By Rachel Sydenham of Rattikins Rattery


When benching an animal for judging at a show a standard of excellence is expected. This standard of excellence is not just in the quality and temperament of the animal, it is also the way in which the animal is being presented. A clean and well groomed animal shows the dedication and pride that the Owner/Exhibitor has in their animal as well as it shows respect to the Official who is judging the animal on the day. If an exhibitor cannot be bothered to put in the time and effort to adequately prep an animal for a show, then why should an Official take the time and effort to judge and score that animal? Food for thought.

These are steps and tools that Rattikins Rattery have used for many years with great success, and minimal stress caused to the animals. All animals in show are required to be adequately prepared for exhibiting, this includes all of the following with no exceptions:

  • Display/Companion animals not being shown
  • Pets in Pet Classes
  • Conformation animals
  • Kittens in Kitten Class
  • All Variety Class animals
  • Clean display cages, and clean Show tubs are also expected on the day!

Tools of the trade

It is important to have the right tools when preparing an animal for a Show event. Pictured below are the tools in which I personally use.

  • Nail Clippers
  • Soft Brush
  • Hair Dryer
  • Towel
  • Soft Toothbrush
  • Dish-washing Detergent
  • Sunlight Soap
  • General Pet Shampoo
  • Whitening Shampoo

Have all your tools together and ready within reach. Most of us use the kitchen, bathroom or laundry sink area to prep our animals for an event. Whichever space you use, always make sure it is a clear work space! This makes it a much safer environment for you and the animal to go about your show prepping in.

You will be amazed at how many things are within a rats reach when it is determined not to be bathed, and that includes all the things, heavy, sharp and cumbersome. So to ensure that you don’t end up with everything except for the animal in the water, make sure that there is nothing within reach in the surrounding area.

Also ensure that your necessary grooming tools are within your reach (but not the rat’s) for quick and easy use.

Preparing your animal

This is the most important thing to do before bathing your animal should you not want your limbs looking and feeling like they have been shoved into a food processor! Take your time and be careful not to cut the nail too short as you may cut the Quick, (that pink bit inside the nail), and cause bleeding. Cut the nail just before the pink of the Quick, to remove any talons from your animal. This will make bath time so much more pleasant for you.

Preparing yourself!

The person introducing the rat to it’s first bath is the one that makes it a bigger deal than it is. First rule of thumb to this is, HUMAN STAY CALM! Animals are terribly perceptive and can read our body language and vibes regardless of how subtle we try to be.

The objective is to remain calm and confident in what you are doing, this will re-affirm the animal that it is safe and will not be harmed. Be gentle but firm so that the animal understands that bad manners and tantrums will not be tolerated but instead simply ignored.

Also take your time, be patient and do not rush, as doing things too quickly will only panic the animal and encourage it to remember this as a very unpleasant experience.

The bath

Water must be lukewarm/room temperature, so that it is not burning or be rudely cold for the animal. Do not fill the sink too deep with water. The animal should be able to sit in the water with it’s head well above the water line, and it does not have to swim.

Gently ease the rat into the water bum end first, using a re-assuring voice and gently stroking the rat with a wet hand. The animal may squeal a little, some scream, but as long as you do this slowly there should be minimal struggle.

Most rats will either sit in the sink giving you stink eye or become overjoyed with this new fun water thing and start duck diving. Either way, do not ever drop your guard or leave unsupervised, as accidents can happen, such as failed escape attempts.

Once your rat is well and truly saturated and has accepted that there is no escaping this rather wet situation, it is time to lather up. If you are unfortunate enough to have an intelligent animal on your hands, then this could be a slippery situation, so I suggest that you should be prepared for anything.

To start with, use your general pet shampoo and gently lather all other the animal, paying particular attention to areas that may have longer or thicker hair coat and/or areas that may have staining.

Take your time and be firm but gentle. If done right, most animals tend to relax and enjoy the massage session.

Buck grease

Dreaded buck grease! But seriously, it is not the end of your world, it is just buck grease. Enter dish-washing detergent! Yes you read right! Great for removing greasy food from dishes, so why not greasy buck grease from rat butts?

Apply dish-washing detergent to offending area, (or entire rat if needed), massage through thoroughly and take your time. You want to take your time so that the detergent has time to activate and get into all those stubborn greasy bits. For extremely greasy boys, you may need to do this a couple of times between rinses until the grease is removed. Dish-washing detergent is magic on buck grease!

Colour-enhancing and whitening shampoos

This is usually the third stage of shampooing. There are plenty of different types and brands of colour enhancing and whitening shampoos available on the market for animals. Whichever one you use, be sure that you read the directions of use thoroughly, otherwise you could end up with a psychedelic coloured rat. You may laugh, but it has happened! Only use a whitening shampoo for animals with extensive white or if their colour is extremely pale, like a Champagne.

Dirty tails

DIRTY TAILS ARE A NO NO ON THE SHOW BENCH! Nothing worse than a dirty, filthy tail on the judging bench. It just tells the judge that the animal’s owner only put in a minimal effort, if any, on prepping their apparent pride and joy for a show. No winning happening here, you may risk not having it scored.

Cleaning a tail is paramount, even if it is just a companion animal on display for the public. Why? because the general public’s view on rats begin with a filthy, dirty tail. In fact it is the first thing an ordinary person will talk about when they are asked what do they think about rats.

So let’s put that persona to bed and start showing people that an animal is as clean as it’s environment and filthy, dirty tails are not a rat thing.

Tail cleaning is simple, and tools of choice here is a soft bristle toothbrush and a bar of Sunlight soap! So wet your toothbrush, lather it up and get to work. Always gently brush in the same direction of the hair and skin scales in strokes. Take your time and gently massage the soap into the skin with your fingers, as this will help remove any stubborn grease that may have accumulated on the skin.

Final rinse

It is important to rinse your animal thoroughly after a shampoo and soap onslaught. If not done properly, residue can dry out the skin and/or cause irritation, and can leave a nasty taste in your animals mouth when it goes to lick itself.

Use fresh running lukewarm/room temperature water to rinse the entire animal. Also check through the hair coat under the running water because as it parts the hair it is easier to find any cuts and scratches that may be hiding.

Towel dry

A good thorough towel dry is what every rat needs, in fact, they really do enjoy it. Just wrap them up in a nice dry soft towel and ruffle them gently. Ensure that you soak up as much water as possible and don’t miss any nooks and crannies. The dryer you can get them by towel, the less time you will need to spend with them using the big scary hair dryer.

Blow dry

It is very important that your animal is dried thoroughly. Rats are prone to upper and lower respiratory infections, therefore it is wise to ensure that your animal is not left damp or to “air dry”. I always use a blow dryer, and I usually alternate between warm and cool on the settings. Do not use hot!

Have the air flow low if exposing your animal to this for the first time, and make sure that you stroke and re-assure them the entire time. Ruffle up their fur in the opposite direction as you blow dry, so that you can get in under the coat, you can use your hand or a soft brush. Ensure that your animal is completely dry all over when you have finished blow drying.

A soft brush used gently can also be used to brush the hair in the opposite direction, enabling you to blow dry in under the hair coat.

Important safety warning: Do not allow your animal to chew the electrical cord of the hair dryer or any other electrical appliances. Do not have a hair dryer or any electrical appliance exposed to water whilst plugged into a power point and/or turned on at a power point. There are no extra points awarded in show for fricasseed rat!

Ultimate goal!

The end result should present with one sparkling clean show worthy specimen!

Clean enclosure

Now there is absolutely no point in going through all the trouble of cleaning your animal for an event if you are just going to put it back into a dirty home. Ensure that you have cleaned the animals enclosure, or have temporary housing that is clean for it to go into until the event. Doing this will help ensure that your animal doesn’t get dirty easily or has it’s coat absorb bad odours. This also prevents staining and dirty tail excuses.

Event tools on hand

Pictured below is what you should take to a show event.

  • One can never have enough baby wipes or wet ones on hand, seriously!
  • Paper towel is under-rated, and in fact is the best thing since toilet paper!
  • Fresh litter/bedding for those situations that require a clean show tub.
  • Nail clippers for that toenail you missed.
  • Soft brush to help flick out dander and loose hair.
  • Chamois for adding a little bit of slickness and/or shine to a coat.