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How to Bathe Your Pet Rat Without Stress

Dreamhowl has worked in pet retail for over ten years. She has owned betta fish, dogs, fancy mice, fancy rats, geckos, hamsters, and more.

Ease the stress of bathtime for you and your rat with these tips and strategies!

Ease the stress of bathtime for you and your rat with these tips and strategies!

Bathing your pet rat can be a stressful experience for the both of you, especially the first time. Helping introduce your rat to water over time can ease the process, as well as other tips and tricks. While rats are very clean animals, sometimes they don’t keep up with their cleanliness or simply need a little help along the way. This hub will explain how to bathe your pet rat with ease and comfort, along with the dos and don'ts of the process.

Getting Your Pet Rat Used to Water

When giving your pet rat a bath, simply throwing them into the bathtub or dumping water on them isn’t going to work out. Rats are like cats; they don’t naturally like water (though every rat is different). Bathing your rat will go over much more smoothly if you introduce your rat to water slowly and gradually. To do this, follow the steps below:

  1. Fill a small container with warm water and put it on the counter or in the bathtub
  2. Slowly cup some water and trickle it onto your rat’s fur and rub it in
  3. Wipe your rat down with a towel until it is completely dry

This process will get your rat used to the idea of water and less afraid of a future bath. The next time, you can try letting your rat wade in water in the sink or bathtub. Adding balls, rocks or other toys that float can make the experience more playful. However, you should never submerge your rat’s head under water; a rat’s immune system is rather sensitive, and they are prone to respiratory infections. Getting water in your rat’s ears can result in illness and an unexpected trip to the vet.

When bathing your rat, have a towel, your shampoo and a brush (optional) ready.

When bathing your rat, have a towel, your shampoo and a brush (optional) ready.

Bathing Your Pet Rat With Shampoo

Many specialty pet stores sell small animal bathing items, such as shampoo and fragrance sprays. However, kitten shampoo has also been recommended for rats due to its sensitive formula. By nature, rats are very clean animals; you may have noticed by now that your rat cleans itself dozens of times throughout the day, sometimes after you’ve been handling it! If your rat is older, however, it may spend less time cleaning itself and more time resting. Furthermore, rats that live alone don’t have a companion to help groom them. If you have multiple rats living together, however, they may spend some of their time scent-marking each other as a show of dominance. No one likes a smelly pet.

Whatever the reason for bathing your pet rat, the process should be slow and gentle. Rushing through the bath can stress out your rat more than necessary. When bathing your rat with shampoo, try following the steps below:

  1. Have warm bathwater (in a tub or sink), a dry towel and your shampoo ready
  2. Gently lower your rat into the water or pour some water lightly over its fur
  3. Apply and lather the shampoo softly into your rat’s fur, avoiding the head and eyes
  4. Rinse your rat’s fur until the shampoo is completely cleaned off
  5. Towel dry your rat until the fur is as dry as possible, even if your rat is being squirmy
Gadget huddled in her towel after her bath, eating a yogurt treat.

Gadget huddled in her towel after her bath, eating a yogurt treat.

Giving your rat a treat during the process could help preoccupy it if the bath is getting stressful. This could be especially helpful while towel drying, as your rat may decide to hide inside the towel and munch, giving you the opportunity to get the fur dry. Running the towel in the dryer beforehand can make the end of the bath more comforting. By all means, your rat needs to be one hundred percent dry before going back into its cage to avoid catching a chill.

Bathing Your Pet Rat With Waterless Shampoo

If your rat is particularly squirmy and unruly when it comes to water, using waterless shampoo might be a better option. Waterless shampoo is a foamy spray that cleans your rat’s fur without needing water. Small animal waterless shampoo can be found in most pet specialty stores. As with simple shampoo, the waterless shampoo should not be sprayed onto your rat’s face. If your rat despises water, this method is a useful shortcut. Simply repeat the following steps:

  1. Have a dry towel and your waterless shampoo ready
  2. Gently spray your rat with the waterless shampoo, avoiding the head and ears
  3. Lather the shampoo into your rat’s fur generously, spraying more if needed
  4. Towel dry your rat until the fur is completely dry - there is no rinsing involved
Patches enjoyed her treat after her bath while snuggling in her warm towel.

Patches enjoyed her treat after her bath while snuggling in her warm towel.

As with the previous bathing method, treats can distract and calm down your rat during the process. You should find, however, that using waterless shampoo makes bath time less of a hassle for you and your pet rat. Remember not to rush the process; being slow and gentle will help your rat to feel more at ease. After lathering in the shampoo, you can let it sit in your rat’s fur for a minute before drying it. The drying process should be quicker, but shouldn’t be overlooked; remember your rat’s respiratory system.

Tips on Bathing Your Pet Rat

There are some actions you can take before bathing your rat that can make the experience more stress-free:

  • For instance, if your rat's nails are long and sharp, you can clip them before a bath. This will prevent a terrified rat from leaving gashes in your hands and arms. Clipping your rat’s nails is a stressful process and doesn’t have to be done on the same day; try doing it a day before washing your pet rat, or many hours before.
  • It also helps to wear a long-sleeved shirt while bathing your rat to avoid the simplest scratches.
  • Be sure that the room where your rat(s) stays is warm and cozy; rats can easily catch a cold, especially if you didn't dry your rat’s fur completely before putting it back in its cage.
  • Letting your rat relax after the bath will help calm it down; give your rat a break before any more playtime.
Patches is older than Gadget, and her tail has gotten much dirtier over time.

Patches is older than Gadget, and her tail has gotten much dirtier over time.

Fun Facts About Rats

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Rats know how to swim.
    • True
    • False
  2. Rat's have a poor sense of balance.
    • True
    • False
  3. Rats are one of the most intelligent pets.
    • True
    • False
  4. A rat's tail helps regulate body temperature.
    • True
    • False
  5. Rat's are unable to vomit.
    • True
    • False

Answer Key

  1. True
  2. False
  3. True
  4. True
  5. True

Another thing to keep in mind is your rat’s tail; if not cleaned regularly, dirt and gunk can get stuck to the tail and build up. While rats are very clean, they don’t always spend enough time to clean their entire tail, which they then drag around the entire cage. A good way to get your rat’s tail clean again is to:

  1. Dampen a washcloth in warm water
  2. Cover the tail in the washcloth and rub it gently
  3. Repeat this process for a few minutes every couple of days

The warm water will help loosen the gunk on your rat’s tail and clean it off little by little. Remember, however, that a rat’s tail is sensitive; be gentle when rubbing the dirt off, or simply let the warm water soak into it on its own. Your rat might even join in on cleaning its tail with you! Keeping your rat’s tail clean is important in keeping away infection. Tails help a rat regulate its body temperature, so keep it healthy!

No matter the method, be sure to take things one step at a time with your rat. If you start off baths early in your pet rat’s life, bathing will get easier over time. Just remember—baths don’t have to be stressful for you and your rat.

Gadget's tail is far less dirty than Patches' tail, as she is many months younger.

Gadget's tail is far less dirty than Patches' tail, as she is many months younger.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: Why is my rat breathing heavily?

Answer: What kind of bedding are you using for your rat? Things like cedar wood shavings can bring on respiratory infection. Use paper bedding instead. Some people also line the cage with fleece, but this has to be frequently washed. Rats can also get sick if it's too cold, or of the cage is in a drafty area. Either way, I would find an exotic vet in your area and bring the rat in. If it has a respiratory infection, it will need antibiotics to treat it. Respiratory illness does not get better on its own.

Question: What food can I give my picky rats?

Answer: Will they not eat rat blocks at all? There are seed diets out there, but they aren't very healthy and can be fattening. I know some people actually make their own rat diets by combining different food items, but I've never done that. Have you tried different brands of foods? It could be they don't like the taste of a particular brand of block.

Question: There is no pet shampoo in our pet shops. Is it OK to bathe my mouse with dish soap or sulphate-free baby shampoo? This mouse has a permanent head tilt from a babyhood ear infection, so he can't clean himself properly.

Answer: Dawn dish soap would be okay, but you'd only need the tiniest amount. I'm unsure about baby shampoo.

Question: Is it OK to give your rat a bath if the water is contaminated/has a chlorine smell?

Answer: Is it your tap water that smells like chlorine? If it is a strong smell and enough to concern you, could you use room temperature bottled water instead? Many pet stores also sell waterless shampoo for small pets that you just spray on and rub in, or grooming wipes for a quick clean.

Question: How do I feed my rat?

Answer: You can keep a full bowl of rat food in its cage. They tend to eat when hungry, or hoard food in a special spot.

Question: How many times should I wash my rats? Should I give them a bath once a week or like every day?

Answer: Rats are very good at keeping themselves clean, and do not need to bathed constantly. If they get especially smelly, every once in a while is fine. When my rats got older and cleaning themselves was more difficult, I washed them more often.

Question: is there any way to re-introduce my rat to water?

Answer: You could try only filling up the bathtub slightly, so there is hardly any water, and increase the amount over time. My rats never enjoyed water, so I don't have the best hands-on advice!

Question: What do I wash my rat with?

Answer: Most pet stores sell small animal shampoo - if your rats have an aversion to water, you can try waterless spray shampoo.

Question: What happens if I have had my rats for over two years and they hate the bath tub? I know I could use the dry shampoo stuff but I don’t know where to find it.

Answer: My rats have always hated getting wet. Do you have any pet stores in your area? Or can you order the dry shampoo online?

Question: Can I use small animal grooming wipes on my rats?

Answer: Yes, small animal grooming wipes are fine for rats. I wouldn't wipe them all the time though, to avoid drying out their skin.


Jessica Peri (author) from United States on August 25, 2020:

@Miapegasi You don't have to wash your rats much at all. If they get accidentally dirty, or have trouble cleaning themselves due to age, baths may become more necessary. Rats are otherwise very good at cleaning themselves. If you'd like to get them used to water, you can draw them a warm water bath without shampoo.

Miapegasi on August 09, 2020:

I have four male rats around 5 weeks old. I'm thinking about giving them their first bath. Should I use shampoo the first time I bathe them or no? How many times should I wash my rats a week?

Jessica Peri (author) from United States on January 10, 2020:

If you had a rat live to 4 years, you've been doing something right! Most rats don't have such a long lifespan. The oldest I ever had was between 2.5 and 3 years old. But you can always message me with more specific questions!

Tinariva on January 04, 2020:

any and alll info. on rats is very much appreciated, my last boy just passed he was going on 4 yrs old so after 2days of filling up crossword grids with cuss words, my b.f bought me a baby Russian blue i just want to be more knowledgeable this tme thnx!

Jessica Peri (author) from United States on September 12, 2019:

@Brooke I've read that they are actually really great swimmers! I never tried to teach mine, though - they always freaked out at the introduction of water.

Brooke on September 05, 2019:

If you fill your tub with luke warm water, just about an inch, and plug the bottom of the tub, the rats will learn to swim! Just bring them in slow, and never put shampoo into the water, because they might swallow it!

Jessica Peri (author) from United States on November 23, 2018:

@Dave That's great! Mine would destroy our sheets, run around all night, and probably sneak onto the floor.

Dave on November 16, 2018:

I still have a rat who just spent the night with me and snuggled into my sheets with me

Jessica Peri (author) from United States on December 21, 2017:

@Emma Rats are so sweet, I'm not surprised to hear you've never been bitten! Thanks for reading.

Emma on December 16, 2017:

Rats are not as much trouble as people hype about. I have an Autistic grandson I'm raising and 5 other grandbabies in and out at different times,ages between 13 and 2 months. I've never been bit. Nor has my grandchildren.I supervise. And all is well.

Jessica Peri (author) from United States on June 07, 2013:

Thank you! I love my rats to pieces. Introducing them to friends and seeing their reactions is always fun.

moonlake from America on June 06, 2013:

Great information. I had a pet rat when I was a kid. Voted up.