Rats are very clean creatures. They spend so much of their time grooming that it not only keeps them physically clean, but also serves as a social bonding activity and as a way of communicating.
It’s a fact that because they groom so frequently, rats are inherently fastidious about their cleanliness. However, sometimes an older rat may need a little help to clean up, or your rat may get themselves into something that could harm them if they groom it off themselves. Let’s take a look at whether it’s ever right to give your rats a bath, and if so, how to do it safely.
Do Rats Actually Need Baths?
The short answer to this question is no, generally rats don’t need baths. This is because, as stated above, they are very clean animals that will only really need help when they get very old or have problems with their mobility.
Older rats sometimes can’t reach around to clean their flanks or bottoms, which can get quite dirty for obvious reasons. Rat owners can help these rats to gently clean off any waste or dirt that’s stuck to the fur and bottom, which in turn helps to prevent urine scalding, sores or infection from taking hold.
Another reason why a rat might need a bath is if he’s sick. Rats can suffer from skin conditions or other conditions (like sores or lesions) that need regular bathing in a specialized shampoo, however this must only be done under the direction of a vet. It’s unusual that a rat will need to be bathed in this way, so only do this if explicitly told to do so by a veterinarian.
The final reason rats might need to be bathed is if they get themselves into something that could harm them if it stays on their skin, or is ingested by them while they’re grooming it off.
Are There Other Ways to Clean a Rat Before Bathing?
There are a few different ways to help your rat to clean themselves before giving them a full bath:
- Using a baby wipe which is unscented and ideally naturally made
- Using a damp towel, soft and dampened with warm water (not hot or cold)
- Giving your rat a shallow water bowl if they like to play in water in their free-roam time so they can rinse off themselves
Whichever way you decide to clean your rat, make sure they are dry afterwards. Rats can get too cold quickly, so making sure they’re warm and cozy after bathing will help them to dry off quickly and keep them comfortable.
How to Bathe a Rat if Needed
Before you bathe your rat, you should gather all the equipment you’ll need first. There’s only a few things you’ll need to gather:
- An old washing up bowl or make use of a shallow sink with a plug (a full on bath should only be used if there is no other option available to you)
- Rat-safe shampoo (we recommend organic baby shampoo) only if needed
- A warm, soft towel
Firstly, fill the washing up bowl or sink up with warm water (not hot or cold – use your elbow to test the temperature in the water), then get your rat and follow these steps:
- Make sure you have everything you need within easy reach (never leave your rat unattended in deep water).
- Hold your rat securely and dip the parts needing to be washed in the water.
- Use a little shampoo if needed on the dirty areas and lather gently, loosening any stubborn dirt off of the skin and coat.
- Rinse thoroughly.
- Dry your rat off – this is very important, particularly with old rats. A good idea is to wrap them in a warm towel and give them something nice to nibble on as a distraction whilst you gently dry them off.
When bathing your rat, only use shampoo if explicitly needed. Rats have special oils on their skin and running through their fur that protects it from drying out; washing your rat too often or with shampoo can strip these oils and dry their skin out, so only use shampoo sparingly if needed at all to protect these oils on their skin and coat.
What Shampoo is Best to Bathe Rats With?
If you need to use shampoo to bathe your rat, organic baby shampoo is a good choice. Because rats groom themselves so much, any shampoo that leaves a residue or is made with chemicals, scents or is heavily medicated should be avoided (unless a prescribed medicinal shampoo is given to you by your vet).
Organic, unscented baby shampoo is a good idea, as when thoroughly rinsed, it should leave no residue on the rat’s skin and coat. There are shampoos marketed to be specifically used on small mammals (like rats, mice and hamsters etc.) however these often have added perfumes and fragrances, and even the ones that don’t aren’t ideal as they don’t allow for the amount of time rats spend grooming themselves.
For the same reason, we would recommend against using a ‘no-rinse’ shampoo, as again these are often highly scented and leave a residue by design. Rats who ingest this residue could very well get sick, so if shampoo is needed at all, use only a little and pick an unscented, organic baby shampoo.
How Often Should You Bathe Rats?
The ideal answer would be never, as rats don’t typically need baths. A safe amount to bathe your rat would be only when absolutely necessary, as stated above if they’re unwell, very dirty and are having trouble getting the muck off of themselves, or if they’re old and having difficulty.
Rats can get very stressed when being bathed if they are not used to it or just don’t like water, so keeping that stress to an absolute minimum will be much more beneficial to their health in the long run.
Do Rats Like Water?
Some rats like water, some aren’t bothered either way, some absolutely hate it and will do anything they can to avoid it. Each rat is an individual, so their preference with water will be as well.
Providing your rats with some water in a shallow basin or bowl (with some peas thrown in there for some apple-bobbing fun) can be a good way to introduce water to your rats, as well as providing some novel enrichment for them during their free-roam time, but the key to introducing water is to let your rats take the lead and go at their own pace.
Take a look at this awesome video for more information on bathing pet rats: