I often find myself wondering about the daily thought patterns that animals have, both wild and domestic, almost every time I encounter one. Do they feel content or stressed in their everyday lives? How will they react and behave to novel situations? Do they fear me and others who pass by or handle them, or are they so accustomed to human that we are now just an un-threatening annoyance? Are they happy? These are just some of the questions that run through my mind on a daily basis, especially when I think about my “Rat Baby” all alone at home in his 4-story rat-mansion. This may come across as a little out-there, but I wonder what he felt like when I took him home from the pet shop. Did he feel as though he had gone through a sort of “alien abduction” in which my alien being ripped him away from his siblings and placed him into a foreign environment? After giving this some thought, I felt sad for him, but also hopeful that he wouldn’t see me as his alien abductor for very long, but instead, as his loving, doting, Rat-Mama!…who is obviously way, way too obsessed with him. My untested “Alien-Abduction Hypothesis” as well as the fact that my rattie has watched countless X-files episodes with me, led me to bestow upon him the perfect name: Fox Mulder. “I Want To Believe” that Foxy loves his new life with me; I just wish I could get inside his brain and figure out why he does the things he does, and if he has any feelings for me at all ! You know what they say though, “The Truth Is Out There”!
Fox peeks out from under his rat-couch when he hears me calling his name. He usually responds fastest when I make soft chittering noises (his signal for treats) but today he responds to just my voice. He slinks out of his hiding spot with long, stretched out strides to greet my fingers through the metal bars. Fox wiggles his whiskers as he takes in his immediate surroundings while I open the blinds and let the morning light in. His physically startled reaction to the incoming light of day has subsided significantly since I brought him home 6 months ago. He has habituated to the snapping sound of my window-blinds and the whoosh of my bed sheets as I hop out of bed, the crinkle of his food bag and the creak of my closet door. A giant yawn makes its way across his face as he reluctantly greets the day. I have been monitoring his food portions for the past week because he has become quite chubby these days, so he is quick to notice the treat in my hand. I can tell he is excited; he expects the berry-flavored treat to come his way. He darts back and forth, up and down, in his 4-story rat-mansion to try and find a way towards my hand. I never give him his treats in the same location so that he can have a little adventure every morning before I leave the house and also to keep his hunting-skills sharp! This is part of our morning ritual, along with a quick, forced cuddle in which he usually tries to escape my loving grasp…*sigh*…
I nicknamed Fox my “gentle giant” because he has never bitten me, and well, he’s pretty fat. I removed his food from the cage last night, so he has been starved for 12 hours and now he’s ready to hunt for more things to eat. While I get ready for the day, I let Fox roam around the room in search of the food pellets I have scattered under the bed, behind the dresser and on the closet floor. He is comfortable with, or at least tolerates when my hands enter the cage to pick him up. He has never really exhibited any typical territorial rat behavior towards me, such as biting or jump-fighting (Barnett, 2007). I think this is because a) I am much larger than he is, b) I asserted dominance early on by holding him on his back and c) he gets all of his food from me, and he recognizes that there is no competition between him and I for food, resources or shelter. His home is his home; I just clean it! I hear him scamper under the bed with soft thumps of his feet and tail on the hardwood floor. He makes a mad dash for the open cage door and carried his food up to the 4th floor, because I am guessing he feels safest when he is high up and can surveil the room for potential predators (Barnett 2007). He places his food gently on his canopy-style loft bed and rushes back down to the ground in search of more pellets.
The entire hunt takes about 20 minutes which I feel is a decent amount of morning exercise (more than I usually do!) He plops himself down in his bed to munch on his food while I start to blow-dry my hair. He immediately stops eating and a panicked look takes over his face (could I be anthropomorphizing here 😉 ?). Even though he is very used to this morning-time sound, I get the feeling that he can’t stand the high-pitched whine of the machine because he lumbers down his stairs and hides in my closet. The noise stops, and he peeks his head out about a minute later, probably to make sure that the torture is truly over! I walk over to him and he stands on his hind legs, either to greet me, or more likely, to see if I bear any more edible gifts. Instead, I pick him up to play on my bed. I try to simulate play with him at least a few times a week by poking at his tummy and trying to flip him over onto his back, as well as tickling his back and face. After a few minutes I can tell he is tired of the activity because he scampers away or stops jumping on my hand. I can hear his teeth grinding away on themselves. According to RatBehavior.org, teeth grinding can either mean pure content or extreme stress (I like to think he is happy rather than stressed out by my play fighting!). It is now time for me to leave the house, so I put him back inside his cage, where he begins to watch me put my belongings for the day into the hallway. His head moves ever so slightly from side to side, indicating that he is gauging my fuzzy, distant movement with his poor-sighted eyes (Schiff 1964).
Overall, I think that Fox’s behaviors are quite typical for pet Fancy Rats, however he does do some things that I am sure he does just to make me laugh (okay, not totally sure). For example, he likes to push his blankets up against the bars of his cage in such a way that he can sit like a person! He will also burrow into my hair when he is sitting on my shoulders, only to get tangled halfway through and remain suspended in midair, swinging from my strands like a fly caught in a spiderweb. His social grooming skills kick in when my hands are close to him and he is already cleaning his fur. He will start to lick me with his tiny, smooth tongue. Lastly, Fox has an insatiable foot fetish. He will crawl under my blankets to nibble at my toes until he is tired enough to fall asleep on top of my feet.
No doubt, Fox will surely come up with something else in his near future worthy of a blog update! Stay tuned for more X-files related quotes, abduction stories and feet licking contests. Did I mention he’s a rock-climber? … Next time!
Barnett, S. A. (2007). The Rat: A Study in Behavior. Transaction Publishers. R, M., & Schiff, D. (1964). Long-term discriminated avoidance performance in the rat. Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, 57(1), 123–126. http://doi.org/10.1037/h0046678 Wild and Domestic Rats. (n.d.). Retrieved March 6, 2016, from http://www.ratbehavior.org/WildAndDomesticRats.htm