The Complete Guide to Building Trust in Pet Rats

Bringing new rats home to become a part of the family is an exciting venture to take on. It’s exciting to begin building trust with such cute and loving creatures—but it takes work! Like other animals, rats must gain trust in you before becoming your fun-loving best friend.

Here is a complete guide for building trust in your rat:

  • Give the rat its own comfortable space
  • Give treats so it associates you with good things
  • Give your rat a ton of attention
  • Play games the rat enjoys
  • Hold your rat often, but don’t force it
  • Be patient and keep working hard

This is a quite simple guide to show how you can build trust with your rats. There are many steps to take and different stages you must move through to complete the trust training. Read into our in-depth guide below for great tips on how to create and maintain that special bond with your rats.

Give Your Rat Its Own Space

Large house

The first few days that your rat is at its new home, it will be nervous and maybe even scared. This new environment will take some time to get used to for your little gal or guy.

Having a comfortable home space for your rat is essential to help it relax and earn its trust.

Make a Comfortable, Cozy Home

Pet rats are typically housed in cages. While this may seem a bit on the cruel side to some, this protects them from eating harmful (and potentially deadly) substances or getting lost. It’s for their safety and your peace of mind.

The type of cage you get will depend on the size of your rat. You will need to be sure that the cage is comfortable for your rat and that there is no way for your rat to slip out.

Your rat’s cage should be set up to provide a safe and comforting space for when your little friend may be feeling anxiety and fear.

Here are the essentials to put in your rat’s home:

  • Bedding: The bedding is the material that goes on the floor of the cage. There are several different types that you can choose from, and we talk about the best types of bedding here. It is recommended to stay away from cedar and pine wood chips because it can hurt your rat’s liver and respiratory system. Bedding is important for many reasons and an absolute must when setting up your rat’s home for these reasons:
    • Waste absorption: Bedding such as paper or cloth will absorb your rats waste and help to keep the cage fairly clean on a day to day basis. According to WikiHow, paper makes for really good bedding but will need to be changed often as people have reported that it starts to smell pretty quickly. 
    • Digging: Rats are natural foragers. Having a thick layer of bedding that your rat can drop food in and dig up later gives your little friend something to do and helps to make it feel more at home.
    • Cushion for falls: Once your rat gets familiar with its home, it will start to become regularly active, doing things like running, climbing, and exercising on the wheel. In case of falls, the bedding will act as a cushion to help protect your rat from the hard bottom of the cage.
    • Warmth: Like other mammals, rats like to be warm when resting up for the night. Rats will use the bedding to build up a cozy nesting area.
  • Water Bottle: Your rat, like anything else, will need water to survive. A water bottle is essential to put into its home. It is important to find a water bottle that will hang on the side of the cage because your rat will likely walk through, or even use the restroom in, a little bowl of water on the floor of the cage. Be sure to hang the bottle securely to prevent it from falling. Here is a highly rated water bottle for rats.
  • Food Bowl: Your little rat friend will need a place for its food. The only thing you need is a small bowl that is slightly heavy and shallow and to prevent spills. Ceramic is recommended for food bowls because it is easy to clean and not so easy to tip over. You can also buy stainless steel bowls that attach to the cage’s sides.
  • Toys: Rats are active little creatures and need things to keep them busy, but also to stimulate their minds. You can add things such as:
    • Running Wheel
    • Ropes
    • Ladders
    • Toilet Rolls (for tunnels)
    • Balls

These will allow your rat to get exercise, play games, and realize that their cage is a safe space for them to enjoy.

The items listed above are the bare essentials that should be placed into your rat’s home to make it a cozy, fun, and safe space. You can go to the links listed to learn more about setting up a nice cage.

Give Your Rat Physical Space

Rats in enclosure

As we said before, moving to a new location can be anxiety-inducing and extremely scary. Animals feel these same types of emotions when put into similar situations.

After you have set up the perfect little cage and brought your rat home, you should carefully and gently place your rat into its new cage, and do not hold it for 2 to 3 days.

While it may see impossible to resist the temptation of playing with your little buddy, this step is important for rat to become comfortable and familiar with its new surroundings. After a while, the nerves will start to dissipate, and it will realize that it is safe and well fed at this new place.

Add Additional Accessories to the Cage

This step may be optional, but if you watch your rat get used to its cage for a few days, then you will be able to tell if there is anything else it will need.

This could be things such as a better food bowl or water bottle, hammock, or better bedding.

It will not be hard to spot the things that your rat may need to make his life better and easier.

Give Treats

Mice Food

According to Small Pet Select, giving your rat snacks from your hand is the absolute best and most popular way to earn its trust.

Giving it treats in this way will it to become familiar with things such as:

  • Your presence: Your rat will begin to realize that you are there to feed it and cause no harm. It will recognize your face and relate that to being fed.
  • Scent: Each person has their own specific scent, and like other animals, rats get used to the smell and relate it to experiences. Handing them treats allows them to get a good whiff of your scent, and your rat(s) will remember that it is the smell of receiving treats.
  • Hands: Since you have given your rat a few days to be alone and get used to its new home, reaching your hand into their cage to deliver treats will be frightening at first. However, the more you keep trying, the easier it will be for your rat to see that it is safe and will get food.

Tips for Introducing Treats

As mentioned earlier, your little buddy will be quite scared of your hand entering its safe home and then coming after it to give it a treat. This process should be done in steps, and requires a good amount of patience.

 Just follow the steps carefully, and your rat will be your best friend in no time.

  1. Place your hand slowly into the cage with a treat in between two fingers. Make sure that your hand is not crowding the rat into a corner but try to be a little close to it. Then, wait patiently for your rat to come to your hand. It is likely that your rat will not go for the treat the first few tries. It has nothing to do with you being a bad owner, your rat is just being cautious.
  2. Once the first stage has been completed and repeated several times, you can now begin to start moving your hand and treat closer and closer to you so that your rat will start to come to you for its yummy snack.
  3. Now that your rat is getting comfortable with coming to you, you can put the treat in the palm of your hand. This step will probably take longer than the others. Just keep remembering to be patient, and repeat this step, and it will pay off.
  4. If your rat is finally walking onto the palm of your hand, then that means it is getting more comfortable with you. It is recommended to keep doing this for a few weeks before deciding to pick your rat up, just to make sure it is definitely comfortable.

To start off with, you should give your rat a treat every time you open the cage to help them understand that you will be changing some stuff out, but mean no harm.

These steps may seem like a lot of hard work but are completely necessary when trust training your rat.

How To Properly Hold Your Rat

If introducing treats has been going well and your rat is becoming comfortable with you, then you are probably beyond ready to hold it. At this stage, your rat should be coming to your hand to retrieve the treat that is on your palm.

When you feel that it is ready, scoop it from under its belly and form your hands into a cup-like shape. Slowly and carefully bring your rat closer to you and begin to softly pet it down its back.

Correct way to hold a rat

Make sure to do this in a seated position, with a cushion on the ground below the rat in case you accidentally drop it.

Your rat will probably be slightly scared at first, but like everything else, just keep trying every day and be patient with it. You will want to repeat this process every day, trying to hold it longer as the days go on.

Ways You Should Not Hold Your Rat

Rats are much smaller than humans are. Even though they are very active and may not seem to be very fragile, they are. You should always be careful with your little friend as a human’s strength can easily break their bones, or worse.

Do not carry a rat by its tail

Here are some things to never do when you are holding your rat:

  • Do not pick it up by the tail.
  • Do not squeeze it. Make sure that if you are holding it close to your body, that it has enough room to wiggle around and can breathe, well.
  • Do not try to pick it up by grabbing it. Always scoop your rat into your hands.

For more tips, check out our article on how long you should hold your pet rat.

Types of Treats

Since handing treats to your rat is the best way to build trust, you want to be sure to have good quality treats that your little pal will enjoy and that are also healthy.

It is important to make sure that your rat is getting all the necessary nutrients it needs.

Here are some of the most popular brands and flavors of rat treats:

Give Your Rat Plenty of Attention

Giving your rat a lot of attention is an obvious way to build trust. Plus, it is also the easiest way! Who could be sad about spending time with their adorable face and cute little paws!

Being around it and showing love, attention, and gentleness will make you rat love being around you and feel safe and secure with you.

Supervised Roaming Time

You may be wondering how supervised roaming time would fall under the “Give Lots of Attention” category. This is because ensuring that your rat is safe, especially outside of its cage, requires a great amount of attention.

When your rat is comfortable with you and wants to start exploring outside of its cage, it is important to allow this happen. You just want to make a specific area where your little buddy will not get lost or be exposed to any harmful substances.

You will also want to make sure there is not anything valuable that you love that your rat could get to and chew on because rats love to chew things.

Below is a video by Shadow The Rat on how to make a DIY playpen.

Play Games With Your Rat

Rats love to play games and they’re extremely curious and playful creatures. If your rat is playing games with you or even if they are playing while you are around, then that is a good sign that it is getting pretty comfortable with their new home and with you. Playing games with your rat is a great way to create a lasting bond.

Games are also a great way of exercising their bodies and their brains. Since rats are extremely intelligent creatures, you have many different options to choose from when deciding what to play.

  • Name Training: This may not seem like a fun game to us humans, but it is very stimulating your rat’s brain and allows it to get treats, which is also a fun time for our little friends.
  • Finger Wrestling: Like other animals, when rats are babies, they have fun little wrestling matches with their siblings. You can wrestler your rat with your finger, just be sure to be gentle.
  • Peek-a-boo!: If you have ever played peek-a-boo with a baby, then you know how adorable that excitement on its face is when you move your hands out of the way. You will get a similar reaction when you do this with your pet rat. Getting your rat to play peek-a-boo is not only stimulating for them, but it will also just melt your heart.
  • Hide-and-Seek: Rats are so smart that if you hide behind a chair, or any object, it will come and look for you and be full of excitement when it finds you!
  • Mazes: Mazes are also an excellent way of stimulating your rat’s mind. You can make them out of pretty much anything and watch in amazement as your little buddy makes its way through.
  • Obstacle Courses: Your rat will need exercise. A great way to make sure it is getting that is to build fun obstacle courses for it to complete. They love to climb and run so the opportunities are endless for your homemade course.

Interact with Your Rat Daily

Going through all of these steps with your rat is important for trust training. Consistency is the key for making the training stick.

Video Credit: DailyPicksAndFlicks

To create a trusting relationship between you and your rat, you need to spend some time every single day with it. Spend time talking, holding, and playing as much as you can. If it works out better for you, create a schedule and pick a designated time to be with your rat.

This will definitely cause your rat to get to know you better, thus ensuring that trust is being built so that it can become a loving member of the family.

Be Patient and Keep Working on It

Your little buddy is not going to magically warm up to you without some effort and time. Patience is the best thing that you can have while trust training your rat.

Keep practicing the steps, listed above, daily, and you will eventually find that all of the work you put into it was absolutely worth it.

How Long Does It Take for Rats to Trust You?

If you have been working though the steps consistently, then you might be starting to wonder how long it will take for your rat to trust you.

The answer will vary depending on numerous factors.

  • If it came from a pet store where it was handled often, then it usually takes a couple of weeks for them to feel comfortable with you.
  • Some pet stores do not handle their rats hardly at all, so in this case, it could take a couple of months.
  • If you do not have the time to spend at least a few hours a day with it, then your rat will likely take much longer than a couple of months.
  • Some rats just come with a really great personality and have had a good life so far. In this case, it could only take a couple of days.
  • Other rats may just naturally be skittish and need more time than other rats would to become comfortable with you.
  • If you do not go through the steps of trust training and continue to be consistent, your rat could possibly never become comfortable with you.

No matter how long it takes for your rat to trust you, as long as you are spending time trying to make your rat comfortable, then it will eventually come around.

Your next question might then be “How long will it take for my rat to like me?”; this popular question is answered here. You can also read other rat owners’ responses on Reddit on how long it took their rats to get used to them.

How To Make Your Rats Not Scared Of You

The best way to make your rat not scared of you is to spend time with it. The more it is around you, the more familiar you become. Giving treats to your rats is also a great way to rid it of fear when it is around you.

Again, it just takes patience and a little bit of elbow grease to trust-train your rat so that it is completely comfortable with you. Keep at it, andyou’ll become its best friend.

Rat Bites

Sometimes, your rat can become frightened or even think that your finger is a scrumptious little snack. In times like these, you are likely to get a bite from your little friend.

Though they are little, the bite can be quite painful. If this happens, let out a yelp or small scream to help them realize they have caused you pain. Be sure to not go crazy with it, because you do not want your rat to be afraid of you for the next few days.

Also, keep in mind that since you are much bigger, your rat is just trying to make sure it can protect itself from predators and let you know that it is definitely going to try if the situation occurs.

Rats can also nip or bite you if they are stressed.

How to Know If Your Rat Trusts You

Now that you have completed all of the steps towards gaining your rat’s trust, you may be wondering how you can actually tell if it trusts you. Your rat should have been going through different behaviors during this whole process.

Here are some signs that your rat trusts you:

  • Playing: If you can finger wrestle with your rat or play peek-a-boo, then your rat trusts you. A rat that has not bonded with you yet will hide away every time you come around.
  • Cuddling: Your rat will start to climb on your and find places to snuggle up for a nap or get a nice petting.
  • Taking treats from your hands: Rats that have not yet formed a bond with their owners will not even attempt to walk up to those big scary hands in their cages. You have the trust of your rat when it is comfortable with getting the treat right out of your hand.
  • Getting excited when you get around them: Rats will act like the way dogs act when they are excited to see you. They will start to jump all over the place, run around in circles, and come to the cage wall to greet you. If your rat is clearly excited to see you, then you can be very confident that it enjoys your presence and trusts you.

There are other signs that your rat trusts and likes you, which can be very exciting as a pet owner!


It is a joyous day when we realize that we have finally earned the trust of our dear little rodent friends. With patience and dedication to giving your rats a safe, comfortable, and friendly environment, you will create an unbreakable bond with your special little buddies.

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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