Under severe stress, rats are completely illogical
Like us humans, rats often find themselves in the middle of these jams that pump their adrenalin up and make them have those "as seen on TV" bits of life flashing before their eyes. A human will panic, probably scream, and if she gets no immediate response, will stop for a moment to try to think of a solution. Of course if the human determines that their situation is helpless, they will either go into a state of panic or a state of despair.
When a rat encounters such a dilemma, he will panic, he will shriek, and he will immediately start responding to the situation himself. In a rat's mind, no body part is permanent, and the need to shake free increases depending on the amount of other rats around. He will tire himself to the point of exhaustion and then just give up.
Example 1: We had a rat named Grandpa, that through his childhood years would clamber through our Yaffa blocks. He was really impressed that he could flatten himself behind them, and he was even more impressed that he could squeeze through the holes. As rats age, they also expand in size. Some rats don't have the wit to figure that out. Grandpa squeezed his head through one of the holes in the Yaffa Block and got stuck. He panicked but he couldn't go anywhere. Getting him out was difficult because we didn't realize at the time that he would calm down after a while. We shared his panic. The easy answer was, of course, to get him to back up but because he was so nervous and jumpy and screaming, we ended up having to cut him out for fear of losing our fingers. He was biting at everything!
Example 2: We had this tall kitchen chair that we had a good 3-4 feet away from any wall or window sill. This account is about the first time we met disaster with this chair. Overnight one of our big PEW males named Grumpy had managed to somehow launch himself either from the floor onto the chair or from the window sill onto the chair. In doing so, he basically slid down, and got caught in the rungs of the chair back. They were wider up top, and about 2 inches wide at the base. We heard the "I'm Dying" rat scream and headed off to the kitchen to investigate. He was hanging in between these rungs by his neck and all of his mates were down on the floor or on the seat of the chair watching. This, of course, made Grumpy even more upset. Obviously we couldn't just leave him hanging there so we tried to lift his backside up a bit so he'd be even with the chair. This made him flail and bite at the rats before him making the situation an unnecessarily awful experience. Instead of trying to clear out the area in an attempt to make it a calmer quieter place to work in, we had to risk our hands and arms to get him out. We quickly grabbed his head (or rather let his head grab our hand by the teeth) and his butt and slid him up the ramp and placed him immediately onto the table. He was so spooked we didn't even get a chance to look at him to see if he was otherwise O.K. He darted off of the table onto the floor and headed for a good nook for protection. When we saw him the next morning, he was fine (but my hand sure hurt).
Example 3: Same stupid chair. We threw it away after this one. Same stupid rat. We kept him anyway :O) We assumed that he would have learned to stay away from that chair after that first incident. We even moved the chair further away. None of the other rats even seemed interested in the chair. But, a little over a week after the first incident, he did it again. He was locked in between the rungs of the chair back by his jaw. This time though, we weren't there to hear the screams. I found him late the next morning on my way to the bathroom. I thought it was odd that we'd have left a t-shirt on the chair, so I went to inspect it. He wasn't moving and there was a hole in the chair where he attempted to "eat" his way out. In between tears, I pulled him out and found, when doing so, that he was very much alive, just the cold and passed out version. I immediately rushed him to the back of the apartment where the heater was, sat down on the floor, and started massaging his skin. After about 15 minutes, he perked up and looked around, but remained seated. I held up a water bottle with my other hand and let him drink from it while I massaged his skin. After 30 minutes he was back to his playful, active self.
Example 4: This is something I never imagined could happen. We had a rat named Zany get his teeth stuck on the wires of his ramp going from the 2nd to the 3rd floor. He was right at the base of the ramp screaming his lungs out. There was a rat on the other side of the ramp just stunned. I'm guessing he was trying to nip at the rat that was below him when he got stuck. At any rate, we went in, noted that we just needed to get him to flatten his body so he could push his face forward and release his jaw. The problem was that he was so panicked that he was puffed up and curled in a ball. He was also so desparate to remove himself that he was trying to break free by pulling instead of pushing thereby cutting his upper lips and attempting to break his teeth. There was no time to remove the rat below him and there was blood everywhere. We flattened his head and pushed him upwards and he was free. The problem is, we think he had a heart attack in the process. We took him out of the cage to inspect the damage and to see if he broke his teeth and he in turn gave up and died. It was terrifying. In retrospect we should have moved his friend out of sight.
Example 5: We have one super-clumsy rat named Oops de Booboo who can somehow manage to get his leg caught in anything. He, of course, gets very spooked and instead of going back up to where he was to get even with his leg to step out of it, takes off. That, of course, fails, so he then spends the next few moments trying to bite his toes and/or leg off. Fortunately we were there every time he decided to do this and were able to pick him up and flip him around so he could get his leg unstuck. Also, fortunately, he seems to have grown out of his clod years.
You, as a rat-owner, must be prepared to assess such situations. Can the rat survive where he is, or must you rescue him immediately? Are there other rats nearby? Can you move them elsewhere? Is your presence causing him to panic as well? Is he just shrieking or is her causing damage to himself? If there is no immediate danger, move the other rats first. It should help the rat in distress to calm down. If he is in immediate danger, think and work quickly.
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Disclaimer: There are many non-sarcastic accounts and tips on the web regarding rat care. This is not
one of them. These are merely accounts of our experiences with rats, our perceptions of these experiences, where we've failed
and where we've succeeded. These accounts are here for two purposes: