Do Pet rats Bite? Complete Guide for Owners


What are the odds of your pet rat going ahead and sinking their teeth into you at any point? Well, the answer to that is quite simple.

Pet rats can occasionally bite. Their bite ranges from a light nip to breaking the skin. However, if you develop a positive relationship with your rat, and treat them according to certain guidelines, then being bitten becomes highly unlikely. Most owners will never be bitten by a pet rat.

As your pet rat has teeth, then there is every possibility that you will end up being nipped, or bitten, at some point in your relationship. 

But there’s always a bit more to all of this than simply your pet rat biting you. So, when could it happen? Why could it happen? And what would you then do about it?

You see, your pet biting you is not straightforward, and that is especially true when you have built up some kind of relationship, and they understand what is going on.

At that point, your pet rat biting you is not going to be likely, even though we cannot rule it out 100% as a possibility.

So, what is going on? Let’s go ahead and explore it all.

Pet rat in a cage

How are Pet Rats Going to Bite?

For your pet rat, their teeth will be an important tool. They use them for all sorts of things, and not just biting for the sake of eating.

Their teeth, along with their tail, will make up their main way of defending themselves. A rat is, by nature, going to be picked on by other animals that see the rat as an easy meal. 

However, even in that situation, their main focus is on trying to get away from a situation which they perceive as being dangerous. They would prefer flight, rather than fight.

But then, that’s not always going to be the case. Instead, there may be times when your rat feels that the only thing they can do is to fight. However, even with that, there’s a limit to what they will do.

You see, the main thing for your rat is still to get away. In their mind, what they want to do is to sink their teeth into whatever is attacking them to get them to release them, and then they will run away.

A rat is not interested in a fight to the death. They want to do some quick damage, and then move on and get out of trouble. 

And that is exactly what will be going on if your pet rat ends up biting you at some point.

Remember, It’s Your Pet Rat (A Word About Diseases)

The first thing you have to remember is that we are talking about your pet rat.

While they can still carry various diseases, you need to also keep in mind that they are residing in a far more sterile environment. 

Due to that, the number of health concerns attached to them will drop, as they aren’t mingling with other rats and all of those nasty bacteria and viruses that exist.

Of course, I’m not saying that a bite from your pet rat is a walk in the park, it’s not. However, you won’t have the absolute same concerns or worries when it comes to what their bite may contain.

In saying that, we still need to examine what’s going on, and what you can do about it.

A Bite is Often Highly Unlikely

So let’s dive straight in and set the record straight. Your pet rat may very well bite you, but it’s not a regular event. Actually, it’s highly unlikely.

As pet rodents go, your pet rat is one of the most laid-back and easygoing out there.

Not a lot phases them or flusters them, apart from in certain situations, so the idea of them sinking their teeth into your finger won’t enter their mind that often. 

It takes quite a lot for them to be worked up enough where they feel as if biting you is the only option. And that’s an important point right there. Your pet rat will only see biting you as something done in desperation. It’s just not in their actual nature to go around biting like crazy.

However, it’s still entirely possible.

So, what are the reasons?

Reason 1: Out of Fear

If we are living in fear, or fearful of something, then we can act in a way that is different to our norm, and your pet rat is no different.

That is why a bite from your pet rat can often signify that they are afraid of something. Also, there can be a number of causes for this fear.

It may be that they were bullied or mistreated before you became their owner. That can instill a sense of anxiety within them, and that can then result in them basically acting out when that sense of fear overtakes them.

It may also be that they are not socialized as well as other rats. That means they see us humans as being big, scary things, and they don’t know how to react. Also, they are unable to effectively understand that we are there to care for them and look after them. 

Of course, any animal can be startled at some point. If you do that, which can be completely unintentional, then a bite is going to pretty much be their reflex reaction. 

How to Handle This Situation

So let’s say you see that your pet rat is afraid, or they have indeed bitten you as a result of being scared, how do you go ahead and actually handle that situation?

Well, you don’t want to make your pet rat feel as if they have been backed into a corner. That will increase their fear, and they will be more likely to act out.

You need to back off, and even just leave them alone at this moment in time.

It will allow them to start to realize that the scary situation is now over, and the chances of them then biting you, or biting you again, will drop quite considerably.

You also need to work on their socialization skills. This will involve bribery and tempting them with treats to come close to you.

At first, don’t try to pick them up, as that will make things worse. Instead, you need them to start to associate you with nice things, and that’s where the bribery part works.

Reason 2: Changes in Hormones

This is a surprise for some, but hormonal changes can result in your pet rat biting you, but it’s the male rat you have to really look out for. 

The key here is when a male rat starts to mature.

At that point, they will have a tendency to become far more aggressive than before, and that aggression can sometimes turn into them attacking you. 

This can also result in them becoming far more territorial, and that means they could initially see you as an invader into their cage, and that’s not something they will enjoy. Ultimately, a bite is going to be the end result.

Now, if you have more than one rat, then it’s common for them to go ahead and try to gain supremacy over one another, and that can lead to one rat biting another, which is normal. However, it’s not normal for your rat to then go ahead and bite you, so that may mean their hormones are raging.

How to Handle This Situation

This type of situation needs to be addressed immediately. The longer you leave this behavior to go unchecked, then the worse the situation will be. 

If they live on their own and are aggressive, then you may need to take them to the vet in order to have them neutered. That will make a huge difference to what’s going on.

Aside from that, you may need to go through the socialization thing again with them in order to overcome this particular behavior. This does take time, so try to have the patience to then get the best possible end result.

Light brown pet rat on a furry material

Reason 3: They are in Pain

If your pet rat is in pain, then that can make them rather tetchy and become more aggressive, and that could eventually lead to them handing out a bite.

When you think about it, this is the exact same type of behavior you see in other animals. If a dog is in pain, then it’s far more likely to then go ahead and lash out at you, so a pet rat is going to be no different.

The fear they then have will be increased if you don’t notice they are in pain before attempting to handle them. That is going to send them into such a state of panic that they will then attempt to fend you off, and that’s where they will bite.

How to Handle This Situation

If you cannot see any clear reason as to what is going on, then taking your pet rat to the vet to have them checked over is the best course of action you can take.

It will allow the vet to determine if they are indeed in pain, and also what’s causing the problem, so that should sort things out and let you know how to look after your pet rat until they are better.

Reason 4: They are Playing

This is another important reason to consider, as your rat could very well be playing, and they just got carried away with things.  [Source]

Also, keep this in mind…

Rats like to effectively ‘feel’ things with their teeth. It allows them to work out what it is in front of them, but that can lead to them making some mistakes when they are too hyped up and feeling a bit too energetic.

Also, it can be an attempt by them to groom you. 

Of course, either of these options does mean they are not actively trying to hurt you. It’s their way of expressing themselves, and it’s us that end up taking it in the wrong manner.

How to Handle This Situation

The best way to handle this situation is to build on your knowledge of general rat behavior. This allows you to better interpret what is going on and also changes how you will then react.

It’s also important for you to realize that they are playing, so you then don’t scare them or do anything that could give them the wrong impression regarding their behavior.

It’s going to be tough, but when you know they are playing, you need to let them carry on even if you try to make sure your fingers are not bearing the brunt of it all.

Actually, the best thing to do is to let out an ‘ouch’ or ‘ow’, as that can often be enough for your rat to pick up the signal that something is wrong. They are intelligent creatures, and they will be able to work out that they have effectively done something wrong.

Reason 5: You Scared Them

Even though a rat is usually very alert to everything that is going on around them, that’s not always going to be the case.

Instead, there are times when they could very well be startled or scared, and that’s where they can lash out with a bite. With this, it’s purely instinct, as they feel they need to protect themselves in some way, so they will use the only real weapon they have, their teeth.

Keep in mind that a rat is primarily an animal that is viewed as being prey for other animals.

If you try to pick them up, and they are not aware of it, then their automatic thought is that some animal is attacking them, so defending themselves is the only thing they can do.

How to Handle This Situation

Never just walk up to your rat and try to grab them. Let them know you are there by talking to them first, and don’t simply try to surprise them, even though they may appear to be pretty relaxed at the time.

Also, make sure they can get used to your hands, so they know what to expect in advance.

If they recognize your scent, and also what it’s like to be in your hands, then they will start to recognize what is going on, and there’s less chance of them then acting out in this way. 

As with any interaction with your pet rat, this does take some time for them to get used to what is going on, and learn that you are not there to hurt them. However, the issue of scaring them by them not seeing you will always exist. Sometimes you just cannot undo animal nature.

How to Deal with a Bite

But let’s say your pet rat does indeed go ahead and sink their teeth into your finger, what do you do? Well, you need to be sensible here and get that bite clean.

Your pet rat can still have various bacteria and diseases, and you don’t want that sort of stuff getting into the bite. Because of their teeth, there is every chance that they will break the skin, but even if they didn’t, you still need to clean the area just to be on the safe side.

Use antiseptic on the bite, and keep an eye on it.

Look for any signs of infection later that day, or for the next few days that follow, as there is a possibility that a problem may develop with the area where you were bitten.

The Key Signs to Look Out for

If your rat bites you, then the key signs of a potential problem developing include redness appearing at the site, pain around the area of the bite, and some swelling.

If an infection does occur, then you will tend to see the wound area begin to seep. [Source]

While it’s unlikely, you would also be best to look out for signs of a fever developing or aches and pains in your body. As I said earlier, your pet rat may not have all of the diseases you associate with rats in the wild, but they do still carry some bacteria, so look out for those few signs that could indicate another problem.

Conclusion

Your pet rat doesn’t actually want to bite you. It has no intention of doing this at any point. If it does, then it should be taken as an indication that something else is wrong, and you need to discover what that problem is, and deal with it.

While I gave you five different reasons as to why they could react in this way, it’s not the complete list. However, they are the most common reasons, and they are also pretty easy to identify.

Your pet rat is going to mainly be quite loving and cute. Bites are rare, but they can happen, so just remember to look after the bite area in case there are any complications, as you never know what may go wrong from time to time.

Barry Gray

Barry is a freelance writer from Scotland. He has written about pets for over a decade, and his work has been turned into a range of ebooks, courses, and material for diplomas. Barry is passionate about all animals, but particularly dogs, fish, rabbits, birds and spiders. You can find out more about Barry at https://mercurypets.com/our-writers/

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