If you have ever wondered if pet rats bite, you have come to the right place. This is one of the most common questions about pet rats, and in this post, we will delve into the topic of “biting”.
Do pet rats bite? Yes, pet rats can bite but there is a difference between a good and a bad bite. Rats are animals just like puppies and kittens, they use their mouths to explore the world. However, a properly socialized rat won’t actually bite you unless they feel threatened, hurt or protecting their babies.
Rats are the least likely out of all small rodents to bite, they are extremely friendly and social animals that love human interaction and affection.
If you would like to know more about why rats bite and the difference between a good bite and a bad bite, I am here to help. Keep reading on as we explore rat biting behavior.
Good Biting vs Bad Biting: What’s the Difference?
First things first, let’s understand what the difference is between a good bite and a bad bite. There are many misconceptions when it comes to rats, and biting is definitely one.
Once your pet rat is properly socialized and comfortable with you it will regularly nibble your fingers, nails, hands, and ears. This isn’t sore and its actually a great sign of affection and social interaction.
To be honest its really quite sweet and I would encourage this kind of behavior, its a demonstration of trust and the result of the strong bond you have created between you and your pet rat.
Rats have poor eyesight, they use their mouths to explore the outside world. You will often find your rat nibbling and licking your fingers if they smell food, this is perfectly normal and they are usually gentle as they recognize it is your hand.
You can use liquid food to build on trust training with a young or unsocialized rat. This can be achieved by first using a spoon with a small amount of liquid food, your rat won’t be able to grab the food and run away, therefore, it has no choice other than sitting in your company to eat the food.
Once your rat is comfortable doing this you can start to put a small amount on your finger, your rat may use its teeth to bite down on the food which could lead to a bit of pressure applied to your finger, however, your rat will soon realize you are not food and should be gentle.
Top tip: Wash your hands before you handle your rats, this is good practice, (1) you remove any bacteria which could be harmful to your rat, and (2) you remove any smell of food.
Rats Can Give A Light Bite (Nip) As A Warning Shot
In the wild rats live in large groups known as a mischief, they will form an order of hierarchy where one rat will be dominant over the other. Rats will use their teeth to interact with each other, they will groom and pull each other around this can actually look really rough to the untrained eye. Rats can pull pretty hard on each other without injuring the other, this is normal behavior.
A common problem with young or under-socialized rats is that they won’t actually know how soft and thin human skin is, the rat might bite down a bit hard the first couple of times. They are not trying to injure or hurt you they just need to figure out how much pressure they can apply which is acceptable.
If this becomes a problem you can let out a squeak and wriggle your finger, they should get the message fairly quickly.
Rats have poor eyesight so they could mistake your fingers as food which could result in a small nip, again this isn’t intentional and they will immediately let go once they realize it is your hand and not a treat. This is more common in pink/ruby eyed rats as their eyesight is worse than the black-eyed rat.
Top tip: I bet you have seen your rat sway its head from side to side! There isn’t anything wrong with him, he is just trying to focus and see how big or far away you are and see how big or far away you are.
If a rat becomes overzealous when playing with you then this could lead to a nip, some rats will enjoying wrestling around with their owner’s hand which could involve gentle biting but this could lead to your rat getting a bit too excited and biting a little bit harder than you are comfortable with.
Warning nip – a pet rat may resort to giving you a nip if it is startled, feels threatened.
Real Rat Bite
It isn’t that common for a pet rat to actually give you a true bite hard enough that will break the skin. A rat is more likely to try and run away and hide before actually biting, if it is cornered or startled it may resort to biting to defend itself – fight or flight.
If a rat is startled, hurt or feels threatened then it may well bite pretty hard.
Top tip: Don’t startle or scare your rat by grabbing her too quickly or picking her up when she is in a deep sleep, this could lead to a bad nip or even a bite.
Typically, if you have been bitten by a pet rat then it will more than likely be the result of your actions and could have been prevented.
Why Do Pet Rats Bite or Nip?
Rats don’t bite you for no reason, there is always an underlying issue or root cause to what led to the bite. So, what are the most common reasons your pet rat will bite or nip?
A Rat Could Bite In Fear
As with any animal including humans, the natural response to fear is fight or flight – pet rats are no different. If you have brought home a young, un-socialized or rescue rat you must be extremely careful when you are settling them into their new home.
The first thing you need to take into consideration is the rats background or upbringing, if for example your rat has been purchased from a reputable breeder who has regularly handled and socialized the rat correctly then it should be pretty straight forward handling them as long as you let them explore and sense your smell first.
If, however, your rat is from a pet store or rescue you may not know your rats background. It may have spent very little or no time at all with human interaction or even worse they could have been abused or mistreated.
It is really important that you take your time when entering the cage and let your rat approach you, this may require some coaxing with a treat but let them come to you on their own terms. Look out for warning signs like fluffy/ruffled fur or running and hiding.
Nearly all rats can be socialized even if they have been through a hard time and ill-treated in their previous life. It will require patience as there is not a quick fix, trust needs to be built up through time with extra love and care but it will definitely be worth it.
Startling Your Rat Could Lead To a Bite
Rats can be easily startled when woken abruptly or surprised in their cage, you could find yourself on the end of a rather nasty nip or even a bite if you give them a fright.
Be sure to let your rat know you are there, your rat doesn’t want to bite you but if they feel threatened then their defense mechanism could kick in.
Not Socialized Rats Can Bite
If you haven’t socialized your rat and you are too direct when trying to pick her up or corner her, your rat may feel threatened as they don’t know you this could lead to a nasty bite which is purely self-defense.
A rat that is feeling poorly or has an illness could lead to a proper bite. This isn’t an act of aggression, unfortunately, they can’t communicate verbally with us to say what is wrong with them and our interaction may hurt them even more. The rat may be acting slightly out of character or sluggish.
You should consult your local veterinarian immediately for advice.
Male Rats May Get Hormonal Reaching Adulthood
Male (Buck) rats will reach adulthood at 1 year old, this is from around the age of 6 months as they hit their teenage years to about 12 months. This could lead to acts of aggression towards his cage mates as they fight for dominance to become the alpha rat in the group.
This is perfectly normal behavior as rats live in large groups (mischief) in the wild so don’t be too concerned. However, if one or more of your rats do become overly aggressive with violent fights breaking out be sure to keep an eye on them.
Your rat may all of a sudden start to act aggressively towards you, they won’t show signs like fluffy fur or sliding (standing side on to make themselves look bigger) rather they will come straight at you.
If your rat is persistently aggressive towards you then I would suggest that you don’t put your hand in their cage, this is their safe place and could antagonize the rat.
What I find works best is to use liquid food (a nice little treat) on a spoon, offer this to your aggressive rat and let them come to you. Your rat can’t bite the food and run away, rather they need to sit in your company to eat the treat.
This teaches your rat that your presence around the cage is actually a good thing. Once you feel comfortable you could apply some liquid food to your knuckles at this area in tougher and less sensitive than your fingers.
Once more trust is built with your rat you could put some on your fingers. When it’s time to start trying to lift your rat then use some solid food to feed your rat, once they have a full mouth you can try and lift them, this should prevent them from biting as their mouth is already full.
This is what I would suggest as the best solution for dealing with an aggressive rat but please note not all rats are the same so this might not work for your rat.
If your male rats aggressive behavior doesn’t pass then you could have them neutered, this will remove their testicles and testosterone. The rat will go back to their previous self.
Pregnant rats can become aggressive to other rats.
Once a rat has given birth, a new mother will use her instinct to defend her young, it isn’t normally a good idea to disturb a nesting female with babies. If she feels you are threatening her or her offspring then she could may well bite you to warn you off, this a common behavior in any animal.
Top tip: Never pick up babies until they are at least 5 days old, your scent on the babies could lead to the mother abandoning her young.
Biting Through Cage
You may find it convenient or fun to feed your rat through the cage bars, however, rats remember everything they do and especially when it comes to food.
So if you are poking food through the bars then you may find that the next time you poke your finger through bars you end up with a nip. Rats don’t have great eyesight so this bite won’t be intentional and she will let go as soon as she realizes it was your hand.
Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend feeing a rat through the cage bars as it may teach bad habits.
How to Socialize Your Rat to Prevent Biting
Rats make great pets, they are social and intelligent animals. Socializing a pet rat is pretty straight forward but it can take a bit of time, all rats have different personalities and backgrounds so please be patient.
When you bring her home you will need to let them settle in for at least 24 hours. Once she is calm and familiar with her surroundings then you can open the cage and let them approach you, rats are very inquisitive. If she requires some coaxing then a small treat could help.
After a couple of days, she should start to come to you as she recognizes your presence is actually a good thing and picking her up isn’t her choice.
There are many ways to socialize your rat and build a bond with your rat but it’s important that you do take the time to build that trust to get the most out of these wonderful little creatures.
What Are the Risks if Your Pet Rat Bites You?
A bite from any animal or human could lead to an infection or illness if the bite breaks the skin, people and animals have a lot of bacteria in their mouths.
These infections are rarely serious if they are treated early, be sure to seek medical attention if the wound looks infected or you start to feel unwell.
What to Do if a Pet Rat Bites You?
In the rare case of an actual bite please be sure clean the wound:
- First, control the bleeding with a clean tissue or cloth
- Clean the wound with warm water and soap, this may hurt a little
- Apply an antibiotic ointment
- Cover the wound with a clean, dry dressing or bandage
- Be sure to watch out any signs of infection
If you are at all concerned please seek medical attention.
Is a Pet Rat Bite Sore? – Rats have sharp teeth and a strong bite, if they do end up giving you a true bite which is rare then yes it will be sore and could break the skin. Pet rats are not aggressive animals and will normally only bite you if they feel threatened or mistreated.