Do Rats Have Feelings? Here’s What Science Says

There is a great deal of fear and hatred directed at rats, and that animosity has existed for centuries. It doesn’t help that rats were blamed for spreading one of the worst plagues in human history, which killed at least 25 million people in the 14th century.

But many people keep them as pets and will swear that they make excellent companions. So are rats friends or enemies, and more than that, do rats actually have feelings? Science says yes! Rats are quite capable of expressing a range of negative and positive emotions.

Here, we discuss what kinds of emotions rats experience and what science has to say about them. We hope that this will also help clear up common misconceptions about rats!


Are Rats as Bad as We Think?

For centuries, rats have had a bad reputation as disease-ridden pests. Let’s break this down by first looking at a few fallacies that many people believe about rats.

cute pet rat sleeping
Image Credit: Ezume Images, Shutterstock

The Black Death

It was long said that rats caused and spread the bubonic plague in Europe and Asia during the Middle Ages. Then it was thought that fleas on the rats were to be blamed. This still emphasized that rats were the cause, albeit indirectly.

However, a study in 2018 found several causes for the spread of the bubonic plague, including fleas and lice.1 But these ones are believed to be found specifically on humans alone.

People during the Middle Ages didn’t bathe all that often, so fleas and body lice were prevalent. This makes more sense than rats spreading the disease, particularly due to how fast the plague spread.


Another common myth about rats is how filthy they are. This one likely stems from the brown rat, which is the most common rat found worldwide—it is also known as the sewer rat.

Due to the plague and seeing rats scurrying around in trash and sewers, many people think that they are dirty animals. But it may surprise you to learn that rats are quite fastidious groomers and clean themselves frequently throughout the day.

Rats rarely need a bath and are even likely to give themselves a quick groom after they’ve been picked up and held. Rats are as clean as dogs and cats or even cleaner!

big brown rat outside
Image Credit: blende12, Pixabay


It’s also a common myth that all rats are aggressive and won’t hesitate to bite. Wild rats are more likely to bite, but like most wild animals, wild rats will generally go out of their way to avoid any contact with humans. If they are cornered, this is when they will bite and seem more aggressive.

But domestic rats are generally quite sweet and affectionate pets that love spending time with their owners. In fact, another common small pet, the hamster, is more likely to bite than a pet rat.

If a pet rat does bite, it is likely from fear, illness, or hormones or because they smell food on your fingers, which can happen with many other pet species.

What Kinds of Feelings Do Rats Have?

Rats are capable of expressing several emotions, some of which might surprise you!

two black and white rats
Image Credit: Anton Watman, Shutterstock


Scientists in Switzerland discovered that when rats are happy and feeling positive emotions, their ears flush a bright or deep pink color. Their ears also move into a more “relaxed position.”

The scientists used tickling to measure positive emotions, which in previous studies, was proven to be something that rats enjoy. Rats are individuals, though, and not all enjoy being tickled.

The study was used only with rats that showed that they enjoyed it by always returning to the hand for more tickling. The scientists would take a picture of a rat, tickle it, and then immediately take another picture. Pink and relaxed ears were noted as a sign of happiness.

One of the main reasons for the study was to improve the quality of life for many of the rats used in experiments.

domestic pet rat and a toy house
Image Credit: Bilanol, Shutterstock


A 2014 study described an experiment that showed that rats are capable of regretting their actions.

The researchers set up a test similar to when we need to wait in line at a restaurant. One “restaurant” had the best food but a long wait time, and another “restaurant” had a short wait but food that wasn’t as appealing.

In this scenario, when the rat gave up on the ideal food and moved to the area with the not-so-great option, they would often look back at the previous “restaurant.” When the experiment was repeated, they would stay for the appealing food with the long wait time.

This means the rats modified their behavior and decision-making, suggesting a form of regret. When humans experience regret, the orbitofrontal cortex part of the brain becomes active. These rats had active orbitofrontal cortex during the experiment, which helped researchers determine that the rats were experiencing regret.

curious white pet rat looking out of a cage
Image Credit: Kirill Kurashov, Shutterstock


Another study found that rats opted to help their companions over eating something sweet. The rats had the option of eating chocolate or freeing a cage mate that had been restrained. This occurred even when both rats had had no actual social contact with each other.

Once freed, the two rats would eat the chocolate together. To highlight the intelligence of rats, they were never taught how to open the cage doors, which were difficult to open. But the rats would keep trying until they opened the door and freed the other rat.

Like with the happiness study, this one highlights that rats experience empathy and should likewise be treated with empathy in return.

pet rat eatng
Image Credit: jarleeknes, Pixabay

Rats Are Amazing Creatures

Rats experience emotions that all living creatures feel, such as fear, anger, and anxiety. But further research has demonstrated how incredible rats really are! They have been known to trade favors and cut deals with other rats. For example, they will trade food for grooming and vice versa.

They understand when they’ve forgotten something, and apparently, they dream of a better future, just like we do. Their empathy also translates to the ability to read pain in other rats’ faces, and they will attempt to help when they can.


If you’re in the market for a different kind of pet, rats make incredibly amazing companions. They are smart and loving, arguably even more so than most other rodents.

It’s been proven by science that most animals have feelings, including the long-misjudged rat.

Featured Image Credit: Varga, Pixabay

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Do Guinea Pigs Know When Another Guinea Pig Dies? (How They Grieve)

The death of a pet is a hard blow for anyone, including other pets in the house. As social animals, guinea pigs do best when they live with a companion and will form close bonds with other guinea pigs that they live with. Guinea pigs definitely understand when their friend dies and will grieve the loss just like you do.

Understanding how your guinea pig reacts to the death of their companion will help you determine how to aid their recovery. Supporting your surviving guinea pig can also help ease your pain too.


Do Guinea Pigs Grieve the Loss of Their Friend?

If you’ve never lost a guinea pig before, you’re probably not familiar with how other guinea pigs will react to the loss of their friend. You might also be wondering whether they grieve the loss themselves. Depending on how strong the bond between the guinea pigs is, the surviving guinea pig will miss their companion and grieve for them in different ways.

For example, if you have a group of guinea pigs, the loss might be tempered by the presence of the others, though some individuals that were closer to the lost guinea pig might feel the loss more. If you only have two guinea pigs, the death of one can be a hard blow to the remaining guinea pig, and they might show a much stronger reaction.

Sleepy guinea pig
Image Credit: Shchus, Shutterstock

How to Tell If Your Guinea Pig Is Grieving

Since they can’t speak, understanding what your guinea pig is feeling can be tough. If you’re not familiar with the signs of a guinea pig’s grieving process, it can be easy to project your devastation onto them or even assume that they don’t care at all, especially if they continue as usual. Like us, though, individual guinea pigs have unique ways of dealing with loss.

Your guinea pig will show their grief in several ways. Some will lose their appetite, stare into space for long periods, or refuse to play, while others will search relentlessly for their missing friend.

You must monitor your guinea pig closely after the death of their companion. Sudden changes in their environment, like the loss of a friend, can stress them out and put them off their food. If they don’t eat for a long time due to their grief, it can lead to liver problems.

Portrait of cute red guinea pig. Close up photo
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Helping Your Guinea Pig Grieve

Part of the recovery process for you and your guinea pig is helping them accept the loss of their companion. Helping them grieve will allow you both to process and adjust to the absence. Here are a few ways to help you and your guinea pig grieve.

Let Them Say Goodbye

Although it might seem strange, placing the deceased guinea pig back in their cage for a while can help your remaining guinea pigs adjust. If the death happened overnight, your other guinea pigs likely already interacted with their companion’s body, and you can remove it.

However, if the guinea pig dies when they’re outside of the cage due to an accident or during a trip to the vet, your remaining pets will miss out on this time to say goodbye. By placing the dead guinea pig back in the cage for a few minutes, you’ll be giving your remaining guinea pigs the time that they need to start grieving.

Some guinea pigs will ignore the body, while others will interact with it by sniffing, licking, or trying to rouse them. While this can be heartbreaking to watch—especially when you’re dealing with the loss yourself—it’s an essential part of helping your guinea pig understand and begin healing from the loss.

happy guinea pig
Image Credit: Jumpstory

Clean Out the Cage

Some guinea pig owners will thoroughly clean the cage after the death of one of their pets. This will remove the lingering scent of your lost guinea pig and make it easier for your surviving guinea pig to understand their absence.

If your guinea pig can still smell the presence of their friend, it might confuse them and encourage them to spend longer searching for their companion rather than dealing with the loss. Completely replace the bedding and toys, and clean any bowls used by the other guinea pig.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to remove the scent of their friend completely—especially if you have a timid guinea pig that gets stressed easily—give your guinea pig something new instead. Introduce new toys to play with, or make a new cardboard house for them to explore.

Spend Quality Time Together

Guinea pigs are social animals, and if they’re on their own after losing a companion, loneliness can make their recovery process longer. This makes it even more important for you to set aside time to socialize with your guinea pig.

Even if they live in a group, your guinea pigs can still benefit from spending quality time with you. By interacting with them, you can help prevent them from dwelling on their lost companion by giving them something else to focus on. They’ll still miss their friend, but they’ll also be distracted by the comfort that you offer them. Spending time with them can also help build a bond.

Credit: Margoya, Shutterstock

Give Them Time

Above all else, the most important thing about dealing with bereavement is allowing for time. The death of a companion—whether it’s a friend or a beloved pet—is devastating for everyone, even if the animal is as small as your guinea pig. Neither you nor your guinea pig is expected to recover from the loss immediately.

While some guinea pigs might only need a few days or a week, others might miss their friend for several weeks. No matter how long it takes or how heartbreaking their sadness is, giving them the time they need is essential to help their recovery.

Should You Get Another Guinea Pig?

The pain of losing your guinea pig can make the prospect of adopting another one daunting. This is something to seriously consider, though, particularly if your remaining guinea pig is on their own. You don’t need to jump straight into adopting a new pe, of course. Give yourself and your guinea pig a few weeks to get over the loss before looking into adoption.

Introducing a new guinea pig can help your surviving guinea pig by giving them another companion to bond with. Unfortunately, we can’t spend all day with our guinea pig, but another furry friend will provide comfort through their presence.

We recommended adoption over buying a new guinea pig. This way, you’ll be helping another animal. Remember to introduce the guinea pigs slowly by keeping them in separate cages before gradually increasing the time that they spend together.

Two Guinea pigs under the rocks
Image Credit: Petra, Pixabay



Although small, guinea pigs take up a large amount of space in our hearts. Losing one can be devastating. It’s not just you who will grieve the death of a guinea pig, though; the surviving guinea pig—or pigs, if you have more than one—will grieve the loss too.

To help your guinea pig adjust, give them time to say goodbye and spend plenty of time with them. Also, consider introducing a new guinea pig for them to bond with once they’ve recovered from the initial loss.


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Can Guinea Pigs Find Their Way Home? (Here’s How)

One of the worst things that a pet owner can experience is a lost pet. If you discover that your guinea pig is no longer in their cage, you’ll turn your house upside down looking for them, but you also hope that they will find their way back to you. But are guinea pigs capable of remembering where home is?

Studies have shown that guinea pigs are indeed capable of finding their way home by remembering pathways.

Here, we touch on how guinea pigs can locate their home and a few methods that you can use to find them if they don’t.


Finding Their Way Home

Studies have shown that both wild and domesticated guinea pigs can use their memory of pathways to find their way home. It was initially believed that they accomplished this through an excellent sense of smell, but they actually use kinesthetic learning, also known as “muscle memory.” This means learning through movement and touch in combination with auditory and visual cues.

Guinea pigs are also intelligent creatures that can also remember where their food is and where they are safest. While not every guinea pig will necessarily return to their enclosure, they are technically capable of it.

guinea pig
Image Credit: Piqsels

How Smart Are Guinea Pigs?

If guinea pigs can remember their way home, how smart are they? It’s difficult to gauge the intelligence of most animals, but guinea pigs do learn relatively quickly and can even do a few tricks.

They can also recognize people and squeal with recognition and even pick out familiar tunes. They have good memories, including kinesthetic ones, and you can also toilet-train them.

Guinea pigs are definitely more intelligent than most people likely think!

guinea pig II_Piqsels
Image Credit: Piqsels

Why Do Guinea Pigs Run Away?

Guinea pigs sometimes run away when startled, or you might find that they run away from you. There are several reasons for this behavior.

Natural Instincts

Guinea pigs are prey animals, even though they’ve been domesticated for a long time — as far back as 5000 B.C.! Fear of predators is a natural instinct, so they are on high alert most of the time. This means if they are feeling anxious or a sudden sound or movement startles them, they will run off to find a place to hide.

Doesn’t Trust You Yet

Like with any pet, it takes time to build up trust. They might flee from you if they don’t know you well enough yet or you haven’t spent enough time building a bond. Fortunately, there are steps that you can take to rectify this.

Red Abyssinian Guinea Pig on green grass
Image Credit: Tettania, Shutterstock

Not Used to Being Handled

This could be a young guinea pig that hasn’t been socialized yet or one that didn’t receive enough socialization in their earlier years. If you extend your hand to your cavy (nickname for a guinea pig) and they run from it, this might be because they aren’t used to hands.

It takes time and patience to get your guinea pig used to your hands and being held.

Just Showing a Little Attitude

Like most pets, guinea pigs have their own unique personalities and temperament. Some cavies are easygoing, while others might be a bit sassy. They might prefer to be held only when they’re ready or by certain people.

In cases like this, your guinea pig might not run and hide but will dodge your hands instead. Most of the time, these guinea pigs just need their space, so you’ll need to respect that.

dark ruby eyed guinea pig
Image Credit: Kassel95, Pixabay

divider-guineapigHow Can You Find a Lost Guinea Pig?

Guinea pigs don’t escape quite as often as smaller pets, like hamsters and mice, but it can happen. You might just turn your back while cleaning their enclosure, and they disappear! Here are a few tips for helping you find a lost cavy.

Secure Your House

Start by ensuring that the house is secure to keep them safe and so they can’t get outside. Make sure all windows and doors are closed—shut closet and interior doors (like bedrooms), and block access to the stairs.

If you have any traps or baits for pests in your home, put them away so your guinea pig won’t get into them.

Finally, if you have other pets, like dogs or cats, put them in a secure location that you’ve already checked for your guinea pig. All these steps will help keep your guinea pig safe while you’re trying to locate them.

guinea pig on neutral background
Image Credit: Svetlanistaya, Shutterstock

Check Each Room

Search each room methodically, one by one, but start with the room that your cavy was last seen. While checking a room, close the door behind you so they don’t escape, and when you’re finished, close the door on your way out. This will help prevent your guinea pig from panicking and running into a room that you’ve already checked.

When looking in dark spaces, use a flashlight, and remember to search inside closets and under furniture. Use caution if you sit or take a step, to ensure that you don’t accidentally crush them.

Lastly, tell everyone in the home to stay in one place or help you with the search—and to watch their step.

Tempt Them With Food

Keep your cavy’s cage in the usual spot, but leave the door open, and place their favorite food in front of it.

Then, put a few guinea pig treats in central and open areas. This way, you’ll spot your pet when they come out of hiding to get to the food.

Guinea pigs are crepuscular, which means they are most active at dawn and dusk. You’ll want to search for your pet at these times because they are more likely to come out in the open.

Guinea pig eats carrot
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When You Find Your Guinea Pig

When you finally spot your cavy, they might be stressed and disoriented, particularly due to not being in their usual enclosure.

If you suspect that your guinea pig might run away when you come near them, try gently throwing a towel over them, which will keep them in place. You can then gently scoop them up and bring them to their enclosure.

divider-guineapigWays to Get Your Guinea Pig to Trust You

You can try a few things so your cavy will form a bond with you and be much less likely to run away.

1. Tempt Them With Food

Just like with almost any animal, food is an excellent path to your guinea pig’s heart. Giving your cavy tasty treats by hand is a great way to earn their trust. Try this several times a day, and give them things like seed heads from hay or fresh greens, which they’ll love!

If you have time, instead of pouring food into a bowl, allow your guinea pig to take the food from your hand. This will give them a positive association between you and food.

Guinea Pig Eating Apples
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2. Keep Them Near the Hub of Activity

If your guinea pig is new in your life, you’ll need to keep things calm and stable until they’ve adjusted. Once you’ve had your cavy for a while, place them in an area where everyone tends to gather, like the living room or kitchen. This enables the guinea pig to become familiar with the sounds, smells, and sights that make up their environment.

They will also learn more about you and your family members, as well as your behaviors. Your guinea pig might be nervous at first, but they will become accustomed to it all and realize that there’s nothing to be afraid of. This should enable you to become closer to your cavy and form a stronger bond.

3. Don’t Pick Them Up After Feeding Them

Some people might try giving food or a treat to their guinea pig and immediately picking them up. You’ll want to avoid doing this. Prey species are vulnerable when eating, so they won’t appreciate being picked up at this time. They’ll also start to associate something unpleasant happening with food and may refuse to eat.

Try it the opposite way: Pick them up first, and then put them down and feed them. This way, your cavy will associate the less-pleasant thing (being picked up) with a pleasant thing (food). After a while, they will likely start to enjoy being held.

guinea pig
Image Credit: Lipatova Maryna, Shutterstock


It is quite possible that your guinea pig will find their way back to their enclosure after becoming lost. They are smart enough to do this, but they might need a bit of encouragement, like strategically placed treats and guinea pig food.

If they seem to run away from you and are uncomfortable with being picked up, there are steps that you can take to form a stronger bond.

Guinea pigs are smart little animals, and with patience and persistence, your cavy will start to look forward to your attention and enjoy a nice cuddling session.

Featured Image Credit: Petra, Pixabay

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