Bathing Your Rat
A Clean Rat is a Healthy Rat.
For the most part rats tend to clean themselves and often their cage mates. Some rats are not as fastidious about grooming as others and will need periodic maintenance. And on occasion, even the cleanest of rats may need some assistance with their personal hygiene.
The first thing to pay attention to concerning the cleanliness of your rat is its environment. Even a rat that religiously self grooms will become dirty if the bedding or flooring of its environment is not kept clean.
Sometimes a full bath is necessary. At other times a “sponge bath” or a tail cleaning is more appropriate and often less unsettling to the rat.
Please take care not to over bathe your rat as this will deplete the natural oils and cause the skin to dry.
Keeping the bath time short and soothing your rat will help to minimize stress.
Specific reasons to Bathe
- Overweight, injured, ill, or elderly rats:
These rats may be unable to self groom. Be particularly attentive to grooming when these issues are the reason for lack of grooming. Poor hygiene may complicate existing health problems or lead to additional health issues. Particular care needs to be taken when cleaning older rats or those with health issues.
- Dominance urination:
This behavior leads to the need for bathing especially in male rats.
- Medical reasons:
Such as: preparation for mite treatment, application of medical shampoo, parasitic relief, or treatment of other skin problems.
- Orange back:
Some intact males can get an excessive build up of yellow/orange oils on their backs (a product of testosterone related sebaceous gland secretions) .
Bathing a few days prior to a show will insure a good clean coat. Do not bathe too close to show day as it will not give the rats natural skin oils a chance to get back on the fur which may give the coat an unattractive dull or wispy appearance.
- Odor control:
Sometimes rats just are not good self groomers or have a natural odor that is muskier than usual.
Bathing may help lessen territory issues when introducing new rats.
- General Messiness:
Sometimes your rat just gets into things on its fur/body that just need to be washed off.
*Note: Bath time is a good time to give your rat both a visual and manual health inspection. Once the rat is wet it makes it much easier to spot scratches, wounds, or parasites. During the washing process check the rats for lumps or any other abnormalities.
Be sure that the room you are going to bathe your rats in is comfortable and draft free. Before bathing your rat you may want to trim the rat’s nails to prevent being scratched.
Cleaning agents you can use for your rat:
- Baby shampoo
- Mild Oatmeal shampoo
- Kitten shampoo
- Dishwashing liquid (tail or greasy back)
Gather your supplies before you bring the rat in. You will need to use warm water, soap, and a dry towel. Check the water temperature on your wrist to make sure the water is not too cool or hot. There are options as to where you bathe your rat. You can fill a sink or a plastic pan with a few inches of warm water and either put the soap in the water or on the rat after he is wet. You can bathe your rat on a towel after wetting him down under the faucet.
For rinsing you can fill another sink (or pan) with rinse water or leave a stream of warm water running from the faucet to rinse with. Some people prefer to bathe their rats in the bathtub using a cup to pour the water over their rat for wetting and rinsing.
Every rat has a distinct personality and they react differently to bathing. Sometimes they will become afraid and panic. Some will fight you, some will cry or scream; some will go limp and be totally docile. Occasionally you will encounter a rat that enjoys bathing.
The best approach is to assume that any rat you are bathing may react adversely and is capable of inflicting bite and/or scratch wounds during the bath. Do not assume that a normally calm, sweet, or docile rat will continue to be that way once it is immersed in water.
You will need to have both a front and a back hold, as you will need to switch to clean and rinse its entire body. There is no one “right” way to hold a rat for bathing. You will develop your own method with time.
One good restraining hold is to place your thumb and ring finger around the rat’s body below the front legs with your middle and index fingers above the front legs close to the neck. Hold the rat firmly without squeezing. Make sure that you hold the rat in such a way so that it cannot reach you with its teeth. If the rat struggles do not release or loosen your hold. It is important to let the rat know that you are in control. Once the rat realizes that it can’t go anywhere and is safe in your hold, it should resign itself to the rest of the bath. A loose grip may enable the rat to squirm and even get away or make your rat feel like it is going to be dropped into the water and will increase the chance of injury to yourself and to your rat.
Talk soothingly to the rat and try to make the bath quick and efficient. Once you have bathed your rat a few times you will have a better feel for how to hold it during bathing.
Once your water is ready pick up your rat and wet the fur. Do not be surprised to see a few “fear feces” in the water, especially if the rat is not used to bathing.
If you have not added soap to the water then put it on the rat’s fur. Gently scrub the rat with the fingertips of your free hand. For deep dirt or an oily back you can use a soft tooth brush or a soft nail brush to scrub the fur and the skin deeper.
Avoid getting any soap or water in the rat’s ears or eyes. Do not try to wash the head during the rat’s bath. You can wipe its head down later with a damp cloth.
After bathing, thoroughly rinse all of the soap from your rat.
Place your wet rat in an absorbent towel and dry it off. You can use a blow dryer set on low to assist the drying process. Be careful to hold the drier away from the rat. Do not overheat the rat with the blow drier. Some rats enjoyed being brushed as they dry.
After the bathing it is a good idea to give your rat a treat or two. This will ensure that the last memory of the bath is a positive one.
Special Needs Rats
With elderly rats or rats with health concerns bathing requires special care. Often these rats do better with a partial bath rather than being fully wet or immersed.
Rats with hind end paralysis need their stomachs and their genital area cleaned regularly due to the fact that they cannot raise themselves up off the cage floor. It is essential to remove any dirt or urine to prevent chemical burns or a buildup that may cause infection. This is also a good time to check to see if there is a waxy plug that you may need to remove from the penis.
Please take special care to completely dry these rats before returning them to their cages.
Often rats’ tails drag on the floor (although some rats do tend to hold theirs up in the air). It is not unusual for the tail to become caked with debris (particularly waste products). This can result in a strong odor, an unsightly appearance, as well as promote bacterial growth and infection.
Occasionally wiping down your rats tail with a mild warm soapy solution and a cloth or paper towel can help keep the tail area clean. Take care not to pull on the tail as this can cause your rat pain or injury.
If your rat’s tail is extremely dirty you can soak the tail in warm soapy water to soften caked on debris. You can then set the rat on the counter, on a towel, and use a soft toothbrush, nail brush, or scrubbing pad to finish cleaning the tail. In cases where the tail is very grungy, it may take several sessions to get it clean. It is better to go back and do it a few times than to cause your rat stress.
*Note: Always clean in the direction from the rump towards the tail tip when wiping or scrubbing your rat’s tail.
Cleaning in a direction towards the rump may cause dirt to get lodged beneath the tail “scales” and can result in irritation, inflammation, & possible infection.