Character and behavior of the rat: main traits to better understand it

Are you interested in the rat? You probably know that it is a rodent known for its intelligence. If you choose him as a pet, you can therefore hope for interesting interactions with him, provided you can decipher his behavior. In this article, we give you the main elements to better understand your rat.

Communication in rats

The rat is a gregarious animal. It is also advisable to adopt at least two rats of the same sex. Some sources dare to claim that an isolated rat will only be more attached to its master. This type of advice is bordering on mistreatment given the rat’s needs for social interactions with his peers.

To communicate with each other, rats have developed body language, sometimes accompanied by screaming. By assimilating them, you will react better to the different situations that you may encounter. Here we list the behaviors that you will observe the most frequently.

When the rat is happy …

You may know that your rat is happy with the situation they are going through without being able to say that they are experiencing a feeling that resembles the joy we experience as humans.
In 2016, researchers at the University of Bern wondered if it was possible to identify signs of contentment in rats and, to do so, set up an experiment consisting of tickling rats. It may seem like a smile, but rats are very ticklish – young people even more than adults – and enjoy this type of interaction very much: this is why scientists based their experimental protocol on this positive stimulation.

Their observations revealed two signs of contentment. The first concerns a change in the ear color rodents: they are pinker than when rats are placed in a stressful situation. The second sign is also about the ears, but relates to the way the rats place them: when the rats are happy, they tilt them to the side. This is because the muscles controlling the movement of the ears are relaxed. Rats also emit ultrasound, but this can do little to help you understand the situation because humans cannot perceive sounds emitted at a frequency above 20 kHz.

Apart from this experiment, some rat owners also observed that their rodents began to cringe during a hug or a caress. They can also hop around to show their contentment.

When the rat wants to play …

If your rat jumps on your hands, gently nips your fingers and runs away immediately, he wants to play. This can only happen if your rat is well used to you and its surroundings. In short, he is tame. The rat knows perfectly how to measure his attacks; if you are not in pain, it is because he is not trying to do it. To respond to his request, you can then chase him with your hand or scratch him. It is likely that he will ask for more.

When the rat is aggressive …

A rat can be quite aggressive in different circumstances. Here is what you will observe then:

  • teeth chattering (different from “bruxism”, teeth grinding mentioned above),
  • the rat has spiky hairs,
  • it rubs intensively everywhere,
  • his tail flaps on the ground,
  • the rat emits a growling noise, i.e. the rat emits a noise that evokes the angry cat,
  • he uncovers his teeth voluntarily,
  • it bites its congeners and plucks their hair.

While a male rat will be more likely to warn before attacking, a female rat will be quicker to move on to bite.

Why is a rat aggressive?

Beyond identifying manifestations of aggression, we must understand the cause. The aggressiveness of an animal is never free. It could be a young rat compensating for its fear or a rat in pain (due to illness or injury).
The rat can also suffer from hormonal imbalance : body chemistry takes precedence over the mind. The animal no longer interprets its environment in a controlled and normal manner. In these cases, there is no known remedy other than castration to stop this runaway production of testosterone that has transformed the rat that you have known so far. It takes time for the hormone level to drop and the rat to regain its senses, one might say: count 5 weeks.

Other observable behaviors in captive rats

If your rat is licking you, that’s a positive sign, too. The interpretation of this behavior is related to grooming, an important social behavior in rats, aimed at maintaining group cohesion. If the rat licks you, it means that you are part of its group, which is the equivalent, to a human, of a form of attachment.

If you observe your rats urinating in small drops all over the place – cage, other rats, or yourself – it is because they are marking their territory and their group. Urine is used to recognize safe places and friendly individuals. Again, this is a behavior that marks the closeness you have developed with your rodent.

A male rat can easily ride on another male, as in breeding with a female. It is a hierarchical type of behavior which serves to mark the domination of the one who rises over the one who is mounted.

It is therefore normal behavior that should attract your attention: if the dominant rat behaves in this way too frequently, the rat (s) that suffer it may end up getting annoyed and the peace of the group may be shattered, disturbed by arguments or violent fights. If one of your rats is too “enterprising”, you can consider having him sterilized so that he leaves his congeners alone.

Here is a behavior that only concerns females in heat : you will see them arching their backs, raising their tails in the air and wagging their ears. Thus excited, females can also “ride” on each other, as if to mate with a male, without you having to worry about such behavior.

When your rat is sick

A healthy rat is bound to be active and has a good sense of balance. He ensures his own personal hygiene and therefore his coat is clean, shiny and uniform. Be aware that red secretions can be seen around the eyes and noses of rats. This is porphyrin, a substance used in particular to lubricate the eye and protect the retina from light. It is therefore a completely normal secretion. It is mainly observed when the rat has slept and has just woken up. These red traces disappear with the toilet. If they remain, it may be blood and it is best to consult the vet.

A prostrate and disheveled rat is always a suffering rat. Go without delay to see your veterinarian to identify the cause of his illness: loneliness, boredom, illness … Do not give yourself time to think it over: it is better to consult for nothing than to fail in your duty to protect your animals.