How Do I Know if My Pet Rat is Stressed?

Rats make great pets, but it can be difficult to tell how they’re holding up. Stress is one thing that’s difficult to understand when it comes to small creatures, and rats are no exception. If you’re looking for signs of stress, then we’ve got you covered.

You can tell that your rat is stressed by these signs:

  • Unusually Red Eyes
  • Bruxing (teeth vibrations)
  • Excessive Grooming (or not grooming at all)
  • Agitation
  • Physically Acting Different
  • Escapist Behaviors

Some of these signs are incredibly important and warrant a vet visit, and others are things to be mindful of. In this article, I’ll explain each symptom and give you a few pointers on how to handle your rat’s stress levels so that you can have the happiest and most relaxed pet rat!

How to Tell if Your Rat is Stressed

Understanding your rat and his/her stress levels is important—small animals can be easily stressed out by things you might not think of, and stress can eventually kill creatures. Luckily, if you know your pet’s behavior, then there are easy physical and behavioral signs that are easy to pick up on.

Rat on child's shoulder

If you’re someone who keeps their rat out or spends a lot of time with your rat during the day, then you’ll have an easier time recognizing new behavior changes and you’ll even notice physical changes quicker—it’s important to spend time with your rat!

Keep in mind that you’ll probably need to see several of these signs before knowing for sure if they’re stress-related.

Unusually Red Eyes

When rats get stressed, you might notice red discharge around your rat’s eyes and nose. At first glance, this can look like blood, and a lot of rat owners will rush their pet to the closest emergency vet clinic.

However, this discharge is not blood, and it’s not a cause for extreme concern. There’s a special gland that causes the discharge to be red, so don’t worry about the coloring. This is simply a way for your rat to visibly show stress, similar to how humans have runny noses when we’re sick or how we cry when we’re sad.

The gland that causes this discharge can be overworked due to stress or an illness. If you notice your rat with this red stuff, it’s a good idea to try eliminating any stressors. If nothing seems to be stopping it from coming back, then you should schedule an appointment with your vet since it can be an indicator of an illness inside your pet.


Bruxing is the term for when rats grind their teeth together, and they do this so fast that a lot of people think that they’re vibrating their teeth. You might also notice bulging eyes or other physical changes come along with it.

Rats actually do this when they’re happy and when they’re stressed, which can definitely be confusing when you’re just learning how to read your pet. Typically, to understand if this is coming from stress, you’ll need another sign before knowing, even if you know your rat’s personality.

This isn’t typically a sign of physical stress, so you don’t have to worry about an unknown illness popping up without you realizing it. On top of that, bruxing itself isn’t going to hurt your pet, so it’s a healthy way for your rat to cope.

Excessive Grooming (or Not Grooming at All)

If you have a pet rat, then you’re probably used to seeing them groom themselves. This is normal, but there are times where might see your rat grooming him or herself just a bit too much.

Sometimes, you might even notice your rat stop grooming for extended periods of time. This can be a sign of stress, and there are a few different causes for it. For example, it could be because a certain spot on your rat’s body is hurting, but it can also be because your rat is overstimulated by too many things around him or her.

Overall, you’ll want to see what other symptoms your rats show to see if you should be worried about an illness. If you do see other physical symptoms, such as your rat acting different, then you’ll need to take your pet to the vet.


It’s a common thing for your rat to become fussy or agitated if he or she is stressed. This can come out in a few different ways, such as your rat being extra vocal or becoming hostile with you.

Alert Rat

Think about it: if you don’t feel good, then you typically act grouchy or annoyed. This goes for all animals! If you know your rat well enough, then you’ll be able to spot this change in behavior quickly, and you can deduce whether it’s stress or due to something else.

This can come about because of any kind of stress, including illnesses, so it won’t really help you figure out the cause of your rat’s stress.

Physically Acting Different

There are some physical behavioral issues that can be a sign of stress as well. If you notice these signs and can’t get them to immediately stop, then it’s extremely important to get your rat to a vet as soon as possible; some things like strokes can cause immediate behavioral changes, and you want to get help sooner rather than later.

One example of this is your rat walking weird or laying weird. It can also manifest as odd jumping patterns or exercising in weird positions.

This can be caused by issues within your rat’s body or by environmental issues; however, it’s much more common to be a problem on the inside. If you see other physical signs of stress, get help immediately.

Escapist Behaviors

Rats are curious creatures, and they will find a way out of any type of containment contraption like a cage or small fenced-in area. When you let your rat out, you’ll notice it checking the parameters of the new area.

However, if your rat is urgently trying to find an escape route or trying to get away, this can be a sign of stress and anxiety. It’s basically your rat struggling to calm down, and sometimes it’s home area is a better place for your pet to find some peace.

This is typically a sign of external stressors, like being introduced to a new area or something of the like. However, it can also be a sign that your rat is struggling with anxiety—this is something your vet can help you with or even other calming practices you can learn to help your rat.

Other Signs to Look Out For

If you notice your rat has a change in its bathroom schedule, then you want to be wary. For example, your rat not peeing or pooping can become a dangerous physical problem very quickly; their bodies are too small to handle that for long periods of time, and it’s important to seek help as quickly as possible. Keep an eye out while you’re cleaning your rat’s cage and make sure he or she is using the bathroom regularly.

Unexplained fear is another thing that can be a sign of stress in your rat. While it’s not uncommon for rats to be jumpy, skittish, and even a tad bit shy of new people, they shouldn’t be living in constant fear either. They are natural predators, so fear isn’t normally an issue. This can be a sign of physical or environmental stress.

What Can Cause My Rat to Be Stressed?

Rats can become stressed out by a variety of different things, including their environment and even illnesses. It’s important to understand both so that you can seek treatment for your pet rat if needed. Sometimes there’s a combination of stressful factors, so make sure you’re checking every area of your pet’s life.

Environment Stressors

Anything that exists on the outside of your rat’s body can be considered an environmental stressor. There are an endless amount of things that could cause your rat stress, so it can be very difficult to figure out what’s going on.

A lot of the time, if your rat just randomly gets stressed out, you can think about anything new you’ve put around your rat to try and determine the cause. Using the process of elimination, you can determine the root of the stress.

We’ll talk about the most common environmental rat stressors here, but keep in mind that literally, anything could be stressing your rat out. There are thousands of videos online of cats being scared and stressed out because of cucumbers, so stress can come in any form.


Sometimes, a rat can be stressed out due to the cage he or she is occupying. Like most humans, rats don’t like change, and if you’re forced to get a new cage, then you want to get something that’s going to ease into the life of your rat.

Rat Chewing On Cage Bar

One way you can do this is by getting the closest match you can to a new cage. Think about things like height, space to run around, space to play, and even where water and food can go. These little things can make a huge difference when it comes to getting your rat comfortable.

You can also tell if the cage is stressful to your rat by taking him or her out of it and seeing the reaction. Environment stressors like this are easy to determine and make for fairly simple solutions, too.


Rats are actually susceptible to hot weather, and it’s important to make sure their cage has plenty of airflow. Overheating and heat exhaustion are forms of stress that can take a toll on your rat.

Rats shouldn’t be anywhere that teachers over 80° Fahrenheit. While this sounds pretty high, it’s not uncommon for some areas in your home to raise up to this. For example, electronics like computers and televisions can create hot spots like this, so don’t keep your rat around them.

For the most part, you don’t have to worry about your rat becoming too cold, especially if you keep your pet inside. You’ll become way too cold before your rat ever gets too chilly.

Other Animals

In nature, rats are both prey and predator, so not every animal is going to bother a rat. For example, animals like hamsters and mice can quickly become prey to rats while dogs and cats can scare rats.

Rat sees a cat

If you have a larger pet that’s hanging around your rat’s cage, then this can be extremely stressful. If the animal makes a lot of noises, this can also cause your rat to be stressed out.

Even if you have smaller, caged pets near your rat, being too close could be stressful as well. Your rat’s instincts will be on high alert, and your rat can stress itself out by trying to get to the prey (i.e. your other pet).


Illnesses can stress your rat’s body in many ways, and it isn’t always noticeable at first glance. While your rat might not look as stressed out compared to being scared or anxiously trying to escape, other signs are pretty important.

Sad mouse

For example, if your rat is having trouble walking, it could be because of something like a tumor. If your rat is panting while it exercises, it could be a respiratory issue (which is extremely common in rats).

You can help combat this type of stress by catching it before it starts taking a toll on your rats body. Catching problems early is one way to do that, and you can find most of these issues by simply handling your pet regularly and often.

It also helps when you take your rat to the vet regularly to make sure everything is alright that you wouldn’t see immediately. Most vet offices will see rats, so find one near you!

Ways to Help Your Rat Cope with Stress

While you can’t always fix everything for your rat, there are things you can do to help your rat cope with stressors that aren’t necessarily in your control.


Just like in humans, rats can help cope with stress by getting plenty of exercise. This will only help with certain types of environmental stressors, but it’s definitely worth a shot—especially if you have a skittish rat.

Pet enclosure ball

One way you can do this is by letting your rat roam around. While there are things like mice wheels and hamster balls, you can find similar things for rats. This encourages them to explore and get their mind off of things that are stressing them out. It’s similar to distracting a dog with a treat!

Be careful while you let your rat roam; rats do enjoy a good puzzle, and fences and gates often seem like just that. You also want to make sure that there aren’t any open cords or exposed outlets. Rats are notorious chewers, and they can electrocute themselves and/or break any electronics you have.

Snuggle Time

Rats are social creatures, and they need bonding time with their owner. Handling your rat has a ton of benefits, and it’s also going to bring you joy as well! A lot of times, rats will love sitting with you or walking with you by hitching a ride on your shoulder or in your pocket if it’s loose enough.

Make sure to follow healthcare tips while you’re handling your rat. Rats, even domestic ones, can carry bacteria and diseases that can harm you and other animals in your home. Always wash your hands before and after interacting with your rat.

A Good Diet

Again, just like humans, a diet can have a huge impact on how stressed out your rat is. While some rats might be fine eating cheap food, some rats might need something a little better in order to function well.

If you have a skittish rat, then you can look into rat foods that help with anxiety. You can speak to your vet and see the options. This is also a great idea if your rat is having any stomach problems, even if it’s not related to stress!

There are also homemade rat food recipes that can help with stress. It’s also a much healthier option; with fresh ingredients that you control, you always know exactly what’s going into your rat’s body.

Get a Second Rat

Rats cuddling

Believe it or not, rats are very social creatures. They thrive off of the energy and companionship of other creatures around them, and they do really well together. Oftentimes, two rats will become extremely close and play together all the time. This works out well because you don’t necessarily need a second cage to keep another rat in; one works just fine.

Getting a second rat is a huge way to alleviate some of the stress your rat is feeling. Similar to some of the methods above, it pays to have each rat together. While there are other things to think about, such as double the food and treats, it’s worth it!

Lee Cameron

When I was younger, I had guinea pigs and hamsters as pets. There was limited information back then as to how to take care of rodents, and indeed information on the various types of rodents that could be kept as pets. In this website, I hope to make it an easy, one-stop information portal on raising rodents!

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