We’re all taught to be a little nervous of rats from a young age and so, it’s no surprise that many people are afraid that they’re going to get bitten by a pet rat. But is this true? Are rats voracious consumers of the human hand or is there something more complex going on? Does owning a rat mean that you’re going to get bitten by one? Let’s take a look and find out.
Pet rats can bite but it’s not a regular behavior in most pet rats Like most pets they use the mouth almost like we use our hands. You can avoid getting bitten knowing how to handle a rat properly so that you give it no incentive to bite is the way to ensure the safety of your fingers and your rat’s happiness at the same time.
So, let’s take a look at why pet rats bite and what you might be able to do to avoid having them bite you.
Why Do Pet Rats Bite?
There’s only one real reason for a rat to bite you – it’s because it’s afraid either of you or the situation it is in.
Rats aren’t built for mortal combat, but their teeth are their main weapon and while they won’t generally go looking to pick a fight with a person, they will defend themselves if they feel they need to.
The Drivers Of Fear For Rats: Biology And Behavior
There are two things that drive fear in an animal. The first is biology – that is things that are going on with their bodies that make them feel afraid.
The other is behavior – that is a learned response to a particular situation. When you understand what a rat is afraid of, you can help to reduce the level of fear that they have and/or protect yourself against a bite.
The 6 Main Biological Reasons That Lead To Rat Bites
So, there are 6 main biological reasons that can cause fear in rats and which, in turn, can lead to a rat bite and they are:
- Illness. Think of rats as very small children that don’t speak your language. If they get sick they are going to start feeling afraid and unable to tell you what’s wrong. This is the time to get your rat checked out by a vet.
- Injury. Very much in the same vein as illness – rats can’t diagnose themselves or, indeed, treat themselves and while you can carry out some basic first aid on your rats, there may be a time to call in a professional too.
- Hormonal disruption. Male rats are victims of their hormones and the best thing to do to prevent this is to have the neutered when they ware young. Neutering is less effective with sexually mature male rats.
- Poor eyesight (particularly “pink eyes”). Rats may find that they can’t see very well and thus, the world becomes a bit more frightening for them. Make sure to let a rat with poor eyesight know that it’s you before picking them up.
- Super hearing. Your rat hears better than you do, much better, in fact. So, what to you might be a minor kerfuffle can sound like a full-blown war to your rat. Try to keep the noise down to keep your rat happy.
- General sensitivity. Rats in new situations are likely to be much jumpier than those that are in their regular routine. Try not to surprise your rats or change their environment too often.
The 3 Main Behavioral Reasons That Lead To Rat Bites
There are also three forms of behavioral reason that can trigger fear and thus, rat bites and they are:
- Unfamiliarity with human contact. A rescue rat might suffer from this issue but it’s also not uncommon with rats that haven’t properly bonded to a human being. You need to spend a lot of time with a rat for it to become familiar and comfortable with you – if you don’t then you’re a stranger and rats don’t like strangers.
- Resource guarding. Rats don’t lead the easiest of lives in the wild and you’re going to find that they may want to fight over the resources in their lives which they perceive to be scarce. This can require you gradually acclimate the rat to the presence of your hand before you try to pick them up. They will get used to it eventually but to begin with they want to see you and ensure you’re not trying to rob them.
- Mistakes over food. A rat’s world revolves around food and thus, they get quite aggressive when they think they’re being fed. The idea is to reduce the confusion between your hand (not food) and actual food (which is what they want), so see our tips below for some ideas on how to do that.
How Do You Avoid Rat Bites? Some Simple Tips For Building The Right Relationship With Your Rat
OK, so now that we’ve examined what it is that drives a rat’s fear and thus the rat’s “bite” response, let’s see what it is that we can do to prevent that, and we’ve got 9 simple rules to follow that should keep rat bites to a minimum:
- Before you play with your rats wash your hands. Rats love food, if your fingers smell like food – well, to your rat, they’re fair game for snacking on.
- Ask people who spend time around you and your rats not to stick their fingers in the rat cage. Imagine if you were at home and suddenly a giant finger popped through the window, you’d be pretty afraid too, right? Well, so is your rat.
- Don’t tease your rats and this goes doubly so if you intend to use food as part of the teasing. Rats don’t have a sense of humor and if you try to inflict yours on your rats, well, you get what you deserve.
- Teach your rat to recognize when food is coming. Have a verbal cue that allows the rat to know when it is allowed to go for what’s in your fingers such as “treat” or “food” and thus make it easier for them to know when not to go for your fingers too.
- Tread lightly when there are babies in the cage. Sure, momma rat might be your friend but when there are babies around – they are her number one responsibility.
- Let the rat know before you pick them up. That means ensure they are awake, that they recognize you and can see you coming. Startling a rat is likely to instantly trigger a fear response.
- If the rat is clearly afraid or injured – don’t pick them up with your bare hands. Use a towel to wrap them in, they can’t help lashing out when they’re not at their best.
- Take time before handling a new rat. New rats don’t know you, they need some time to get used to you before you start picking them up from inside the cage, try and get them to come out before you handle them. Here are some tips on how to bond with your pet rats.
- Handle your rats on a regular basis. Familiarity might breed contempt for some but in rats it breeds trust. The more you handle them, the more they know the sensation, the less it will bother them – easy right?
Do pet rats bite? Under specific circumstances rats will bite and the main trigger for their biting behavior is fear. Rats are small and in the wild, they face numerous threats to their health, safety and lives. So, when they feel threatened rats are programmed to either run away or fight back. The problem is that when you’re holding your rat and he or she feels frightened – there’s nowhere to run to.
Fortunately, when you know this, you also know that your rat can be prevented from biting by ensuring that you don’t allow it to become frightened. There are some fairly specific drivers of fear in rats and if you pay attention to them, you can reduce or eliminate them all to the point that you and your rat remain permanent friends without any sharp teeth interfering in your relationship.