How to Communicate with your Rats

By Small Furries - May 15, 2019

Rats communicate between each other using very high-pitched noises that we can’t hear!
However, they also communicate like all animals, with body language.

Dominant and Submissive

Indicators of Pain

I thought I would start with Pain as I think it is the most important. Knowing when your rat is suffering or in pain can help you get them to the vets quicker and shortens the amount of time your rat is suffering.

·         Fluffed up Fur – if your rats fur looks fluffier than normal (not including if they have just had a bath!) and they appear arched over.

·         Sucked in Sides – if your rat suddenly looks skinnier than usual and their sides are sucked in, they are likely in tremendous pain.

      Self Mutilation- this can be anything from chewing at the skin to scratching to the point it bleeds.

·         Bruxing – bruxing is when a rat grinds or chatters its teeth together (aka chattering) and can mean many things but pair this with any of the other signs of pain and it is likely to be pain.

·         Squinting Eyes – squinting eyes can mean a few things too, but likely indicate pain if they are showing other signs.

·         Chewing – rats chew a lot as it is but if you suddenly notice the rat that’s never been a chewer, gnawing on random objects persistently, they may be using it as a distraction technique as they are uncomfortable or in pain.

·         Squeaking – if your rat makes a high-pitched squeak and snaps or runs away when you touch them, they may have an injury. It is also a general indicator of pain but does not always mean they are hurt; they could be scared of you.

·         Not Eating – it can be very worrying when you notice your rat is not eating, but if they are still drinking it could mean they have a problem with their mouth, check their teeth and try to feed them baby food. If they still do not eat any liquid food, it is time for a vet trip.

·         Not Drinking – When a rat is not drinking liquids, you know it may be very serious and you should take them straight to the vets.

·         Aggression – if you notice your calm 2-year-old rat suddenly turn on you, they may very well be in a lot of pain. Rats can become aggressive to ward off anyone touching them whilst they are so vulnerable so you should avoid touching them until you take them to the vets.


Aggression usually stems from territorial, hormonal or maternal instincts but can also mean pain as mentioned above. Some rats may become over protective of their cage, or you, which can be a problem for houseguests or new rats and male rats can become aggressive towards each other when they reach sexual maturity, which may result in splitting them up.

·         Squeaking – Squeaking can be used as a warning to you or other rats that they are starting to feel uncomfortable.

·         Arched Back – arching their back makes them look bigger and they may sometimes fluff up their fur to add to their size!

·         Stand Offs – when two rats stand up to each other, it’s almost like a square off, they are trying to figure out who is the boss and although most of the times one will back down, it could end up in a full blown fight, so be ready to break them up ( not with your hands! )

·         Side Kick – This amazing karate kick is a warning sign to back off, when a rat turns itself sideways and starts kicking with its back legs, make sure you watch them until they have calmed down

·         Bruxing – bruxing is in every single section of this blog! It is such a common behaviour, but unfortunately, for us, we do not know which emotion it is unless we compare it to other symptoms! In this case, bruxing can mean your rat is uncomfortable.

·         Humping- while humping is not necessarily an aggressive act, it can seem like it sometimes, and they usually do not ask each other permission so you may end up with a very annoyed rat!

·         Biting – gentle nibbling occurs when a rat is grooming you but anything harder is either a warning sign or a sign of aggression. Sometimes rat may bite down hard on your skin but not draw blood, this means the next one will likely be a real bite and you should remove whatever is irritating them. They may sometimes bare their teeth before lunging.


My favourite type of rat! Rats show so many signs of happiness that can be amazing to witness when you know what to look out for!
Did you know rats actually laugh when we tickle them?

·         Popcorning – have you ever witnessed your baby rat jumping around like a maniac? Well, this is the best form of happiness. Your rat is so happy they have become hyperactive and over excited and they will bounce around for hours if you keep playing with them!

·         Boggling – Boggling is a (strange) name for when a rat is extremely happy. It is when a rats eyes bulge in and out of their head quickly, which can be terrifying if you are not expecting it! The reason this happens is down to bruxing! Their eye muscles are connected to their jaw muscles and when they are chattering their teeth rapidly, it pulls on the eye muscles! Creepy.

·         Pancake Rat – when a rat, literally looks like a pancake. Sometimes this can mean they are too warm, so check the temperature of their environment! However, it usually indicates contempt and a very relaxed rat!

·         Bruxing – chattering their teeth and moving their jaw around can be a sign of a happy rat if you consider the environment they are in. For example if they are laying still on you whilst you are stroking them, they are likely very happy.

·         Tail Wagging – weirdly enough rats can wag their tails when extremely happy (but it can also indicate annoyance when slapped hard on the floor). Out of 10 Rats, I had one tail wiggler!

·         Play Fighting – whilst most fights you will witness are play fights, some fights can turn serious so if your rats are new, make sure to keep an eye on them when they are younger! Play fighting is any kind of fighting that does not draw blood, it is usually like a wrestling match and your rats will roll and jump around with each other. The perfect example of why having more than one rat is crucial.


Sometimes you may look at your rat when they are sleeping and realise only a mother could love that face. Rats like to sleep in strange positions, and sometimes are in such a deep sleep you almost give yourself a heart attack trying to wake them up!

A droopy bottom lip is usually one of the cutest signs of tiredness, when a rat is completely calm (or asleep), they relax everything including their mouth and their bottom lip flops open!

Rats tend so sleep with their eyes slightly open the majority of the time and although squinting eyes can mean pain, they could just be asleep!


Purchase any device that calculate the humidity and keep it around 55%, if the air is too wet or too dry it can cause a respiratory flare up! The temperature of their environment should be between 18 -25 degrees Celsius (65-80 F). Try to stay down the colder end as rats can very easily overheat.

I am too hot! A rat that is too warm will likely be sleeping outside of their usual bed and be very flat. You may find them at the bottom of the cage, close to the bars where it is cooler; they will seem lethargic and warm to touch.

I am too cold! It’s rare to find cold rat as they usually have tons of bedding, houses and other rats to keep them warm but if sleeping on their own they will curl up into a little potato and tuck their head in. It is the cutest thing in the world.

Dominant and Submissive Behaviours

Rats are always communicating with each other and you will usually see one rat showing signs of dominance and the other showing signs of submissiveness, but when both try to be dominant, you have a problem!

Dominant Behaviours

Grooming – dominant rats tend to groom the others and will be less likely to receive grooming back.

Stand Offs – as mentioned before, rats will stand up on their hind legs to square up and work out who is boss, the more dominant one wins if they stand up the longest.

Dragging – some aggressive dominant rats grab other rats with their teeth and drag them back to their bed.

Scent Marking – climbing over another rat and peeing all over, its back, is a way of scent marking and showing dominance.

Nipping - to try and get you, or another rats to play with them,  a rat may nip you if you aren't paying them enough attention!

Submissive Behaviour

Flipping Over – a submissive rat will throw its self on its back, baring its stomach, the most vulnerable area of their body to show they mean no harm.

Pushing underneath – my rats do this with my hand; they push themselves underneath another rat to try to initiate grooming from the dominant rat.

Laying down – in general the submissive rat will lay down and get as low as possible to show they are not trying to challenge the other.

Learning these behaviors and body language can help you successfully communicate with your rat and be able to understand when they are in pain or scared, ensuring you make them as comfortable as possible so they have a great life with you!


Small Furries 2019 Extended Diploma in Animal Management



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