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How do I Treat a Rat Bite?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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To treat a rat bite, you first will need to stop any resulting bleeding, clean the wound with antiseptic or peroxide, and cover the wound with gauze or a disposable bandage. Depending on the origin of the rat, meaning whether it was domestic or wild, you may need to seek medical attention to rule out the possibility of getting rabies. Keep a watch on the wound for several days afterward to ensure you do not come down with rat-bite fever, and seek a doctor’s care if you begin to exhibit any symptoms.

Rats have very long teeth, and bites can be rather deep, so bleeding can be steady and sometimes severe for several moments. To prevent too much blood loss, place a rag, your finger, or gauze over the rate bite and hold it firm to stop the flow. After several minutes the bleeding should subside and you should then begin cleaning the wound.

Hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, or an antiseptic cleaner are all good options when cleaning a rat bite. Use a large amount to remove any bacteria and germs which may be present. Once the wound is clean, use a healing lotion on the area and cover with a clean, dry, bandage or gauze with tape.

Domesticated rats are unlikely to carry rabies, so if the rat bite came from a family pet, you are probably safe. If the rat was wild, it is still very rare that it would be a rabies carrier, as it is not common in small rodents like rats and mice. You should see a doctor for a wild rat bite anyway since they are more likely to carry other diseases and harmful bacteria, and you may or may not receive a rabies shot depending on how prevalent rabies is in your area.

Over the days and weeks following a rat bite, be sure to check the wound often for any signs of rat-bite fever. Symptoms include fever, chills, swelling around the bite, discoloration, tenderness, a skin rash surrounding the wound, vomiting, and nausea. Treatment generally includes antibiotics like penicillin. Rat-bite fever will generally clear up on its own within a year if no treatment is provided, and it is not usually fatal.

You can prevent getting bitten by a rat or small rodent by handling family pets properly. Do not hold them by their tails or swing them around, and don’t try to roughhouse with them as you would with a small dog. You should also steer clear of wild rodents when you encounter them. Wild rats can be carriers of disease, so you should rid your home of them if you believe they are be present.

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Discussion Comments

By anon994666 — On Feb 26, 2016

@MrsPramm, it's true that domestic rats aren't as dangerous as perhaps a cat, but that's only if they were properly socialized. I work with a small animal rescue rehabilitating pet rats, and trust me when I say that a scared rat can and will rip you open. While they're less likely to be carrying some exotic disease or rabies, there's still a chance that your wound can get infected. Hell, the only reason I'm on here now is because one of my rehab cases just bit my pinky to the bone.

The good thing I can say is that I need a refresher on treating rat bites because I've only been working with my boys lately, and you can stick your finger in their mouths without getting so much as a scratch.

And I wouldn't go near a wild rat with a 100 foot pole.

By anon936320 — On Feb 28, 2014

I have a low tolerance for ignorance. Facts: Small mammals such as squirrels, rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chipmunks, rabbits, and hares are almost never found to be infected with rabies and have never been known to cause rabies among humans.

By bear78 — On Oct 09, 2013

@literally45-- You might want to check with your doctor. But unless you have signs of infection, I don't think you need antibiotics for a bite from a pet rat.

If you notice odd colored, foul smelling pus around the bite or if you feel sick and get a fever, then you definitely need treatment. Otherwise, just keep the bite clean and it will heal on its own.

By the way, what did you do to make the rat bite you?

By literally45 — On Oct 08, 2013

My pet rat bit my hand last night. The bite is not very deep but it looks purple and swollen. I cleaned it last night and applied antibiotic cream. Should I also take a course of antibiotics to prevent an infection?

By turquoise — On Oct 08, 2013

@bythewell-- I don't agree with you. I'm not a doctor but my opinion is that anyone who has been bitten by a wild rat should get rabies shots. Even if the chance of getting rabies is small, I don't think it's worth the risk.

Rabies treatment is not that bad. I got rabies shots when I got bit by a stray dog. I couldn't find the owner of the dog to ask if he had rabies shots, and my doctor felt that it was better to be safe. I got four shots, once a week. So the treatment took one month to complete. The shots were a little painful and I had some fatigue as a result, but the treatment was much better than I expected. At least I felt safe, that nothing bad would happen to me.

By MrsPramm — On Oct 07, 2013

@indigomoth - Rats might have a bad reputation, but it doesn't really stand up against the reality. They aren't any more dangerous than any other animal, really, particularly if we are talking about a domesticated rat.

My friend had a rat for a couple of years and it was completely sweet and never bit anyone. In fact I've met far more vicious rabbits than I have met vicious rats.

And the wild ones aren't going to come after you unless you provoke them. Or unless they are extremely hungry, which isn't a situation that people in the Western world really have to worry about either.

By indigomoth — On Oct 07, 2013

@bythewell - It is extremely unlikely that a rat will have rabies, simply because they would need to be bitten themselves and anything that bites a rat will probably kill it before passing on an infection.

I would be far more worried about the chances of a bacterial infection. Rats have a bad reputation for a reason and I'm sure that a rat bite has the potential to be dangerous, particularly in children.

By bythewell — On Oct 06, 2013

If there is even the smallest possibility that the rat might have rabies, the best thing to do is catch the rat, if possible to do it safely, or kill it and bring it to the hospital. It's the brain that is the important bit, so be careful not to damage the head.

Rabies treatment is extremely painful and takes a long time. It's not something you want to go through if there's any possibility of avoiding it, which is why people don't routinely get vaccinated against rabies.

If you have the head of the animal that bit you, the doctor can test the brain and see if there is an infection or not. That way you know whether you absolutely have to go through the treatment.

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