How to Treat a Bite From a Wild or Domestic Rat

A Cute and Friendly Pet Rat


The idea for this hub article was inspired by a... you guessed it, a rat bite. I had been feeding a live rat to my female pastel ball python when my husband and cat walked into the room and both started talking to me at the same time. I was distracted, looked away, and the rat swung up from the tongs where I was dangling it and nipped my finger. Thankfully, it was shallow but it still itched for three days afterwards. Rat bites and the bacteria they impart to a wound can be very serious. I thought it might be a good idea to share how to properly treat one, as rat bites can be a somewhat common risk depending on a person's job or location. Occupations such as reptile or rodent breeder, pet store worker, lab researcher, sewage workers, and people in animal control are at the top of that list.

Check Out These Teeth!

Rat bites can be so deep that they can cause permanent nerve damage.
Rat bites can be so deep that they can cause permanent nerve damage. | Source

So How Does One Avoid a Rat Bite and What Kind of Diseases Do They Carry?

First off, the best way to avoid getting a nasty rat bite is to avoid rats! Wild rats are afraid of humans and will run away if given a chance. Stomping and clapping can help scare a rat away from you. If cornered, the rat will fear for its life and will bite and scratch, sometimes even urinating and defecating. They have an interesting self-defense unique to the species. Rats will chomp down hard, forcing the top two teeth down between the two longer bottom teeth, effectively enabling them to get a better grip and inflict a jagged, uneven wound, getting saliva and bacteria into the area.

Rats are carriers of seventy known diseases. Some hazardous diseases that rats can transmit to humans are Leptospirosis, , and Rat Bite Fever. Humans bitten by rodents are also susceptible to tetanus infections. Tetanus immunizations may be required for those who have not received them in recent years.

There is a common misconception that rats are a major source of rabies infection. In fact, humans get rabies from bats more often than any other species. Other species to commonly have rabies are raccoons, coyotes, skunks and foxes. Rabies transmission from rodents to humans is extremely rare. However, in some locales, it may be necessary to receive a rabies vaccination following a rodent bite.

To give you a real life example, while I was stationed in Iraq a fellow soldier had his fingernail partially nibbled off by a wild rat while he was sleeping. He was administered first aid immediately and sent to a hospital for a rabies shot. It was not a situation that he could afford to be lax on, as the bite could have negatively impacted his health and ability to perform missions in a war zone. Let's just say our company was a lot more vigilant about not leaving food out afterwards.

WARNING! Graphic Images of Wounds Ahead!


How to Treat the Wound

Rat bites need immediate treatment! Most rat bites are minor and can be successfully tended with first aid procedures only. However, if the wound will not stop bleeding, it may be necessary to go to a doctor where stitches will be required.

Supplies You Will Need:

  • Soap and Water
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Triple Antibiotic or Bactoderm Cream
  • Gauze or Bandaids
  • Gauze Tape


  1. If the injury is on a finger, remove all rings before the area swells as that could cut off circulation.
  2. Rat bites can be deep and will likely bleed. Stop the flow of blood. Get a piece of gauze, or any other sterile, absorbent material and apply direct pressure to the wound.
  3. Once the bleeding is controlled, clean the injury with soap and warm water. Make sure to clean inside the wound and the area around it.
  4. Disinfect the cut. Pour a generous amount of hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol into the bite to remove any bacteria.
  5. Apply triple antibiotic or Bactoderm cream.
  6. Cover the wound with a clean, dry dressing such as a bandaid. If the bite area is large, use gauze secured with gauze tape or self adhesive bandages.
  7. Reapply antibiotic and replace the bandage once a day until the wound heals.


If the bite site will not stop bleeding, the wound may need stitches. Wounds on the face should also be seen by a doctor to evaluate the likelihood of scarring or loss of function. A person bit by a domestic rat is extremely unlikely to receive rabies. If you are unsure of the origin of the rat, for example, getting bitten in a warehouse or near a compost heap, assume the rat is wild and discuss with your doctor whether or not you need to get a series of rabies shots.

Never Leave a Live Rat Unobserved With a Pet Snake!

If a snake isn't hungry or frightened, it will often not strike and coil up to avoid the rat. Rats have high metabolisms. They soon get hungry and will nibble on your pet snake and can kill the animal. This boa has an exposed spine.
If a snake isn't hungry or frightened, it will often not strike and coil up to avoid the rat. Rats have high metabolisms. They soon get hungry and will nibble on your pet snake and can kill the animal. This boa has an exposed spine. | Source

Recognizing Signs of Infection

Infection is rare if the wound is treated immediately and appropriately. However, it is best to closely monitor the injury for up to ten days, or as long as it takes for the bitten area to fully heal.

Some Signs of Infection to Look Out For:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Weeping pus
  • Rash
  • Heat
  • Pain

If any of these symptoms are exhibited, see a doctor immediately!

Have you ever been bitten by a rat or mouse?

  • Yes, ouch!
  • No, thank goodness.
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How to Handle a Rat Safely

Sometimes rats cannot be avoided. Wild rats are attracted to human habitats for shelter and food. Do not leave leftovers lying around and put rat traps inside the home. Keep secure lids on garbage cans outside. Encouraging the presence of native predators such as hawks, owls, foxes and snakes will keep the rodent population down in your neighborhood.

However, I am a reptile breeder. I handle rats and mice on a regular basis. I feed frozen-thawed rodents to my snakes, but some will only eat live. Using protective gear will help prevent a painful rat bite. I use tongs to hold the rat's tail, which puts some distance between it's mouth and my hand. If the rat swings up to try to bite me, I simply use momentum to swing the rat back down and safely put him a tub.

Domestic rats can often be cute, curious, and enjoy being petted if handled frequently. Rodent breeders often become fond of their breeding stock, and will give them Cheerios or vegetables as a special treat. However, domestic rats can give just as good of a chomp as a wild one if you catch them in the wrong mood. The most common type of bite in a domestic rat is the "Whoops, I thought you were snacks." This can be prevented by washing the scent of food off your hands before handling. This bite is usually minor. Rats also explore your hands by sniffing and nibbling gently. Sometimes the rat can get too excited or suddenly startled, causing it to bite. Holding it securely with the body fully supported in a calm environment will help lower the likelihood of this reaction. The worst type of bite is the deep one a rat will give if they feel threatened. This can be from fear of their life (about to get fed to a snake), to stress (over crowded cage), to a mama rat protecting her babies.

Feeder, lab, and pet rats are truly unlikely to bite but understanding the reasons behind why rats bite can help prevent getting a wound in the first place. Stay safe, pay attention, and don't let yourself be distracted! (I blame the cat, haha.)


1. Myself, with ten years of captive keeping and breeding of reptiles and rodents.

2. Dr. Ronald Schindler of the Eastern Shore Pet Hospital in Fairhope, Alabama.

Comments 8 comments

Kay 2 years ago

Rats are actually awesome pets, they are very social. Sad to hear you have to feed live ones to some snakes. I'd heard they will be "less wild" if you feed them frozen rodents.

Trish 22 months ago

If your snake is hungry enough it will eat frozen thawed. there is no reason to subject a live rat to that kind of terror, never mind the risk it poses to your snake. It's just not ethical.

RATS 22 months ago

Advantages of Frozen Rodents for Herps from

1. The herp can’t be bitten or scratched (live rodents often injure and sometimes kill herps)

2. The owner can’t be bitten or scratched

3. Freezing kills parasites that can infest your herp

4. More economical

5. More convenient

6. Steady availability

7. The rodent can’t escape into your home

8. More sanitary; no urine or feces

9. Supplements can be inserted inside the rodent

10. Rodents sold frozen are killed humanely with carbon dioxide at the breeding facility and

shipped frozen, eliminating suffering

Training Reptiles to Eat Thawed Frozen Rodents

Almost all carnivorous reptiles can be trained to eat thawed frozen prey. Zoos keep hundreds of different species, and 99% of them eat thawed frozen prey.

Tub Feeding

One of the best ways to train a snake to eat is to use the tub feeding method. The snake is removed from its habitat and placed in a large rubber tub for feeding. There are several benefits of tub feeding:

1. The snake is conditioned to eat promptly

2. No chance of the snake ingesting substrate (which can be deadly)

3. Less biting—the snake does not see a human hand in habitat as prey

4. The decorations in the habitat are undisturbed

Reasons a Snake Might Refuse to Eat

1. Incorrect environmental conditions

2. Feeding too often

3. Incorrect food item size

4. Snake is about to shed

5. Snake is Sick

Feeding Thawed Frozen Rodents to Herptiles

Defrosting Frozen Rodents

For a snake, choose a rodent with a girth about equal to the widest mid-body girth of the snake. You can either soak the bagged frozen rodent in warm water, or leave in the refrigerator overnight to defrost, and then warm it up in warm water. Small pinkies can be quickly defrosted and warmed under warm running water.

Be sure the rodent is thoroughly defrosted and warmed to 90-100ºF. You do not want your herp eating a cold rodent, and warming a rodent also makes it smell more strongly, making it more attractive to your herp. This is especially important when training snakes to eat thawed frozen rodents, or for reluctant feeders.

The Tub Feeding Method

Feeding a snake in a plastic tub, not in its habitat, has several benefits: it conditions the snake to eat promptly, prevents the snake from eating substrate (which is dangerous), reduces the chance the snake will see a human hand in the habitat as prey, and leaves the habitat decorations undisturbed.

Do not attempt to pick up any snake with the scent of other animals on your hands or clothing, as this may entice the snake to strike in hunger. With clean hands, remove the snake from its habitat and place it in the feeding tub. Once the snake is in the feeding tub, offer the thawed warmed rodent.

Training Snakes to Eat Thawed Frozen Rodents

Be sure the snake is hungry. Most snakes should be fed twice a week for juveniles and once a week for adults. Offer a thawed, warmed rodent dangled from tongs—never hold it in your fingers! You may need to move the rodent back and forth to catch the snake’s attention. Be prepared for the strike and quickly release the rodent.

If the snake is not interested, pith (stick a pin or small nail into the brain at the back of the head) the dead rodent; this intensifies the scent and may encourage a reluctant feeder to eat.

You might need to offer three rodents 1/3 the size you would normally offer. First offer a stunned live rodent, followed immediately by one freshly killed, then a thawed frozen rodent. At the next feeding, start off with a freshly-killed rodent, followed immediately by a thawed, warmed frozen rodent. When these are easily taken, offer only a thawed, warmed frozen rodent at future feedings.

Converting Non-Rodent Eaters to Eating Rodents

For snakes that normally eat amphibians or lizards, obtain a frog or lizard and euthanize it for feeding. Then rub the lizard or frog all over a suitably-sized thawed, warmed rodent to scent it, then offer the rodent for feeding.

For other suggestions on how to train herptiles to eat thawed frozen rodents or to get reluctant feeders to eat, contact a company that sells frozen rodents, or your local herpetological society.

A great article on training reluctant snakes to eat killed prey can be found at

This information was gathered from the websites of Mice Direct, T-Rex, and CalZoo, by the Rat Assistance & Teaching Society,, (530) 899-0605,857 Lindo Lane, Chico, CA 95973.

Jake 21 months ago

Someone should throw you alive into a pit of black mambas

camryn 20 months ago

how old should you be to get a pet rat

LauraVerderber profile image

LauraVerderber 18 months ago from Mobile, AL Author

Camryn, if you have to ask that then you should probably ask your parents. Really, a young teen could be trusted to take of two male or two female pet rats if they were responsible enough. Their cage would need to be cleaned twice a week and the rats would need daily water and food.

LauraVerderber profile image

LauraVerderber 18 months ago from Mobile, AL Author

Jake, I would love to be in a pit of black mambas, properly equipped of course. ;) I remember the summer I worked at an alligator tourist attraction park and regularly walked into a gator pit to wrestle a gator. It was quite fun.

But seriously, it's the circle of life. Am I cruel for feeding my snakes? Wouldn't it be more cruel to not take care of my pets by not feeding them? Does that mean I'm not allowed to have certain types of pets because a stranger might feel butthurt? How odd.

17 months ago

something bite me..but i think it was a rat do i know if it is?

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