Rattie Ratz: A Primer on Rat Psychology

May 21, 2016 | 2016 Articles, Animal Rescue Adventures, Rodent Ramblings

by ViVien Hoang

ViVien Hoang is a volunteer with Rattie Ratz Rescue in the bay area of California. Each month KRL will be featuring at least one animal rescue adventure story, and every other month there will be one from Rattie Ratz.

I’ve had pet rats for over 10 years, everything from peach-fuzz babies to special needs, elderly rats. I like to think that all those years and all those rats mean I have some insight into what our rodent friends are thinking. Here’s my primer on what goes on inside a rat’s mind!rattie ratz

1. A new object: “Will it eat me? Nope….Can I eat it?” Whenever a rat encounters a new object or thing, their first reaction is to gauge the threat level. Scary or not scary? Since most pet rats are unlikely to truly encounter something life-threatening, their next reaction is to try to eat it. They’ll take a tentative bite, think about it, and maybe try another bite from a different angle. More industrious rats may also consider “Can I use this in my nest?” or “How easy is this to rip into shreds?” Because rats tend to put everything in their mouths at least once, rat proofing your pet’s play area is recommended.

2. Food:
a. My food is mine.
b. My cage mate’s food is mine.
c. Your food is mine.
d. All food is mine.

I’ve had slices of pizza stolen off my plate. My sister had a cookie stolen from her mouth (That’s what you get for talking while eating!). Rats will spend hours stealing food from each other moving the choicest pieces from one stash to another. At the end of the day, the only good defense against food thievery is to not eat while there are rats out!rattie ratz

3. Feeding Time: It’s always feeding time.
My current foster rats, Ollie and Jeffrey, will always act like they’ve never been fed, like they’ve never eaten a morsel of food in their lives, never ever! They’ve perfected the “Look”: standing on their hind legs with one paw on the cage bars and begging, pleading eyes gazing up at you, imploringly. Never mind the piles of food hidden behind the exercise wheel or the fact that you literally just filled up their food bowl. Rat logic dictates that the best time to feed them is when they’ve just been fed! Because rats enjoy their food so much, it’s key to feed them a well-balanced diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables.rattie ratz

4. Nap Time: The best time to sleep, other than when you’re not eating, is immediately after eating. A full belly, a comfortable hammock, and warm rat piles are hard to resist. Rats are crepuscular, meaning they tend to be most active at dawn and dusk, but many pet rats will also adapt their sleep pattern to their humans’ activities. After all, how can you steal and beg for food if you aren’t awake when your humans are?

5. Snuggle Sessions: Not all rats are cuddlers, but those that are will let you know. They’ll sidle up to you, nudge your hands and fingers with their faces, and brux and boggle when you scratch the right spot. It can be alarming the first time you see it, but it’s a good thing! Bruxing is when a rat grinds its teeth together; it’s often associated with boggling, where a rat’s eyeballs vibrate rapidly, because a rat’s jaw muscle goes behind a rat’s eyeball, in the eye socket. It’s weird, but it’s the equivalent of a cat purr and expresses relaxation and contentment. Now imagine if humans boggled whenever we were happy!rattie ratz

6. Play: Playful rats will exhibit a behavior commonly called “popcorning”. They will bounce around, in short, spazzy bursts. Sometimes they’ll give their heads a shake, and then hop towards you before hopping away. This is a rat’s way of letting you know it wants to wrestle and play a game of Tag! Rats will pin each other and groom each other, an important social interaction. Tickle fights are always appreciated and some studies have indicated that rats “laugh” in high-frequency, ultrasonic chirps that we can’t hear. Other rats love to chase fluttery objects, such as feathers on a string or even your wiggling fingers. A game of tug of war with pieces of rope or even pieces of food are especially fun when the rats start getting older and stronger.

Rats may look different than humans, but in the end they want many of the same things we do: food, shelter, safety, and companionship. Rattie Ratz has made it our mission to provide our furry rodent friends with all this and to place them in their forever homes.

Rattie Ratz: Rescue, Resource, & Referral
Click here to email us at: info@rattieratz[dot]com
Call us at:
(415) 340-1896

For more information check out the Rattie Ratz website.

Check out more animal rescue stories in our Pet Perspective section & watch for more stories from Rattie Ratz every other month. Advertise in KRL and 10% of your advertising fees can go to Rattie Ratz.

Vivien Hoang lives and works in the Bay Area, and has been active in the rat rescue community for a number of years. In her spare time, she enjoys writing and photography, checking out new restaurants, spending time with family and friends, and traveling to warm beaches.


  1. I’ve had an entire pizza stolen by a rat! We left the room for a minute to wash our hands before eating, and returned to find the pizza–box and all–gone. Remembering my big boy rat was out, we looked under the furniture and found him, dragging the box of pizza into the darkness below. We reclaimed the pizza (after all, it was protected by the box) and the rat was given a rat-appropriate sized slice. That was quite a heist for a little guy. He was big for a rat, but that’s not very big compared to a large pizza!

  2. I enjoyed this article because it is accurate and warmly written. Affection for ratties comes right out of the words 🙂 My rat’s behaviour is exactly like this. Last night Ophelia and Daisy had a squeaking and grooming session which ended in Ophelia pinning Daisy flat on her back after Daisy had pulled more of Ophelia’s fur out of her face – all in good fun of course!

    Thank you, Vivien, for a fun and informative article.

  3. Love this, Vivien. I’m learning and preparing for a time when I can get rats. Diana Hockley got me started dreaming about rats.

  4. I really enjoyed learning something new from your article. I’m not a ‘pet’ person right now, but my mind is not against having a rat buddy…


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