The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
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Pet rats have some of the weirdest, unexpected habits.
They gnaw everything, brux their teeth, and boggle their eyes. They’re always grooming and they aren’t shy to be vocal about their demands.
If you’re new to raising rats, you might find your pets squeaking loudly whenever you touch them. We’ve all been there and we’ve wondered, “Why does my pet rat squeak when I pet it?”
Sometimes, these are happy squeaks. Other times, it might be a sign of distress. In this post, we go through the different reasons behind a rat’s vocalization.
Let’s see why your rat is making all that fuss!
Despite being prey animals, rats are very vocal about their needs. They use sounds to communicate with their humans and their cage mates all the time.
Their vocal range goes from gentle chirps, peeps, and clucks to loud hisses, shrieks, and squeaks. They even use vocals to communicate during mating in wavelengths beyond our hearing.
Squeaking and shrieking are the loudest and the highest in pitch. That’s why these sounds always capture our attention the most.
Sure, squeaks might be a sign that your pet is in pain or distress. However, not every squeak should be a cause of worry.
Fortunately, it’s easy to tell the difference.
Sometimes, rat squeaks are happy sounds. They use short, high-pitched squeaks to let you know that they’re having a good time.
This will often be the case in healthy pet rats who’ve been with their owner for a while now. They trust the human and enjoy the tender touches.
Did you know that some rats are ticklish and laugh when tickled?
If you’re still new to the whole pet rat thing, you might get overwhelmed by the squeaks and think that you must be doing something wrong.
To make sure that these are happy squeaks, you’ll need to notice the other (non-vocal) ways of communication:
- Is the rat chilling or is he struggling out of your hand?
- Does the rat seem calm or is his fur standing?
- Is he tilting his head for scratches or is he trying to bite and flinch?
- Is the rat scanning the room of an escape or is he eye-boggling and wagging his tail?
- Is his ear twitching, or did he bring them forward?
Answering these questions should give you a better idea about your rat’s state of mind when you pick him up to pet him.
You can also take notice of the facial expressions that a rat makes when he’s happy. Usually, they open their mouths like they’re playing.
Rats also squeak when something is wrong. They squeak to complain and warn other rats in the cage.
Bad rat squeaks are usually longer, more piercing, and more persistent than happy squeaks. They sound more like shrieks than gentle chirps.
Here are a few reasons why your rat vocalization might be a bad sign:
- The rat is scared of a possible attack/enemy (he doesn’t trust you enough, yet)
- The rat is in pain or an uncomfortable situation
- The rat is trying to communicate a need (thirst, hunger, cold, etc)
You can also keep an eye on how the other rats in the cage respond to these squeaks.
Are they panicking around and trying to hide? If so, then the squeaking rat might be warning them of danger.
Sometimes rats are vocal because they believe something is important and worthy of attention.
It’s not necessarily out of fear or stress. They might be trying to tell their cage mates that something important is happening here.
Like, “Look, here comes the human with food and scratches,” or “Hey, it’s time to be groomed.”
Keep in mind that rats like the attention and they love to share the news with each other. If that’s the case, then you don’t need to worry too much about it.
Since rats are prey animals, they try to balance the need to be quiet and be vocal in communication. They’ll want to go under the radar but they still need to warn their mates if they notice any sign of danger.
Pet rats adore the attention and love being dotted on. However, sometimes they’re overwhelmed by stress and fear.
Besides the continuous squeaks and flinching, there are other signs that a rat is stressed or scared.
Here are some of the signs that your rat is not enjoying the attention:
As a defense mechanism, rats can urinate and defecate on demand. In a stressful situation, the pet rat might pee himself on the spot.
Take notice of your pet rat’s bowel movements when you’re picking him up. Try to see if this is a common occurrence every time you touch your rats.
The body language of a rat will tell you a lot about his mental state.
A scared rat will:
- Hunch his back
- Puff up his fur
- Twitch his ears
- Swirl and swat his tail
Keep in mind that different rats might adopt certain behaviors and signs. It’s important to consider the common rat body language guides and check it with how your pet acts regularly.
When rats are stressed for prolonged periods, their glands release a substance called porphyrin. Porphyrin is a UV-fluorescent lipid compound that lubricates the eyes and nostrils.
Too much porphyrin stains the eyes and nostrils with a red pigment. The eyelids and nose skin can get a little crusty as well.
Like us, rats might hyperventilate when they are scared. If you notice that the pet rat’s breathing rate increases when you pick him, he might be scared of you.
We don’t recommend leaving your rat in this stressful situation for long. Put him gently back in his cage and try later.
Rats can lose appetite if they feel threatened in their living environment. A scared pet rat will drop in its weight very suddenly.
You’ll also notice that their food remains untouched a lot of the time. They can also neglect to stay hydrated.
Over time, this stress affects their physical health severely. That’s why we recommend taking notice of any changes in squeaking tone since it might be a sign of illness.
Rats aren’t particularly courageous. They’ll easily get frightened by new surroundings, noises, and even scents.
You might be lucky and get outgoing pet rats. If that’s not the case, you’ll have to put in the effort into gaining their trust.
The direct way is often the easiest. Pick up your rat and see his response to being held and pet. However, some people might be scared to test their pet rat’s fear response by picking him up at first.
A good way to gauge the rat’s trust in you is through a quick hand-test. Put your hand slowly inside the cage and watch their response to it.
Do they sniff around it? They might be curious and willing to get to know you.
If they start grooming your hand, then you’re in luck! They already feel comfortable around your scent.
Remember that treats are an easy way to bond with most animals. To their brains, someone who provides food is someone to trust.
Take a tempting piece of cheese or fruit in your hand and put it inside the cage. Wait a while for the rat to muster up the courage and eat the treat.
Repeat this trust-building exercise twice or so every day till your rat warms up to you. You’ll notice that the stressed squeaks slowly turn into happy chirping and peeps.
Forming a bond with your pet demands time and patience. Don’t rush the process and take things too fast.
Always keep in mind that rats evolved as pet animals. Their fear drives and survival insects can take over their lovable side.
Don’t get tired of all the hissing and squeaking. Your pet is trying to tell you something when they get so boldly vocal.
In some cases, squeaking is a sign of pain. Your pet might be ill and uncomfortable to the touch.
Persistent squeaks might also be a sign of respiratory distress. The moment you suspect that a rat is squeaking because he can’t breathe properly, take him to be checked up.
Rats can be lovable pets who adore scratches and tickles. However, their fear can stand in the way of bonding with you.
To answer the question, “Why does my pet rat squeak when I pet him?” you’ll need to know what type of squeaking it is first.
Happy rat squeaks are accompanied by a docile body, boggling eyes, and a playful tail. Meanwhile, sad rat squeaks come with a struggle to escape and a violent wiggle.
Keeping an eye on how other rats respond to this squeaking sound can help you decipher the meaning, too. Many rats use vocal communication to warn others of danger.
In the end, you can gain a pet rat’s trust through treats, playtime, and lots of patience.