Pet Rat Sounds & Behavior Explained

Rats exhibit many different kinds of behavior and the reason why they do what they do is not always clear to pet owners. This post is meant to give you some clarification. Have you ever wondered why your rat squeaks, grinds its teeth, hisses, or wags its tail? Wonder no more! In this post, I’m going to explain everything you’ve ever wondered about your rat behavior.

This overview is going to be divided up into different sections that cover different kinds of behavior. If you’re looking for a specific kind of sound, movement, or behavior I recommend that you use the table of contents below.

Sounds rats make

Rats make many different kinds of sounds. Many of the sounds that they make are inaudible to the human hearing. For instance, did you know that rats can laugh? The sound is unfortunately not audible to the human ear, but studies have shown that when rats are being tickled they can make laughing sounds! Most of the sounds they make out of pleasure are inaudible to us humans, so I will not discuss those since you will not hear them anyway.

Instead, I will only go over the sounds they make that we can actually pick up on, which are: squeaking, hissing, and the grinding of their teeth.

Why do rats squeak?

Rats squeak because of distress. When they squeak it usually means that you’re doing something that they do not like and they want you to stop. For instance, if you’re petting them and they let out a soft, short squeak it’s a sign of mild protest. If it’s a longer, more audible scream or squeak it’s a sign of pain or stress.

Why do rats grind their teeth?

One sound that most rat owners will hear at some point is the grinding of their rat’s teeth. Since rats are rodents, their teeth grow all throughout their life and they grind them to keep them at a manageable length. But what does it mean when they’re making the sound?

There are two different reasons why rats grind their teeth: stress or contentedness. Since those are very different emotions, you might wonder whether your rat is grinding their teeth due to stress or because of relaxation. The easiest way to find out is to take a look at the situation they’re in: if it’s a relaxed situation such as them chilling in their cage, they’re most likely grinding their teeth because they’re content. If that’s the case, the sound is called bruxing and rats do it all the time. Bruxing prevents their teeth from becoming too long.

On the other hand, they also grind their teeth when they’re stressed. You might notice that they start grinding their teeth more when they’re in a stressful situation such as being at the vet. When they’re stressed the sound is usually louder and sharper than when they’re bruxing and is called “clattering”.

Why do rats hiss?

Hissing is a sound rats make when they’re trying to warn you or another rat. They make this sound to scare enemies or rivals away from their territory.

They make this sound by exhaling audibly through their nose, rather than their mouth. The sound is not very loud, and if you’re in a noisy environment you might not even hear it. You will definitely see it though because the rat will open their mouth and show their teeth.

Rat behavior

Now that we’ve gone over the sounds that your rat might make, let’s take a look at some of the behavior they can display. Rats exhibit many different kinds of behavior for different reasons. As a rat owner, it’s good to know what their behavior means so you can act on it.

Why do rats wag their tails?

Science is not entirely sure why rats wag their tails. It’s speculated that they do this when they’re excited or tense. In the wild, it’s been noted that they wag their tail when in aggressive encounters with other rats or predators, which is why it’s believed to be a sign of tension.

Why do rats lick you?

Rats lick you as a sign of affection, he’s trying to groom you! Rats also have an excellent sense of smell, so if you just ate something with your hands, it’s possible that they can smell it and try to get a taste.

Why do rats bulge their eyes?
rat behavior - bulging eyes

Rats are known to bulge their eyes in and out of their sockets. If you’ve never seen it before, it looks kind of creepy, but it’s nothing to be worried about. It often happens at the same time as when they’re bruxing and is a sign of your rat being in a very happy and relaxed state.

Why do rats sway when walking?

Rats sway from side to side on occasion because they have bad eyesight. This particular behavior is most common in albino rats because their eyesight is even worse, but also occurs in regular pet rats. The swaying motion they make when they’re walking allows them to better judge the distance between them and a particular object.

Do rats play dead?

Rats do play dead and freeze. It’s called Tonic Immobility or Apparent death and is a fear response. They do this when they sense pressure on certain parts of their body such as their neck or their upper back. It’s not a cause for concern; they stop doing this within several minutes by themselves.

Why do rats eat their babies?

It’s not unheard of for rats to eat their babies. This is very shocking, and the reason why rats kill babies depends on which rat kills the babies. It can be the mother, an unrelated female, or an unrelated male. They commit infanticide for different reasons.

Rat mothers kill their pups for different reasons. It can be that they kill the deformed or infant young to have more resources available for the healthy pups in the litter. Also, it’s possible that they kill the entire litter because they deem the environment as too hostile of a place for their young to grow up.

An unrelated male can kill the babies because he wants to breed with their mother. To bring the mother into estrus (the moment she is fertile) sooner, they might resort to killing and the previous litter.

Unrelated females rats eat the babies of other rats. They do this because they use the pups as a food source and to gain control over the nest.

Why does my rat poop and pee when I pick it up?

If your rat poops and pees everywhere when you pick it up it’s a sign that they’re stressed out and scared. The reason why they do this when they’re scared is that it can prepare them for a fight by getting rid of some of their excess weight or to disgust a predator enough to make them drop the rat.

Final words

I hope this article sheds light on some of the common behaviors and sounds your right might exhibit. If you’ve got any questions about other rat behavior that I did not cover here, feel free to ask in the comments.

If you want to learn more about rats, such as what they eat or general information about pet rats or how much it costs to own a pet rat, click on the hyperlinks.

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