How Long Should You Hold Your Pet Rat?

One of the main reasons people like to keep rats as pets is because they are easy going and fun to handle. Still, if you’ve just broken into the world of pet rodents, you’ll want to know the proper way to handle your new friends and how long it takes before they need to be put down.

Generally, it is recommended that you hold your pet rat for 5 to 20 minutes a day. You’ll need to build trust over time if you’re planning to hold it for an extended period. You can build that trust by consistently handling your buddy for around 5 minutes at a time at increasing intervals. 

If you’d like to learn more about how to properly handle your pet rat and methods you can use to bond with it, we’ve got you covered. In the following sections, we’ll break down a few tips and tricks that should have you spending quality time with your new buddy without having to worry about overstressing or dropping them.

The Wrong Way to Hold Your Rat

Do not carry a rat by its tail
These are wrong ways to hold a rat!

Properly picking up your pet rat is key to gaining its trust and just about any other kind of training you’d like to do in the future. This may sound simple, however, there are several common mistakes people tend to make consistently. Below we’ve included some of the most common mistakes people make when first handling their rat.

  • Never pick up your rat by its tail: The misconception that you’re supposed to pick up rats by their tail is more widespread than you might think. Usually, it is accompanied by the advice that it’s only properly done if it’s the base or the tip of the tail you grab hold of. The truth, however, is that you should never pick up your rat by its tail. Not only will this action cause stress, but it can also be physically damaging.
  • Never hold your rat too tightly: Sometimes, in an attempt to keep the rat from running away, people will hold it tightly. The problem is that if you squeeze too hard you can make it difficult for your rat to breath. It’s better to get under its legs and let it rest on your hands by its own will.
  • Never pick it up too fast, especially at the beginning: If you swoop in and pick up your pet rat without giving it any time to get used to you, you’re going to cause it a lot of stress and make it harder to bond with in the future. Instead, give it enough time to where it will gladly walk onto your hands of its own volition.  

How to Properly Hold Your Pet Rat

Correct way to hold a rat
The proper way to hold your rat.

So now that we know the kinds of handling mistakes that are most commonly made, you may be worrying about what the right way looks like. Are there some methods of handling that are better than others? Fear not, for picking up your pet rat is quite simple if you follow the steps we’ve outlined below.

  • 1 to 2 days of bonding: When you first get your rat home, you’ll want to give it 1 to 2 days to grow accustomed to its new environment before you start trying to handle it for more extended periods. There are a number of ways to bond with your new rodent friend that we will highlight in the next section.
  • Use both hands to gently scoop up your rat: When you first start handling your rat, you’ll want to come in slow and gently with both hands to scoop them up. Both hands should slide under the rat and link up as a safe platform for lifting. It’s a good idea to let the rat get used to sitting in your hands before you start taking it out of the enclosure.
  • Position the hands properly for a sturdier hold: The best way to support their weight when you pick them up is to use one hand as a support under the rat’s chest and the other as support under its hind legs. This allows its weight to be distributed properly while providing you with a more secure hold.
  • Hold your rat close to your body: This is particularly important when you first start handling your rat. Keeping your rodent next to your body increases its feeling of security and decreases the possibility of dropping it.
  • Find a place where you can set down your rat if need be: You can use a bed, a sectioned off area of the floor or a small room as a bonding place for you and your pet rat. In this way, you’ll be able to set the rat down and let it come to you willingly when it wants to be picked up. This will bond you to the rat much more quickly than just handing it over its enclosure.
  • Let your rat climb up your arm when it’s ready: Once your rat gets used to being handled you can have some fun by allowing it to climb onto you. To do this you should set your hand down palm up, with your arm diagonally positioned like a ramp that leads to your shoulder.

Once your rat is sufficiently used to you, they will climb up your arm and sit on your shoulder. Please note that if your rat isn’t yet comfortable enough to do this on its own, you shouldn’t force it to.

How to Develop Trust With Your Pet Rat

In order to bond with your rat, you first need to develop trust. This can usually be accomplished in a period of weeks. There are 3 basic goals you should set to gain your rats trust:

  • Ensure that it is used to your presence
  • Ensure that it is familiar with your scent
  • Ensure that it doesn’t see you as a threat
  • Ensure that it associates you with positive feelings

There are a few basic strategies you can employ to reach these goals. Just keep in mind that consistency is the key, and you’ll need to continually do these things if you really want to develop a strong bond with your pet.

Talk to Your Rat

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. This one sounds a little silly, however, it is actually a great way of getting your rat used to your presence and scent while entertaining yourself. Just sit close to the enclosure and speak quietly to your rat just as you would to a dog or a cat. Make sure you don’t get too loud or move in too quickly.

Food, Food, Food

Whether it’s through regular feeding or setting aside time for treats, food is probably the fastest way to your rat’s heart. This also provides an opportunity to diversify your rat’s diet a little bit.

Mice Food

You can use a variety of foods as treats and hold them out for the rat. Make sure that you’re making the rat come to you for the treats, as this will lead to them associating your scent with positive feelings.

Chill with Them

Make sure you spend quality time with your pet rat. There are a number of ways that you can spend time with your new little buddy. You can let them rest on your palm or your shoulder a little longer each day, you can carry them around if you have a loose pocket on a hoodie or you can set aside a room to play with them in.

The main thing is just that you’re spending lots of time with them, without overstressing them.

Get Them Used to Your Scent With an Object

You can use a piece of tissue paper, cloth, or really any object to help your rat get used to your scent. Just carry the item around for a few hours then place it into the rat’s enclosure so that it can become used to your scent even when you’re not around. Remember, however, this is not a substitute for you spending time with the rat, it’s just one of many tools you have at your disposal. 

Where Should You Play with Your Pet Rat?

If the key to developing a good relationship with your pet rat is spending time with it, the next logical question would be, where? Obviously, you can spend some time hanging around its enclosure, however when you really want to interact with it, what should you do?

Fortunately, the answer is fairly simple. You’ll want to find a safe space for your rat to roam and play that meets the following requirements:

  • It’s reasonably closed off: The last thing you want to do is watch your rat run off when you were just wanting to play with it. You should make sure that the area you’ve decided to play with your rat in is enclosed enough to where that you don’t have to worry about your rat escaping. If you want to play with it outside, a large box will do.
  • Avoid places with pets and toddlers: If you have a dog or a cat, it may try to eat your rat when you get it out. It’s best, therefore, to make sure other pets are outside or in another room. Likewise, a toddler may pick up the rat and squeeze it or try to put it in their mouth. You should make sure any children in the room are supervised and old enough to be trusted with a small animal.
  • Make sure they have their own space: This is extremely important at the beginning. You want a place large enough that they can come to you and start playing when they’re ready. You should never force your rat to play or do tricks when they are under stress. This will not only decrease the likelihood of them performing in the future but it can also be damaging to their health.

How to Play with Your Pet Rat?

There are a number of games that you can play with your rat. The more comfortable they get with you the more you can feel free to explore some of these options.

  • Teach them to do tricks: Rats are actually quite intelligent animals. You can teach them tricks ranging from handshakes to playing dead if you take your time and use rewards properly. Please note, however, that they’ll only learn tricks well after you’ve spent a decent amount of time bonding with them.
  • Digging games: Rats actually love to dig. You can create an enclosure with lots of soil in it just so you can watch them dig. For an added benefit you can hide treats throughout the soil so that your rat can feel nice and accomplished when the game is over.
  • Fetch: Believe it or not, you can train a rat to play fetch similar to a dog. Now obviously you’ll be using much smaller objects, but the idea is the same. This can also act as a fun trick to show off to friends when they come to visit.
  • The usual toys: The most cliche but highly effective route is to get toys like a wheel or a maze and watch the rat run through it. This is probably the most tried and true way of playing with a rat. 

Should Children Handle Pet Rats?

Children holding rats

If you have children, you may feel a little leery of letting them pick up your pet rat. Kids tend to hold animals too tightly and are known for dropping things. The following tips will help you to avoid any mistakes that might come about from a child mishandling a pet rat.

Allow Them to Pet the Rat First

Before you allow your child to handle the rat themselves, it’s a good idea to let them stroke it while it sits in your hands. This gives the rat time to get used to the child’s scent and presence, and it gives your child the opportunity to understand how gently they should be touching the pet.

Allow Your Child to Bond with the Rat First

The same bonding tactics that worked for you will work for your child as well. One way that children love to bond with these rodents is to be the one who feeds them or gives them treats. If you allow your rat to get used to the child’s presence before they try to pick them up, it should go more smoothly when you do.

A Demonstration is Better then an Explanation

While you certainly should explain to your child how to properly handle your pet rat, you should also make sure that you demonstrate it as well.

Young children are extremely curious and will enjoy watching you pick up the animal. When your child has seen you handle the rodent properly on top of your explanation, they are more likely to do it properly themselves.

Supervision is Key

If your child is 10 years old or younger, you’ll definitely want to be in the room when they are handling the rat. Even if the child knows the proper way of holding the rat, they can sometimes be surprised and make a mistake. For example, if the rat makes a sudden movement, the child may instinctively squeeze it.

Have Them Hold The Rat in a Low Chair or on the Floor

This will not only decrease the likelihood of injury if your child drops the rat, but it will also make your rat feel more secure. You can even clear a small space where the child can put the rat down and play with it, instead of holding it for 5 to 10 consecutive minutes.

Are Pet Rats Good For Beginners?

With all the steps involved in bonding with a pet rat, you may wonder if these rodents are good for beginners at all, and if not, what would a better option be. Fortunately, rats are considered good for beginners for all of the following reasons:

  • They are sociable: Once your rat gets used to you, they actually love being held and played with. This makes them far easier to manage as you go. You can actually even train them to come to you like a dog, though that does take some work.
  • They are tame: Pet rats are not likely to attack unless they feel cornered and threatened. This can make the learning curve involved in handling them much easier for beginners.
  • They’re relatively easy to care for: A cursory glance at exactly what kind of enclosure to get, how often to clean it out, and how often to feed them is often all you need to get going on your rats’ care. The most involved part of raising a pet rat is handling them properly. The ease of care makes them great for beginners while the process of bonding with them makes them ideal for parents teaching their kids responsibility.

So, How Long Should You Really Hold Your Pet Rat?

How long you should hold your pet rat, really depends on how long you’ve had it and how much time you’ve spent bonding with it. On average it should be somewhere between 5 and 20 minutes a day. If you’ve just gotten your rat, it’ll be closer to the shorter end, while if you’ve had it for quite a while it’ll be closer to the longer end.

If you use the tactics discussed above to bond with your rat and the proper handling techniques, you’ll find that it doesn’t mind being handled for longer periods. You can start bonding with it by giving it treats and letting it sit on your hand inside its enclosure.

When you handle it, you should scoop it up, with your fingers as support for its hind legs and chest. You’ll be ready to bond with your new friend in no time at all.

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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