Bathing Rats with Minimal Stress
Bathing a rat is not recommended unless absolutely necessary. This gallery has videos of bathing techniques that aim to minimize the amount of "wet time" as well as the time we must insist the rat hold still.
My starting place regarding bathing rats is, I don't do it unless there's a good reason. In general, pet rats keep themselves very clean, and there is no reason at all to give a rat any kind of bath, not even occasionally, and definitely not regularly.
Examples of good reasons to give a rat a bath: the rat soils herself due to illness, or, a new rat comes from a difficult environment of crowded and unclean conditions, where she couldn't keep herself clean.
The reason I stay away from bathing unless absolutely necessary is because of the stress that bathing subjects them to, and because I believe rats learn to trust us less when we force them physically against their will.
Most rats do not automatically take to water, and they definitely do not like being forcibly subjected to a bath routine with soap and rinsing.
Unless you have given your rat extensive training to accept this kind of treatment, the average pet rat experiences these as aversive:
1. Being gripped and held against his will under any kind of water flow.
2. Being gripped and having any type of soap applied.
3. Being further gripped so that the soap can be rubbed in.
4. Being further gripped for the rinse.
5. When the rat struggles, the human has grip harder, and the stress skyrockets.
6. Repeating any of the above.
Rats will struggle, become extremely afraid, and then defecate "fear poops". They will try to hide and escape.
Some rats might recover easily and be able to forget what just happened, but that is not the norm. Pet rats do not have the kind of domestication history that dogs do, and their attachment to humans is much more vulnerable and sensitive to mistreatment.
There are two other reasons to avoid bathing rats:
7. If your rat is ill, the stress from a bath may worsen the illness.
8. If you don't rinse the soap completely out, the rat will ingest it.
We violate a rat's trust by forcing him to tolerate a bath. The rat will trust us less. My goal with my rats is to foster more trust, and to not violate the trust I do earn. I just don't want my pet rats to react to me fearfully, ever, for any reason.
Healthy rats demonstrate in these videos!
Subtitle for this first video: "Um, a little rescue operation would be appreciated - Right - NOW." :)
One method to give a sort-of bath to a sick rat, without using soap. This method mainly wets the rat's privates area and rinses urine off that way. Done quickly, the rat will barely get wet.
Subtitle for this second video: "I swear I did not think eating peas could soak me like this." :)
Another method of bathing pet rats, tricking them with a large "pond" spiced with frozen peas. This method should be done in a warm room so as not to chill the rats. The rat goes wading to get the peas and the human - oops - slides on the water, top and bottom. Repeated peas allow more opportunities to get rattie more or less wet, as needed. This form of "bathing" is a great enrichment activity as well, during overly warm days. Rats can learn to love playing in the wading pool.