It is important to know how to, and how not to, handle a rat.
A lot of rat behavioural problems are caused exclusively by people not knowing, or not caring about, how to handle them properly. And it isn’t difficult.
The first thing to be aware of is that a new rat is going to be very overwhelmed and probably a bit stressed at coming to a new home.
This will make them slightly more defensive than they would normally be.
Also remember that you are many times his size, and rats are prey animals.
It is important to move slowly, and quietly when picking up a new rat.
Loud noises and sudden movements will put a rat on edge and make him more scared.
If your new rat is used to being handled, such as if he came from a good breeder or rescue as opposed to a pet shop, he may come to you willingly.
But if you’ve got a rat who is nervous, or has not been picked up before, patience is the key.
Rats should be grasped around the shoulders, just behind their front legs, and the other hand should support their bum.
Always hold a rat close to your body, do not hold them at arms length. You’d be amazed at the amount of people I’ve seen do this who then wonder why the rat is struggling and feels insecure.
A rat needs to feel secure when it is picked up, so hold him close to your chest so he feels a bit enclosed.
If he is very scared, it can sometimes be helpful to also cover his eyes.
Always aim to sit down when handling a nervous rat.
Scared rats are capable of leaping out of a person’s arms far quicker than we can stop them, and you want to ensure that, if this does happen, he has as little distance as possible to fall.
Never pick a rat up by it’s tail.
This is not only painful (can you imagine someone dangling you in the air by the end of your spine?!) but it can cause the skin to slip off the tail, leaving just exposed bone
. This is called a degloving injury, and is more common than you’d think.
Rats are not designed to dangle by their tail.
In an absolute emergency, such as a rat about to escape down a hole or behind a fridge forever, you can grab the tail but only ever the base where it is thicker.
Do not try to pull on, or pick a rat up by, the tip, it will deglove.
If you have a nervous rat and you want him to get used to being with you, there is a very efficient technique known as ‘forced socialisation’ that I often use myself with good results.
Forced socialisation works on the fact that rats can only sustain their fear of a situation for 20 minutes.
After this, they learn to accept and tolerate whatever is worrying them. We can use this to our advantage by handling nervous rats in 20 minute installments.
It is basically a form of desensitization.
The rat will likely act very scared initially, but will eventually begin to calm down and accept it’s situation.
When 20 minutes are up, put the rat back into it’s cage