How to Bathe a Rat

Rats are very cat-like in that they’re meticulous self-groomers. Rats are extremely clean animals, but every once in a while, a bath is in order!

Bathing will remove some of the oily, yellow build-up that accumulates on a male rat’s back. An every-other-week bath with a medicated shampoo that contains benzoyl peroxide — like Vet Solutions’ BPO-3 shampoo — will help prevent hairless rats from getting cysts and pimples. It’s also essential to bathe rats who are elderly and experiencing a degree of hind-limb paralysis.

Bath time can be extremely frightening for your pet and you risk getting a nasty nip or bite if you go about it improperly!

Materials for Giving a Bath to Your Rat

You’ll need the following items to bathe your rat:

  • Soft-bristle toothbrush
  • Dish soap
  • Kitten shampoo
  • Warm water
  • Large cup
  • Large mixing bowl -or- medium Rubbermaid tub
  • Three hand towels
  • Q-tips
  • A second person who can serve as a helper

Steps for Bathing a Rat

Prepare the rat’s bath tub by filling the large mixing bowl or Rubbermaid tub with an inch and a half to two inches of warm water. Alternatively, you can use your bathtub or sink.

We must avoid placing the rat under a stream of running water, as this is a terrifying experience for the rat — an experience that’s apt to end with a bite! (See my related article on all the reasons why you must avoid putting your rat under the faucet!) Instead, place the rat in the tub of warm water and use a cup or your hand to wet him down.

Apply the kitten shampoo and work it into a lather. If you have a male rat who has yellow, oily build-up on his back, apply a bit of dish soap onto a soft-bristle toothbrush and brush his back (brush in the direction of the fur growth — from the head toward the tail.) The toothbrush is also handy for cleaning the rat’s tail and removing the dead skin “scales” that tend to develop. I prefer to use an old toothbrush that’s well-worn; the bristles are softer.

Once you’ve shampooed your rat, use the cup pour water over his or her body, to remove the suds. Then, remove the rat from the tub, wrap her in a towel and hand her to a friend.

Dump out the soapy water and refill it with clean, warm water. Return the rat to the water and rinse her. Then, wrap her in a fresh towel, hand her to a friend and repeat the process one more time to ensure that all the shampoo is removed. If the soap remains on the rat’s skin, it will cause intense itching; this can lead to scratches which can become infected.

If your rat is paralyzed, you must hold him throughout the process to prevent drowning. Never, ever leave your rat unattended during a bath!

If you’re going to use a toothbrush during the bath, it’s helpful to get the rat accustomed to the toothbrush in advance. Use it to brush the rat as you would brush a dog or cat. Many pets enjoy it!

Use extreme caution to avoid getting dish soap in the rat’s eyes.

When the bath is over, use a Q-tip to dry the inner portion of the pet’s ears. The Q-tip will be too large to fit into the ear canal (which is a good thing! You risk injuring your pet if you put a Q-tip inside the ear canal, particularly if she moves suddenly!); it will just serve to dry the area around the opening to the ear canal.

Once you’re done bathing your rattie, spend some time cuddling! They really enjoy cuddling up in a towel on your lap. In addition to some love and attention, consider offering a treat too! This shows your pet that good things come after a bath!

The Importance of Bathing Elderly Rats and Preventing Dry Skin

Elderly paralyzed rats require regular bathing, as they are more prone to getting urine or feces on their skin and tail. Feces can cause skin infections, particularly on the rat’s feet. If urine is left on the pet’s fur and skin, he is apt to get a painful skin rash called urine scald. Over time, this will progress to a skin infection and/or an open sore, so it’s important to keep your pet clean!

We had a rat who was completely paralyzed for a period of approximately five months. We cleaned his cage at least twice per day and we checked to ensure that he was urine-free and feces-free twice daily (and bathed him as needed). He never, ever developed a skin infection, sore or urine scald — very common ailments affecting older rats. And unfortunately, these skin problems can really have a negative impact on the pet’s quality of life.

If you need to bathe your rat on a frequent basis (more than once a week), he will need a supplement to prevent his skin from getting dried out.

Combat dry skin by soaking a three or four crouton-sized pieces of bread in olive oil. Feed these to your rat daily to keep his skin moisturized. You can also rub a small amount of oil directly onto his skin (on his belly area, and other hair-free regions, like the tail.)

Check out our rat care articles, including one article with information on the causes and symptoms of hind-limb paralysis, along with tips for caring for an elderly, paralyzed rattie.

Photo Source: Kai Kuusik-Greenbaum on

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Mia Carter is a professional journalist and animal lover. Her furry family members include 6 dogs and 12 cats. She is also a feral cat colony caretaker. Carter specializes in pet training and special needs pet care. All of her animals have special needs such as paralysis, blindness, deafness and FIV, just to name a few. She also serves as a pet foster parent and she actively rehabilitates and rescues local strays and feral kittens.

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