Bathing Pet Rats – All You Need to Know

Contrary to popular belief, rats are very clean creatures. Their bad reputation stems primarily from their dwelling habits, as wild rats are opportunistic scavengers with a predilection for garbage and foul areas with a lot of dead organic matter.

They’re also known as disease carriers, capable of transmitting tuberculosis, hantavirus infection, and even leprosy and plague.

Pet rats, though, don’t have these issues. They are very clean animals that perform self-cleaning throughout the day, making them similar to cats in this sense. So, do they even need baths? Let’s have a look!

Do Rats Need to be Bathed Regularly?

No, rats don’t need regular baths, unlike dogs, for instance. They will take care of themselves in this sense. This being said, rats may sometimes need assistance with cleaning, so let’s talk about that.

When Do You Need to Bathe Your Rath?

While most rats don’t need any extra bathing, some do. For the most part, rats will self-groom dozens of times during the day and even groom other cage mates. This is part of their social behavior, similar to how monkeys perform their social grooming.

However, rats are all individual personalities, so they don’t all function exactly the same. Some may have more precarious hygiene due to them spending less time grooming themselves. Others may be old, rendered incapable of any self-cleaning.

Finally, even the cleanest and the most attentive rat will eventually need some cleaning assistance. If that’s the case, it’s okay to bathe your small rodent friend occasionally when the situation requires it.

Bathing Your Pet Rat

If the time has come and you’ve decided that your rat requires a good bathing, keep in mind that rats are not particularly fond of water. They don’t despise it as much as cats do, but they won’t indulge in it too often, either. You should always check your rat’s response to being placed into the water. If the rat displays visible aversion towards it, take it slow and gentle.

Here are some good steps to consider:

  • Prepare the sink – There’s no point in getting a separate bathing container, as the sink alone should do just fine. Block the drain and pour enough water, depending on your rat’s size and comfort level. If your rat doesn’t like water too much, keep it shallow. The rat’s comfort is everything, as you don’t want it to stress out and try to flee the area. The water should be warm.
  • Prepare the towel – You want to place a towel right next to the sink. This is to support the rat once the bathing is over so that the animal can climb it and shake the water away.
  • Get wet with it – While keeping the rat in the palm of your hand, place it gently into the sink. Don’t submerge the rat abruptly; do it gently so that the animal has time to get accustomed to the feeling. Your rat will most likely not appreciate the experience, so take it slow, pet it and talk to it so your voice can reassure the animal. Don’t get any water into the rat’s eyes or ears as this can make it prone to respiratory infections; stick to the body.
  • Shampooing time – Keep your rat gently into your hand and shampoo it with care. Use an oatmeal-based shampoo, the type you use for your dog(s), as this is great for the rat’s fur and skin. Shampoo the rat gently with massage-like movements and avoid the face in the process.
  • Rinse the shampoo – Repeat number 2 and rinse the shampoo gently, careful not to drip water into the rat’s eyes or ears.

If the first shampooing session wasn’t enough, feel free to go for another one. Your rat won’t appreciate that, so make sure the animal won’t get too stressed about it. If it does, it’s better to skip the second part and be happy with what you’ve already achieved.

Drying Your Pet Rat

You can easily skip this part, as rats will do all the work by themselves anyway. Just help your pet to climb the towel you’ve prepared for it and let it do its thing. Rats will shake and groom by themselves with not much assistance needed.

You can help if your rat is particularly wet, which is often the case, by tapping it gently with the towel to suck some of the water. The rat will do the rest.

What Shampoo is Safe for Rats?

You can use several types of shampoo for your rats, primarily oatmeal-based. Go for baby, cat, or dog shampoo types, as these are safe for your pet rat. Stay away from tick and flea shampoos, as they can irritate the rat’s skin.

Does Bathing Rats Help with Stinking?

Only mildly. The bathing itself only helps with stinking if the stinking in question comes from the rat itself. As I’ve already mentioned, rats have distinct personalities, which means they’re not all equally as good at grooming. Some are lazier and dirtier than others, in which case you need to assist them.

Rats also tend to groom less when they’re injured or when old and semi-incapacitated, which will inevitably cause them to stink. Then you have the orange back syndrome in males, which isn’t a health problem, but a normal outcome of healthy testosterone production.

In short, the male rat’s sebaceous glands will secrete excessive oil on their backs, causing a yellow/orange effect. Such oily discharges are often accompanied by fitting unpleasant odors.

This being said, bathing won’t do anything for rat stink in the general sense. That’s because the stinging odor you feel coming from your rat’s enclosure has a lot to do with the enclosure itself rather than the rat.

One problem is the rat’s dominance peeing (another male-specific problem), where some males urinate to mark their territory. You need to perform regular cage maintenance to eliminate or contain the smell. The presence of the odor itself tells you how often to clean the rat’s enclosure.

Some cages require more frequent cleaning than others, depending on the cage’s size, how many rats you have, the substrate present, whether rats are litter-trained, etc. Here are some overarching recommendations to consider:

  • Daily cleaning – Change litter trays when they get too cluttered with feces. Don’t clean them too thoroughly, though. You want some rat poo present so that rats don’t forget where the toilet area is. Also, remove food leftovers as these can get moldy and turn into hazardous material for your rats. The water bowl should always contain fresh water, so you might want to change the water once or twice per day as well.
  • Weekly cleaning – Remove the rats from the environment since you will be performing more generalized cleaning. Remove the furnishings and any other decorations, along with the entire bedding itself. Spray everything with a good germicidal like an F10 spray and scrub the entire area. Add new bedding and clean the decorations before adding them back.
  • Monthly cleaning – You follow the same instructions as with weekly cleaning, except you may need to dismantle the cage completely for a more in-depth scrub. This is to eliminate hidden mold or bacteria that accumulate in hard-to-reach areas. These can cause respiratory infections from which your rats may never recover.

In short, pet rats require constant maintenance, as a clean and well-maintained rat is a healthy rat.


Fortunately, you can fix all of your smelly rat problems by performing good cage maintenance. Rats are clean animals and will perform self-grooming multiple times per day. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions, as we’ve already discussed.

Today’s article has taught you how to deal with those smoothly and effectively.

avatar Jane
Jane is an experienced animal care specialist with a focus on rodents and small mammals, with over 10 years of experience in the pet industry. Her articles provide practical guidance on choosing the right pet and managing common health issues. Jane is an advocate for animal welfare and supports organizations dedicated to protecting wildlife. read more...

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