Why Your Pet Rat Licks You

Rats are incredibly affectionate and intelligent animals for their size. They can exhibit a lot of behaviors that one might assume are only observed in larger mammals. Similar to cats and dogs, they can direct a lot of interesting behaviors – like licking – towards their owners.

Rats might lick their humans for a few different reasons. Thankfully all of them are fairly innocent in nature. Here are the most common reasons:

  • They are showing affection
  • They are grooming you
  • They are tasting food on your skin
  • They’re licking the salt on your skin
  • They’re playing

Rats are smart little furballs and because of this, their behaviors often have a fairly good reason behind them. If you have a rat that is very licky, chances are good that there is an innocent reason behind it. In this article, we will take a closer look at each of these reasons for licking behaviors in your pet rat.

Rats Can Be Compulsive Lickers and Nibblers

If you are worried that a rat’s licking could hold some negative connotation, you can put that fear aside. Rats lick for basically all of the same reasons as your pet dog would lick you. Either they are showing you love, helping you by bathing you, or you’ve got something that tastes good on you and they’d really like to help you out by removing it from your skin.

Rats Show Affection By Licking And Nibbling

Two rats being held in a hand

Rats can form really strong bonds with the people that they love. In this way, they are like a much larger animal in a tiny body. Rats are just capable of showing a lot more emotional intelligence than a lot of animals their size. This heightened emotional intelligence leads to tighter bonds with humans that can be achieved with say, mice, hamsters, or even guinea pigs.

While these other animals certainly form bonds and love their owners, to an extent, it doesn’t compare to the love between a rat and their humans. So, just like cats and dogs, they can show their appreciation and love by giving you some moist licks, or in their terms, kisses. If you’re hanging out with your rat and they insist on licking you, it can be assumed that they like you quite a bit.

Rats Groom Each Other, Why Not Groom Their Humans?

Rats are social animals and they do well in pairs or small groups. Anyone who has kept multiple rats has seen the ways that they bond not only with their keepers but also with the members of their own species. Rats groom each other very similarly to dogs and cats. When they use their forepaws, one can’t help but think of monkeys grooming each other.

When they have a human keeper that they are particularly fond of and comfortable with, they will show their affection not just with kisses, but with grooming behaviors. They will lick and nibble your skin, but they will also lick and groom your hair if they can gain access.

If your rat likes to hang out on your shoulder, it should come as no surprise to find them combing through your tresses with their tiny paws and slicking the hair with their little tongues. They are trying to help you maintain your luscious coat because they care about you.

Rats Can Smell Your Snacks

Heart-shaped pizza

If you’ve owned a rat for any period of time, you can probably attest to the fact that they are usually highly interested in snacks of any kind. They may try to take you treats from your hand, or they may even try to crawl right into the bag of chips just as you’ve opened them. Even the smallest of rats will not miss the opportunity to abscond with an entire piece of pizza given the chance.

So, if you have eaten recently and your rat smells it, you may be in for a licking. They have excellent senses of smell so if you have any remnants of Cheeto dust, peanut butter, or spaghetti sauce on your hands, they are going to know. While they might not be envious or upset that you didn’t share your food, they will certainly attempt to take their share of the flavor by licking you clean once again.

One thing to be aware of is that a rat who is feasting on the flavors remnant on your flesh might turn from licking to nibbling. This can certainly catch you off guard if you are receiving little licks one moment and then a sharp chomp the next. Your rat means no harm as they just lost track of what was the owner and what was food. If you have an exceptionally nippy rat, you may want to make sure that you wash up really well before snuggling your pet.

Rats Like Salt, And You Produce Salt

Pink salt in measuring spoons

You might be clean and washed before holding your pet rat and you still might find that they go to town licking you whenever they get the chance. Apart from affection, grooming, or finding flavors, they could be harvesting the salts that accumulate naturally on your skin. When we sweat, salt can collect on our skin, our pores, and on the follicles of body hair. No matter how fastidious we are about grooming, those salt traces will remain in small amounts.

It’s not something to be concerned about, it is all natural and if you were worried about your rat, you needn’t. Rat’s like all animals need a certain level of salt in their diet. Since salt is not too common in nature, they will be quite enthusiastic to lap up any sources of the stuff they can find in the world. This is just another normal, and mostly adorable behavior that is to be expected in pet rats.

Rats Like To Play Too

Rat playing on hands

Being the social animals that they are, rats like to play with their other rat friends and their people alike. Like most social animals this constitutes a lot of faux biting and roughhousing involving their mouths. In this way, licking can quickly turn to biting, once again, just like cats and dogs.

This kind of “play biting” is totally normal and should be encouraged to teach your little rat good mouth control and strengthen your bond. They may chomp and tug on a finger, hand, or clothing and that is completely fine.

When Licks Become Nibbles

Like we stated earlier, sometimes, licks can become nibbles, especially if your rat gets a little too excited with the flavors they’ve found on your skin. This should be dissuaded by removing your rat, and washing your hands. Maybe leaving them in their cage for a little bit until their snacking, licking frenzy has calmed down.

You should never scold or punish a rat physically, they are far too small and fragile and lack the cognition to understand what they did wrong in that way. Simply remove them from your lap, putting them in a rat time out.

Support the Bond Between You and Your Rat

We’ve learned that most of the reasons for why a rat may be interested in licking a human are fairly innocuous. They like to love and groom, taste, and play. That’s about it! If you were concerned about your rats’ frequent and enthusiastic licks, worry no more. It only means that your rat thinks you’re really great – or at least you taste really great.

Is there a favorite or funny habit your rat has? We’d love to hear about it below in the comments!

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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