Rats Are Very Clean Pets, But Cages Need Attention to Smell Fresh

These rodents are cleaner than you think, but there are still things you can do to keep your rat neat, tidy, and smelling their best.

Published July 21, 2023
Owner holding rat close to their body.

We often see rats depicted as creepy, unclean animals scurrying around, but we're here to tell you, rats get a bad rap. All rats groom themselves, and pet rats are especially good at keeping themselves spotless. You can rest assured, these critters are incredibly clean pets. Still, there are things you can do to help keep your rat as clean as possible and smelling fresh.

Pet Rats Groom Themselves a Lot

Studies show that rats spend just as much time grooming themselves as cats do, which speaks volumes. Like cats, they're basically self-cleaning, and research shows that they spend about 40 percent of their waking hours licking, washing, and grooming themselves.

Need to Know

There's really no need to give your pet rat a bath, although some rat owners do wash their little friends every six months or so.

But Do Pet Rats Smell?

We have more good news. Rats don't naturally smell. If you've ever had someone complain about a smelly rat, unfortunately, it was probably their cage rather than the pet itself.

If this is a problem, it comes down to husbandry. You need to clean your rat's cage and bedding at least twice a week (though if you spot-clean, one deep cleaning a week is usually fine). If you don't clean a rat's cage often enough, it'll start to smell.

Need to Know

Rats can be prodigious poopers, and their urine builds up and smells really bad over time. Remove their bedding and clean out their cage thoroughly to prevent this problem.

White rat in corner with paper bedding.

Risk of Diseases From Pet Rats

Rats are very clean, but just like any pet (including cats and dogs), they can transmit diseases to humans. It's uncommon, but it can happen. Keep yourself and your family safe with these precautions.

  • Wash your hands before and after playing with your rat.
  • Supervise children while handling pet rats.
  • Wash your hands after cleaning their cage.
  • Avoid kissing them on the face or head.
  • See your doctor if you feel sick after sustaining a bite from or handling your rat.
  • Have your rat routinely examined by a vet to rule out any potentially contagious diseases.

Keeping Your Pet Rat Clean

If you want to keep your pet rat as clean as possible, it's your responsibility to tidy up after them. Even though they groom and clean themselves, you are responsible for their enclosure and care. Make sure you stay on top of these tasks to keep your rat smelling and feeling clean.

  • Spot-clean regularly. Spot-clean the cage daily by removing droppings and urine-soaked bedding, then replace it with clean bedding. Toss out any uneaten food you find in the cage.
  • Do weekly deep cleans. Do a full deep clean of the cage at least weekly. Some owners prefer to do this twice a week, especially if they hvae messy rats or cages with multiple rats. Throw out all the bedding, then disinfect and wipe down the entire cage. Wash any accessories, bowls, or beds. Refill the cage with fresh bedding and all your rats' things after they're clean and dry.
  • Use pet wipes. If you're worried about your rat's hygiene, you can use a pet wipe to give them a quick wipe down once a day or as needed.

Pet Rats Aren't Dirty Creatures

Rats really aren't the dirty animals people think they are. Instead, these pets are clean, highly intelligent, and very affectionate. Feel free to cuddle up on this snuggly little critter, but don't forget to take precautions to protect yourself and keep up with cage-cleaning to ensure your pet rat stays healthy, too.

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Rats Are Very Clean Pets, But Cages Need Attention to Smell Fresh