What Does It Mean When a Rat Shakes and Twitches?

What Does It Mean When a Rat Shakes and Twitches
What Does It Mean When a Rat Shakes and Twitches

Rats send all sorts of messages through their movements and body language. But sometimes, those can be hard to decipher. One such instance is when your rat shakes or twitches. 

So, what does it mean when your pet rat shakes and twitches? Sometimes, a rat will shake and twitch out of fear or stress. In other cases, rats can shake and twitch — this movement seems almost like a jump — when they are happy. Some rats twitch a little while they sleep. Rats are also prone to bruxing, which is a happy vibration similar to purring from a cat. 

To understand what your rat is telling you by shaking and twitching, you should learn more about their body language and what each of those movements means. Read on to find out what shaking and twitching could mean in different situations. 


How Rats Communicate

As mentioned, rats are body language masters. And watching them, you’ll notice that they have a ton to tell you. A pet rat will send messages to other rats and to you all day long. It’s only a matter of watching closely, and you’ll easily understand how your rat feels. 

Rats also heavily rely on scent to communicate with others. You probably won’t pay attention to this right away, but you’ll soon notice that they are marking with scent or sniffing around. 

Here are some of the most common body language signs that your rat will show. 

Squeaking or screaming

Rats make sounds that humans can’t hear most of the time. However, at times, they will also release sounds that we can hear — and it’s usually not for a good reason. We hear them squeaking or screaming when they are under stress, sick, or annoyed. 

For instance, when they are scared or in a lot of pain, they will let out a loud and long scream. A shorter squeak repeated several times is usually a sign of annoyance, and so is a whinier squeak. This annoyance could be caused by another rat bullying them or someone taking their food, or even if you are playing too roughly with them. 

One study has shown that rats also squeak when they laugh, but that we can’t hear it because it’s too high-pitched. 


Rats usually show curiosity by sniffing the air and turning their ears in a forward direction. They will also likely stand on their legs and focus their attention on their object of interest. You’ll likely notice this when you’re bringing them food, or you introduce a new toy. 

All of these behaviors show that the rat is interested in something around them. If your rat is nervous, they might move their head from left to right slowly. It can come off as a bit creepy, but it’s just what rats do to see a bit better. Their eyesight is very weak, so they’ll use this just like humans use a squint. 


An annoyed rat will do many things to show their discomfort. For one, they will repeatedly squeak, as mentioned. 

But, they might also swish their tail around. This is not to be confused with tail swishing when they play. Under those circumstances, it means that they are happy and excited. However, when they are fighting for real, this means that they are angry or afraid. 

If you have other pets like dogs or cats that your rat doesn’t agree with, you will likely see them approaching those animals with their tail swishing. You should interrupt such behavior quickly, or it could end up badly for your rat. 

You might notice the same movement when you are handling them or picking them up. This means that they are insecure, so you should do your best to support them, so they feel safer with you. 

Tail flicking is also a sign of stress, worry, uncertainty, fear, and similar emotions. You’ll also notice them pushing the thing that annoys them away. It could be food or an object that they don’t like or even your hand when they don’t want any petting. 

When To Avoid Picking Your Rat Up

Aside from pushing you, a rat will clearly show their discomfort, and when you shouldn’t handle them. For instance, they will fluff up their fur. Of course, keep in mind that this could also mean that they are cold or sick. But if your rat is aggressive, they will also hunch their back. 

This is a good sign to avoid handling them. If you try to, they might even bite you. 

If you have more than one rat, and one of them is acting like this, remove the other rats. You can also pick up the angry rat, but do so with a towel or a cloth. 

If your rat is rather lethargic but also fluffed up, you should take them to the vet since this could mean that they are sick. 


No matter how angry your rat can get, they can be just as affectionate — and not afraid to show it. If you’re a new rat owner, you probably won’t know about bruxing, which is a way rats show that they are happy. 

This can sometimes seem like they are shaking or twitching when they are bruxing, but they are just grinding their teeth softly and producing a peaceful sound. This will usually happen when you’re petting them. 

There’s also boggling, which looks as if their eyes are bulging. Both of these things can happen when you pick them up or pet them, and it will reassure you that they are happy to be with you. 

When They’re In Heat

You may think that you won’t notice this happening, but you definitely will. Rats love to show their romantic side too. For instance, male rats will run after female rats and try to mount them. But female rats are more dramatic in their behavior when this happens. 

They will have more energy, flapping their ears quickly, and they’ll be very jumpy when you touch them. They’ll vibrate, arch their back, and especially so if you pet them on their lower back. This can happen as often as every four to five days, so be prepared. 


Rats can contract different illnesses during their lifetime. For example, respiratory diseases are quite common. If sick, rats will be lethargic, tired, have no appetite, and so on. 

Keep in mind that you won’t have days to help your rat, but rather just a few hours. Their illnesses can progress very quickly, and you should take your rat to the vet as soon as possible. Even a tiny cold can turn bad in an instant, so make sure that you are diligent and that you are there for your rat. 

The Meaning of Shaking and Twitching in Rats

Being an observant owner is the most important thing when you have a pet — any pet, not just a rat. But in this case, it’s essential. 

Reports from other rat owners on shaking and twitching show that the meaning of these movements depends on the situation you are in. 

If your rat is older and their shaking resembles spasms, then it might be a sign of illness. If you are petting them, then it could be bruxing. They show happiness through being jumpy sometimes, so this could be another reason. 

However, shaking and twitching could also happen due to fear and anxiety. But, in this case, you’ll probably notice the thing or event that’s stressing them out. 

Observe and Understand

Understanding your pet rat is the best way to keep them safe. So, learn all about their behavior and enjoy your interesting new friend.