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Rat behaviour

Behaviour logo © RSPCA publications and brand 2010

Ensure your rats are able to behave normally 


Inquisitive rat © Fotolia

Rats need:

  • To rest/sleep without being disturbed, as they can find this stressful:
    - Keep food provision/cage cleaning/interactions to dawn/dusk wherever possible;
    - Match your activity with your rats; don’t house them in areas which have lots of activity during the day. Rats are nocturnal, so are most active at night and during dawn/dusk. 
  • Opportunities to climb in their home cage. Giving them ropes helps develop their sense of balance. Rats will chew ropes as well as climb them; therefore ropes should be made of natural fibres (e.g. cotton).
  • Opportunities to climb/run/hop/forage/explore/play. Rats are active and like playing, especially when young.
  • Opportunities to explore. Once they’re well-handled and relaxed, consider letting them explore, under supervision, outside their cage in a room where they can’t hurt themselves/escape. Free ranging behaviour (pdf 194kb).
  • Choice - never force them to do anything. They should be given the choice to investigate new environments at their own pace – they’re naturally cautious. If they urinate/defecate when exposed to new environments, they’re frightened/distressed and should be returned to their familiar home-cage. Individual rats behave differently in similar situations as they’ve different personalities/may have been reared differently.
  • Opportunities to dig tunnels/create burrows. Digging behaviour (pdf 176kb).
  • Consideration - never force them to swim. If they enjoy playing with water, give them the opportunity to swim, in a safe and supervised manner, in a shallow container. Some rats enjoy playing in water, but they find forced swimming highly stressful. Rats and swimming (pdf 231kb).
  • Their whiskers! Never trim them. Rats use their very delicate and highly sensitive whiskers to maintain balance/guide them around objects. Rats and their whiskers (pdf 227kb).
  • Mental stimulation - consider training them. This can help improve rat-human bonds and keeps them physically and mentally active. Rats can learn new information/tasks and remember them over time. Train them to climb onto scales to gain a food reward; this can make regular weighing much easier.
  • Kindness! Never punish them, always use positive reinforcement to encourage training. Rats are quick learners, highly trainable, very clever, curious and have excellent memories. They quickly become bored unless stimulated.