Having a strong relationship with your pet rat is essential for both your and their happiness! This bonding process does take some time though, and there are some tricks and tips to help make this process easier and faster.
On average it takes about 6 weeks to bond with a pet rat. You should start bonding with your pet rat about 2 days after you bring them home to make this process faster.
But what exactly can you do to bond with your pet rat faster?
Sit Near Your Pet Rat Cage And Have A Talk
It’s natural to be excited about interacting with your new pet rat, once they get home. However, it’s important to give them some time first.
After all, they just arrived in a completely new environment. The cage, smells, sights, everything is new.
Before interacting with them, give your pet rats a few days to get familiar with their surroundings and their new home.
It’s always good to put their cage in a room where you spend most of your time in. Even though you won’t be interacting with them on those first days, they can start getting used to your presence.
This is a very important phase of your relationship with your pet rats. It’s important to try to avoid direct interaction at the beginning. Especially if your pet rats aren’t yet too used to human interaction.
Start by sitting near them. Sit on the floor near their cage. Better yet, get a chair, so you can be at the same level as them.
You can just sit there, scrolling through your phone, or even read a book. What’s important is that they can see and smell you. Some more curious rats might even approach you, to get a better look.
Take the opportunity and talk to them. You don’t even need to move, just start talking. Simple things like ‘How are you doing? Want to read too?’
It doesn’t even need to make sense. The goal here is for them to get used to your voice.
Do the same thing every time you need to open up their cage. Whenever you bring them food or change their water, talk to them!
I know this might seem silly, but talking with your pets really helps create a bond.
It’s really important for them to get used to your presence, so do try to spend time near them. As much as you can.
Do some work in their company, watch tv, and play games. If that’s not possible, then reserve some time during your day to just sit next to them and talk.
You’ll see that in no time, you won’t feel like a stranger to your new pet rats. They’ll quickly realize you’re part of the family!
Let Your Pet Rat Lick Your (Tasty) Hand
Now that your pet rats are used to your presence, it’s time to go to the next level. Actual interaction!
This is probably my favorite step of bonding since it’s both fun for you and them.
Get a tasty treat. There are many safe and delicious foods you can give your pet rats as a treat. I do have a list of 13 healthy treats for pet rats, so be sure to check that out and choose one.
Now, put that delicious treat on the tips of your fingers and approach your pet rats, slowly.
Remember that they’re very small animals compared to us. Seeing a giant hand approaching is way too scary, so it’s important to avoid sudden movements.
However, the tasty treat is there to pick at their curiosity and start seeing the giant hand as a friend, instead of a big scary monster.
Let your pet rats come to you and lick the treats out of your fingers. Do not try to pet them just yet, but if they feel brave enough, let them climb your hand and explore it.
With such a simple action, your pet rats will start getting used to your hands, with some positive reinforcement from the treats.
If you’re not too used to pet rats and if they’re not used to being hand-fed, it’s possible they bite or nibble your fingers a bit.
Do not be alarmed though. These are usually inoffensive and won’t hurt you. It’s very normal to happen, especially if the treat is too delicious and they get very excited about it!
As they get more used to being hand-fed treats, they’ll start being more careful. To make things easier, you can even give a quick squeak, so they understand you’re in “pain”.
Other than that, just have fun while feeling their tiny tongues and curious hands grabbing those tasty foods from your fingers!
Give Snacks From Your Hand
Your pet rats are now used to getting treats from your fingers. What’s next?
Well, now let’s move the treat further! Start giving them snacks from the palm of your hand.
Let them smell and climb onto your hand. Some pet rats will be braver and be very quick about it.
While others might be a bit timider. So let them approach you slowly and take the snack from your hands.
Again, do not make any sudden movements nor take this opportunity to just grab them and take them with you.
We want to create trust between you and your pet rat and that can only happen on their own terms (and tasty treats!).
If your rattie grabs the snack and starts eating it, while standing on your hand, that’s a great sign! That means your pet rat is already very used to you and trusts you enough.
Let them eat their snack and enjoy the view!
Again, shier pet rats might also just take the treat from your hand and run away with it. That’s ok. Don’t worry about it, they just need more time.
Maybe they’re not too confident yet or they might just want to stash and hoard the food for later.
What’s important is that you give them the freedom to come and go as they want.
More extroverted pet rats will also encourage others to do the same as they do. So even if you have a pet rat that seems more insecure, they’ll soon lose their fear.
Once they see their companions go to your hands and survive the whole ordeal, they’ll want to explore and get their own snacks from you.
Show The Treats To Your Pet Rat Near The Open Cage
Alright it’s time to encourage them to leave their safe haven. Let them come to you.
Instead of approaching them inside of their cage, let them come to the front of it. Let them poke their heads outside of the cage.
Try to take them as far as you can, while always using the treat for positive reinforcement. You can even create a space for them to walk to, just outside their cage.
For example, we usually have some cardboard boxes stacked in front of their cage. They are stacked in a way that resembles stairs. This way they can go up and down their cage, safely, whenever it’s open!
It also makes it easier to interact with them. So if you have some boxes lying around, you can use them to create a path for your pet rats.
Another thing you can do is either call their names or make some kind of sound, whenever you’re encouraging them to come out.
This way they’ll also start recognizing that sound as a ‘calling over’ sign. Once they hear it, they know you’re calling them and will promptly move in your direction.
Nowadays, we just need to start calling out our ratties and they’ll run immediately to the entrance of their cage. They know it’s tasty treat time!
Encouraging your pet rats to leave their cage (as long as they have a safe space outside of it), will build up their confidence.
They’ll start understanding that being around you is safe and actually quite nice!
Gently Pet Your Pet Rat
Now that they’re getting used to you, it’s time to test some pets on them!
Just like before, leave some treats on your hand. With the other, approach and try to gently pet them.
Instead of reaching with the palm of the hand, turn it around and pet them with the back of your fingers.
A big open hand approaching might look too much like you’re trying to grab them. It also looks more threatening.
However, approaching with your hand turned the other way might look more welcoming to your pet rats!
Avoid being too forceful with your pets. Just graze your fingers lightly through their fur at first. Chances are they’re too occupied with their delicious snack to worry about the petting.
After a few tries, and if they feel comfortable with your touch, start petting your pet rat more normally.
You can then turn your hand around and properly pet their fur.
Another thing you can do, if your pet rat feels too scared of pets, is to try and touch them with the same hand that is giving the treats.
Instead of seeing a big hand coming at them directly, feeling your touch lightly on their bellies or the side of their bodies is less scary.
Again, a more fearful pet rat might just run back to its cage. If it happens, do let them go freely. They’ll come back for more later!
Pet rats have different personalities so it’s natural that some will get used to your faster and more easily than others.
Lift Your Pet Rat (Slowly!)
It’s the time to start trying to lift your rat up. By now they already feel safe with you, but this might still be a bit scary for both you and your pet rat.
Don’t worry, you can do this! Since they’re getting used to being touched by you, and already climb onto your hand, the first step is easy.
Hold out your hand and let them climb. Once they do, lift your hand gently, again avoiding sudden moves.
You also don’t need to lift them too high up. Just lightly lift them up from the level they’re at. High enough, so they can climb down your hand if they want to.
Your pet rat might get alarmed at the movement and decide they don’t want the ride. It’s ok and normal. So be sure to leave them a clear and safe path to leave your hand.
As they get more used to being lifted up from your hand you can start increasing the height, inch by inch.
This is just another step for your pet rats to learn that they can trust you. So the next step is much easier for you and them!
Hold Your Pet Rat Fully
You read it right, now that your pet rat is used to being lifted up by you, it’s time to hold them!
This can be a scary step, both for your and your pet rat. It’s alright and perfectly normal.
Before I was used to handling pet rats I would often feel nervous about it. Once you get to know your ratties, things get easier!
Your pet rats will sense you’re nervous and will feel less secure about the whole thing. So, just like before, let them climb into your hands.
Now, cup your hands gently and lift them up. Bring your hands close to your body. This way your pet rat will feel more secure. It might also help you feel more confident as well!
Don’t be scared of your pet rat just launching itself out of your hands. They’re smarter than that. Even if they decide to abort the mission, they’ll probably just start climbing through you, looking for a clear and safe path back home.
If you do notice that, help them return to their cage. It was already great progress! Next time, they’ll stay longer on your hands.
Increase the amount of time you’re holding them slowly. Let them roam your lap and climb through your arms and shoulders.
Pet rats love to explore new places, so do encourage that!
If you hear a small squeak that’s perfectly normal. It means they’re a bit nervous about the whole experience. However, don’t let them go just yet ( just be sure you’re not holding them too tightly!).
Once they get used to their new bearings, they’ll start feeling more comfortable.
If they do keep squeaking constantly, let them go. It was already a very big and good exercise for them. Tomorrow is another day.
It’s also a good idea to keep treats nearby, so you can give some to them, while you’re holding them on your lap.
This way, they’ll quickly understand this is a good activity and bond with you more easily!
Use A Bonding Pouch!
It’s time to bring out the big guns!
Either get a bonding pouch (you can find some very cute ones on Etsy!) or make your own. With just a piece of fabric, you can make a very comfortable bonding pouch for your pet rats.
Check this cute and simple tutorial by Something Animal:
Alternatively, you can also use an old hoodie. Just cut the hoodie out of the rest of the sweatshirt.
Make two holes, one on each side of the hoodie. Now you can cut two long pieces of fabric and attach them to the hoodie, by using the holes you just made.
You can even get creative with it! You can make the straps of your pouch out of beads, make a braid out of colored strips of fabric or even create a macramé pattern.
Now, all you have to do is put the pouch around your neck and then encourage your pet rats to go inside of it.
This way you can carry them with you throughout the day, throughout your whole house!
Need to go to the kitchen? Then bring your ratties with you! Want to watch some television? Bring them as well!
Most rats feel very cozy and well protected there. They can be in a small and safe space, while still feeling your heat and smell.
This pouch will allow them to better get used to your scent. It also allows you to interact with them more often and easily.
You can bring them to your work desk. They can stay inside their pouch or leave and explore the desk. Once they feel tired of exploring, they can go back to the cozy pouch and rest for a bit.
All this, in your company!
Free Roam With Your Pet Rat
Now that your pet rat is way more used to you, it’s time for some free-roaming!
Pet rats don’t need to stay only in their cage or the bonding pouch you got for them.
It’s also good to set up a place, where they can roam and play freely! Even if their cage is big, it can be limited.
Especially when playing more messy games or even when teaching them tricks.
So, I like to recommend creating a playground for our ratties. This can be as big or as small as you want.
You can even buy a playpen on Amazon, so it’s easier to set up a perimeter that is hard to escape from.
Be sure that the space you set is safe for your pet rats. Free of electrical cables and wires. If there are electrical sockets nearby, be sure to cover them so your pet rats don’t get any crazy ideas.
Since pet rats are very sensitive, it’s also a good idea to make sure the place is clean and free of dust.
Now all you have to do is fill the place with puzzle toys, digging boxes, pet rat wheels, and even create obstacle courses for them.
Pet rats are very smart, so it’s good to exercise not only their bodies but their brains as well!
This is also a good opportunity to train and teach some tricks to your pet rats. This way, you can join in the fun as well!
How Long Does It Really Take To Bond With A Pet Rat?
On average it takes about 6 weeks to bond with a pet rat, but this might take more or less time depending on a few factors.
Some pet rat owners on Facebook reported that it took them only 2 to 3 weeks! While others say that it has been 6 months and their pet rat isn’t completely at ease with them. So your time may vary a lot.
For example, if you stay a long time with your pet rat on a daily basis, interacting with them, talking, and playing, this will be quicker. If however, you can only spend half an hour a day with your pet rat, you’ll notice that this will take significantly more time.
Another thing to notice is if you got your pet rat from a good breeder (where the rest of the rat family is already used to humans) or not. This will also make the process faster.
A pet rat that is already used to human contact, will have a much easier time when meeting a new owner!
If you have a young pet rat, it will be faster to bond, since they’ll be growing with you. Older pet rats that are not used to people will take longer to get used to you and bond.
And finally, depending on the personality of the rat it can be much faster or much slower! This is a very big factor in bonding with your pet rat.
Here’s a table to help you calculate more or less how long it takes to bond with a pet rat.
|Can You Spend Several Hours Per Day With Your Pet Rat?|
|Did Your Pet Rat Come From A Good Breeder?|
|Is Your Pet Rat Young?|
|Is Your Pet Rat Very Friendly?|
Consider a base time to bond with your pet rat to be about 2 weeks, and add an extra 2 weeks for every No answer.
In reality, this will depend on a lot of factors!
But if you take the steps we talked about today and slowly go through them, you’ll create a strong and healthy bond with your pet rat.
Just be patient and enjoy the time you have with them.
Should I Start Bonding With My Pet Rat Right Away?
You really shouldn’t. As I mentioned before, introducing your pet rat to a whole new environment is stressful enough.
Everything is new and strange to them. The home, the smell, and the sights around them are different from what they’re used to.
It’s good to wait about 2 days before starting to bond. Just let them get used to their new home. Let them be more comfortable with their cage.
This way, they’ll see it as a safe harbor, where they can be comfortable. After a few days, their cage will start feeling more familiar.
The same goes for the new smells and sounds around them. Once you notice that they roam about their cage confidently, then you can start the whole bonding process!
Until then, be sure to get some great cage accessories to make your pet rat happy and entertained!