Socialising an African Pouched Rat

All the advice and guidance about socialising Pouched Rats, so they can be kept as pets, says that the best way is to hand rear them from before they are weaned so they trust you and bond to you. However getting pouched rats at this age is very difficult unless you have your own breeding pair and bottle feeding baby rats is a very time consuming and skilled task. It can be difficult finding any rats for sale let alone rats this young.

My first rat, Kali, was the most difficult to socialise. She was about six weeks old when I got her and she quickly let me know that she wasn’t interested in interacting with me at all and that she saw me as a threat. She would hide when I went near her house and she bit me when I tried to pick her up. I gradually got Kali to accept me by a combination of bribes and gentle force.

Training methods

The methods I used to socialise Kali, and my other rats, are given below.


I established a routine so that Kali knew when meal times were, when she would come out of her cage and how long she's be out and when her house would be cleaned out.


Rewards are not just food treats, although they do work very well, there are other ways to reward good behaviour. Once I understood Kali’s behaviour I could reward her by letting her have her own way. Early on Kali would fight me when I tried to hold her and was desperate to be let down but I wouldn’t let her go until she’d calmed down and was still. It took a few months but she learnt that the sooner she stopped struggling the sooner she would be let down.


Kali playing in a ball

My rats regularly come out for an hour to run about in the hall, up the stairs and on the landing. I am always there when they are out so they learn that this was an area they shared with me. At first Kali she just hid in a corner but over several weeks she explored the area and found the food treats that I hid about the place and the toys that I put out for her. Gradually she got more confident and within a few months she was totally at home there.

I enrich the play areas with a whole range of toys and other props. Every so often I move the props around to stop the rats getting board.

I always carry my rats from their house to the play area. This helps to make the area more ‘neutral’, and less part of their territory and also means they have to rely on me for one of her treats – if they want to come out to play they have to be picked up.

Hand feeding

Hand feeding has become a regular activity with my current rats and I wish I had hand fed Kali more when I first got her. Eventually it became part of her breakfast routine but we were both always a bit nervous about it. Because she wasn’t confident about taking food from me Kali would lunge for the food and, if she missed, would get my fingers instead.

Hand feeding has also been very useful with Jaali, whose dominance makes him difficult to handle at times. Hand feeding has helped rebuild his trust and dependence.


Because I had to get Kali used to me I made sure that I regularly picked her up (a task which was much easier once I’d made the armoured rat glove). It was the only way to get her to realise that I wasn't going to harm her. Initially she obviously thought I wanted to kill and eat her. She fought me as if she was fighting for her life.

When I was holding her I found that if I walked slowly about the room and sang to her (poor girl) she would be calmer. I only put her down again once she was still.

To start with I could pick her up by putting by hand round her shoulders and lifting her up under her armpits but she quickly got too big for this and I found I needed two hands. To stop her running off I would hold her by the base of the tail with one hand then I slide my other (gloved) hand under her and lift her up and hold her against my chest.

She now understands about being picked up and will sit calmly on my chest once I've picked her up but she still dislikes being caught in the first place and would often bite the glove. It took a couple of years with Kali before I could stop using the glove. I’ve never needed it with Ambaa and I very occasionally use it with Jaali if he’s very excited or scared.