Anyone who’s had the pleasure of owning rats knows how fascinating their behavior can be.
Watching them interact, bond and play is always a joy, but some of their behaviors can be more complex and even more mysterious in their origins than others. For example, eye-boggling and bruxing are two behaviors that can confuse or potentially worry owners, but they’re performed for a simple reason.
In this article, we’ll look at rat boggling and bruxing, what makes them boggle and brux, and what they could say about your rats’ health.
What is Bruxing in Rats?
Bruxing in rats is the grinding of a rat’s teeth together rapidly, often hard enough that owners can hear it. This is often paired with eye-boggling and is often done for two reasons:
- The primary reason rats will brux is to keep their teeth in check. Much like other rodents, rats have teeth that need constant attention and grinding to keep their surfaces sharp and at a suitable length. Bruxing keeps the incisors (the front teeth) in good condition but remember that bruxing alone won’t keep your rat’s teeth healthy; a good diet and gnawing opportunities are still required for optimum dental health.
- The other reason is to express strong emotions such as joy. Rats will brux their teeth rapidly when they’re very happy – or sometimes when they are very stressed, to comfort themselves.
Research has found that bruxing in rats helps protect their bodies from some health issues that can happen when they are stressed, like stomach ulcers or degenerative changes of their thymus and spleen.
What is Eye Boggling in Rats?
Eye-boggling, or boggling, is a rapid vibration of a rat’s eyeballs, making them appear to bulge in and out of the eye socket. It is often seen during intense bruxism episodes and is linked to the repetitive grinding of the incisors (or front teeth).
This unique behavior is due to a rat’s jaw anatomy, where the jaw muscle passes behind the eye. So, when the jaw is moving rapidly during bruxism, the muscle causes pressure to build behind the eye and bulge it out of the socket.
Rats eye-boggle primarily when they’re happy, which might come as a shock to some! This is because it can be alarming to see your rats’ eyes bulging out of their heads. Rest assured, most rats who boggle are doing so because they’re bruxing away happily, and normally, it doesn’t indicate a problem.
However, suppose you notice your rat boggling and bruxing alongside concerning behavior (such as withdrawing from their cage mates, inappetence, or lethargy). In that case, it might indicate your rat is stressed and boggling is happening due to stress-induced bruxism.
Why Do Rats Boggle Their Eyes?
Rats will boggle their eyes when they’re happy, content, calm, and enjoying their surroundings (or a tasty snack!), giving owners an insight into their rat’s feelings and how they’re doing emotionally.
Boggling and bruxing often pair together and are almost always associated with a relaxed and happy rat. There are some situations, however, when rats brux and boggle their eyes for self-comfort reasons (much like a cat purring when it’s in pain), it can be a helpful indicator to owners of pain or distress.
You can tell if a happy rat is eye-boggling by looking at their body language as a whole; happy rats will often boggle when they’re:
- Snuggled into your hand (if handling) or be stretched out flat
- Totally relaxed, possibly when being stroked
- Jumping around and exploring new toys or additions to their cage
Do Rats Boggle When They’re Stressed?
Yes, rats can boggle when they’re stressed. This is usually used to self-soothe and is a stress-induced behavior. Rats can brux when they’re in pain, stressed or agitated to comfort themselves and make themselves feel better. Often, this will cause eye-boggling and can be mistaken for bruxing and boggling for positive reasons.
However, rats who exhibit any signs of pain or discomfort and who are bruxing and boggling should be seen by your veterinarian, as there’s something wrong.
Body language and signs of stress, pain, and distress commonly seen with bruxing and boggling can include:
- Hunching over
- Fur fluffed up
- Not wanting to interact with cage mate/owner
Is Bruxing in Rats a Good Sign?
Bruxing in rats is usually a good sign. Rats will often brux to express strong emotions, much like they do when boggling. Rats will brux when being petted, running around in excitement, or in pain or distress.
It’s important to be able to tell the difference between bruxing and other teeth-chattering behaviors in rats, as while bruxing is usually a good sign that denotes a happy rat, there are other times when teeth-chattering means something is wrong.
Rats will sometimes chatter their teeth in a similar but subtly different way to bruxing when they’re suffering from illness. A rat that’s chattering its teeth will make sharper, clicking or cracking noises when grinding them, and will often have other symptoms present that point to an illness.
Respiratory illness is often present when rats are teeth chattering, and some of the common symptoms of respiratory illness in rats are:
- Nasal discharge
- Eye discharge
If you notice your rat teeth chattering or any of the symptoms mentioned above, take them to your vet for an exam.
Teeth chomping is also a teeth-grinding behavior but is much slower and more deliberate than bruxing.
Teeth chomping is an aggressive behavior often used to display or gain dominance over other members in a mischief, splaying the bottom teeth apart in preparation for an attack. A rat who is teeth-chomping will often display other defensive or aggressive behaviors and body language.
Rats who are bruxing will often eye boggle at the same time, as the former causes the latter. Eye-boggling can be alarming for owners who aren’t sure what’s going on, and they might think that something’s wrong with their furry friend.
Most of the time, if your rat seems relaxed, happy and content, any bruxing and boggling they do will be a good sign. However, if you notice your rat bruxing and boggling when they’re displaying other signs of illness or stress, a visit to your vet is strongly advised.