Pet Rat Behavior: 26 Interesting Facts About Rats

It’s important to learn the behavior of your pets to establish the best relationship with them. By doing so, your pet is more likely to have a happier, healthier life through the understanding of their caretaker.

Pet rat behavior is diverse and context-driven; it’s important to not only understand the action but also the underlying cause. Research has shown that rats are capable of comprehending complex emotions and are exceptionally intuitive creatures. Additionally, rats are social animals and thrive when allowed to interact with their kin, having been shown to interpret their cagemates’ facial expressions.

A pet rat exhibits an extensive repertoire of actions and possesses advanced emotional intelligence, especially when compared to many other beings in the animal kingdom. Read on to discover more about pet rat behavior and learn that E.Q. isn’t dictated by size or dominion.

Do Males Differ from Females?

It’s common knowledge that there are marked differences between males and females throughout the animal kingdom, and the same can be said of the rat species.

Male rats become quite obvious around the age of five weeks, making pet rats an easy species to sex properly at a younger age than other small rodents. Simply turn the rat in question over, belly up, and if they have testicles, they’re a boy!

Male rats tend to be larger and lazier, tending to prefer cuddling with their cagemates and owners rather than run around the living room furniture during playtime.

Despite this laidback nature, males are known to be more territorial. Should you attempt to introduce new friends later on in life, expect difficulties should males butt heads over boundary lines.

Females are much more energetic and playful, leading to them being more adventurous and apt to adjust well to training and learning advanced tricks. Also due to their higher activity levels, females are less likely to suffer from obesity as their male counterparts.

Overall, males and females each have their quirks but will share common rat behaviors nonetheless. Deciding to adopt based on temperament, so long as same-sex groups are sustained, is the best bet to get an appropriate match.

Rat Instincts

Every living being on the face of the Earth has a distinct set of instincts, so here’s a snapshot of a pet rats’ toolbox, containing what knowledge has been imprinted into the species to aid in their survival.

Munch Crunch

Rodents, in general, are well-known for their incessant need to gnaw. This is due to ever-growing teeth which require heavy use to be worn down and maintained. Pet rats are no different and will be more than happy to cut a tooth on anything within reach.

While it’s frustrating to find clothing, toys, furniture, and documents with holes chewed into them, things such as electrical cords and household cleaners could be potentially lethal if left out for eager rats looking to nibble.

Destined to Dig

It would be an understatement to say that pet rats enjoy digging–it’s more than that. Pet rats instinctually desire to burrow, a need that can easily be satisfied by providing suitable bedding. Owners often opt to create a “dig box” of sorts with their chosen material, allowing their pet rats to dig without unwanted destruction and mess.

Something’s Off

Pet rats are prey animals which means they will inherently attempt to mask when they’re sick or feeling pain. To accurately spot when your pet rat is ill, it’s important to observe them when they’re healthy and well.

It’s common for rats under the weather to become lethargic and are less inclined to engage with their cagemates or owners. Another warning sign to watch out for is a rat with a poofed out coat, as this could mean they’re feeling particularly poor.

Being able to differentiate between normal, baseline behaviors and signs of illness or injury could save your pet rats’ lives!

Fascinated Forager

Pet rats are the perfect scavengers! They’re nature’s curious, and wickedly intelligent, rodents who will gladly make off with stolen bits and bobs found during their excursions.

Rats are known for collecting bizarre things, but it’s also not uncommon to come across a small stash of food that has been hoarded away. Other times items are collected to become nesting materials or to simply be chewed upon.

Social Butterflies

While our pet rats are about as different from their wild brethren as dogs are to wolves, one thing remains the same: rats are remarkably social creatures and crave the company of their own.

It’s vital to adopt pet rats in pairs of two or groups of three to provide enough interaction amongst their kind. Lone rats typically become sick from their loneliness, and experience lethargy and a myriad of health risks associated with their solitary lifestyle.

Where It All Began

Everything a rat does to interact with another rat (and sometimes their owners, too) will fall within the umbrella category of “agonistic” behaviors. This term encompasses more than “aggression” as it expands upon the desire to inflict damage to another to include both placid and avoidant interactions.

Agonistic behaviors are further broken down into three subcategories:

  1. Aggression
  2. Appeasement
  3. Avoidance

It’s suggested that each interaction is rooted in one, or an amalgamation, of the above three intentions. You can read more about this study here.

Squeaks and Squeals

While pet rats aren’t as liable to be as loud as a barking dog or as noisy as a meowing cat, pet rats do emit a variety of vocalizations to communicate with one another.

For the most part, these vocalizations are only audible for other ratfolk, but sometimes pet rats will release a few squeaks or a score of squeals, depending on how shy or social the individual in question.

Generally, vocalizations that are gentle and slow typically indicate a relaxed rat whereas high-pitched screechy noises are indicative of a distressed rat.

Primping and Preening

Pet rats are fastidious creatures who are infamous for their focus on keeping a prim and proper coat. Pet rats spend more time tidying themselves than housecats!

It should come as no surprise to learn that this passion for preening is also a common social ritual. Pet rats will groom each other, and do so for a variety of reasons (not simply to elevate cleanliness but to establish and communicate hierarchy).

A pair of pet rats may decide to groom out of closeness and respect for one another or they may decide to antagonize one another via forced grooming sessions (doled out by the winner in a show of dominance).

If a pet rat decides to lick their owner’s hands or fingers, they’re likely trying to include them in the social grooming circle!

Put ‘Em Up

Pet rats have a decently stocked arsenal when it comes to scuffles, and they enjoy putting these moves to use. Luckily, pet rats are good-natured creatures, and generally prefer to playfight rather than engage in an all-out brawl.

From boxing to shoving, pouncing or chasing, pet rats perform their moves with vigor, making for an entertaining sight for caretakers!

Quirkiness & Charm

Our common household pet species have characteristics that separate them from one another, and they can range from endearing to downright shocking.

Pet rats are no different and have several habits and behaviors which are unique to their species, but the following are the ones that tend to grab the most attention:


The sound that results from clenched, or gently grinding, teeth. In pet rats, this sound can be heard when they have their incisors held close together. Bruxing is commonly heard from particularly restful rats, with intense bruxing occurring in very relaxed pet rat populations.

However, it is possible for the grinding of teeth to indicate distress or pain in pet rats, so it’s important to observe and consider other context clues when determining your response.


One of the most shocking behaviors to behold for the uninitiated; boggling is the result of intense bruxing that dislodges the rats’ eyeballs from their sockets, causing them to bulge and appear quite large. The eye will often “boggle” in and out of the socket.

This behavior is most common in happy, contended rats and, despite the appearance, occurs in sleepy rats, too.


Being as social as they are, and with their intricate hierarchal structures, it’s fascinating to see what the alpha rats do with their status.

Honestly, their behaviors are quite similar to rich humans: they hoard possessions and material objects with perceived value. Alpha rats enjoy accumulating odds-and-ends to add to their stash, acting similar to a dragon perched atop a mountain of gold; a king of some metaphorical makeshift castle.


Welcome to the weird world of rodent behaviors, where it’s normal for rats to eat their poo. Read it again.

Yes, coprophagia refers to the performance of eating one’s feces, and rats are known to carry this out occasionally. Thankfully, pet rats can be pretty discrete about this act and it’s possible that an owner may never witness this behavior in-person!

Which transitions nicely into our next topic…

Dinner Time

Food is a top consideration for most animals, and rats are no different, so it’s not surprising that there are a small number of behaviors dedicated to the feasting sector of life.

Excuse Me?

Speaking of coprophagia, the reason pet rats eat their own feces is to avoid experiencing nutritional deficiencies.

This may be an absurd behavior from a human’s perspective, but it’s perfectly acceptable and essential to a regular rat, so take heed not to interfere with nature on this one, no matter how odd.

I’ll Dish Myself, Thanks

Pet rats are intelligent and require a lot of stimulation to keep their brains in shape. One of the many ways of exercising the brain is through hand-eye coordination exercises.

Provide pet rats with bits of food that can be tricky for small hands to handle and see what solutions they come up with; it’s this process that can have a positive impact on a rats’ health and happiness as it taxes their minds. Here are 22 creative ideas to entertain and stimulate your pet rat.

Foraging Behaviors = Stimulation

As referenced above, foraging behaviors are central to rats’ inner workings. Foraging gives their active minds something to do while rewarding them for their efforts simultaneously.

Restaurant Reviews

Pet rats mark most everything in their environment with small droplets of urine to deposit a slew of information. Rats have been found to leave these markings on sources of food to indicate that they visited the locale and sampled the food offered, lived, and wish other rats a fine dining experience.

Its believed rats use their urine to mark food as safe to eat, this way they can let other rats know its safe as well as themselves for later. This brings us nicely onto the fact.

Tummy Troubles

When we experience an upset stomach, we have a variety of options at our disposal. The same cannot be said for our pet rats.

Rats lack the ability to vomit, something that can prove fatal should the rat have ingested something toxic. Thankfully, rats are clever creatures and devised a cunning plan to create a do-it-yourself solution.

Pica is the ingestion of non-edible substances which, although lacking any nutritional value, act to absorb the toxins to then be passed safely as waste.

It’s All About the Journey

Rats are nimble creatures who are capable of pulling off some pretty impressive physical feats, but they also possess a wide arsenal of skills to help navigate the world around them.

Over the ages, rats have adapted to an ever-changing landscape and have succeeded in thriving on a near-global scale. Let’s take a closer look at a few potential cards up a pet rats’ sleeve:

Along the Edges

Being prey animals, pet rats prefer to stick to the sides of a room rather than traverse directly across the open center. Skirting along the walls allows rats to get from Point A to Point B without being seen, and they don’t have to worry about predators sneaking up on them from the shielded side.

All Ears

Science has shown us that pet rats’ ears turn pinkish when they’re happy, and take on a relaxed position at either side of the head (versus a more centered, perky position when on alert),

Rats have also shown the ability to perceive each other’s facial expressions, so their pink ears are likely signals to nearby rat kin that they’re in a particularly good mood.

Ticklish Whiskers

Rats rely more on their whiskers than they do their eyes! Unfortunately, nature didn’t bestow the highest resolution eyesight to our friendly rats. Thankfully, they make up for this with ultra dexterous whiskers.

Due to the ability to control their whiskers with high accuracy, pet rats essentially use their whiskers the way humans use their fingers. Rats can then analyze their surroundings by sweeping and swishing their whiskers in their surroundings.

Depth perception, balance, general navigation, and swimming all require the rat to use its’ whiskers with care. In fact, it’s been proven that pet rats are unable to swim without their whiskers, and are almost certain to drown!

Talk about some important facial hair!

Twitch of a Tail

Pet rats are unable to sweat and, as such, the tail is a vital organ in regulating body temperature. The tail is also an essential component in a rats’ impeccable balance, allowing them to not only traverse narrow ropes but also climb tricky terrain, too!

Dozing Off

Although the rats we bring into our homes now have been bred for domestication, they have managed to retain their nocturnal nature. Pet rats prefer to sleep throughout the majority of the day and will typically stir when their owners rise in the morning or arrive home after school or work.

Despite running on an opposite schedule, rats adjust well to home life with humans. Pet rats remember routines easily, and will soon learn when their caretakers will be around to offer food and attention.

A little bit of consistency will help to build sleep habits for the rats centered around owner availability.


Should you witness a rat scurrying away to a bed, den, or alcove with a bunch of miscellaneous material in their mouth, it could be that that rat, in particular, is nesting!

More fascinating yet is the fact that rats can build a small assortment of nests!

The pad nest consists of layering a few flat bits of nesting material, creating a pad between a sleeping rat and the bare floor.

The cup nest is, as it sounds, cup-shaped with a small, circular indentation in the middle that has been lined with flat bedding materials. This type of nest can typically accommodate three to five rats.

Finally, the hooded nest is a spherical nest with an opening, and are usually built by an expectant mother for herself and her subsequent litter.


Rats are supremely complex creatures and it’s no wonder we’re still discovering new facts out about them. Rats have a deep closet of instinct and biological behaviors that help to guide them through life.

Rats make wonderfully fascinating pets that are very interactive and hands-on, but they can also be great for those looking to sit back and observe their unique personalities and characteristics come to life.

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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