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There are different kinds of rat bites.

You know how it seems that the whole world is afraid of a rat bite? I've felt the one they're afraid of. Of course I can also explain how to get your rat to bite you like that so you can avoid getting nipped in that super special way. Most rats won't bite you, except for by mistake. That's the first kind of bite. We'll call it the "Whoops, I thought you were food" bite. Some rats will instinctively whip around and give you the "you startled me" bite. That bite, too, is harmless, but it tends to itch like a paper cut will when it's healing. The last, and worst, bite is the "you picked the wrong day to mess with me, buddy" bite. I've had all three happen, usually by mistake and/or carelessness on my part.

Whoops, I thought you were food: Every once in awhile, you'll forget that rats are pretty close to blind, and you'll be feeding them some leftovers, and you'll stick your fingers in the cage to give some adorable rat-brain a scratch. Some rat, without fail, will think you've got more food because your fingers smell just right, and they'll try to grab it really fast. I don't know how they do it, but before puncturing the skin, they will stop, mid-nip, assess the situation, try to pull your finger in further, and decide that it's really not food after all. This bite really doesn't hurt at all, but you, as humans, have to train yourself not to flinch or snap your hand back, else it may lead to the second type of bite.

You startled me!: Sometimes rats are sleeping so soundly you think, just for a moment, that they're dead. Sometimes they don't look like they're sleeping quite that soundly but they are. Sometimes you'll give one of those rats a pat on the bum, and they'll whip around in a flash. If you don't get your hand out in time, you'll feel a little toothy pressure, and possibly a scratch or pin-hole. It's really best to wake them up by making some noise, in case you hadn't guessed, or make sure your hands are in plain view when you awake them. These bites tend to be disturbing at best, but really don't hurt all that much. Don't feel so self-assured though, because they really can cause damage.

You picked the wrong day to mess with me, buddy: Most rats, in the wild, will run away from you rather than toward you. They'd rather avoid a fight than have to defend themselves. Sometimes, however, they are forced to defend themselves. For example, a sick rat may not be able to run, but just because it looks like it's on its last legs, doesn't mean it can't find enough energy to send you running away screaming. That's why it's really best to handle sick wild rats with gloves or not at all. Most fancy rats or pet rats, however, learn rather quickly that you, the human, aren't anything too scary. Sure, the humans sometimes awake them from their slumber, or seem to have extra food that's not really there, but humans aren't all that bad. Sometimes, however, rats don't have a chance to learn to accept you for your good side, as was the case in "Do not spray a hungry flea-ridden rat with flea-killing spray." The third type of rat bite is really something to be in awe about. I know when Violentine bit me the first time, I couldn't imagine how she had managed to cause such a loud noise, and such a painful bite. Then I saw her do it the second time.

Rats have two teeth on top, and two longer teeth on bottom. In rat school they were taught a really cool self-defense trick that we humans aren't capable of. They will separate their two bottom teeth which effectively enables them to get a better grip, and additionally, inflicts a nastier, more uneven, wound. I'm convinced they could hold onto something for days like this, though I plan not to give any rat the chance. Ever.

As a personal side-note, I've found that if you stick your fingers in the mouths of baby rats, when they get older, they are recognizably much nicer with your digits that those who did not have your fingers shoved in their mouths at an early age (see "How to avoid getting nipped - the terrifying test of will."). This will not prevent you from getting nipped if you startle one awake though.

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Disclaimer: There are many non-sarcastic accounts and tips on the web regarding rat care. This is not one of them. These are merely accounts of our experiences with rats, our perceptions of these experiences, where we've failed and where we've succeeded. These accounts are here for two purposes:

    1) To entertain.
    2) To help avoid repetition of mistakes

  Remember! Your rat is not a science project, he is your friend!

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