How To Play With Pet Rats? 9 Fun Games to Play With Your Pet Rat

If you’ve never kept rats before then you’re probably wondering how you might get the most out of your time with your pets? This is a good sign as it means you’re a keen and caring pet owner that wants the best for the rodents in their care. The good news is that your rats are extremely playful creatures, and you can easily learn ways to keep them, and you, entertained by playing fun games. Here’s how.

Pet rats love to play games, it also keeps them mentally stimulated and it’s a great way for you to bond with your pet. You’ll need to experiment a little to find out which games your rats prefer but there are plenty of games to play. You can wrestle with rats, pea fish with them, help them dig, toss them, play party games with them, play chase with them, and much more.

So, let’s take a look at all the fun activities that you and your pets can enjoy together!

Do Rats Like To Play?

Yes, they do. In fact, there is a famous experiment in which scientists wanted to know if rats enjoyed play and, more to the point, whether they could learn the rules of a fairly simple game.

They opted for hide and seek. This is a game which plays, excuse the pun, to a rat’s strengths. They are able to run about, look for things and to stand still.

The rules are simple. One rat has to go and hide. Then, that rat must stay in the same place while the other rats come looking for it. Now, that’s pretty simple for a human being, but what about for a rat?

Rats Learn Hide And Seek!

Well, it turns out that it’s pretty simple for rats too. It took about 2 weeks to train 5 out of 6 rats in the experiment to play hide and seek.

The most impressive part of this is that the rats somehow managed to stay focused and didn’t “switch roles” during the course of the game.

This has been duplicated by another researcher who managed to train another four rats to play the game.

This proves that rats are capable of very complex play – the rats need to stick to a role, follow rules and, to some extent, develop a winning strategy for the game too.

Rats Enjoyed Playing Hide And Seek!

But did they like the game? Yes, they did.

While the researchers, obviously, couldn’t ask the rats if they were having fun they often observed “freudensprung” a German term for “joy jumps” (which are found in a lot of mammal species when they’re happy) when the rat wins.

They also seem to be happy enough that they will delay potential rewards in order to participate in another game, a great sign that the act of play really is enjoyable for the rats.

So, it’s pretty clear that rats enjoy play and thus, that when you play with your rats – you’re not making them work to entertain you (which would be cruel or, at least, undignified) but rather helping them tap into their natural instincts to have fun.

How To Get Your Rats In A Playful Mood?

Before you start playing with rats, however, it’s worth paying attention to the basics because if you don’t then your play sessions may not turn out to be much fun.

To play with rats you need to ensure:

  • The rats are fully socialized. That means they must share their living space with other rats, and they must be used to being handled, petted, stroked, etc. by you. If they aren’t socialized, then the game is more likely to feel like an attack and result in a rat bite rather than fun.
  • The rats are completely healthy. Just like human beings, rats tend not to be in the mood for play when they’re sick or injured. Get them treated and allow them to heal before they take part in any games.
  • The rats are in a place which is otherwise comfortable. That means no loud noises, drafts coming through, etc. rats are way more sensitive to their environment than human beings are and placing them somewhere they aren’t comfortable will stress them out and either impinge on the joy of the game or remove it completely.
  • The rats are fully awake. Don’t forget that your rats are nocturnal. They’re not going to appreciate being woken up at lunchtime for a game. You need to aim for a time that they’re running on all cylinders.

If these conditions are all met, then your rats are likely to be in a good and happy mood and be ready to play with you.

So, let’s see what games you can play with your rats:

8 Games You Can Play With Rats

Treasure Hunts!

Rats, love to collect things. They may even be part magpie in this respect. When they find something that they particularly value, they will often drag them away and then hide them. Often, in the corner of their litter tray, in fact, which, perhaps, shows that rats understand what it takes to deter a potential thief from making off with their goodies too.

You can take advantage of this trait to get your rat to hunt for “treasure”. Well, treasure in the way that rats see the world anyway. You can tear up bits of paper and scatter them around and then your rat will pounce on them and take them off to hide.

It’s very cute. You can even take this a step farther and hand out sheets of paper toweling one at a time. The rat will take it, run off and hide it and then come back for more.

You can also do a more standard treasure hunt, by showing the rat a tasty treat and then secreting it somewhere about your person that the rat can get to (in your clothes, hand, etc.) and then let them search for it.

The Digging Box Game

Digging boxes are, easily, the favorite game that most rats have. A digging box is simply a box full of earth that they can play in.

To make one, you need a decent sized box or tray (we used a cat litter tray but really anything that won’t collapse at the bottom is fine).

Then you drill some holes into the base to allow it to drain. Fill it about half-deep with some fresh, clean soil of garden grade.

Add some bird seed and then water it.

Leave your digging box outside in the sun for a few days to allow the seeds to sprout.

Then just let the soil dry out, don’t add any more water.

Once it’s dry, add rats and then let them have at it.

Don’t worry, you won’t need to explain the rules to them because most rats instinctively understand, it’s time to dig, scratch and eat the tasty roots around them!

If they do need a hint or two to get going, then bury some small treats near the surface of the soil that they really love.

The smell will lead the rats straight to the treats and they’ll start digging, flinging mud around and playing with each other in no time.

If you don’t have time to build a proper digging box or don’t have the space to create a mess in – you can create an alternative version by using a box that’s half full of fabric scraps and tissue paper.

Obviously, you’ll need to add treats to this though as you won’t be growing any seeds in it.

A Game Of Chase!

Of course, your rats won’t be learning how to play kiss chase, but you can certainly get them to chase around if you think they might enjoy it.

Rats are predators in the wild and their natural instincts make chasing a lot of fun.

However, before you start, make sure that you’re playing with rats that you have a strong bond with – otherwise, they may get over excited and nip at your fingers.

Simply pop the rat down on the floor and move your fingers away in a sort of spider-like fashion.

The rats will chase fingers for hours if you let them.

One thing you should know about any game you play with your rats though is that when they lose interest, the game is over – don’t try and cajole them into playing some more.

Fishing For Peas With Rats

Of course, rats can’t actually fish, but they can do the equivalent of “bobbing for apples” if you use your imagination and some rat-sized apples (peas, in this case).

On a warm summer day, your rats will probably want to get wet and cool down.

So, you build them a pool and fill it with peas for them to fish for!

This game is best accompanied by a handy set of paper or cloth towels that you can use to dry the rats after they emerge from the pool.

First, find a tray that your rats can fit in (or a shallow bowl), we’ve always found that paint roller trays are good for this.

Then you fill them about half full with water and then put the tray on the ground somewhere that a bit of water isn’t going to matter (we’d recommend the bathtub or the bathroom floor for this).

Put some frozen peas or frozen corn in the bottom and then…

Let loose the rats of fishing!

Some of them will fling themselves into the water and others will lean nervously over the edge trying to grab some goodies with their paws.

It’s so much fun.

Maze Solving

Rats are really good at mazes. In fact, they’re so good at mazes that millions of experiments have been run on rats’ maze solving abilities.

They can learn routes quickly. Learn to solve new mazes incredibly quickly for such small creatures (and often such easily distracted creatures too).

And they really seem to enjoy scampering around in a maze just for the joy of discovering where they will end up.

So, why not create a maze for your rats to enjoy?

You can do this with cardboard tubes, shoe boxes, drainpipes, fabric, or whatever else that you have to hand.

You can make the maze as complex as you like, though please make sure that you can easily get into it if a rat gets stuck in there.

You can also hide some treats in and around different parts of the maze to make sure that your rats explore it fully.

You don’t need to give them any hints, they will work out how to solve it eventually – but if you want to, you always can.

Rat Wrestling

Yes! Rats love to wrestle though you will need to be extra gentle to wrestle with them.

You begin by tickling the rat at the base of their tail on their back.

When they turn to face you, tickle their head and then their chin.

Then quickly take your hand away and tickle the tail base again.

As soon as they turn, tickle them somewhere else.

After a short while, the rat ought to start wrestling with your hand.

You can then flip them on to their back and tickle their tummy!

See what happens then!

Rat Tossing

OK, you need to be careful with this game and do it gently because otherwise, your rat might get hurt.

You need a rat-proofed room and a pile of pillows or a soft couch or a nice folded up blanket.

Play with your rat, giving them some tickles and gentle scratches behind the ears.

Then quickly toss them (no more than a few feet) onto the soft surface that you’ve prepared for their landing.

Watch the rat jump up and run back for another go! They really love this game.

Rat Party Games!

OK, if you want to give your rat a party (let’s say for their birthday or for Christmas or just because you want to have a party) they can participate.

Give them gifts wrapped in newspaper! They’ll love the time they spend tearing off the paper from the package. Actually, there’s a good chance they’ll like that more than whatever’s inside the package.

Then it’s time for the birthday cake. Make them a small fruit muffin and sprinkle it in seeds they love. Just don’t put a burning candle on top and everything will be awesome!

Then it’s time for some pass the parcel. Wrap a treat in a newspaper. Then add a treat and wrap that in newspaper. Do it a lot and then hand over the parcel to your rats, they won’t do this to music but they’ll love ripping off the paper and then eating the treats.


How to play with pet rats? In the way that your rats best respond to, of course. Though there are many different games and activities that you and your rats can undertake, they’re going to like some of them better than others and that’s OK, some people like hockey and others like football and some like both – rats are pretty much the same as people in that respect.

In fact, not only are games fun to play with your rats but you should play them too because it helps you bond with your rat and build the bonds of affection and friendship that most of us seek when we bring a pet into our lives. Rats are intelligent, social animals and they can truly thrive when you help them to use that intelligence and sociability to play and have fun and you’re going to really be glad that you did!

Darren Black

I'm Darren Black, the owner, and author of I am from Scotland, United Kingdom and passionate about sharing useful information and tips about properly caring for an animal's wellbeing.

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