What Is The Smartest Pet Rodent?

When you think about intelligent animals, usually the list starts with canines, wild cats, or elephants. It is not often that you will hear anyone naming rodents on a list of intelligent animals. Still, science has done some research and figured out that there are rodents with pretty high intelligence levels, both cognitively and emotionally.

There are no specific tests that can tell us if one rodent is smarter than another. However, after observing and watching rodents for years, it’s pretty apparent that rats are the most intelligent of the rodent family. They can learn and remember and share things that you would never see in other rodents such as hamsters, mice, or guinea pigs.

Some arguments suggest that rats are not intelligent and that they are only good at being trained. However, it has been shown over and over that they have the emotional intelligence that can not be found in any other rodent. Rats are some fantastic pets to have, and the tricks they can learn are limitless, making them entertaining and fun to be around.

Why Are Rats Considered The Smartest Rodent?

Rat standing on back legs

Rats can learn many things that you would not see when taking care of other rodents. While some things they learn are a skill you can teach, others are an innate sense they have that comes alive when presented with a suitable and safe living situation with owners they can bond with.

Learning Names

So, unlike most rodents, rats can learn their name and respond to it when they are called. While it may take some time to get them to respond fully, eventually, they will respond better to their name than anything else.

Rats can also learn the names of humans and run to a particular person after being told to. They won’t understand these things after meeting them after one or two times. Instead, over time being around the same people, they will start to distinguish the different names and who the people are.

Fun Tricks

You can also teach your rat some tricks, anything from basic sitting to high fives. Rats need to gain trust in their owners before they start responding to being taught things, but over time you should be able to teach them a wide variety of tricks, some being:

  • Clapping
  • High fives
  • Standing on hind legs
  • Jumping
  • Rolling Over

Showing Affection

One of the reasons rats are considered highly intelligent is that they can show affection for their owners or other humans. While we see animals like dogs and cats do this, it’s not common for rodents to create emotional bonds with people, much less share their feelings with them.

Rat Showing Affection

Now, your rat likely won’t hug you, but they do have a few standard things they do that is their form of expressing love and affection. A few things rats will do are:

  • Lick and groom your fingers
  • Rollover on their back to get tummy rubs (this is a sign of trust)
  • Wrestle your hand the same way a puppy or kitten does
  • Nuzzle you with their nose
  • Curl up in your pocket or the fold of your arm

There are also other ways that rats can show affection.


You can also teach your rat to play games with you, and while some can be simple, you can teach them pretty complicated things as well. When starting off teaching your rat to play games, it’s better to start with things like fetch or jumping through hoops to reach a finish line. Once you have mastered those simple things, you can move on to more complex games.

Riding on Your Shoulder

Now, this may not seem like a game to you, but for rats, this is the best game they can play! Rats are inquisitive creatures and want to explore everything, so the best way they get to do that is to ride along with you while doing things around the house.

Rat on person's shoulder

You will want to do this cautiously because your rat does not fully know the danger of jumping off or falling. Pay attention to your rat’s mood and responses when you put them on your shoulder. If they seem stressed or too wiggly, it’s always best to be safe than sorry and try again later.

Rat Burglar

This is a funny little game that helps inspire your rat’s curiosity while also teaching them a few things. You can teach your rat to find something and bring it back to you. For example, leave a wallet with a dollar in it somewhere they can find it, and you can teach them to open the wallet, get out the dollar, and bring it back.

The great thing about this game is once they have mastered the first thing you teach them, you can add something else and make the game a bit more complicated for them.

How To Teach a Rat Tricks

When beginning to teach your rat tricks, the absolute first thing you need to know is that you will not achieve much in terms of learning without comfort and trust. You have to let your rat become very comfortable around you and their environment before expecting them to learn anything new.

Motivate Your Rat

Figure out the best way to motivate your rat to want to do something. Most rats work best when motivated with food, so it’s recommended to use a special treat or snack they don’t get very often. 

Mice Food

Some people use a special food item only when learning tricks and commands so that the rat starts to associate it with learning something new. This immediately sets the tone for your rate, so they understand that they are about to learn something new and may need to work at something.

It is also recommended to motivate throughout the learning process, not just after something has been learned. For example, if you teach your rat to clap, motivate them by giving them treats whenever they touch their paws together during the teaching process. Eventually, they will begin to see the correlation and be motivated to do it more.

Create a Learning Atmosphere

Rats are naturally curious creatures, so, therefore, it is really easy for them to become distracted. The best thing you can do for your rat when learning new things is to create an atmosphere, or area, for them to only learn tricks in. You need to keep this area free from extra distractions or toys, as well as minimizing noises and things that could startle your rat. The more focused your rat can be while learning new tricks, the better and faster they can learn them.

inside of a large cardboard box

Now, most people don’t just have empty areas in their homes where they can take the rat, so it is recommended that you create a box or a crate, with no top, where they can have enough room to roam, without becoming lost or distracted. This will create a safe area for your rat to learn things, free of distractions and dangers.

Keep Sessions Reasonably Timed

Just like humans, rats will not want to work at the same thing for hours on end. Keep tabs on how long your rat has been working on learning something and try to keep the sessions’ length between 10 and 15 minutes. This will give you more than enough time to reinforce the topic of learning, while also making sure your rat doesn’t become discouraged or bored.

Have Patience and Fun!

Training any animal requires a lot of patience, and rats are no different. Your rat will likely come to you not knowing anything other than eating, sleeping, and pooping, so you teach them how to learn, first and foremost. They are also learning how to trust and respond to you and your tones, so learning anything can be very slow at first.

Time is Needed

Teaching your rat any trick should be fun for you and them. If they aren’t having fun, they will likely become bored and very disinterested. Any learning session that doesn’t include an element of entertainment for your rat will likely not end in learning very much. Rats are intelligent, curious creatures, so if you can pique their curiosity, you will have their attention.

Issues That Come with Their Intelligence

Something that people don’t realize when adopting rats is that due to their extreme intelligence, they require a decent amount of extra care and watchful eyes. If you are not prepared for the messes and situations that rats can get themselves into, it is probably wise to do a bit of research to help you understand exactly what they need.

Dangerous Areas

Once again, rats are extremely curious rodents. The biggest issue is that they often can get themselves into dangerous areas or situations that they don’t realize can harm. As a rat owner, you need to give your rats the safest living arrangement possible.

Danger Warning Sign

You can’t “rat-proof” your entire house, but you can make sure they have a suitable caged area with working locks and minimal chance of anything dangerous getting into their cage.

If you have other animals, large or small, making sure they can’t mess with the rat cage while you are away is a huge deal too. Rats won’t always be scared of other animals; usually, they will be interested in other animals and sometimes work with them to get out of the cage or get something else done.


Whatever cage or living area you get for your rat, you will want to make sure it has appropriately locks that work well and are not something rats can undo easily. Once again, going with a rat very curious nature, and combining that with their intelligence, they can easily escape from whatever cage or living area they are in.

Rats in enclosure

This can be very dangerous due to you not knowing they’re out because they may get into things usually put away when they’re in their cage.

Of course, this can also present your rat’s problem getting lost or stuck somewhere in your house. If you don’t know to look for them, it’s possible they could get themselves into something that they may not be able to get out of.

Continuous Entertainment

Rats need almost constant entertainment or stimulation to ensure they are not bored or sad. Much like humans, rats can become depressed due to a lack of activity or interaction with toys or humans. 

This means that adopting a rat can be much more time-consuming than most people think. They will want to get out of their cage multiple times a day, and they will also want new toys regularly to make sure they don’t get bored.

Rat climbing onto hand

Unlike humans, it is pretty easy to get a rat out of a depression. After a period of continuous or regular interaction, most rats will be in much better moods and more inclined to do their normal day-to-day activities

Things to Know Before Adopting A Rat

While rats are rodents, some misconceptions about rodents as a whole can lead you to take care of your rat incorrectly. Doing your research before adopting an animal is always the best way to figure out what they need, and the best way to give them that.

Rats are Clean

A common misconception about rats is that they are dirty creatures. Rats are actually very clean rodents, so clean in fact that you will never need to bathe them. The most you may need to do is take a baby wipe or gentle wet cloth and clean their fur off if they were to get into something.

This carries over to their cages as well. Rats want clean areas to play and live in, so they will need their cages cleaned regularly. Otherwise, they will stop using the parts of it that they deem too dirty. Most rats will use a specific corner in their cage to use the bathroom, so you can train the rat to use a litter tray to make cleaning easier.

Short Life Span

Unfortunately, rats only live 2-3 years before they pass away. They are considered old at 3 years of age, and most of them die of old age. However, rats are also prone to illnesses, so it is important to regularly pick up your rat to check for tumors, cysts, or any swollen areas that could be a sign of sickness. If any of these are found, you will want to get them to a vet immediately.

You Can Rescue Rats

We have all heard the phrase “Adopt, don’t shop” in reference to more commonly owned pets, but did you know that rats can be rescued as well? There are a growing number of rats that are waiting to be adopted and find homes.

The great thing about adopting a rat from a rescue is that they have been observed and evaluated so you can get a good idea about their temperament as well as likes and dislikes.

Rats Need Friends

Rats enjoy the company of humans, but they need the company of other rats. If you are planning on adopting a rat, you need to accommodate for two so that your rat does not get lonely.

Rats cuddling

You can’t give them to constant interaction they need on a daily basis. When you get your rat a friend, they can play and love on them if they need interaction without them becoming bored and depressed due to loneliness.

No Other Rodents

While it may seem cool to have rats and mice together, or even hamsters and guinea pigs, it does not work out well. While rats can peacefully coexist with dogs, cats, and some reptiles, they generally do not like any other rodents in their space.

You can always have other rodents in the house, but it is recommended that you keep them separated and away from each other’s living areas. Rats like friends, but only when the friends are rats or don’t live too similar to what they do.

Rat Round-Up

While it is not recommended that you pick up a rat off a street and try to make it your pet, people often see rats in dirty and gross places, which has caused a lot of misconceptions about them as animals. Rats are actually amazing pets to have and can become helpful, entertaining, and great companions.

Rats are credited with being the smartest of the rodent family and fully capable of sharing an emotional connection with a human. While their lifespans are not long enough to create a lifetime connection with, the 2-3 years you will have them are more than enough to make memories and leave you wanting more.

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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