Bonding with a pet rat takes time and patience – and lots of treats! In the end, it is worth it. As rats are social, intelligent and curious rodents, the goal is to get the rat from being inside its cage to playing outside its cage for about an hour every day. Keep in mind that rats are better at bonding if other rats are present, so it is better to have at least two rats.
Every pet rat is different, so don’t force or rush a pet rat into bonding with you. Listen to the rat: if it is upset or stressed out, don’t force it to interact. Wait another day before trying again.
First Contact with the Pet Rat
After you bring your pet rat home, give it a day or two to adjust to its home. Once it has settled in, you can start hand-taming the rat. Begin offering a treat once a day for a few days. This lets the rat associate you with food, which is positive reinforcement for the bonding process.
Put the treat on your palm and offer it to the rat inside its cage. Speak to the rat in a calm voice. If the rat doesn’t want the treat, try again tomorrow. Once the rat accepts the treat, try fresh fruits and vegetables. Switch it up to see what the pet rat likes and doesn’t like.
Once the pet rat is comfortable taking food from your palm, start offering the food with your fingers. After a few days, begin holding the food further away so the rat has to come to you for the food. Once you have established trust with the rat inside the cage, start holding the food outside the cage door, which encourages the rat to poke its head outside to get the treat.
After the rat is successful in taking food from your fingers outside the cage, you can begin picking up the rat. Avoid touching the rat when you are in a bad mood; rats can sense stress and fear, which makes them agitated and uncomfortable.
Hold the pet rat in a cupped palm with the other hand underneath for extra support. Gently pet it and talk to it in a quiet but upbeat voice. Never squeeze the rat or hold it by its tail. If the rat shows signs of distress, put it back in the cage and try again tomorrow.
Try holding the pet rat for a few minutes each day, gradually increasing the amount of time per day. Offer a treat to the rat while holding it to encourage positivity. Keep your hands open so the pet rat can move around. Gradually decrease the treats from every day to every other day to once or twice a week; this encourages the rat to trust you more, but do not completely cut off the treats.
Repeat this process until the pet rat is comfortable being in your hands.
Playing Outside the Cage
With most animals, the more time and attention you give your pet rat, the deeper the bond will grow. When you are not holding the pet rat, sit near its cage and speak to it. Start taking it out daily to play. Playtime should be about an hour long. Pet it, speak to it and play with the pet rat using toys.
Over time, the pet rat might become comfortable to perch on your shoulder or sit in your lap. Continue to show it affection by scratching it behind its ears or giving small massages.