“…boggling may occur where the eyes bulge in and out repeatedly most often when they are extremely relaxed and happy.”

Rat Behavior

Rats express many emotions through their behavior, and it’s important to understand these actions and demeanors so you can understand better how your rat is feeling. There’s a really great infographic made by Studio Eem (Available for purchase at the Society 6 Website) that I’ve included at the end of the article as well to help with some more visuals.

So what are these actions, and how can you tell what they mean? Let’s go over some of the most important and most common body language rats utilize.

Neutral – A neutral stance  for your rat will be noticed at most times. The ears straight and eyes open fully, with whiskers in a natural resting position.


Joy – Rats express their happiness visually in a few ways. The ears will become redder and fall forward and to the side in a relaxed position. Many rats will perform an action known as bruxing when they are happy and relaxed as well, grinding their teeth together making a quite repetitive chattering and in some cases boggling may occur where the eyes bulge in and out repeatedly most often when they are extremely relaxed and happy.

Curiosity – When your rats starts sniffing and pointing it indicates something has piqued their interest. You might notice her or his ears and whiskers in a forward direction towards the object as they investigate. They may get low to the ground or rear up on their hind legs to fully investigate. You may also notice a swaying in some rats, particularly those with worse vision as they try to focus their vision.

Squeaks and Squeals – Rats can be pretty vocal at times, certain rats more so then others. Shorter squeaks often happen in playing, grooming and roughhousing sometimes getting more whiny and prominent as the rat attempts to express their annoyance or objection to the actions being taken against them. This is generally nothing to be worried about and hopefully the offending party will be more gentle or stop. How ever if things do appear to escalate into an actual fight or loud screams you should separate the rats being careful not to increase agitation or get bitten. If they are squealing in protest of your own actions, it’s recommended you give them more time to get used to you and/or said actions (such as picking them up) or if it’s abnormal for them and they do so often when say picked up they may be sick.

Sick or In Pain – It’s important to keep an eye out for signs of distress in your rat, as well determining what the cause of that distress is. If you suspect your rat is sick or severally injured seek immediate vet attention, as a rat can go from fine to the worst in a days time. A sick rat will usually be lethargic and often suffer from a lack of appetite. The fur may become puffed out. Both sick and rats in pain tend to squint and narrow the eyes and the nose as well can become elongated or narrow, the whiskers often being pushed back and bunched up. If you notice any irregularity in breathing, sneezing or a large build up of porphin your rat could have a respiratory issue.

Scared– Rats tend to run and/or freeze when scared, and their ears will draw back or twitch. If the rat is not fully sure they tend to freeze in place, then may slowly begin to investigate or retreat. If a rat runs and hides, it’s best not to chase them and let them come out on their own. Agitating the rat more may cause it to become guarded and bite.

Aggressive – If your rat is puffed out and hunched up with his back in the air it’s important to realize your rat is extremely upset and possibly a danger to you, his cage mates or even themselves depending on the situation. They may whip their tail around or rattle it. Do not attempt to pick up a rat if they are agitated. You will almost certainly get bitten. Two methods often used in extreme situations are squirt bottles and towels. If the water does not stop the fighting throwing a towel over the aggressor before removing any at risk rats which can help get the rat out with less risk of injury. While we all hope that we won’t have to deal with an aggressive rat, if you are in this situation knowing how to handle it will make a huge difference. If the rat is being aggressive to you but shows no issues with the mischief then let them be and slowly try and work on his confidence and trust with you or possibly consider other options. If their is issue between a two rats, remove the calm rat first. Once the aggressive rat calms you can switch them out to return the behaving rat with the mischief and work out how to deal with the aggressive rat.

Dominance – It is also important to take note rats live by a hierarchy and your rats will possibly get rough in asserting dominance. It is generally believed that if there’s no blood there is no real issue, but use your best judgement of course as this may not always be the case. Having a good and dominant alpha in your mischiefs is a very good thing and will help keep their entire mischief coexisting better. Dominance is often determined through rough housing and wrestling. You might see actions such as kicking, pinging/jumping on, boxing, pinning and force grooming among other actions. They may also sometimes sway their tail but it is distinct from the violent, jerking actions of an angry rat.

Violent Fighting – When rats actually fight, it can be a quite violent and sudden occurrence, with two rat flinging themselves together into a ball, biting and clawing each other. At no point should you ever attempt to physically break up a rat ball or you will get hurt. If this happens you should expect injury, and sometimes in rare cases rats can be fatally wounded. Try and break them apart and distract them with a squirt bottle and noise/tapping on the cage, throwing towels over them to try and calm them down and separate them.


Infographic by Studio Eem  and used with permission – https://www.facebook.com/studioeempage


  • Rats show most of their emotions through their demeanor and actions.
  • Rats may express happiness through bruxing and boggling.
  • In case of signs of illness or pain contact your vet immediately.
  • A puffed up rat with a hunched back is often signs of aggression and she be dealt with carefully.
  • A strong alpha encourages good balance in the mischief.
  • Violent fighting is extremely dangerous and you should never attempt to physically separate the rats.


A Final Thought

Hopefully this article can help you understand your new pet a bit better, as well give you some vital queues to look out for in case of emergencies. Rats are small prey animals, and act in many mannerisms you would expect from such a species. Be mindful of your little ones feelings, and you will both be happier for it.