Most small rodents are very sociable animals. Putting aside Syrian hamsters for a moment, it’s perfectly normal to keep mice, gerbils, rats and even some of the dwarf hamsters together in groups. It’s what vets recommend, it’s what animal welfare organizations suggest and it’s what all the books tell you to do. What’s more, in almost all cases your small rodent will have a far more enjoyable life than if it was kept on its own.
Just occasionally though, like any of us, disagreements break out. In the case of small furry pets – who have been kept together in the confines of a cage where escaping from aggression can be difficult – the results can be quite shocking.
It is not unusual to find one cage mate has turned on another and chased and bullied it remorselessly. Sometimes all-out fighting occurs where one or both combatants can end up looking decidedly forlorn.
Fights are unfortunate and – for you as the owner – quite a scary proposition. But you consider the risk:reward ratio most people still opt to keep their small furry rodents in small groups. After all, these animals generally benefit from having a cage mate to socialize with and fights are relatively rare.
But let’s just assume for a moment that you’ve come home to find that your gerbils, mice or rats have been fighting. More than likely you’ll either observe one animal aggressively chasing another, or you’ll notice one of your animals has blood stains or scabs on it. In such cases, what exactly should you do to resolve the situation?
Fights very rarely occur out of the blue. They have normally been brewing gently in the background, with tensions slowly flaring between two warring animals. A common sign will be attempted matings in same-sex groups, which should be seen as a sign of dominance rather than an attempt to procreate. You may also have observed some gentle chasing or scuffling over the previous weeks but have assumed everything would work out fine.
In cases where this aggression is observed from time to time (with apparent periods of calm in between), you should increase your observations to keep an eye on such situations, so that if they do escalate you’re aware of the situation and split up the animals before there is actually bloodshed.
But what if a fight has already occurred so preventative measures are now worthless? The second critical factor when it comes to observation is trying to piece together exactly what has happened. For example, who was the attacker, and who the receiver? If you have more than two animals housed together in the same cage, was the scuffle merely between two animals or have more been involved?
When rodents fight it is normal for the “loser” to end up with damage to its tail and rear end, as it has been repeatedly bitten while running away. In general therefore if you observe your pet with scabs and scuffs in this area it is almost certainly the loser.
The “winner” will frequently be found to have blood over its face, caused while biting the loser. If none of the other animals are showing any physical signs of having been involved in the fight then it may be necessary to watch the behaviour of your pets for a period of time to successfully identify the perpetrator(s).
Small rodents that are fighting must be split up; especially if bloodshed has occurred. Very rarely will these battles resolve themselves. Instead, it is best to remove one animal to prevent further infighting.
In most cases, it is the “loser” of the fight that will be removed because it has sustained the most physical damage. The “winner” will likely appear to be in far better health. Furthermore, if you maintain a group of more than two animals it is normally safe to leave the “winner” in the cage with other tank mates; these are unlikely to be attacked.
When it comes to removing the loser of the fight, they typically appear in terrible condition. They may have sections of fur missing. Their fur may be clogged with dried blood. They may be fluffed up, shaking and stressed after their ordeal. Their appearance can quite frankly be very distressing, especially for children.
However, these small rodents are surprisingly tough. You will be amazed just how much of recovery many gerbils, rats and mice will make with the right levels of care and enough patience. Therefore just because your beloved pet appears to be on death’s door, right now do not worry too much about the long-term prospects.
The key here is to capture the loser as quickly as possible to remove them from the fight. Then transfer the loser to a new cage where they can finally relax. Aim to keep noise and movement to a minimum around the cage so as to give your pet a chance to begin the long road to recovery.
If your mouse, rat or gerbil has lost blood in a fight then they will likely be significantly dehydrated. This problem may have been worsened by being unable to approach the water bottle or food bowl without being further attacked by its cage mates.
As a result providing a range of your pet’s favourite food, as well as easily-accessible water in a shallow dish, is essential. Many animals in these situations will be observed drinking considerable amounts of fluid to ensure the water bowl is kept topped up at all times.
Once you have taken these emergency steps your pet will be out of immediate danger. Giving your pet some time to sleep, eat and drink will be highly beneficial and assuming your pet survives the first night after the ordeal you may well see a noticeable improvement the following day.
However, in such cases, a visit to the vet is always recommended. Not only will your vet’s vast experience help them to pick up on any problems that you may have missed in the stress of the situation, but frequently antibiotics will be provided to help keep infections at bay and to help your pet’s wounds to heal more swiftly.
Follow the advice of your vet to the letter; nobody can give you better advice than a qualified medical professional who has had first-hand experience with your pet.
At this point much of your hard work is done; the rest is up to your pet. Keep up the food and water regime, together with any treatment recommended by your vet. It can take weeks for a small rodent to fully recover from such an experience and to begin resembling its old self so do not give up hope or get impatient. Just follow the regimen and soon enough you should find that your pet is back to its former glory with no remaining physical signs of the attack.