Why Do Rats Wag Their Tail?

Pet rats have a lot of different behaviors that they show. Some of their behaviors can be a little confusing because they can mean different things depending on the situation.

One of those behaviors is tail wagging. It can be very puzzling because rats don’t do it all the time and some pet rats don’t do it at all. So why do rats wag their tail?

Rats will wag their tail when they’re feeling happy, nervous, annoyed, and when they’re trying to be aggressive.

So to be sure about which of these reasons your rat is wagging their tail for, you’ll have to check some of their other behaviors while they are doing it.

All pet rats have different ways of behaving. So it might be hard initially to tell why your rat is doing something like wagging their tail.

However, once you know most of their reasons for doing it, it’ll be hard to forget.

Why Does My Rat Wag Their Tail?

Pet rats are really intelligent animals and because of that all of their behaviors don’t always mean the same thing every time they do it.

So when it comes to their tail-wagging behavior, rats can do it for a number of reasons.

The main reasons why rats wag their tail are:

  • When they feel something as you’re petting them.
  • When your rat is excited.
  • Your rat is feeling nervous about something.
  • They’re in an aggressive situation.
  • Your rat is starting to become annoyed.

All of these situations come with signs that your rat will show that you can use to figure out if they are happy or scared.

For example, if they’re happy then you won’t notice that many signs of stress.

However, if you see that they’re attacking, fighting, or lunging while they’re wagging their tail then they’re either scared of something or just annoyed.

Rats Wag Their Tail When You Pet Them

If you regularly pet your rat you may notice that they wag their tail every so often.

It can be a slightly confusing behavior because tail-wagging can mean so many things. So why do rats wag their tail when you pet them?

Rats wag their tail when you pet them because they’re happy and love the attention and they can also do it when they’re not comfortable with you yet.

If they’re happy, then they’ll usually wag their tail while sitting still as they enjoy the attention that they’re getting.

Rats that aren’t that familiar with you yet will wag their tail as they show signs of nervousness and may even try to get away from you.

Your rat may even start squeaking when you pet them which can sometimes mean that they’re uncomfortable.

Rats Wag Their Tail When They Are Excited

Rats will wag their tail when they become happy or excited. This excitement can come from many things.

For example, sometimes they will start wagging their tail when something new like a toy is put into their cage and they really like it. This can also happen when they’re having fun and playing with their cage mates.

With all the excitement from their new toys or playtime with their friends and sometimes they really can’t help it.

It can be a sign that they are happy with everything at the moment. Sometimes they even wag their tail when they’re feeling relaxed as well.

This is less common, but it’s still a behavior that can make them do it every now and then.

So if they’re wagging their tail and you don’t see too many signs of them being stressed out, most likely they’re doing it out of pure joy.

Rats Wag Their Tail When They Are Nervous

Sometimes when rats start wagging their tail it’s because they’re nervous about something.

It can mean that they think there is a threat present and so now they’re on high alert. Some rats can get scared easily and can become nervous about new situations.

So when their stress levels rise, then they’ll start wagging their tail. This can happen if your rat is newer and still hasn’t gotten used to you yet.

If your rat isn’t that familiar with you yet, then they’ll be more hesitant when you come around their cage and may even start to squeak when you try to pick them up.

Another reason a rat will wag its tail out of nervousness is if they’re scared of something in the room.

That can be from constant loud noises or even bigger pets that you keep in your home, like cats or dogs. So to stop that from happening, try your best to keep your bigger pets out of the same room that you keep your rats in.

Rats Wag Their Tail When They’re In Aggressive Situations

If your rat is in a situation that has become aggressive, it’s very common to see them wagging their tail.

For example, when two of your rats are playing with each other, sometimes they’re playing can turn slightly aggressive.

As their aggression slowly starts to build, it can turn into an actual fight between your rats.

In this case, sometimes it can be hard to tell if your rats are having fun or are in a real altercation with each other because rats will wag their tail in both situations.

That’s why it’s very important that you know when your rats are playing or fighting.

Tail wagging can also be seen when you’re introducing rats to each other for the first time.

It’s a natural behavior that they do when they’re trying to establish dominance. When they’re trying to establish this hierarchy, they’ll start aggressively wagging their tails, shoving, and biting each other.

Even though this can look violent, you shouldn’t separate them unless the altercation becomes really aggressive and starts to last too long.

So it’s crucial that you know how rats establish dominance or else you may mess up one of their natural ways of forming their social groups.

Rats Can Wag Their Tail When They’re Annoyed

A rat that is annoyed will usually start wagging their tail, and they can become annoyed for many reasons.

One of the main reasons is usually that one of their cage mates is getting on their nerves.

This can happen when there are small altercations over something like their food bowls or water bottles.

If one of your rats is trying to eat or drink and another rat is preventing them from doing that in some way, they’ll become annoyed and start wagging their tail.

The same goes for situations when one rat is being picked on by one of their cage mates.

This is a form of bullying and it can make a rat so annoyed that they’ll start wagging their tail.

It’s a way for them to let their frustration out when they want one of their little friends to stop doing something that they don’t like.

They also do it when they are annoyed or upset with you as well. However, this usually happens when they’re not that used to you yet.

If that’s the case, you’ll want to try to get them more familiar with your presence. That way when you come around them they won’t wag their tail at you as much.


Hi, I'm Mason, I've kept small animals as pets since I was 8 years old. I love to learn and talk about them basically every day. Over the years I've adopted small pets like hamsters, gerbils, and guinea pigs.

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