In general rats can be quite the little hoarders! It is in their very nature to collect food or treasures and take it all back to the nest for safe keeping. Let's be honest it is a very rodent thing to do!
It is often a question people bring up, asking how they should handle it or if it is normal. The very first rats I ever had were awful hoarders. They would empty the food dish and every bite would be stashed away in their hammocks or beds.
It was a god awful pain to deal with. The food often becomes yucky and you end up wasting food during cage cleaning. You always have to wonder if the food dish needs refilling or if they have enough food hidden away to be fine. And you have to be careful giving fresh foods that may rot if hidden and forgotten about!
Hoarding may be great fun for rats but for us owners, not so much!
Well these days I have truly been blessed. Not a single one of my rats hoards food. That is right, my rats food STAYS in their bowls! And I have quite alot of rats! And it goes for all of them, across cages and genders. Not a single rat hoards food away.
I have to admit I am not fully sure how I got so lucky. I wish I knew the exact reason so I could bottle it up & share it! lol
But that doesn't mean I do not have a few ideas on the subject.....
1. I feed oxbow. I think this helps stave off hoarding for two reasons. First oxbow is fairly small pieces compared to the rather large blocks of other brands. This means that if a rat runs off with a piece of food they can easily eat the entire piece in one sitting. Larger pieces of food means they are less likely to eat the entire piece all at once so they take it off to eat and only eat a part of it and leave the rest for later. I think it also helps that oxbow is a healthy food. Some of the cheaper blocks are actually full of sugar to make it yummy for the rats. One brand had like three different types of sugar in it even!! Sugar like that promotes very unhealthy eating habits, they crave the sugar and it can cause them to overeat, be hungry more often, etc...
Secondly feeding a block/kibble diet VS a mix. One of the many reasons I am not a fan of mixes is that rats will pick through and get their favorites out first. They want to save the best for themselves, sadly they do not often realize that the other rats can find their hiding spot pretty easily lol. But IMO mixes definitely encourage the more pick and save mindset.
My very first rats were fed harlan teklad blocks at first and later a homemade mix. And I definitely remember the messy huge blocks stuffed everywhere. And my girl Sookie was food obsessed and did not like to share. She would always steal away all her favorites to try and hide them for herself.
2. My rats are healthy weights.
I think this also plays a very important role in the hoarding situation. It means my rats have a healthy relationship with food. I do not have an obese rat that wants to have all the food to themselves often resulting in hiding it away. .
Over weight rats can lead to all sorts of issues over food. I have seen them become very protective/territorial over food. This can lead to them trying to stash their food in their favorite nest area. It can also cause the other rats to feel the need to hide the food so they do not have to fight over the food dish. Having multiple food dishes can also help these situations.
3. They are fed a wide variety of foods and fresh foods/treats often. And always have access to food.
I think this helps them have a good relationship with food as well. They do not feel like they are going to be starved or feel the need to save away something super special, because it isn't so rare to be that special perhaps?
I free feed all of my rats, meaning they have access to a full bowl of oxbow 24/7. The fresh foods I give are in just a large enough serving to be eaten in one sitting. While I do give lots of treats I try to make sure they are mostly healthy and pay attention to everyone's weight.
Does any of this play a role? I am not sure...
4. Learned behavior? Group size?
I obviously breed lol And I do think the fact that the adults do not hoard in turn doesn't end up teaching the babies to be hoarders either.
But... that does not explain how or why any brand new rats I bring in do not hoard food either.
Perhaps though it is the group size I keep my rats in. My girls and younger males are often kept in fairly good size groups. It is probably difficult to hoard if there is a bunch of you as someone is likely to find and steal your stash lol Does this mean they just don't even bother trying to hoard?
I don't have a clue why lol Could it be one or all of these reasons? I assume they all play some role in it. Perhaps someday I will discover the secret for sure.
If you have a hoarding situation I hope this can give you some insight or atleast something to think about.
I also wonder if those who have adopted babies from me, do they go on to hoard food?