearly illustrates some of the mistakes first time rat owners make without actually calling those mistakes out as mistakes.

Of course, we should not get our pet rats from a pet store. Even if you close a blind eye to the mill issues, as this story illustrates, pet store employees often do not know how to sex them and it is certainly not unheard of to purchase a pregnant rat from a pet store. The narrator also didn't do enough research before agreeing to let her son get a pet rat, or she would not have purchased a single rat instead of a pair. It seems she was relying on the pet store to provide her with all of the research she needs and unfortunately, that just doesn't happen. Finally, the idea of bringing the babies back to the pet store instead of placing them herself or finding a rescue to take them in is a little sad.

So, yes, this story illustrates many of the mistakes first-time rat owners make and fails to call attention to them. Still, it is such a light-hearted take on keeping rats as pets and portrayed them in such a positive light, that I thought it was worth sharing. The little Halloween spin doesn't hurt either.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Loki and the Girls

Loki
With Pirate having passed, I can't help but wonder how Loki would do if introduced to the girls. It is a scary thought for me, because even if we were able to introduce them, could I trust Loki not to go psycho with no warning and suddenly start attacking them - they way he did with Pirate? If things don't go well, will he start biting people again? The girls are so sweet and gentle and would never think to bite - I don't want Loki to do anything to change that and I don't want them to get hurt or to be afraid.

Our Rat-Safe Play Area (with Pirate when he was still with us)
I have brought Loki over to the girls' cage in a transport cage and he does not get all hunched and defensive like he would do with Pirate. So I started giving him play time in the girl's play pen area - a corner of our basement closed off with plywood and a large sofa. I wanted to see if the smell of the girls would trigger his bad behavior. But he was fine and seemed more interested and active then when he comes out to play in his own play area - probably because of the girls' scents.

The girls also like to come out into the play pen after Loki has been there - they clearly smell his presence and investigate everything looking for the source.

I have gone as far as putting the girls in the Martin's playpen inside the larger play area while Loki was sitting with me on the sofa. Everyone is fascinated with each other, but if Loki gets too close, Ruby and Bela squeak and run away. Jo is the problem child, though. She was the more aggressive one with Pirate - more likely to stand up to him, and it looks like she wants to take the same tact with Loki, which just won't end well. When Jo and Loki are allowed too close, they try to attack each other and that makes me afraid Loki would bite again if they were actually in close enough quarters. Then Loki starts acting all jumpy and frantic, which puts me on edge.

So I think we are going to take this process extremely slowly. The girls are fine as just a trio and Loki does fine by himself - he has seemed to prefer it, so there is no need to rush anything. I will go back to letting them get used to each other's scents in the play area, and won't try putting their cages next to each other for a while yet. It is nice, though, that at least they can share the same play area and the same toys - when Pirate was alive, Loki could not be in contact with any surface he had touched. He seems to handle the girls' scents much better than he handled Pirate's.