Why Does My Rat Lick Me? Facts You Should Know (+ Bonding Tips)

Why does my rat lick me? Many pet rat owners ask. Rats are among the most intelligent creatures, but these little animals are often associated with fear and diseases. So, what if a rat licks you? Does this mean they like or dislike you? You do not need to be frightened. If you keep reading, you’ll find the answer to all your questions about rat licking. 

Licking is quite common among pet rats, and it is likely because their owners smell like other rats or food. Another reason is they tend to think their owner wants to bond or needs grooming. 

Paying attention to your rat can reveal a lot about their temperament. While some lick compulsively, others may touch with their tongue. 

So long as your pet rat isn’t chomping down on your nose or finger, it is safe to infer that any form of licking behavior does not have a malicious undertone to it. So, paying more attention to your pet rat’s licking can help you uncover some uncommon motives behind their actions. 

Why Do Rats Lick, and Why does my rat lick me a lot?

Besides humans, licking is a common practice among mammals of the same family group. The main reason why any animal will lick you is grooming and affection. When it comes to pet rats, they consider you part of the pack, thus showering you with licks upon licks. 

It can be unnerving when their tiny pink tongues rub against your skin, but that is nothing to fret about because it’s just a show of affection. Now that you know why your rat licks you let’s discuss some other reasons for their licking.

You Smell Like Food, and they love the aroma.

Rats have a keen sense of smell. Because these little creatures are born blind, they rely on their sense of smell to find their way around. 

Rats have a sense of smell so strong that they can detect tuberculosis and land mines. 

Did you just enjoy a tasty hamburger? Well, your little buddy can pick up on the smell of the aromatic compounds left on your fingers from the delicious burger. So, when you pick up your pet rat, their nose will go insane.

Rats can get excited by the slightest smell that emanates from your fingers, which will increase their urge for taste. So, just like humans, rats can also salivate from the smell of a tasty treat. 

You smell like other pet rats

Do you have multiple pet rats? If you do, your rat may just be sniffing out the last rat you spent some time with, especially if you own male and female rats.

Animals are known to communicate via pheromones, capable of simulating hormonal behavior outside the body of the secreting animal. Pheromones aid in attracting a mate, if your pet rat is constantly soaking an area he visited with urine, chances are, there’s a female nearby.

When male rats pick up on female presence via pheromones, they lick to investigate, then move on to mark their territory. 

Grooming as a sign of affection

Grooming is just a way of bonding amongst animals of the same species. Picking up mites or lice from your back can be a challenge, so having someone do that for you is more effective. If your rat licks you, chances are they’re just trying to help you lick off dirt or freckles.

When it comes to pheromones and grooming, they’re closely connected. Grooming can stimulate the release of pheromones. 

They want to bond

As earlier established, rats are quite the social bunch. Rats love to bond, especially when they are familiar with you. They’ll attempt to bond with you by grooming or simply spending time with you.  

The science behind rat licking

Have you ever wondered why rats are used for studies related to humans? The reason is quite simple, rats and humans share up to 92% of genes, which has led to some remarkable findings as to why they tend to lick. 

Why Does My Rat Lick My Mouth?

According to Don Katz, a psychology and neuroscience specialist. Rats are capable of learning food safety just by smelling the breath of other rats. So, if they trust you and consider you a member of their pack, they’ll be more interested in what you eat.

As earlier discussed, rats and humans share about 92% of their genes. So if your rat smells your breath, they may just investigate further by licking your mouth. 

To test this hypothesis, try the steps below:

  • Pick two separate foods new to your rats
  • Eat one of the foods
  • Get your rat to sniff you
  • Present your rat with both foods to see which they’ll pick
  • Repeat the steps, this time with different foods

By the end of your experiment, you may realize that your pet rat will select more of the foods detected in your breath.

Do Rats Show Affection?

The study in this area is very limited, but according to a study by  PLOS One, rats are capable of expressing some form of affection. This was observed by their positive facial expression in response to tickling.

Many rat owners believe that rats can show affections similar to dogs. Some ways they display affection includes:

  • Licking – Rats lick their owners as a way of grooming.
  • Playing/Wrestling – Rats may play tug-of-war, bite your finger or simply tackle your hand.   
  • Exposing their Bellies – Rolling onto their back when tickled. (The stomach is vulnerable, so if an animal exposes its stomach, that’s a sign of trust).

How to know your rat loves you (5 signs to look out for)

Are you curious to know if your pet rat likes you? Grooming and licking are just a few ways pet rats display affection. If you spend quality time with your rats you may gain further insights into more ways they show affection. Here are a few things to keep in mind, if you want to know whether or not your rat likes you:

  • Sounds: Squeaking and clucking can mean a lot when it comes to rats. If you respond adequately to these sounds, they’ll immediately learn what sounds get your attention. 
  • Scent Marking:  Scent marking is one of the many ways rats can show their affection towards you, however, it can be unnerving. They may use urine or nuzzling to make this more apparent. For the uring part, this is most common in male rats. Animal Know-How provides helpful tips in dealing with the behavior. 
  • Cuddling: Rats love to hang out, your rat may choose to relax in your arms or on your shoulder. You can respond to their affectionate gesture by carefully cupping them in your hands. 
  • Taking Treats:  When your pet rat is familiar with you, they will let you feed them off your hands. Hand-feeding fruits and vegetables to your pet rat can strengthen the bond. 
  • Bruxing and Boggling: For inexperienced pet rat owners, bruxing and boggling can seem like a medical emergency, However, it is just a sign of excitement. 

Final Thoughts

Rats are clever creatures that make great pets. Be rest assured that any licking behavior in your pet rat is just a sign of affection, and you just need to pay more attention to understand their love languages.