Rats are considered silent animals but that’s far from the truth. They emit high frequency noises that exceed human perception.
While we can hear sounds in the range of 16 to 20,000 Hz (20 kHz), your rat’s hearing is ultrasound at 200 Hz to 80 or 90 kHz. Rats do make some noises we can hear though and their purpose is to let us know one of four things: they’re happy, angry, annoyed, or unwell.
If you’re stuck on what your rat is trying to tell you, here are 8 common noises rats make and what they might mean.
1) Short Squeak
A rat’s short squeak is often described as sounding like a “peep”. If you have accidentally startled one of your rats by petting them, there is a chance they responded with a squeak. You might also hear these short squeaks when rats are grooming each other or interacting in a non-threatening manner.
Rats most often squeak as a sign of fear or minor disapproval, but they aren’t in any pain or immediate danger.
2) Long Squeak
A long squeak is typically a sound of protest from a submissive rat. You might hear a long squeak when your rats are play fighting and one of them has decided they need to take a break. If you hear a long squeak and no one seems distressed or injured, you can be sure that your vocal rat is annoyed and is letting everyone else know its time to back off!
A rat’s scream is like a long squeak except much louder. It is often a sign of extreme disapproval or fear. If you are introducing rats to each other, a scream is a common response from the submissive rat especially if they are significantly younger. Young rats are still learning hierarchy and social skills, so they will often scream when confronted by an older, dominant rat if they don’t know what else to do.
If you hear a scream coming from your rats’ cage, you will need to assess the situation. If it looks like one of your rats is being cornered or bullied, you will need to separate and try another introduction later.
4) Rats Wheezing
Wheezing is a common sound you might hear if your rat has the start of an upper respiratory infection or is experiencing a mycoplasma attack. Most people describe it as a whistling noise that occurs alongside their rat’s breathing. If wheezing is the result of mycoplasma, it should go away on its own within 48 hours. If your rat is still wheezing past this time, you will need to make an appointment with your veterinarian for antibiotics.
A reliable way to check for wheezing is playing “telephone” with your rat: in a quiet room, carefully hold your rat next to your ear. If your rat is wheezing, you will hear the clear sound of whistling as they breathe.
5) Rat Sneezing
Sneezing is another common noise you will hear if you keep pet rats. It is one of the cutest noises you’ll hear from your loveable furballs and it is generally not cause for concern unless influenced by illness or allergies. Non-threatening reasons your rat might sneeze are new scents, new pets, or simply sniffing their environment.
Like humans, rats can have allergies and they can develop at any time. If you think your rat has developed allergies think about what might be different in their environment. New bedding? New food? Nearby air freshener? You might need to do a process of elimination if you have changed a lot of things at once but start by changing one thing for a few days. If the sneezing has subsided, it was probably caused by an allergy.
If you notice other symptoms like polyfirin around the eyes and nose, rattling or wheezing, loss of appetite, and lethargy, your rat’s sneezing is likely caused by an illness and will need to get checked over by their veterinarian
6) Rat Bruxing
Bruxing is when a rat grinds their teeth together at a rapid pace. While this sounds like a negative action, it’s a natural process for wearing down their teeth. In most cases, bruxing is associated with a rat feeling happy, excited, or relaxed. However, rats will grind their teeth in response to pain or stress too, so you will need to rely on their body language to determine the cause.
If your rat is active and exploring or in total relaxation mode, they are likely feeling positive emotions. If your rat’s fur is fluffed up with a hunched back, you can presume their bruxing is caused by pain.
Hissing is an aggressive noise that is usually only heard during particularly stressful social encounters like the introduction of a new rat to your established mischief. In most cases, hissing is what you will hear before a fight breaks out so be prepared to safely intervene if necessary. Please note: You should never pick up a hissing rat without wearing thick gloves or wrapping them in a towel first because they might respond by attacking you.
This is a rat’s grumpy noise, like how we might express our annoyance at someone by sighing. If you hear your rat, make this noise you would be better off leaving them alone for a bit because they are showing you they need some space.
Due to the differences in our range of hearing, most of the noises our little companions produce is unrecognizable by human ears. Luckily, rats do make some noises that we can understand and that’s good news for us because these noises are often a signal of pain, fear, or illness.
By learning the purpose behind each squeak, hiss, or sneeze, we can provide the necessary compassion and care for our beloved pets.