Rats are not a common pet, but they are fascinating creatures with their own habits and quirks. And one of those quirks is hoarding food. So, why do they do that?
There are a few reasons a pet rat might be hiding or hoarding food.
- It’s their instinct to hide food for security
- If their cage changed, they’d hoard food out of fear
- If you recently changed the amount of food that they get
- If your pet rat is old
Naturally, these are just some of the reasons why your pet rat might hide their food. To better understand this quirk, you have to dig a little deeper into their behavior and learn a bit more about rats. Read on to find out what exactly makes your pet rat hoard their food.
Is Hoarding Food a Common Thing in Rats
If you have a rat as a pet, then you’re probably aware of the richness of their behavior and needs. They may not be a favorite to many people, but they are extremely interesting. For example, they love and need to socialize with other rats, and they love to play.
A big part of a rat’s personality is how much they love food. Sometimes, they love it so much that they hide it around, so they have more for later. This is a common thing, even if you feed your pet rat regularly, and you have been doing that ever since they’ve been with you.
Food hoarding is generally a normal behavior, and most rodents — not just rats but also hamsters and other similar animals — hide food in different places. For instance, hamsters stuff it in their cheeks, even if there’s plenty of food to go around.
Squirrels and other rodents in the wild do it when winter is approaching, so that might be another reason for hoarding, especially if you’re noticing an increase. This is a part of their behavior, and you shouldn’t be worried.
Of course, remember that not every rat will do this. For instance, if you have two rats, one of them can hoard food, and one of them will not. The main thing to know is that they have personalities and their own preferences. So, some of them will bury their food, some of them will never do that, and some of them will bury food only sometimes.
The Reasons Behind Food Hoarding
No matter the circumstances, rats have two major reasons why they hide and hoard food. These two reasons are true for all rodents. It’s an instinct and an impulse that they kept through their evolution.
Preparing For Shortage
Even though your pet rat has been domesticated, it doesn’t mean that they can let go of centuries of evolution. They are wild creatures, and their most basic instinct is to survive — like it is for all of us.
Rats that are not kept as pets have to hoard food to make sure that they’ll have enough in the future. Squirrels gather nuts and bury them so they’ll have something to eat through winter. And your pet rat, even though they have plenty of food, may be preparing for the worst.
They may be aware that there’s enough food for them, but something triggers that instinct, and they start hiding and hoarding.
Different changes, as innocent as they may seem to you, are a big deal to your pet rat. And this is what sometimes affects their behavior.
For instance, if you give them more food than usual or less food than usual, your rat might start to hoard food. As already mentioned, a change of cage can also be a reason for this new behavior. The sizes of their food pellets can also affect their hoarding habits.
Suffering from some sort of stress or suddenly getting a new cage mate is another possible clue. Older rats are also prone to gathering food because they don’t know how long they will be able to move around. Their instinctive response is to keep themselves safe and fed, so they hoard food.
Hiding Food From Other Rats
If you have more than one rat, sometimes one of them will hide food away from the others. You can recognize this type of behavior when they cover the food up with something in their cage or bury it someplace where other rats won’t find it.
At the same time, rats love company. They are social creatures. If they’ve spent a lot of time with the other rats in the cage, they see themselves as a part of a group, and any effort they make will be to help the group.
Hoarding food, on its own, is a selfish action, and it doesn’t help the group of rats, so they will likely do this only when a new rat is introduced, and this should stop after a while.
Is This Behavior Considered Safe?
Worrying about your pets’ health and safety after they start exhibiting a new behavior is a normal thing. But the answer is not as simple.
Whether you can consider it safe or not will depend on the reason for the hoarding, sometimes there is no valid reason behind it, and it’s an instinct that they have no control over. But sometimes, they do it because they are stressed and feel like something is not right.
Think about what happened before the hoarding and hiding started. Did you, by any chance, move their cage, change the cage, or add a new pet rat to your family? These can all cause stress to rats, but they are mostly harmless. It’s just going to take some time for your pet rat to get used to the new circumstances. The same goes for changing the brands or quantities of food.
Still, you need to make sure that your rat is getting enough to keep them fed and healthy and that their food is appropriate for them. In general, fixing these issues or waiting it out will get them right back to normal.
On the flip side, hoarding could be a sign of a disease or a problem that your pet rat is suffering. Hoarding and hiding food can also cause issues since it means that they are not eating enough, and they will lose weight and nutrients that they need to stay healthy.
Should You Stop This Behavior?
Hoarding can be a bit annoying for pet rat owners. You might want to prevent it or stop it completely. Should you do it? How would you achieve that?
Experts recommend focusing on the reasons why your pet rats are hiding their food. So, for instance, if you’re giving them less or more food, bring that back to normal levels, unless you did it because of a disease in the first place.
Whether you should interrupt this habit or not can depend on whether your pet is actually affected by the hoarding, if they are not losing weight, and they behave normally; otherwise, there’s no reason to. However, if they are becoming lethargic or exhibit any changes in look or behavior, you should interfere.
Rats are clean creatures, and if this new habit isn’t affecting them in a bad way, there’s no need to worry. Of course, make sure that the buried food doesn’t get forgotten. If it goes bad and your pet rat finds it after a while, it could be a bigger problem. Remove it as you clean the cage.
All in all, this shouldn’t be a big problem for you. But, just in case, keep an eye on your pet rat and prevent any behavior that affects them negatively.
- NCBI: Food Deprivation, Body Weight Loss and Anxiety-Related Behavior in Rats
- NCBI: Influence of pellet size on rat’s hoarding behavior
- Google Books: Food Hoarding in Animals
- Google Books: The Rat: A Study in Behavior
- RSPCA: Rat behaviour
- Oxford Academic: Seasonal link between food hoarding and burrow use in a nonhibernating rodent
- NCBI: Physiological mechanisms for food-hoarding motivation in animals