Rats – handling

Information about handling, training and showing rats.

Schools that keep rats must have the use of suitably constructed cages that secure the animals. These cages may be portable but must be solid in construction and erected in a way to be safe for both humans and rats.

Approved activities Category
Observation of normal animal behaviour 1

When handling rats, students and other handlers must do so in a quiet and calm manner, treating the rats with extreme care to prevent distress and injury to the animal and handler. As with all animals, rats will sense if a handler is nervous or stressed and will act accordingly. While rats rarely bite, if they are provoked or feel threatened they may resort to biting the handler. Well-designed cages with refuges will aid in catching rats, limiting stress to both animal and handler. Objects in cages like elevated shelves and nest boxes should be removable to make catching animals less stressful. If rats hide under shelves or nest boxes, they can be easily removed and the rat easily captured without struggle.

Students can catch, pick up and handle the rats during classroom activities and for maintenance. Prior training must be given to students in the appropriate methods of handling. When catching a rat, always approach a rat from behind and grip it firmly with the thumb and forefinger, forming a circle round the neck. The head and one front paw should be included in this grip while the second front paw is held between the forefinger and the middle finger. Use the other hand to support the pelvis and tail from behind and hold the rear paws between the thumb and forefinger.

Only rats that are accustomed to being handled should be used for handling and rats with minimal handling experience should be familiarized slowly, with short periods of handling before being returned to their cage. This prevents the rats from becoming stressed from too much handling and ensures that they relate handling with a pleasant experience.

All handling should be carried out in a gentle and unhurried manner. Nervous people should not attempt to handle rats. Sudden loud noises and jerky movements must be avoided at all times. Gloves are unnecessary and undesirable as they lead to clumsy handling and unless provoked, there is little danger of a rat biting the handler.

Capture, restraint and handling of rats

Approved activities Category
Capture, restraint and handling 2

When handling rats, they should always be handled gently and with extreme care. It is important to consider that rats are prey animals and will usually feel overwhelmed and threatened by their handlers due to our much larger size in comparison to theirs. Loud noises and sudden movement will also make a rat feel endangered and will make it more likely to bite, scratch or struggle to try and get away. Rats have minimal defense mechanism and so their usual response to danger is to try and flee.

If a rat is nervous, or has had minimal handling experience, patience should always be used and time spent holding the rat should be kept to a minimum. Rats should be grasped around the shoulders, just behind their front legs, and the other hand should support their rear end. Always hold a rat close to your body, do not hold them at arm’s length as this will make them feel extremely insecure.

Only one student should handle the rat at any time. Like many small animals, rats can be quite sensitive to over handling and should not be handled by multiple students or for long periods of time in any one session. Individual rats are all different and only those that do not show distress when handled should be used. Sudden noise or movement should not be allowed near the animals.

Familiarising rats with consistent handling from a young age will result in better outcomes in a variety of situations and for different purposes. These include:

  • For cage cleaning and daily management
  • For showing and preparation
  • Transportation
  • Routine husbandry procedures (worming, grooming, washing, skin treatments, vaccinations).

Familiarising animals can be made easier by mixing younger, untamed rats with older more placid rats that are comfortable with being handled. When a handler approaches the animals, if the older, tame rats do not attempt to run and hide away, younger animals may be more comfortable with the handler. Usually if one animal becomes stressed, the other animals will sense that there is a threat of danger.


  • Teaching and learning

Business Unit:

  • Curriculum and Reform
Return to top of page Back to top