Jessica is an experienced pet mom with dogs, cats, rats, fish, axolotls, a gecko, chickens, and ducks.
Pets rats are known for being rodents that are very unlikely to bite. In general, rats really do not like to bite people. If your pet rat is biting you, there is certainly a reason, and there may be something wrong. Here are reasons that a pet rat might bite along with some things you can do to prevent biting in the future.
The most common reason a pet rat would bite is that they are afraid. Some rats are not treated very well at the beginning of their lives. They may have been bred for food or the breeders may have not socialized them at all. To a poorly socialized rat or a rat that has not been treated well, humans are very scary. We are a lot bigger than them and they may feel like they need to defend themselves.
The best thing you can do in this situation is to work on socializing your rat. You may have to take it slow but work on spending time with your rat in a stress-free environment.
Give them treats to persuade them to come up to you, and then you can work on scooping them up to hold them. Make sure to scoop them from the bottom: it is much scarier for your rat to be grabbed from above.
If you are working with a rat that bites because they are afraid, you definitely don't want to make them feel backed into a corner—let them come up to you on their own terms and see that you are not scary.
2. Hormonal Changes
Sometimes when male rats start maturing they will become more aggressive because of hormonal changes. This may result in them being more territorial, which can lead to aggression towards their cage mates and even their owners.
It is perfectly natural for rats to work out the pecking order amongst themselves. You will probably see little scuffles and it might look like they are fighting. What isn't normal is if they start drawing blood or if your rat starts getting territorial and biting you when you put your hand in their cage.
Both of these situations need to be addressed as soon as they start happening. You may have to work on reintroducing your rats in a neutral location, and you should isolate the rat that is hurting your other rats for the time being. Rats usually won't need to be isolated forever, and this will give you time to figure out what is wrong.
Sometimes the rat may even need to be neutered if it is hormonal aggression that is making them lash out.
If your rat is suddenly being territorial and aggressive towards you, that behavior should be dealt with quickly. You don't want your rat to discover that biting you works and that you will leave their space any time they hurt you.
If your tame rat starts biting out of the blue, you should definitely take them to the vet. It may be the high level of testosterone that is making them act this way, and they may need to be neutered.
If your usually sweet rat starts biting you suddenly, it may be because they are in pain. You may have noticed this behavior with other pets, such as dogs or cats, as well. If they are in some sort of pain that you can't see then it might not feel good for them to be handled, and they may get scared and bite.
Being in such a vulnerable position is scary for your pet, and in this case, they are biting because they don't feel good and are afraid, not because they want to hurt you.
The best thing you can do in this situation is to take your rat to the vet. The vet can check to find out what is wrong, and treat them to get them feeling well again. Once they are feeling better they will be way less likely to bite you.
4. Nibbling / Playing
Sometimes rats like to feel things with their teeth. A good example of this would be if you stick your hand in their cage and then they start to lightly nibble on your fingers. This behavior is just them exploring the new thing, they aren't trying to hurt you at all. Your rats may also like to chew on things like your fingernails, band-aids, or jewelry. All of this behavior is harmless, they may even be trying to groom you.
If you are really uncomfortable with rats having their teeth on you and you want to establish a boundary I have discovered that a high-pitched, "Ouch!" will usually get them to stop. This lets them know that having their teeth on you is hurting you, and most of the time rats really don't want to hurt people. Rats usually learn very quickly this way that their people don't like to be nibbled on. This might not work for jewelry and band-aids, but my rats have all learned very quickly not to nibble on skin.
5. Being Startled
If your rat doesn't see your hand and you grab them from above they may get startled and bite you. Rats are naturally prey animals, and it is their instinct that makes them do this. Being grabbed suddenly can scare them, and they might think that biting whatever is getting them is the only chance they have to get away. If they don't see you coming they have no way to know that it was you grabbing them, they were just startled.
Don't let this make you afraid to handle your rat in the future—there are ways to avoid startling them. Make sure to talk to your rat before you pick them up, and let them see that you are coming. Either let them climb into your hand or scoop them to pick them up. This way they will always know when they are about to be picked up and they won't feel the need to bite.
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.
© 2021 Jess H