Here are some of the questions I get asked most frequently concerning rat behaviour.
Why are my rat's ears vibrating?
When female rats are in season, they will often vibrate their ears. This can be so fast that it can make their ears look like a blur! But don't worry, this is perfectly normal, and is just a female rat's way of saying 'come and get it, boys!'
My rats eyes almost popped out of his head! Does he need to see a vet?
Nope. This is called 'boggling', and again, is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about.
Boggling in rats is a sign of happiness. When a rat is happy, it will grind its teeth, and this causes a muscle behind the eye to push the eyeballs outward. It can look really strange if you don't know what it is, and can really look like the rat is having some kind of seizure! But rest assured, it just means you've got a very happy rat!
My two girl rats are humping one another, does this mean they're gay?
In all likelyhood, no.
Rats hump one another for several reasons. Females will often mount and hump each other when they're in season, and males will commonly hump one another to show dominance.
It is not at all unusual for me to see the lowest ranking rat in my group being forcibly humped by the higher-ups! At worst, it's just a little embarassing if the vicar is over for tea, but its quite natural.
One of my rats died in her cage, and the other rats started eating her! Is this normal?
Completely normal, Im afraid.
Rats in the wild cannot have dead bodies lying around their home as that would attract predators. They need to dispose of the body somehow, and the only way they can do this is to eat it. Some pet rats retain this instinct.
If you have not removed your rat's body from the cage within a reasonable amount of time, you may find the other rats begin to eat it. Disgusting as this may be to us, it makes perfect sense really.
My rat weaves his head from side to side, whats wrong with him?
He has poor eyesight.
Head weaving is commonly seen in rats with pink or ruby eyes, but it can occur in black eyed rats too. It is a sign that the rat has bad vision. Weaving and bobbing the head helps with the rat's depth perception.
I've owned some rats who were extreme weavers and would rock their whole body from side to side.
My rat was wagging his tail, what does this mean?
This is a bit of mystery, and the reason for it has never been conclusively proven. It is thought that tail wagging in rats is a sign of either extreme excitement or anxiety. Rats tend to be spotted doing it during play time with other rats, or intros. Certainly the times I've seen it done would be times of great excitement or anxiety, so I tend to believe that is the reason.
My rat wees everywhere! Is it true they have no bladder control?
Nope, this is a myth started by exterminators who wanted to scaremonger people into killing more rats. They spread the lie that rats have no bladder control, or even that rats don't possess a bladder at all (they do). Rats actually have fairly good bladder control; many rats will hold it in if they're with their owner, and only go when they're placed back in their cage.
What your rat is probably doing is scent marking, not actually weeing. When rats wee, you know about it because there tends to be a lot of it! But some rats (not all) will leave tiny drops of urine behind them as they walk. This serves two purposes: the first is to tell any other rats that this is their territory and to stay out. The second is so they can find their way back to safety by following the trails.
Rats can and will mark everything they want to claim as theirs, or retrace their steps over, and this will include you.
I really don't think its a big deal, but some people might. Its worth realising that both bucks and does can do this, but it tends to be more common in bucks, particularly the more dominant individuals.
If it is an issue for you, I'd reccomend either wearing old clothes when handling the rat, or just getting used to it!
My rat has orange skin. Is this normal?
Yes. Some rats, particularly dominant males, will have orange grease on their skin. This is usually called 'buck grease' and is natural for rats. It doesn't cause any issues.
My rat is rubbing himself along the ground/sides of his cage. What is he doing?
He is scent marking. Rats have scent glands along their sides which they use to mark their territory. Some rats will rub themselves along things, like cats do, to spread this scent around. You may also see greasy patches on their flank from these glands.
One rat is always nibbling on the other one, and makes him squeak, is he hurting him?
No. They're grooming each other, and this is a normal part of rat social behaviour.
Rats cement bonds within the group by social grooming, much like monkeys do. When one rat pins another and grooms him so hard he squeaks, its called 'power grooming'. Its usually a way for the groomer to let the other rat know his place within the group. Some rats will squeak when this takes place, but it doesn't really hurt them and should be left to take place. Babies can be particularly vocal and sound like they're being killed, but thats just the way babies are; they tend to make a big fuss!
My rat has lost the fur on her front legs/lost her whiskers!
In this event, its likely that you have a barberer in your group. Barbering is the term for when a rat nibbles the fur or whiskers off another rat. The cause of this is generally unknown but could have a genetic basis.
Some rats will also 'self barber', where they bite off their own fur. You'll usually see evidence of this on their front legs.
Basically, this doesn't cause any problems, and there isn't much you can do to stop it. The only time it could be an issue is when you want to show your rats! But if you're not showing, then there is no problem allowing it to continue; you'll just have to put up with a bald rat!