When you’ve got unwanted animal visitors in your home or business, you’re probably not too worried about what they are. You just want them gone, and the sooner that happens, the better.
However, when it comes to mice vs rats, there are lots of differences, and proper identification of mouse vs rat is important to ensure you get the right kind of pest control services. Different types of rodents and other pests require different pest control methods and equipment, and it’s not a one size fits all solution.
So, if you’re not sure whether you have a rat vs mouse problem, read on, and find out how to tell the difference.
The first thing we should probably get out of the way is the similarity between rats and mice.
Both of these little critters are rodents, as are rabbits, hares, hamsters and even capybaras. This type of animal all has the same long, constantly growing teeth, and share a few other traits. Most also look sort of similar – which is why some people might have trouble differentiating between rat vs mice.
Rodents are mammals, like humans, which might be why they like to move into our homes and buildings so much. When the weather outside is cold or unpleasant, a human home can seem like a really comfortable home for a rodent too!
However, there’s probably as much difference between a rat and a mouse as there is between your pet rabbit and a hare, so the similarities sort of end with their teeth and a slight resemblance!
The first major difference between rat and mouse is size.
Mice are very small – usually only a little bigger than a box of matches, excluding their tails. Rats, on the other hand can get very large. Some types of rats can get as big as cats! However, the two most common rats that infest homes and buildings – brown rats and ship rats – are more likely to be the size of a kitten than a full grown cat. Not that that’s any consolation when you’re sharing your space with them!
The rule of thumb for telling the difference between rat and mouse using size is that mice are small, and rats are not. So even if you don’t see the animal itself, you can often tell by their holes or tunnels what kind of rodent problem you have.
As you can imagine when you have a big size difference, rat vs mouse tails are also very different.
Mice have tails that are very long and thin, proportionate to their bodies, and are typically covered with fur.
Rats have thicker tails that don’t have fur, but do have course, bristly hair, and they usually look scaly when viewed up close. They can use their tails to help them climb too, whereas mice typically don’t do this.
Both mice and rats do use their tails to spread urine while they walk, which is how they mark their territory and is part of their communication system. Which is why you might notice the smell of urine in a building that has a rodent problem before you see the culprits themselves.
Mouse ears tend to be much larger and rounder in comparison to their bodies. By contrast, rat’s ears are smaller relative to their bodies. But don’t be fooled – both mice and rats have very good hearing, which is why they’re usually so hard to spot, even when you can see the signs that they’ve moved in.
Mice and rats can probably hear, see and even feel you coming long before you see them, and they’re very good at freezing in place until humans and pets are gone!
When it comes to mice vs rats in terms of breeding, mice definitely outpace their larger cousins.
The average “house mouse” can have up to 16 pups per litter, and as many as 8 litters per year. So when you have a mouse problem, it can go from a small problem, to being overrun very, very quickly!
Rats, on the other hand, usually have up to 10 pups per litter, and up to 6 litters per year. So they breed slower than mice, but since they are much bigger and often more destructive, that won’t really matter much once they really become a problem!
Ideally, with both rats and mice, you want to get rid of them before they start breeding. The more individuals there are, the harder it will be to get them permanently out of your home.
Yes. Poop. It’s another way to tell the difference between rat and mouse, but since rodent droppings can carry some serious diseases, we don’t recommend that you get too close to it. However, when you call a pest control specialist, this is one of the tools they will use to determine what kind of rodent you’re dealing with.
Mouse droppings are tiny – only about 1 or 2 millimeters, and they tend to produce more droppings. One mouse can produce up to 80 droppings per day.
Rat droppings are 10 to 20 millimeters, which is ten times the size of mouse droppings. They tend to produce less, at about 40 droppings per day.
In both cases, you are most likely to find droppings in quiet corners and around the edges of your walls, behind furniture or in the back of cabinets. Both rats and mice like to stay out of sight as much as possible.
As you would imagine when you compare the size difference of mice vs rats, mice need to eat a lot less than rats.
In fact, rats can eat up to ten times more than mice, who only eat about 3 grams of food per day. While mice only need a few drops of water per day, rats also need a lot more water.
When it comes to diet, however, there’s very little difference between rats and mice. Both are opportunistic scavengers, who will eat nearly anything, including things like paper or the insulation on your wiring, which we wouldn’t normally consider edible!
Brown rats tend to prefer cereals and grains, and they like to eat in the same places. This makes them easier to catch with bait.
Black rats like fruit and other moist foods. They tend to eat in different places most of the time, which makes them harder to bait.
Mice like grains, and they usually like to eat in the same places too, which again makes them a little easier to catch.
Another big difference, not only between rat vs mouse but also between the different species of rats.
Brown rats like to build their nests near the ground and are known to burrow too. They do live in buildings but could also make their homes in your backyard or even in the sewer system.
Black rats are usually found near ports and ship yards (which is why they are also known as ship rats.) They also prefer warmer, more temperate climates, so if you live in a very cold place, you’re unlikely to see these kinds of rats.
Mice also love to burrow, but they are also very at home in human buildings. They like to live in walls, and because they can climb, they can also make their home in roofs and attics. Which does sometimes make it harder to figure out where you might have a mouse nest!
It might sound strange to talk about the personality of the rodents in your home, but it is a key difference between rat and mouse.
Rats and mice are both nocturnal, so you’re more likely to see and hear them at night. However, probably because of their size, mice tend to be very timid and curious, while rats are surprisingly intelligent, and can be very hard to catch in a standard trap!
The truth is, while there is such a huge size difference between rats and mice, there isn’t as big a difference in the damage they do.
In fact, one thing that matters a lot more than whether you have a rat vs mouse problem is how quickly you discover them. The more rats and mice are able to breed, the more individuals there are in your home, and the longer they are there, the more damage they will do.
Rats and mice can damage food, chew through wires and cables, damage drywall, and more. Rats do have much bigger and stronger teeth than mice though, so when they really want to, they can chew through wood, metal and even cinderblocks. Which means that they can cause a lot of damage, especially when they are present in large numbers.
Unfortunately, when it comes to mice vs rats, both are equally dangerous in terms of the diseases they might carry.
Mice carry a variety of viral and bacterial pathogens, including hantavirus, salmonella, and lymphocytic choriomeningitis. These diseases can be spread by their dried feces and urine, so you don’t even need to come into contact with them to be exposed to this kind of contaminant.
Rats, on the other hand, also carry many different diseases, including hantavirus, leptospirosis, lymphocytic choriomeningitis, Tularemia and Salmonella.
Some of the diseases that are carried by rats and mice are very dangerous and can even be deadly. Which is why it’s not only a matter of not wanting to share your space with rodents that should prompt you to call a pest control specialist. There’s the fact that you need to prevent the spread of disease to your family and other pets.
The good news when it comes to the rat vs mouse problem is that it’s very rare to have both at the same time.
That’s because rats are predators, and they will often hunt, kill and eat mice. Which means that if you have rats in your home, you probably won’t have mice. Or at least, not for very long.
However, it’s very important to repair rat tunnels and holes after you have a pest control company remove them from your home. Mice can and will use these old openings and tunnels to access your home once they smell of rat has dissipated a little. It’s best not to give mice or rats any easy ways into your home!
The most important step in dealing with a rodent problem is identification of mouse vs rat. This is why the first thing a pest control company will do when you call them is visit your home or building and look for signs of infestation. Droppings, the type, size and location of nests and other signs can all tell a pest control specialist what kind of animal they are dealing with.
The next step is to decide the best way to remove these pests from your home.
Sometimes, bait stations will work, however, if you have pets or small children, these can be dangerous and might not be an option.
Traps are another option, and these will vary depending on the type of rodent you have in your space. Rat traps are much bigger and more powerful than mouse traps, but both can hurt a person or pet who touches them, so they will also usually be placed out of the way, in places that rats, and mice might move around.
Some rat and mouse traps are “live capture” traps, which allows you or your pest control specialist to remove the animals from your home without killing them. They are usually transported to an empty space a long way from homes and buildings and released.
The type of trap, bait or other methods used to deal with your rodent problem will usually depend on the type of creature, and how many animals there are in your home or building. The more mice or rats you have, the more intensive the pest control process will be.
When it comes to the question of rat vs mouse, the question is often not which one you have, but how you can keep both of them away from your home and family.
Unfortunately, because rats and mice are great at climbing and burrowing, and at sneaking into homes, this isn’t always possible, but there are a few things you can do to keep them away.
Some people recommend using ultrasonic devices that produce a sound that only animals can hear, but many of these devices don’t do much to deter rodents.
What does work is to make sure that the area around your home and in your basement and attic is kept clear of clutter where mice and rats might be able to hide. When you find a suspicious looking hole in your wall or elsewhere, be sure to repair it as soon as possible, and check in from time to time. Mice and rats might reuse old holes and tunnels, so if they keep appearing in the same place, there’s a good chance you have an active rodent problem.
Having pets is a good deterrent to rodents, and the scent of your pets in the home might be enough to keep them away. However, rats and mice are tenacious, and the attraction of easy pickings in your home might be enough to convince them to brave the risk of pets.
If you store dog food, grains or other rodent friendly food products in containers that can be accessed by rats or mice, that’s another big attractant to these pests. So be sure to invest in sturdy, hard to access containers that close securely.
While you might be caught up in trying to figure out whether you have a rat vs mouse problem, and identification of mouse vs rat, the most important thing you can do is not delay calling a professional.
The longer rats or mice are in your home, the more chance they will breed, and a single breeding pair could mean dozens of rodents in your home or building in just a few months.
The more rodents you have, the harder it will be to effectively rid your space of them permanently, and the longer it will take. So it’s really important to contact a professional as soon as you suspect you might have a problem.
Many people feel bad about trapping or baiting rodents – especially mice – because small rodents can look somewhat cute. However, the longer you wait, the more of a problem you will have. Don’t forget that rats and mice can carry potentially deadly diseases, and you really don’t want to be sharing your home or office with them. So if they have chosen to move into your space, you do need to make sure they leave.