How To Care for Rat Teeth

Published May 21, 2024
Cute dumbo rat in basket with fake flowers

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Rats make terrific pets with gentle, fun personalities. While they are relatively low-maintenance, they do have some basic requirements for their care.

Dental care in particular is often overlooked, but it’s critical to keeping a pet rat healthy because rat teeth constantly grow throughout a rat’s life. Here’s what to know about caring for rat teeth.

What Do Rat Teeth Look Like?

There are two types of rat teeth:

Rat Incisors

Incisors are the big rat teeth that continuously grow. There are four incisors in total—two on the top and two on the bottom—directly in the front of the mouth.

Normally, the rat’s the top incisors touch the bottom incisors when the rat’s mouth is closed. The lower incisors are longer than the upper incisors, almost twice the length.

Rat Molars

The rest of a rat’s teeth are just like human teeth. Molars line the inside of the mouth and do not continuously grow once they are formed.

How To Keep Rat Teeth Healthy

A rat’s incisors must be worn down through chewing and gnawing since they don’t stop growing. Proper diet and chewing toys are essential to wear and grind the teeth down naturally.

1. Feed Your Rat a Proper Diet

A high-quality diet is the first step to keeping a pet rat’s teeth healthy. Pellets provide some wear-down benefits for the front teeth. But more importantly, pellets provide the vitamins and nutrients to keep a rat healthy and active.

2. Provide Chew Toys

Rats should have plenty of toys to satisfy their natural desire to investigate and chew, such as wooden chew toys.

Other toys, like the Kaytee® Lava Ledge, attach to the cage to encourage natural jumping and climbing activities. They are also safe to chew.

Pet parents should inspect all toys often to avoid any small pieces that could be choking hazards or sharp pieces that could cause damage to the rat’s mouth.

Any toys pet parents pick for their rat should always be free of toxic sprays or coatings (especially for wood toys.) Always check that products are labeled as safe for chewing in addition to obtaining your veterinarian’s approval.

3. Rotate Your Rat’s Toys

Variety is key. Offer new chew toys often and rotate toys in and out of the enclosure to keep the rat stimulated and curious to check out (and then chew!) new toys.

What Is Rat Bruxing?

Rats may also intentionally grind their front teeth without the aid of a toy. This soft, repetitive grinding is called bruxism.  Pet parents should not rely on bruxism to effectively grind down the teeth.

When a rat bruxes aggressively, pet parents may notice their rat’s eyes vibrating. This is commonly called eye-boggling and is a normal, often happy behavior.

Rats will also chatter their teeth, which sounds louder than the grinding of bruxism, with a sharp cracking noise. Rat teeth chattering is often linked to an illness or traumatic event.

Check with your veterinarian if a pet rat chatters or often bruxes to ensure there are no underlying health issues.  Excessive chattering may be indicative of oral pain, tooth problems, or more systemic issues.

How To Check Your Rat’s Teeth

While your rat gets a thorough check-up at the veterinarian at least once a year, you can also get them used to you looking at their teeth at home. This can help you spot any early signs of trouble and make future vet exams smoother.

While there aren’t specific recommendations for the frequency that pet parents should check their rat’s teeth at home, a good starting point is every couple of weeks.

 Check your rat’s teeth at home by using these tips:

  1. Use one hand to support your rat under the chest while the other hand scoops and holds the rat’s rear end.

  2. Place the rat in a towel on your lap or on a secure countertop. Make sure they can’t fall and hurt themselves if they try to get away!

  3. Sometimes, a second person to hold the rat is the easiest and safest method for checking your rat’s teeth.

  4. Once your pet is secured, you may need to use your finger or an instrument like a tongue depressor to gently move the lips and gums to visualize the incisors better.

  5. Pet parents should not attempt to look at the rest of the teeth. This is not tolerated as well, and is more likely to result in your rat biting you, or trauma to the rat.

If a rat gets too anxious during this interaction, pet parents should stop and contact a veterinary professional. Nervous or scared rats may vocalize, panic, and may even bite. Veterinarians can also view rat molars with specialized tools and instruments.

What Do Healthy Rat Teeth Look Like?

The two top rat teeth should look very similar to each other, as should the bottom two. Any asymmetry could indicate a malocclusion (improper bite).

The two top teeth should easily make contact with the two lower teeth. Don’t be alarmed by the color of rat teeth—they are naturally yellow.

Healthy rat teeth
Daniil Dubov/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

What Are Overgrown Rat Teeth?

If provided with proper care, most rats should not have any problems with overgrown rat teeth. Most rats have problems with their teeth due to poor husbandry, like an improper diet or chewing materials.

If the rat incisors are maloccluded, they no longer hit each other normally when the rat chews. Therefore, these teeth continuously grow but are not being worn down naturally. This results in extremely long teeth that often curve toward the rat’s face.

Severely overgrown and uneven teeth may cause trauma to the rat by accidentally poking their face or other parts of their body when grooming. Elongated incisors can also get caught on objects and may break, causing pain and infection.

Rats are not able to eat their food normally with overgrown teeth, which may lead to:

  • Decreased appetite

  • Weight loss

  • Dehydration

  • Drooling

  • Trauma to the nasal cavity

  • Eye issues

If you think your rat’s teeth are overgrown, take them to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

How To Trim Rat Teeth

While pet parents can examine a rat’s incisors at home, they should never attempt to trim them on their own.

Often, veterinarians use a Dremel® or high-speed dental instrument to grind the incisors carefully. These tools allow vets to reshape the tooth quickly and precisely.

Nail clippers should never be used. Using clippers applies pressure to the tooth before it cuts, which often leads to microscopic tooth fractures and eventual infections or abscesses. These methods are now considered cruel due to the unnecessary suffering they cause.

Many veterinarians recommend sedation for teeth trimming. Sedation decreases the stress of the rat during the procedure and allows for a quicker procedure overall.

For severe situations, rats may need multiple repeat trimmings or even tooth removal.


Crossley D. Dental Disease in Rabbits and Rodents. Lafeber Vet. 2010.

Rhody J. Rat Dental Incisors. Veterinary Partner. 2010.


Lauren Jones, VMD


Lauren Jones, VMD


Dr. Lauren Jones graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 2010, after receiving her bachelor's degree...

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