5 Strange Rat Behaviours That Are Absolutely Normal!

Animals are truly fascinating creatures and watching their distinctive way of life can be both very educational and mesmerising. People often look for animal behaviours they can relate to like monkeys scratching each other’s backs or tigers napping together after a meal.

It’s extremely interesting how humans and animals are so much alike in many ways, but there are certain behaviours that are only attributed to the members of animal kingdom. In this article we will focus on 5 different things that all pet rats do in their everyday life. Sometimes they can seem strange or even scary, but rest assured… They are perfectly NORMAL!

1. Bruxing

Bruxing is basically a fancy word for grinding your teeth together. Humans do it all the time and so do rats! The mechanism of it and results are the same in both people and rats, but while bruxing can be harmful to human teeth, it’s a necessary action for your rats to keep their teeth trimmed and healthy.

Because rodent teeth constantly grow throughout their life, it’s extremely important that your rat grinds his/her teeth often to avoid them becoming overgrown. If your rat’s teeth get too long, it can lead to many difficulties, including impacting their ability to eat, groom and even cause excruciating pain. Overgrown rat incisors can create sores and ulcers inside your rat’s mouth and misalignment of the jaws preventing them from closing properly. But don’t worry! If your rat doesn’t suffer from misshapen jaws caused by their genetics or birth defect, there’s no reason to worry about their teeth at all!

As a matter of fact, bruxing in rats isn’t all about keeping the incisors at the right length. A lot of the time, rats brux when they feel strong emotions like fear and stress, but also happiness and utter content with life. So don’t get startled if your rat starts grinding when you are petting him/her… It doesn’t mean they are stressed, it means that they are enjoying themselves, feel relaxed, calm and safe!

Some studies even show that grinding in comfortable and pleasant situations in rats is like a purr from a cat! Just a way of them showing you their appreciation.

2. Boggling

This is something many first time rat parents panic about! Imagine this… You are stroking your pet rat, when he/she starts to grind their teeth as a show of appreciation. You already know what bruxing is, so you take it as a good sign. But then suddenly… Your rat looks like he/she is being possessed by a demon! Their eyes start to rapidly bulge and move in and out of their eye sockets. You might think, your rat is having a seizure or a stroke, but it’s nothing further from the truth!

Boggling is a behaviour closely connected to bruxing because the lower jaw muscles are passing through rat’s eye sockets behind the eyeballs. So whenever your rat moves his/her lower jaw rapidly while bruxing, the muscles contract, leading to vibrations which in turn cause the eyes to move in and out create the boggling phenomenon. Intense boggling is one of the most satisfying behaviours to watch your pet rat do, as it means that they are super happy and relaxed!

3. Hiccups

If you notice your pet rat “popping” on the spot, it’s most likely hiccups! Although it can look worrying, especially for first time rat parents, 90% of hiccups cases are a totally normal response to the movement of air inside your rat’s body.

Like all warm-blooded mammals, including humans, pet rats have a diaphragm, which acts like a separator between digestive and breathing organs inside their bodies. Hiccups usually occur if a rat changes his/her position like goes from laying down to running around the cage or gets excited about something, like seeing a familiar face outside the cage or a treat they really like!

Most rodents experience hiccups at one time or another, some more often than others, but usually this behaviour nothing to worry about. Rat hiccups can be silent or accompanied by a slight squeaking noises, just like in humans.

In some cases however, continuous and random hiccuping might be related to underlying respiratory issues and difficulty breathing, so if you have any concerns at all, you should consult your vet just in case. Another thing to look out for when your pet rat has hiccups, is to determine whether he/she is still alert and reacting. If your rat reacts normally to petting or their favourite treat, then everything is fine. However if your pet rat seems unresponsive and “spaced out”, it might mean that he/she is having a seizure, not hiccups. In that case it’s vital to get in touch with your vet for a proper check-up and diagnosis.

4. Pulling

Although there’s no scientific name for this behaviour, pulling occurs when one rat gently bites down on another rat’s skin and pulls it with its mouth. It’s not done with malice or aggressiveness, but rather with trying to dominate in the group by “putting everyone in their place”.

Sometimes, especially in female rats, it can be related to maternal instincts and wanting to protect their cage mates from harm. It’s usually quite a gentle behaviour and looks more like tugging than dragging. Baby rats learn this behaviour from their mothers, who move them around in their mouths. In some cases, the pulling can also occur when one rat is sick and cannot move properly, so other rats can try to help him/her by dragging them inside the hideaway or another safe place.

In whatever situation pet rats pull each other, it’s generally a sweet behaviour to witness and the most obvious indicator of kindness and empathy towards their cage mates.

5. Nibbling & Grooming

Rats groom themselves and each other many times during the day and that often includes nibbling. This behaviour helps them with maintaining clean and soft fur, but also creates a bond if two rats are doing it to one another. Grooming each other has also a lot to do with hierarchy in the group, where the dominant rats sometimes pin their cage mates down to forcibly groom them but without actually causing any harm. This behaviour is absolutely normal and can also extend to pet rats grooming their human parents.

Boggling is a happy rat behaviour
Source: @huizerattensteyn Instagram

Very often when your pet rat is comfortable and feels totally safe with you, it will start grooming and nibbling you. If you are worried that the nibbling might turn into biting, don’t! Whenever you feel like the grooming is too rough, you can set boundaries by pulling your hand away or gently tapping your rat on the nose to tell him/her off. Sometimes pet rats don’t realise their own strength and if you are uncomfortable with anything they are doing, you just need to let them know and they will learn, that this particular behaviour isn’t acceptable.

Combing your hair with their paws, checking inside your ear or softly biting around your cuticles and fingernails – all these behaviours might seem weird at first, but they mean that your rat is considering you being a part of the rat pack.

Pet Rats Are Little Weirdos – Deal With It!

Weird and wonderful – pet rats are definitely both! Even though their behaviour can vary from rat to rat, most of them display all of the five behaviours mentioned in this article. They might seem strange at first, but in the end everything makes perfect sense. Watching them interact with other rats and humans alike will make you realise how similar all mammals are – big or small. In fact, humans and pet rats are more alike than you would think! So whatever weird things your furry friends are up to, they make them who they are… Special creatures we love!

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