How to Safely Pick Up and Hold a Pet Rat
How to Handle a New Pet Rat
Taking home a new pet rat is an exciting event, and it can be hard to fight the urge to pick up your new friend and love them right away. However, keep in mind that new pets need time to settle in before warming up to their new owners; your rats need time to get to know you and bond. Consider the following advice when gaining your new rat’s trust, and have plenty of patience!
1. Let Your Rat Settle in for a Few Days
When you first bring your rat home, don’t immediately start trying to bond with it. The move from the pet store or breeder to your home has likely left your new friend nervous and stressed. It is best to simply place your rat in its new home (be it a cage or tank) and let him settle in. Make sure your rat has a full bottle of water, some food, and some chew toys to relieve stress with. A nest is also a must, whether it is a store-bought hideaway or a simple box full of soft bedding or material. Don’t force your new friend out of its cage—remember to be patient and understanding.
Note: If you are introducing a new rat to another rat you already own, do not place them in the same space right away. They need time to bond, too.
2. Let Your Rat Come to You
After a couple of days of relaxation, you can begin bonding with your new pet rat. To do this properly, you must let your rat come to you; grabbing your rat forcefully will not help build trust. When you first try to reach out to your new friend, expect your rat to be cautious and unsure—this is normal. Introduce yourself to your rat in a slow, step-by-step process: luring your rat further and further toward the door of the cage and out to your hand is the best way to go.
3. Entice Your Pet Rat With Treats
Treats are helpful when trying to coax your new rat out of hiding and onto your hand. Munching on treats is a positive experience for rats—associating this experience with you helps the bonding experience. You can use store-bought small animal treats, such as dried fruits and nuts, or rat-safe human treats. If your rat is especially nervous, try offering some yogurt or unsweetened applesauce on a spoon; these are treats your rat cannot run away and hide with. Over time, you can lead your rat further out of its home with treats and build up trust.
4. Let Your Rat Smell Your Hand Before Petting
Once you’ve gotten your new pet rat to leave its hideaway, you’ll both be curious about each other. Place your hand where your rat can reach and simply let it smell you. Rats learn a lot about their environment through their sense of smell and taste; over time, your rat will recognize your scent as friendly and familiar.
Be sure to keep your hand still while your rat sniffs you out—sudden movements make your furry friend nervous. Because rats use their teeth to determine the contents of their environment, your rat may nibble at your fingers or knuckles. If your pet rat nibbles (or bites) you, don’t be discouraged: Making a loud “eep” noise will discourage this behavior—it’s how rats tell each other they don’t like what is going on!
5. Pet Your Rat Around the Head and Ears
If your rat has started to feel comfortable around your hands and fingers, try petting them! Rats are social animals and enjoy physical contact. Petting your rat reinforces bonding time and makes them more trusting of your hands. Most rats especially love being pet around their head and behind their ears—it’s like a little rat massage! Be slow and gentle when petting your rat for the first time: you want your new pet to know that you won’t hurt or scare them.
Picking Up and Holding Your Pet Rat
In the beginning, no rat enjoys being picked up by their owner. Imagine being swept up into the air by a creature several times your size and held several feet above the ground! Scooping up and holding your pet rat is more than grabbing them by their middle and lifting them out of their cage; follow the tips below to make the process easy and painless.
1. Wait Until Your Rat Is Tired
A tired rat is far less energetic and squirmy than a rat that’s been awake for an hour; when you plan on picking up your pet rat for the first time, try to do it when they are exhausted. Rats are nocturnal by nature and tend to sleep for hours during the day. If you approach your rat during their sleep schedule or just as they are waking up, they will be less skittish and much easier for you to handle.
2. Be Slow and Gentle With Your Rat
As emphasized above, sudden movements will frighten your pet rat and make them reluctant to approach you for a while. Once your rat is comfortable around you and your hands, you can slowly begin to pick up your rat! Try easing your fingers under your rat’s belly while petting it: rat’s don’t always like being pet on their stomachs, but the optimal way to pick up your rat involves scooping your rat up this way.
Never Pick up Your Rat by the Tail!
"Many small mammals are able to induce degloving of their tails to escape capture; this is comparable to tail autotomy in reptiles."
3. Scoop One Hand Under Your Rat’s Belly
You’ll have the most stability when picking up your rat by scooping one hand under its belly; lifting your rat from this central point will help maintain balance and give you a better grip on your rat. Since your pet rat is likely to be squirmy, you want to be sure not to let it jump out of your hand and fall to the floor. When you scoop your rat up from under its belly, try to let it rest its tail along your arm or on your hands. Your rat’s long tail helps with balance and is likely to swing around in the air. More importantly, never pick your rat up by its tail! You can damage it this way, and your rat’s body regulates heat through the tail—its safety is essential.
4. Use Two Hands When Picking up Your Rat
After you’ve picked your rat up from beneath its belly, use your other hand to cup above it for added security. Rats are quick, especially when they are little babies, and can jump out of an open hand and possibly injure themselves. Using two hands will also make your furry friend feel more safe in your grasp. The more you pick up your rat this way, the more comfortable they will become with you!
5. Take Your Rat With You Around the House
So your rat finally lets you pick it up without a fuss? To improve your relationship, let it crawl around on your arms and perch on your shoulders. Pet rats enjoy hanging around with their owners and your shoulders provide the perfect place for them to sit while you walk or lounge around. If you are wearing a sweatshirt, try letting your rat sit in your hood! They will feel secure there, and have plenty of room to relax. Who knows, your furry friend may even fall asleep on you!
How many rats do you own?
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
I had very little info about rats when I got him, and my friend (who had rats before me) didn't help and she was really mean to my rat. Now he hates any physical contact that I attempt to make (he bites and draws blood) but has a positive reaction when I talk to him. How can I fix my relationship with my pet rat?
You can slowly try to warm him up to human contact again with treats. Something really enticing, like rat-safe people food. Do it like you are trying to lure a new rat out of its cage - open the door and offer the treats. Don't try to grab him out of the cage. You can even feed treats like baby food or tuna from a spoon - it will be irresistible and put some distance between you. You can then try to move on to feeding from your hand if he begins to trust you more, and eventually lead up to physical contact. I'm sorry that your friend treated your rat this way, and hope he will warm up to you over time.Helpful 27
Can I use newspapers cut into strips for my rat's cage?
I would not, only because I'm unsure how well it will hold up once wet. Store-bought paper bedding is recycled paper but made to absorb more.Helpful 15
How do I train my pet rat to ring a desk bell?
That sounds like a fun trick! You could lure him over to the bell with a treat and get him to step on it before rewarding him. I'm sure if he does it enough, he'll learn that the bell equals food!Helpful 14
I have a recent (unexpected) rat mom. She is very hostile when guarding her kits. How do I get her away to check on them without getting bit again?
I don't have experience with rat moms and their babies. Is there a food she finds irresistible that you could lure her away with? Maybe a bit of rat-safe human food that smells really good?Helpful 6
My rats run away with any food they have. Even from the food dish! Why are they so scared of food? Is it just being out in the open that they don’t like? Please help. I want to bond with daisy and rosy and they are so adorable!
My rats loved to hoard their food in the bottom of their cage. It's normal behavior. If this is what your girls are doing, try feeding them somewhere outside of the cage, and close their doors so that they cannot run back in. Ours learned to eat treats on the couch with us that way.Helpful 4