Pet rats are usually very peaceful and won’t bite unless threatened. To be honest, my pet rats NEVER bit me or anyone they interacted with. But there are always exceptions, for example, if you have a very aggressive pet rat or one that has been brought from an abusive pet owner.
Do pet rats bite? In short, generally no, they don’t bite. Most of the times, if they do feel uncomfortable, they might threaten to, but they’ll mostly bite the air to warn you to back off.
But again, there are exceptions, so let’s talk a bit more about that and what to do in case of a bite.
Pet Rats Biting vs Nibbling
There is quite a big difference between biting and nibbling.
Nibbling is a very normal behavior, as well as licking. These are grooming behaviors and rats do this to each other. If they do it with you, it’s a very good sign.
It both means that they feel comfortable around you and that they are also curious. Nibbling is mostly just tiny bites. They won’t hurt at all and it is very cute.
It can also be accompanied by some bruxism.
Rats do this both when they’re nervous or when they’re very happy and comfortable (I know, they could have different behaviors right? Well, we’re a complicated species as well, so we’ll take it!).
Very simply put, bruxism is when your rats’ teeth start grinding against each other.
While doing this, it is very common for their eyes to pop up like crazy. If this happens, don’t worry too much. Like I said, one of the reasons might be because they’re happy and comfortable, the other is because they’re not comfortable at all.
If the latter, leave them be and they’ll return to normal.
As for biting, it is very rare to happen.
But some rats can be too territorial and might bite if they feel they have to. For example, if your rats tend to scuffle a bit among them (which is also very normal, especially if you have male rats), then the best to do is to stay put.
Let them cool down. After a scuffle, they’re still very into it and might try to bite you if you try and interact with them.
It’s nothing against you, there’s just too much testosterone and adrenaline happening! Another reason is, for example, when cleaning their cage. Even female rats can be territorial in these matters.
They fill the cage with their smell and then you go there and clean it out. “That’s rude!”, they think, “I’m going to bite you, so you know not to do it again!”.
If you need to clean the cage, take your rats out so they don’t feel the need to be aggressive. Ratties never really like when we clean their home, but we need to. And it makes everything less stressful if they’re somewhere else, like their play area or any place in the house that they’re used to!
Do Rat Bites Hurt?
Usually, not really.
They bite more as of a “let me be!” statement than an “I’m trying to kill you” act. That would be hard for them to do anyway, and they know it. Like I said, a lot of times they’ll just make a motion and bite the air.
They know you’re bigger and stronger than them and, mostly, they’re just asking you to back off. If they feel too threatened or aggressive though, they can draw blood if they need to. In occasions like the ones mentioned above, it might happen.
If they do tend to bite you, for example when getting food from your hands, because they’re too excited about it, take your hand away, keeping the treat, and squeal a bit. Rats react to this and learn that they’re hurting you, so after some tries, they’ll learn to be a bit less excited about treats and take them from you carefully.
If a rat is really trying to sink its teeth into you, they may be injured, feeling threatened or they might have come from a previous abusive owner and they’re too overzealous and scared and this is their defensive mechanism.
Pet Rat Bite Risks
If you got bitten, in most cases you should be fine.
Pet rats don’t carry a lot of diseases as everyone says so about wild rats, especially ones that transmit to humans. If your pet rat is healthy, you should be fine.
Of course, if you do get bitten and it draws blood, clean the wound as you would with any other. Rinse it through water and if you want to be really thorough, use some hydrogen peroxide to disinfect it. Then you can put a band-aid if you wish.
At some point take the band-aid out, because the skin needs to be dry and start healing itself properly and quickly.
Do pay attention to any discomfort in the wound, if it starts to throb or to look bad and too red, seek out your doctor. Better safe than sorry!
Handling Your Rat So It Doesn’t Bite
Never try to force your rat to do anything. Handle your rat softly and gently, cup your hands below him so he feels comfortable.
We are giants for them and so it’s more than normal for them to feel scared. Even if a rat is already used to handling, a new person will always make them nervous.
If they squeak, they are probably very scared, so you might want to try again later. My pet rats squeaked a bit when being handled once they arrived at my home, but it quickly stopped once they understood I wasn’t trying to hurt them.
The trick is to be very patient and go slow with them. Try to let them come to your hands first, let them smell and nibble. After that, start to try and hold them. Try to pet them a bit. They might feel too nervous at the beginning but will soon get used to you.
Oh and for god’s sake, don’t hold them by their tail! In fact, try not to touch much of their tail. They have really sensitive tails and they might even squeak if you touch them by surprise. So, the tail is a no-no.
I know that sometimes they tend to get their tails all dirty and you can help and clean them a bit. But only once they’re used to it and try to avoid stressing them out too much. If they start to tremble and bruxing a lot, let them be.
Bonus Tip: Don’t Feed Them Through The Cage Bars
Here’s an extra advice, don’t feed your rats through the cage bars.
Some people tend to do this, but it really isn’t a good idea. Once you start doing this, they will tend to nib anything that comes through the cage bars thinking it’s food. So if you poke your finger through the cage, they will try to bite it.
It’s not that they’re being aggressive towards you, they’re just used at it being food and trying to get it.
Instead just give them food in a bowl and leave it in their cage. Or even hide some food around their cage, my pet rats really love searching around for treats!
If you want to give them special treats, take the chance to teach them to come to you. Call them or make some kind of noise to call them out.
When they get to you, give them the treat.
Is rat bite fatal? Only if you’ve been bitten by a wild rat and they happen to carry any kind of fatal disease. If so, you should head to the hospital immediately. If it’s a pet rat and you know it’s healthy, you should be safe!
Can a rat bite you in your sleep? Pet rats will very rarely bite and only if you’re invading their territory or are afraid and feel threatened. Even then, they’ll probably just bite the air instead of you. Plus, when you go to sleep, your pet rats will probably be kept in their cage as well, so no risk of nibbling during the night!
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