Do Male or Female Rats Make Better Pets?

Do male or female rats make better pets?

When deciding to buy pet rats, one of the first decisions to make is whether to adopt boys or girls.

Rats need to live in pairs or groups, as they are social creatures and don’t thrive living alone. However, unless you are desexing your rats, it is important that these are same-sex, as breeding is not something that should be entered into lightly.

So, how do we choose whether to keep males or females? I’m going to say up front that neither male or female rats are objectively better and I love, and own, them both!

Male rats are known as bucks, and I love them unconditionally, because a good male rat is a personable, curious chonk of affection and intelligence. Female rats, known as does, tend to be smaller and livelier, but if well-handled can be just as cuddly. No one who loves rats will be disappointed by either.

However, as most pet owners need to choose, lets break down some of the characteristics where there are some sex-based differences.

Male and Female Rats Are Different Sizes

There is overlap in the adult size of male and female rats, but on average boys are definitely chunkier in all dimensions. Living in the UK and Australia my boys have weighed between 350 and 700 g (0.77 – 1.5 lb), while my girls have been between 200 and 450 g (0.44 – 1 lb).

Compared with a pet like mice, both sexes are a comfortable size to handle, but the males definitely offer more to get hold of. 

Male Rats Have Big Testicles

There is no way to put it delicately: bucks are stacked in the testicle department. Or as my mum put it after spotting Vlad’s backend on Skype “they really do pack a suitcase down there, don’t they?”.

The average unneutered male rat has balls that are big, floofy, and, if they decide to climb on your head, definitely in your face. Personally, I’ve got no issue with that – it’s just a body part. However, if you aren’t comfortable with boys showing off their boy bits, buck rats might not be for you.

Do Male and Female Rats Smell Different?

Male vs female rat smell

Yes and no! It depends what kind of smell we’re talking about. Neither have an unpleasant body odor, but intact boys have a more distinct smell if you sniff their fur. Some people compare it to the smell of Doritos! This comes from the oils they naturally secrete in the back fur when sexually mature. These can sometimes be seen as an orange layer on the skin, known as buck grease, and is completely natural.

Both sexes have scent glands on their flanks which can release a fluid into the fur that smells a bit like grape soda. However, this only happens when they are feeling territorial.

In terms of cage smell, there isn’t much difference between the sexes. My boys are very well-behaved, use their litter trays, and don’t pee in (or chew!) their beds – although Vlad does like to sleep in his toilet! My girls have no standards whatsoever. However, you’ll easily find owners who say the exact opposite, and that’s because litter training, peeing and pooing is less about the sex of the rat and more about general habit.

In any case, whether the cage smells comes down to how we furnish and clean it, rather than what the rats do.

Do Male or Female Rats Scent-mark More?

There are two different types of scent-marking commonly seen in rats.


One is “scrubbing” where a rat who is feeling territorial will rub against walls, floors and cage furniture. This involves pressing not only their genitals but also the scent glands on their flanks against the object of interest. It generally only happens during intros, or if the rats move to a new home that smells of strangers.

Both sexes do it, but it is more common in hormonal boys – although that said, my current biggest scrubby floofball is Spoddles, who has been neutered for nearly a year! My intact boys don’t seem to care much. So, it is very much down to individual personality as well as sex.

Urine Marking

The other type of scent-marking, and the one potential owners tend to be more worried about, is dribbling urine. Again, this is a territory thing and rats do it to mark out objects and humans as their own. Received wisdom says this is a boy problem, as urine marking is most commonly seen in other male animals. However, I’ve not noticed much difference between the sexes. Some rats do it, some rats don’t.

My top dribbler at the moment is a middle-aged girl who wants to make it plain she loves me and I am hers. Again, my intact boys have more important things on their minds, like stealing my teabags.

Are Male or Female Rats More Aggressive?

Well-bred rats of either sex should not bite, as temperament is something that good breeders actively select for. A rat with behavioral problems or hormonal aggression should never be bred from, and so those issues should be rare in good breeder lines. 

However, if the breeder is not selecting on temperament (for example, where rats are bred en masse), then male rats can often develop hormonal aggression at between 3 and 8 months of age, and this can manifest as biting of either cage mates or humans (or both).

In my experience, this is a very common cause of lone boys ending up in rescue. Although some boys do just grow out of it, the simplest solution lies in neutering, which generally resolves the problem in a few weeks. I have taken in so many “aggressive” rescue boys who have turned into complete boingy playful sweethearts after my vet confiscated their testicles.

It’s much less common for girls to bite, and in my experience, usually only happens where they have experienced trauma or poor handling. In the case of both sexes, the best guarantee against biting is adopting well-handled rats from a reputable breeder or rescue.

Are Male or Female Rats More Playful?

Are male or female rats more playful?

All baby rats are playful, and there is no obvious difference between the sexes until about 6-8 months. At this age, I’ve found that boys, especially intact ones, do tend to settle down a bit more, and lean toward pootling and contemplating, rather than sprinting about the place at full tilt and climbing where they shouldn’t.

Girls often stay very lively well into middle age, and only contemplate slowing down once they hit 18 months plus. So, if boingy playfulness is important to you, does might be your thing.

That said, a lot of behavior is set in the breeding line – some lines will produce playful boys, and others slower does. 

Who Gives the Best Cuddles?

Most pet owners like to have a good cuddle with their pets at some point, and rats are excellent, affectionate snuggle buddies. In my experience, cuddliness in rats is more about age, personality, and prior handling than sex – my go-tos at the moment are a 21 month old girl, and a 33 month neutered boy.

Received wisdom says that boys are more likely to make cuddly pets, just because they slow down at a younger age. Again though, checking with the breeder about the temperament of their lines is the best way to find a pet who will suit you.

Do you prefer male or female rats? Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. I adore both for different reasons. My boys are usually more laid back moochers. My girls will grab anything they consider fair game for their nest bedding. They ADORE anything sweet and love coffee with flavored creamer. They delight me and that’s what keeps me getting more.

    1. I adore my 3 (now 7 month old) sisters. They make me smile every day. Their personalities ate all very different. Only Spice, feels the need to mark me as her own every, Nutmeg is the small one, very agile and a bit cheeky, Pepper is the naughty one. They are all very lively, I’m looking forward to them to them calming down a bit and discovering they like nice mummy cuddles.

  2. I’ve interacted only with female rats and I love them so much. I had two, Pepper and Fern, though Pepper crossed the rainbow bridge recently and the vet recommended I keep the other one solo and shower her with love until it’s her time to go. She’s definitely older than I originally thought (she’s about a year and a half), her fur is all fluffy and she’s slowed down a lot over the 8 months or so I’ve had her. She’s a sweetheart, loves to give kisses, and loves treats even more. Strawberries are her favourite.

  3. I like Male Rats. I want one that cuddles with me and plays with me a little. I have no problem with biting because my sewing needle pricks me all the time!

  4. I am looking to persuade my mom into getting a pair of rats. I hear that two boys can be territorial, and a boy and girl will breed, and I like the sound of two girls. I do want a chunky cuddle bug though. Do you know which I should get?

    1. I would suggest boys if you want cuddles, I recently got two baby boys and they occasionally play fight but are never territorial or do anything to harm each other. Also one of my boys is always hungry and really chubby.

  5. Hi Sophie,
    Definitely not a boy and a girl – they will breed. Two boys or two girls are both good options. Boys won’t be territorial unless they have hormonal aggression, which is less likely to be an issue with rats from a good breeder (rats from pet stores are much more likely to have problems). I currently have 8 intact boys and two neutered living together with no problems. Girls are lovely and often very affectionate – we get swarmed by girls wanting cuddles everytime we go in the rat room – although again pet store rats are more likely to be nervous or aggressive. Your best option would be to visit a local reputable breeder and handle both sexes, then see which you prefer. If you are in the US, The AFRMA list of breeders is here: https://www.afrma.org/breederlist.htm
    If you are in a different country, then try googling {your country} ethical rat breeders.

  6. Soooo cute!! I’ve only had females and I loved them! So playful and full of their own personalities. They were so, so fun. I’ve been contemplating trying out boys next. It’s fun to know they could potentially be more cuddley- I called my girls “independent ladies” they definitely loved me and would sit and snuggle sometimes, but mostly they struggled to break free from my love so they could run around more!

  7. Ive always loved rats they have been socute to me. But trying to persuade my mom to get one for me is a pain in the butt. Ive always wanted a rat ince ive the movie Ratatouille. lol

  8. Both my boys went over the rainbow together 3 weeks ago. Dustin had a fungating tumour and Steve had a heart condition . Dustin became quite aggressive at a young age so we had him castrated, once the testosterone had reduced he became the most amazing snuggly boy and would spend hours in my sons bed playing the PlayStation (not literally haha). Steve was partial to a sip of wine and would sit on the edge of my glass and dive in. Both were the best pets I could have ever wished for, and would spend hours following me around the house. They have both left a huge hole in our hearts. I did say I would never get anymore because of the emotional attachment I had to them both, but after 3 weeks I am still missing my boys so much. I am now looking at getting some girls to see if there is any difference.

  9. I am trying to persuade my mom to get me a rat it’s really hard I don’t know if I should get a boy or girl I really want a snuggly one but I’ve heard boys bite more and they have balls which my mom does not like I really love both but I don’t know which one to get please help me.

    1. Hi, if you’re worried about biting, then girls might be a better choice for you since they are less likely to bite. Both males and females can make snuggly pets, but girls tend to be more active so it can be harder to get them to stay on your lap for a long cuddle compared to males. I just want to emphasize that, if you decide to get a rat, you should adopt at least 2 or 3 rats. Rats are highly social animals that need to be adopted with other rat friends to be happy.

  10. My friend has got two girls who at the moment are really lively – I don’t want a pair that are too naughty but I want them to be cuddly, lively and not fighting too much!

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