Dreamhowl has worked in pet retail for over ten years. She has owned betta fish, dogs, fancy mice, fancy rats, geckos, hamsters, and more.
Pet rats and pet dogs are very different creatures—rats are small and cautious while dogs are large and quite curious. While some rats and dogs might get along perfectly fine, distrust and aggression are also to be expected.
In the animal kingdom, rats are considered prey by many larger creatures, dogs included. They might even smell like prey to your friendly domestic dog. If you own a hunting breed of dog like a Jack Russell Terrier, the chances are even higher that your loyal friend might not get along with a pet rat. The only way to find out if your animals will get along is by introducing them to each other.
How to Introduce Your Rat to Your Dog
- Make sure your rat is comfortable being handled.
- Let your rat and dog smell each other safely.
- Introduce your rat and dog on neutral ground.
- Watch your pets closely during the introduction.
- Remove your rat if the are not getting along.
1. Make Sure Your Rat Is Comfortable Being Handled
If your pet rat is new to you, it may not feel comfortable being handled and, as a result, will be frightened and insecure. It’s important that your pet rat remains calm when introducing it to a dog, or it may be too scared and uncomfortable to make friends. A scared rat is more likely to scratch or bite your dog out of surprise and ruin the chance of forming a friendship. How would you feel if you were being picked up by a stranger and forced to greet and smell another animal that is so much bigger than you? Your pet rat needs to feel secure and safe in your grasp before you introduce it to your pet dog.
2. Let Your Rat and Dog Smell Each Other Safely
When you are introducing two pet rats, it is suggested that you let them smell each other through their cages first; when introducing your rat and dog, keep your pet rat in its cage and introduce the dog into the same room. It may help to leash your pet dog to ensure it keeps its distance. Be careful - this is your pet rat’s territory, and your rat may act aggressively if your dog gets too close. Having the two animals nearby will allow them to smell each other. If your dog acts aggressively at this point, it’s possible your pets may not get along. Repeat this step as long as you feel necessary - for some it might be a few days, and for some it might be a week.
3. Introduce Your Rat and Dog on Neutral Ground
After letting your dog and rat smell each other for a while, you can try introducing them on neutral ground. Neutral territory is anywhere that the two animals don’t consider their own. This could be a room that your pets aren’t allowed to go in, or the couch that your dog isn’t normally allowed to lay on. If possible, you should have one person holding your dog and another holding your rat. Your dog’s quick movements might frighten your rat and cause it to act aggressively. If your dog or rat gets loose, one of your pets can get hurt.
4. Watch Your Pets Closely During the Introduction
Allow your rat and dog to smell each other at a closer distance than before and observe how they handle the situation. Look for signs of aggression in your dog: raised hackles, pricked ears and exposed teeth accompanied by growling can signify aggressive behavior. Observe your pet rat as well: fluffed-up fur, whipping it’s tail from side to side and chomping its teeth can be signs of aggression. If either of your pets is showing signs of aggression toward the other, remove your pet rat immediately. Avoid any injuries at all costs.
5. Remove Your Pet Rat If They Aren’t Getting Along
An aggressive rat can hurt your pet dog, and an aggressive dog can injure your pet rat. To avoid damage to both of your pets, separate them if they aren’t getting along. And don’t be discouraged - some dogs and rats simply won’t get along. Several breeds of dogs have a history of hunting small animals, and some rats will act out with aggression toward a much larger animal. It is not your fault that your rat and dog do not get along, nor does the fault lie with your pets. Do not punish your rat or dog for showing aggression toward the other; their behavior is in their nature.
Signs of Aggressive Behavior in Dogs and Rats
|Aggressive Dog Behavior||Aggressive Rat Behavior|
Barking at target
Biting (with or without injury)
Clawing at target
Growling at target
Fluffing up fur
Lunging at target
Swishing tail around
Snapping at target
How to Protect Your Rat from Your Dog
If your pet rat and pet dog don’t get along, don’t worry - it’s still possible to keep both pets in the same household. Depending on how persistent your dog is, you may need to keep your rat cage in a separate room that is off limits and play with rat away from your dog. Remember that it is not either your or your pet’s fault that they do not get along; sometimes, the proper precautions have to be made to keep pets like rats and dogs apart from each other. Follow these steps to keep your pet rats safe from your pet dog:
1. Keep Your Rat Cage in a Separate Room
If you house your rat in a room off-limits to your pet dogs, they will be more secure. If you have an office or bedroom in your house that your dog is not allowed to enter, try keeping the rats there. Keeping the door closed throughout the day will help keep the dogs out of the room. When you go to play with your pet rat, keep the door to the room closed as well. That way, your pet dog won’t see you giving more attention to your rats and become jealous, or sneak into the room unhindered.
2. Position the Rat Cage in a High Spot
If you can’t keep your rat’s cage in a separate room, be sure to place it someplace higher up and inaccessible to your pet dog. Keeping your rat on the top of a dresser or bookshelf gives it a high vantage point and might even hide your rat from your dog’s view. Make sure that wherever you perch your rat’s cage is sturdy in case your dog does get curious. This is an easier task if you have a smaller dog that cannot jump very high. With a bigger dog, however, even this may not be enough. If your dog is allowed free reign around the house and into the room, you’ll need the cage somewhere that your rat can feel safe and not be knocked over.
3. Make Sure Your Rat Cannot Escape
If your rat escapes from its cage, it can get out of the room and be threatened by your pet dog and other animals. Your pet rat will likely become frightened and go into hiding. Furthermore, if you keep your rat cage in an elevated place, your pet rat might fall from a dangerous height and get injured. Try to get a metal cage with secure doors; if they seem flimsy, try reinforcing them yourself with locks or other materials. If you decide to use an aquarium instead, be sure to get a clip-on screen top to prevent escape. And remember that aquariums provide less ventilation than cages and will require more frequent cleaning.
4. Close the Door Before Letting Your Rat Loose
If you plan on giving your rats some playtime or exercise, be sure to do it in a room where you can close the doors and keep your dogs out. If you keep your rat’s cage in a separate room, simply keep the door closed before you let them roam. This is especially true when cleaning their cage, as they will be left unattended for some time. Remember that plastic running balls will not keep your pet rat safe: they can fall down stairs or be chased by excited dogs. The best way to keep your rats safe is to keep your dogs out.
In the end, remember that animals are animals - some are predators and some are prey. There is no guarantee that your pet dogs will like your pet rats, or vice versa. If for some reason you are unable to keep your rat cage in a separate room or in a place that your dog cannot reach, you may need to find another solution. A stressful environment is not good for any pet, including rats. If your dog is extremely aggressive and persistent in getting to your rats, you may need to keep it in a crate while you are away from home. Consider all of your options before thinking of giving up a pet.
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: I’m a first-time rat owner. They are fascinating and I love them. In your opinion, do rats prefer little houses or high up, sling-type beds? There are some conflicting answers.
Answer: I think it depends on the rat. My boy who passed away used to love hanging up in his space pod (plastic hammock). His brother prefers burrowing in the igloo on the bottom floor of the cage.
Question: I’ve just bought my first ever rat pets home this evening but they haven’t even come out for a drink yet, should I put a bowl of water near the hideaway bed?
Answer: I would not put a bowl of water in the cage - chances are that it will get knocked over and soak through the bedding. They are likely stressed due to their new environment. I would monitor the water level of the drinking bottle over the next couple of days if you aren't seeing them drinking. If it's been days and they won't drink, you may need to see a vet figure out what's going on.
Jessica Peri (author) from United States on October 03, 2019:
@paloma My parents have a mini dachshund, and she was always very interested in the rat cage whenever she was here. She never tried anything, but I can imagine my rats were a bit spooked. Can you place the cage up high on a table or stand? Somewhere far out of his reach? I'd make sure the cage was escape-proof as well, for your rat's safety.
paloma on October 01, 2019:
im not a rat owner (yet) but i live in a small apartment, and I don't have a separate room for pet rats. My dog is a mini dachshund, and dachshunds are natural rat hunters, so I don't know how he will react. Do you have any advice?
Kirsty ferri on November 01, 2018:
Iv 2 new rats 10wks old n im scared to lift them what do i do plz help me as i dnt want to get rid of them after what iv jut paid from pets at home xxx
LOGAN on October 04, 2017:
thanks I have a dog
Jessica Peri (author) from United States on July 21, 2015:
@Maddie It might not be possible for them to get along, and whining all night does sound bothersome. Maybe you can try spraying some dog repellent on or around the base of the door to the room that you keep your rat cage in? They sell a few different brands in our pet store, and the smell is meant to deter dogs from going near the area. I would test it on a small spot first, to be sure it won't stain whatever you apply it to. It might be worth a shot at this point! Good luck.
Maddie on July 20, 2015:
This info was useful but I keep my rat cage high, in another room, and I keep my door closed! My dog just sits outside and whines ALL DAY AND NIGHT!! My dad is getting mad and honestly so am I. I have let my dog smell my rats through the cage but he growled and my rats get stressed with him just near the cage! I want them to get along but it just doesn't seem possible!
Jessica Peri (author) from United States on May 04, 2013:
Thanks for the feedback! The dachshund pictures are of my family's dog; when I brought my first rat to visit, she wouldn't stay away from her little carrier. While she isn't a vicious dog, I didn't want to take any chances. Plus, my rat Patches can be sassy and has batted another dog on the nose before.
Kawika Chann from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place on May 04, 2013:
Nicely done Dreamhowl, very informative piece. Definitely agree that there are some hunting breeds that will not get along, but to proceed with caution. Thanks. Peace. Kawi.