For some people the thought of rats can conjure up images of filth and disease, this comes down to what we have seen in the past from wild rats. However anyone who has owned a pet rat will tell you that this could not be further from the truth.
In this mini guide we will be questioning if rats really do bite, why they might bite and also ways that you can mitigate the risks of being bitten.
So let’s start off with the most important part.
Do pet rats bite?
I am sure this is one of the main concerns for anyone who is thinking about getting a pet rat. Rats can grow quite large compared to other rodents such as mice, gerbils and hamsters and as such should produce a more powerful bite.
So do pet rats bite? Well the short answer to this question is yes and no. Of course rats have the ability to bite, they do have teeth that can cause a nasty nip. However rats by nature are quite timid and do not seek to hurt or injure, unless of course they are provoked. One of the main reasons for rat bites is usually mishandling and rough treatment by younger owners. However these risks can be greatly reduced so please read on for our tips.
The difference between a bite and a nibble.
Being bitten by a rat is quite rare however there are times when a pet rat may nibble your finger. This is natural and does not hurt, it is thought that this is down to the rats cleaning and grooming you.
Does a rat bite hurt?
In most cases a bite from a pet rat will not hurt very much although it can come as quite a shock if you are not expecting it to happen. Most bites feel like a small nip, usually on the end of your finger and the drawing of blood is very rare as the rats jaws are not strong enough to penetrate an adults skin. In children the risk of drawing blood does increase a little bit as they have softer and often thinner skin.
In most bite situations it tends to be more of a warning like “give me some space” instead of “I want to chomp off the end of your finger!” and as such that rat will not apply full pressure to the bite.
The best thing to do if you experience a bite is to try to remain calm and place your rat back into its cage to avoid any further distress. Your rat will soon calm down and be ready to be handled again.
These are the reasons why a pet rat may bite you.
Being bitten by a pet rat is quite a rare occurrence and there will more often or not be a reason behind the bite. Sometimes it can be quite shocking to receive a bite and this can lead to people feeling like they no longer want to handle their pet rat.
Many of the victims of rat bites will be of a younger age and as such not realising that they are causing the rat distress. Below is a list of the main reasons why a rat may try to bite you.
- Holding or squeezing the rat too tightly.
- Cupping the rat and confining it between your hands.
- Dragging the rat by or pulling on its tail.
- Pregnancy or looking after it’s young.
- Shock or fear.
- Biting a finger that has been pushed through its cage bars.
As you can imagine many of the above situations are likely to cause a rat to last out in fear or protection.
Almost all of the above can be avoided by treating the rat gently and with care. Although rats are one of the larger rodents they are still a lot smaller than a child and as such any rough treatment can feel amplified to them.
Because of this we highly recommend that children are always supervised when handling a pet rat so as to avoid a nasty bite and fear of the pet. Rats are generally very kind natured and do not intend to hurt you although just like humans they can lash out in scary situations.
How to reduce the chances of being bitten by a pet rat.
No one wants to be bitten by their pets and fortunately instances of rats biting are quite rare. Of course there is a chance that your pet rat may decide to have a nibble at you but the chances can be reduced by following the below top tips to handling a rat.
To reduce your chances of being bitten by a rat it is recommended that:
- The rat is not restrained or squeezed. Rats love to be able to wander freely especially up and down their owners arms and legs. If it starts to wander too much you can gently guide it to where you want it.
- Try to make slow movements as rats can bite when shocked or startled.
- Always be gentle when handling a rat, although they are not made of glass they can still be quite delicate.
- Pregnant rats or rats that are nurturing their young should not be handled unless for a good reason.
Here is what you should do if a pet rat bites you.
Going back to what was mentioned at the start of this article, rats are renowned for carrying diseases and nasty bacteria. In history they were a major factor in the Bubonic Plague (black death), which killed an estimated 75-200 million people across Europe in the 14th century!
However these were wild rats that were exposed to nasty diseases and fleas in our streets and sewer systems. Pet rats are fortunately very different to this and are generally a very clean and hygienic animal ( a lot more hygienic than our pet cat!). Thanks to this and the fact that they are not exposed to diseases which they would in the wild the chances of catching anything nasty from a rats bite is very slim.
There are things that you or a loved one should do if they suffer a bite from a pet rat. Here is what to do if a pet rat does bite:
- Carefully place the rat back into its cage.
- Check the wound and then wash it as soon as possible under warm running water with antibacterial soap.
- Further clean the wound with an alcohol based antibacterial hand wash.
- Apply a bandage or plaster to the wound and change when necessary.
- Keep an eye on the bite area and if you notice any swelling or discharge take a trip to the doctors as a precautionary measure.
It is highly recommended that you stock up on antibacterial hand wash when you purchase a pet rat. Always thoroughly clean your hands after handling and make sure that children do not put their hands in their mouths until they have washed their hands.
Rats are a great pet, they are very loyal and loving to their owners and in general are a very placid animal that deserver gentle treatment and respect. Bites really are quite rare but it is something that any potential owner needs to be aware of because then steps can be taken to prevent it happening in the first instance. To reduce the chances of bites we recommend teaching children from the start about the gentle handling of their pet and demonstrate to them how it should be done. If you enjoyed this article why not have a look at our ultimate guide to rat diet and feeding.
Hopefully this guide has not put you off owning this amazing animal as a pet. The satisfaction of owning a pet rat far outweights the risks of getting a bite on your fingers!
My name is Andy Baines and I am the owner and writer here at Super Crazy Pets.
For the last 20 years I have been the carer/parent of many exotic pets, from reptiles to amphibians I have cared for and looked after them all.
I created this website to share my knowledge of looking after pets with other fellow owners.
My works and articles have been shared on many online publications including The Spruce Pets.
You can read more about my story by visiting the about me page.