Understanding Rat Behavior 101: What Everything Means

LAST MODIFIED: Thursday, November 15, 2018
Rat behavior

If you’re new to the world of fancy rats, trying to figure out what their behavior is communicating can be challenging.

While some behaviors indicate feeling happy and relaxed, other behaviors are a sign that your rat might be stressed or ready to start a fight.

It’s important to know how to tell the difference between positive and negative rat behavior because it’ll help you intervene before an injury occurs.

 

Eye-boggling

Eye-boggling refers to a behavior where it looks like your rat’s eyes are popping in and out. It’s a normal behavior that usually occurs in conjunction with another behavior – teeth grinding (bruxing).

Don’t be alarmed if you notice your rats’ eye-boggling. Although this behavior looks worrying it’s a sign your rat is feeling happy!

You might notice eye-boggling when your rat is feeling relaxed, about to falling asleep, or while receiving affection from you.

 

Teeth Grinding (Bruxing)

Teeth grinding or bruxing, is a common behavior observed in rats. In normal circumstances, rats grind their teeth to keep them from growing too long and it often occurs alongside eye-boggling. Healthy bruxing should sound faint, almost like a cat’s purr.

Rats will also grind their teeth when in pain or stressed. In these situations, you will notice other signs of stress like hair standing up, lethargy, weight-loss, and hunched posture. if your rat has just endured some stress like going to the vet or getting a new cage mate, bruxing is a normal response.

If you think your rat is in pain, look for signs of an injury like bleeding, limping, lacerations, aggression, and squinting of eyes. You’ll also want to give their teeth a quick check-up to ensure they are the proper length.

 

Squeaking

Squeaking is a common sound you’ll hear from your rats but it’s usually nothing to worry about. Squeaks can vary in length and pitch, but the consensus is that it’s a rat’s way of communicating their disapproval.

You might notice your rats squeaking while grooming each other, play fighting, eating, or while handling a shy or untamed rat.

It’s common for very young rats to squeal loudly because they are learning how to communicate and are more fearful than adult rats. However, injured and trapped rats will also let out a loud squeak so it’s important to assess the situation and intervene if necessary.

 

Head Bob

A rat’s head bob can be in any direction: up and down, or side-to-side. Due to their poor eyesight, rats rely on this behavior for analyzing visual depth. You will probably notice more instances of head bobbing in albino rats and rats with ruby-red eyes because their eyesight is even worse than the typical standard rat.

 

Scent Marking

As strange as it sounds, rats learn a lot about each other through their urine. They do this through a behavior called scent marking. Scent marking is the small droplets of urine left by a rat on surfaces, objects, and even other rats.

A rat’s urine gives information regarding a rat’s gender, identity, age, reproductive status, social rank, sexual maturity, and stress level. While this isn’t a gender specific behavior, male rats mark more often than female rats.

By scent marking, rats become more familiar with their environment. This helps alert them to intruders or potential threats.

 

Play Fighting

A common behavior seen mostly in baby rats is play fighting or wrestling. It’s important for developing social hierarchy so you shouldn’t discourage the behavior from happening. But you do need to know the difference between play fighting and bullying.

With play fighting, you shouldn’t see injuries or blood being drawn. You will hear a lot of squeaks, some of which might be loud, but screaming isn’t normal. If you think your rats are being too rough with each other, it’s recommended that you separate them and supervise their play until you can trust them alone.

 

Stashing Food

Stashing food is an instinct: in the wild rats need to survive and they don’t know when their next meal is going to be, so if there’s enough food to stash away, they will. Although domesticated rats don’t have to worry about their food supply, it’s hard to ignore this innate behavior.

Food isn’t the only thing rats will stash though! You might notice your rats stashing other things like paper products, candies, and any small object that will fit in their mouth. For safety reasons, don’t leave anything hanging on or near your rat’s cage and keep dangerous objects out of reach during free-roam playtime.

If you are worried about your rats overeating, you can try feeding small amounts of food at a time or emptying their stash pile.

 

Nesting

Nesting is a behavior most rats are inclined to do – it’s not strictly related to pregnancy. Rats nest by gathering materials like loose bedding, fabric scraps, cardboard, and paper products with their mouth and arranging them in their preferred sleeping spot.

Nests can be simple with just a single layer of material or they can be shaped into structures with walls and a ceiling. It’s normal for rats to rearrange materials and rebuild nests after cage cleanings.

 

Hissing

Hissing is a defensive behavior that you will usually notice when your rats feel threatened or stressed. Prior to hearing a hiss, you might notice tense social interactions between your rats signaling conflict. Hissing is a normal behavior, but you should check for signs of pain or bullying between rats. This will rule out injuries and stop serious injuries from occurring.

 

Tail Twitching

At times it might appear like your rat is wagging or banging their tail on the ground. This behavior is called tail twitching and although the cause is unknown, many people associate it with their rat feeling tense because it’s often observed prior to boxing.

A rat might use their whole tail or just the tip of the tail, but the movement is consistent.

 

Boxing

Boxing is when two rat’s face-off by standing on their hind-legs and push or paw at each other. This might sound like an aggressive behavior but when it occurs in an established group of rats, it’s often just a minor argument about who is the dominant rat. You might hear some squeaks, but risk of injury is rare with this type of boxing.

In situations where a new rat is being introduced to the group, look for signs of a fight about to start, like fluffed fur or aggression, and be ready to intervene if needed.

 

Barbering

Barbering refers to excessive self-grooming or grooming of a cage mate that results in partial hair loss. Common areas that are affected are the abdomen, shoulders, limbs, head, and muzzle. You shouldn’t see any inflammation or scabbing on the skin but if you do, you’ll need to seek assistance from your veterinarian to avoid infection.

Barbering can be caused by stress, boredom, hereditary reasons, or power-grooming from the dominant cage mate.

You can help prevent barbering by providing an assortment of toys and chews and including hiding places in the cage setup like tunnels, huts, or boxes.

 

Conclusion

Now that you know what some of the most common rat behaviors indicate, you should be able to assess environments and know when to intervene to avoid injuries occurring within your mischief.