Rats communicate with each other through body language and squeaks. Research with lab rats shows that many squeaks are too high to be heard by humans. In fact, a recent study determined that rats may actually laugh! Unfortunately, we can’t hear any of that, so we must watch our rats carefully in order to understand them. Because we can’t hear them, we generally interpret rats to be very quiet. We only hear them squeak when they are scared, hurt or annoyed. When a rat squeaks, you can determine how distressed he or she is by the level of the sound. In the following guide, you will read about different squeaks. You’ll also learn about some of the other body language rats use. To learn to understand your rats’ body language, spend some time observing them. A rat uses its body position, posture, head and ear position, fur, and tail to commmunicate.

  • Intense fear or pain will result in a long scream. A rat that is only annoyed will give a short squeak or a longer whiny squeak. This is especially common when one rat is picking on another or trying to steal food.
  • A rat that is uncertain or afraid will twitch his ears back and forth and shrink backward.
  • A curious rat will often tip his or her ears forward and either move its head in that direction or reach up and sniff the air.
  • Rats often push things away when they don’t want them, such as a piece of food or even when they don’t want to be petted. Other times, they may just turn away or leave.
  • Some rats wag their tails slowly when you pet them, as to show contentment.
  • Many times rats may swing their tails wildly when they are picked up and feel insecure. This is why, when holding rats, you must always support their feet.
  • If a rat rattles or flicks his tail back and forth, he is probably experiencing some sort of social distress or sees something that worries him.
  • Relaxed rats, especially rats that are being petted, will grind their teeth together to express contentment or happiness. This is called bruxing. Sometimes while a rat is bruxing, his or her eyes bulge in and out.
  • Rats mark their territory by leaving drops of urine where they have walked. This is more common in males, and can be reduced by having him neutered.
  • A rat that is feeling aggressive will puff out his fur and hunch his back. Do not handle a rat in this position, as he may bite. If he or she is threatening another rat, remove the victim immediately. Aggressive rats should only be picked up in a towel. Keep in mind, though, if a rat has no reason to feel aggressive and seems lethargic, puffed up fur can mean the rat is sick. Sometimes they also puff their fur when they’re cold.
  • Rats that want to be petted approach humans with their heads low.
  • Rats that are feeling playful will scamper around, sometimes in a circle, but often in a jerky, crazed manner.

As you can see, rats use many different forms of body language and vocal noises to communicate with rats and other humans. Observing the way your rat tries to talk to you is very important: it helps you bond better with your rat and understand what it is he or she really wants. Take some time to observe your pet.