Bathing a rat seems an unlikely thing to do. But if you have pet rats, doing so may become necessary at some point. Usually, rats keep themselves perfectly clean. However, situations occur in which a rat is unable or unwilling to clean himself.
Some rats are like certain humans, taking a relaxed approach to personal hygiene. If your rat lets his fur become greasy, dirty or smelly, then give him a bath. This makes handling him a more pleasant experience for you and helps avoid health issues that arise simply because the rat is a slob. Meanwhile, rats mark each other with pee. It's social urination. There are several reasons for this – it is not necessarily a dominant behavior. If your rats do it a lot, they are going to become rather smelly.
Paralysis of the hind legs is a common affliction of elderly male rats – bucks – and is usually just a sign of aging. Medicines exist to ease the symptoms and make him more comfortable, but it is going to get worse. In the beginning, the rat may appear to be slightly arthritic and having difficulty climbing. As the problem progresses, he’ll start dragging his hind legs, using the forelegs to pull himself forward. At this stage, you might need to bathe him weekly and sponge him daily, because he will have difficulty keeping himself clean. It is especially important to get bucks accustomed to baths while they are young because of the fact that you might need to bathe them once they get old.
Other Medical Problems
Some medical issues, including obesity, parasites and injury, render bathing a pet rat necessary. The first step is, of course, to take the rat to your vet and follow his or her advice on bathing. In the case of certain parasites, a special shampoo may be required.
If you would like to participate in rat shows, which are open to pet rats, bathing your rats beforehand ensures they look their best. Bathe a day or so before, not on the day of the show. This is because fur doesn’t look particularly glossy when it has just been washed.
Bathe rats occasionally. To bathe a rat, you need tepid water, a plastic cup, a shampoo for small animals and a towel. Run a couple inches of water into the bowl and add the rat. Use one hand to hold him and the other to scoop water with the aid of the cup. Saturate his fur, avoiding the face, talking to him reassuringly while you do so. Place him on a towel or keep him in the bowl and massage a little shampoo into his fur and along his tail from base to tip. Rinse out all the shampoo before patting him dry with the towel and returning him to the cage. At this point, it would be nice to give him a treat, especially if he doesn’t enjoy bath time.
Unless there is a medical reason to do so, do not bathe your rats too often. This strips the natural oils from their coats and can lead to skin irritation. If your rats are among those that actively like being washed, you could certainly give them a bowl of water to play in when you let them out. Don’t, however, do the full works with shampoo more than once a month or so unless you have to.
the rat in the glass image by Oleg Sviridov from Fotolia.com
Judith Willson has been writing since 2009, specializing in environmental and scientific topics. She has written content for school websites and worked for a Glasgow newspaper. Willson has a Master of Arts in English from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.