Getting a new pet rat is exciting. But once the rat is in with you, it might be shy, hiding all the time, and not interested in interacting with you. That is totally normal, especially for rats from the pet store, because they are not used to being handled. But with some patience, you will be able to bond quickly with your pet rat.
As a whole, the time it takes to bond depends on the character and the time spent with the pet rat. Some rats are very curious and quickly trust their owner, while others need weeks or even months to start bonding. Anything between a week and several months is possible for a rat to bond with its owner.
Don’t start playing with your rat right after bringing it home. The rat has to get used to the new environment and learn that you are not a threat.
Every rat is different. If the rat was already used to being handled, it will be easier to bond with your new pet, and if you have a lot of time to spend with your rats, they will trust you quicker.
My rats were very different in character. Some were easily startled and shy, while others were very brave, curious, and completely relaxed in almost any situation. Just like humans, some rats might just like you better than others.
Take your time with your pets.
How Do I Get My Rats to Bond With Me?
If you want your rats to bond with you, it’s important that they are not afraid of you and trust you. Therefore the real question is: How do I gain my rats’ trust?
As a whole, in order to bond with pet rats, the best advice is to spend time with them. Talking with rats with a calm voice, feeding them directly from the hand, gently stroking them, and letting them climb and explore the body are great ways to gain the rats’ trust.
Bonding with pet rats takes time and several different steps to go through in order to gain their trust.
After you got your rats from the pet store or from a breeder, let them rest first. They will be confused but curious and start exploring the cage. Let them settle in for a day or two before you start interacting with your rats.
You can simply sit in front of the cage and talk to your pets before opening the cage door and putting your hand in the cage. Maybe your rats will ignore the hand or try to avoid it first, but rats are super curious and will eventually come closer.
I made the experience that rats from the pet store are much shyer than rats from a local breeder. When I started to interact with my rats from the pet store, I got bitten because the rats did not trust my hand, even though I didn’t move it at all.
It was just a warning bite, and those usually don’t even bleed, but it’s not the best way to start a new relationship with a pet. My advice would be to be patient and gentle.
If your rats are still very nervous, and only hiding or running around like crazy, you might want to give them a little more time to settle in, before you put your hand in the cage.
You can also offer your rats something to eat from your hand. This always worked for me. First I used fruits or vegetables in my hand. The rats had to approach me but did not have to touch me to get the food.
After that, I put the food in the middle of my palm. The rat had to either stretch very far or step on my hand to reach the food. And when that worked without problems, I used cream chees on my fingers and let my pet rats lick it from my fingers.
Always talk to your rats with a calming voice and don’t be stressed around them. If you are nervous, your rats will be, too.
When the rats start walking on your hand without hesitation, you can let them walk upon your arm and on your shoulder. If you can, put the cage on the floor and stay in a room where the rat can run free without being able to escape. All doors should be closed.
Once your rats start trusting you, they might also already be brave enough to leave the cage and explore the room they are in. They will also climb around on you, which is perfect because it is important for them to learn that you are a friend and not an enemy.
When you start holding your rat, make sure that they already trust you enough to be lifted. A scared rat might jump off your hand. You can slowly increase the time you are holding your rat. Your rats will start to enjoy the time outside of the cage and with you.
How do You Know if Your Rat Has Bonded With You?
Rats are social animals that seek company. They are curious and like to play and explore. Bonding with a pet rat can take some time, but once your rats trust you, you will have so much fun with them.
As a whole, when a pet rat trusts and bonds with its owner, it will start to interact with the owner. It will try to get the attention of the owner, try to climb out of the cage to play with the owner, cuddle, and even fall asleep in the pockets of the owner.
Some rats will need more time to bond with you than others. Every rat has a different character and personality, therefore it is totally normal that one rat might already trust you and sit on your shoulder, while the other is still easily startled if you stroke it gently. Don’t rush the bonding process. Keep in mind that the rats just moved to a new place with new smells and new people. They will need some time to adjust.
From my point of view, it is such a wonderful thing to have pet rats as friends. They wait for you when you come home, eager to play and cuddle with you. You can put them on your shoulders and in your pockets and walk around in your flat with them.
Some people even take their rats on walks outside. When the rat is potty trained, it won’t pee on you unless you take your rats on a very long walk. At some point, every rat will have to pee.
It is possible to train rats and teach them their names. They will come to you when you call them and love to spend time with you. It is just an amazing experience.
Lisa is one of the two founders of Animal-Knowledge. She has been very interested in animals and insects from a very young age and has owned different kinds of pets such as snails, ants, fish, turtles, mice, rats, hamsters, rabbits, a dog, … you get the idea 🙂