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How to Hold a Pet Rat

Learn how to hold a pet rat in this Howcast rat video featuring veterinarian Anthony Pilny.


So holding your pet rat is going to be very important. It's part of the reason that you want to have a pet rat. They're soft, they're fuzzy, they love to be handled, they love to be held. Oftentimes they want to be picked up. And you can see in the nature that I just picked this rat up. Generally picking them up is not a complex science as long as the rat is used to it.

Most often I will use my hands to scoop them up, supporting their body weight. This way it allows them to stand in your hands and be held freely. In some instances rats need to be picked up by putting your hand completely around them and supporting their rear end to lift them into a holding position. What often is very possible, as you can see here, is sometimes rats will just approach you and they're willing to climb up on you as well, and they'll approach you and climb into your hands or on your arm, and this provides a means for handling or holding them as well.

Some rats very commonly are what we call 'shoulder rats' as you can see here. They have a preference to climb up your arm, climb and sit on your shoulder, which, being very careful, is a popular thing that rats do and it's something that a lot of pet owners like to have from their pet rats. It allows them to have some quality time. It allows them to have some interaction with the rat, and also rats become pretty adept at their ability to climb up and down the arm when they need to be held.

Now restraining your rat is very different than holding them. Generally you can pick them up in any way you're comfortable. You can pet them. You can touch them. You can scoop them up. The one thing you never want to do is pick them up by the tail. Don't be confused and think that it's ever okay to pick them up by their tail. Even if people say by the base of the tail, this is something that should never be done.

If you need to restrain your rat or keep it still for any time, sometimes the recommendation is to learn how to use a washcloth or a hand towel. Wrap that around them, place it gently around them so that they can't move their arms and legs and it helps provide what we call a 'mini rat burrito', where they're restrained and held still for a short time.

Sometimes if your rat needs to have procedures done, like a nail trim, or you think they've hurt themselves, and you want to look at a lesion, a lot of times it requires a second person to be able to reach in, to pick them up, grab most of their body, lift them up under the forearms, and then quickly get them to a seating position, or at least allow them to land where they can be on a large flat surface where they feel really comfortable.

Restraint may involve holding them pretty tightly around the body, restraining the head and, in some instances, a two-hand hold, which allows you to hold them in this manner to support them, but also keep them still.

Most rats are used to being handled. It is rare that rats will generally bite, and they often like the time and interaction being picked up and handled, so any means that allows the rat to be safely picked up and held is usually fine for restraint and handling.

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