3 Reasons Why Your Pet Rat Is Grooming (Itself, Each Other And You)

Rats are very clean pets as they spend a significant amount of their day grooming themselves.

For that reason, you don’t even need to bathe them, unless they’ve gotten themselves someplace dirty.

There are many reasons why your pet rat is grooming and that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about in this article.

In short, why is your pet rat grooming? Pet rats groom to keep themselves clean, to show domination and to show their affection!

But let’s see more about that and when should you keep an eye on them.

Why Your Pet Rat Is Grooming

Pet rats groom themselves all the time. If they’re not eating or sleeping, chances are, you’re gonna watch them grooming themselves or each other.

Contrary to popular belief, pet rats are actually very clean animals and will groom themselves quite a lot! Studies actually have shown that male adult rats spend around 40% of their time (while awake) grooming themselves!

However, there are several reasons for our ratties grooming:

Power grooming

As I mentioned above, pet rats groom themselves as well as other rats in their cage.

Power grooming comes from a necessity to show which rat is the most dominant. The dominant rat overpowers the other, who is more submissive.

The dominant rat becomes a bit more excited with the grooming, however, this is very normal behavior and there’s usually no danger for the other rat.

A lot of the time, you might even hear the submissive rat squeak a little bit, which is a sign that it’s submitting to its buddy.

There’s usually, no reason to worry about this, since they’re not hurting each other, just showing who’s the boss!

Rat bonding

Grooming is also a way for pet rats to bond with each other.

It is very common to see one rat grooming the other.

This is how they maintain a group bond as well as how they show affection and get to know each other.

Pet rats are very sociable animals and this is why you should always own more than one. They’ll sleep together, eat together, play, and groom each other.

This is how they live their happiest lives.

Just like any other animal (even us!), there are certain places that pet rats have some difficulty reaching and grooming.

So having another buddy helping with the grooming also has a practical purpose.

You might notice that they groom each other mostly on the neck, head, or shoulders since these can be quite hard to reach!

Showing emotions

Pet rats lick when they are happy, content, and comfortable. You might’ve noticed that they’ll groom you as well.

You’re part of the pack.

They groom you because they are showing emotions and trying to communicate. 

When this happens, it means they are comfortable around you. Your pet rat is saying they love you back!

And the same goes when they’re doing it to each other. They’re showing how much they love their buddies and that they accept each other as part of the family.

Pet rat grooming for dominance or for bonding?

As mentioned above, pet rat grooming can occur both for bonding and dominance.

They groom each other mostly to maintain an affectionate bond within their group. But how do we know the difference between bonding and dominance?

Dominance grooming is usually more aggressive and it will normally happen on the other rat’s belly or flank.

It is usually accompanied by some squeaks from the groomed rat.

The dominant rat tends to pin the other rat down on its back and start grooming. This is a very common occurrence with other animals as well.

This can sometimes be mistaken as forced grooming. However, in this case, the other rat is not in pain.

If you’re worried, do observe them when this happens.

But avoid interrupting unless you see the submissive rat squeaking repeatedly or if any fight breaks between them!

Why are my pet rats grooming each other?

Grooming each other is a significant part of pet rats’ lives. They groom each other as it provides number of benefits. 

For example, ratties will groom each other at the parts where they can’t reach themselves. This helps them remain clean and prevents disease outbreaks or incidence of ectoparasites, like fleas.

Photo of a pet rat grooming itself and cleaning their face
While pet rats groom themselves, they sometimes look as if they’re hiding their faces in shame!

If a pet rat is not clean enough, it won’t feel comfortable. In fact, you might notice this discomfort if you’re not careful with their cage maintenance.

When their litter is too dirty, they’ll stop using it and start relieving themselves in another place that looks cleaner. If their bedding starts getting too old and dirty, they’ll start trying to get rid of it.

They are very picky about their surroundings and like to be as clean as possible.

Lack of hygiene can also bring parasites that, if not taken care of, will bring disease to your cuddly friends and we don’t want that.

So grooming is not only a social instinct, it’s also a way to keep them protected.

When a pet rat can’t groom themselves anymore, a lot of the time, one of their buddies will help them out.

Since they like to be clean, grooming is also a very pleasant experience for them.

For that reason, they return the favor to one another!

What’s Overgrooming And How To Stop It?

Sometimes pet rats might start overgrooming.

For example, instead of combing with their teeth, they start biting off their fur. This behavior is called self-barbering and it gives them a choppy or bald look. 

They’ll also start grooming themselves more aggressively and constantly.

The signs can be very often seen on the front paw wrists and inside of their thighs.

If you start to see any bald area on your rattie in places they can reach easily, then it is a fair chance it has barbered itself by overgrooming.

This kind of behavior occurs mostly out of boredom or stress. And even though it’s difficult, it’s important to stop them from continuing over-grooming.

One thing you can do, both to avoid and to try and stop it, is to try and stimulate them. Perhaps their cage doesn’t have enough toys.

Perhaps, they’re bored with their current toys or they’re not the right toys for them.

It’s good to have a good number of playthings for them and exchange them every week.

Pet rats are very smart and once they solve a puzzle, they’ll be done with it quickly.

So every week or so, it’s good to rotate their toys, so they have different textures, colors, and puzzles to play with!

Pet Rats Need Attention

Try to play with them more often and even give them a playground outside of the cage where they can go for a few minutes every day.

If you’re out of ideas to keep your ratties active, I got the right article for you, so check out these fun games to play with them!

Rats can also show this behavior under stress or other factors like losing a rat friend or a new pet coming to the house.

It’s always important to introduce them to other pets slowly and calmly, so take your time with it.

All in all, overgrooming isn’t physically dangerous for your pet rat as long as it is not damaging their skin or causing sores.

If it does happen, you can apply tea-tree based cream to cover the sore and to protect the skin.

Its smell also discourages them not to nibble at that site again.

However, it’s always good to talk to your veterinary, since even if they’re not hurting physically, there’s something bothering your pet rat and it should be taken care of!

So Why Are Your Pet Rats Licking So Much

All in all, grooming is a very natural behavior.

It’s a big part of our little rodent lives. They do it to strengthen the bonds between each other and their owner.

If you see them grooming many times during their waking hours, there’s no reason to worry about it.

It is in their nature.

The only time you should worry is if you see any of the ratties in distress or if they start showing any bald patches on their skin.

Otherwise, let them lick you and each other comfortably because I assure you, they’re enjoying it and showing their love!

pinterest image cover of reasons why your pet rat is grooming itself, each other and you!