Rats and Mice: What's the Difference?

Posted by Mark A. Puglisi, ACE on Thu, Dec 10, 2015 @ 09:56 AM


You flip on your kitchen light and see a furry blur with a tail scurry across your floor before it quickly disappears. Still in shock, you try to figure out what you just saw. Was it a mouse or a rat? Is there even a difference?

While they are closely related, rats and mice are different. A better understanding of these differences can help you identify your home invader before your pest problem worsens. Read on to learn more about the differences between mice and rats.


Physical Appearance

Mice are small, narrow-shaped rodents. They can be gray, brown, or white in color with triangular snouts and long whiskers. They also have large, floppy ears and a long, hairy tail. There are many species of mice, including field mice, smoky mice, spiny mice, deer mice, dormice, and house mice. Mice can be found almost anywhere in the world and in a variety of climates.

Diet and Habitat

Mice prefer to eat plants and grains, but they can feed on almost anything. They have large appetites, eating 15 to 20 times a day. Because they eat so frequently, mice tend to live in hidden areas near their food source. They build nests out of any soft materials they can find, such as finely shredded paper or fallen leaves.


If you see one mouse, you're likely to have plenty more. In just three weeks a female mouse can have as many as a dozen baby mice. That means one female mouse could produce as many as 150 offspring a year. Most mice have an average lifespan of less than a year.

Signs of Mice in Your Home

Mice can enter your home a variety of ways. They are strong swimmers and climbers and can jump higher than a foot off the ground. As skilled climbers, they can climb up drain pipes and other vertical surfaces.

Additionally, thanks to their slender bodies, mice can wiggle through holes and gaps as small as a dime. Mice are so good at getting into homes that they have been named in the top 100 " World's Worst" invaders.

Mice are very curious rodents, but they're nocturnal, so you might only hear them scurrying around at night. Although they're colorblind, mice have a strong sense of touch, taste, smell, and hearing. If you suspect you have mice in your home, check for gnawed-on food, small five-toed feet tracks, and small pellet-sized droppings.


Physical Appearance

Larger and heavier than mice, rats are medium to large rodents with long hairless tails. Their coats can be brown, black, or white and tend to be coarser and greasier than mice coats. The snouts of rats also tend to be shorter than those of mice. The most common rats in the US are Norway rats and roof rats.

Diet and Habitat

Rats prefer to eat meat and fresh grain, but they will eat almost anything. They also must have at least 1/2 to 1 ounce of fluid daily. This fluid can come from moisture in their food or from drinking fluids. Instead of nests, rats make their homes in burrows under buildings or in outside vegetation.

Life Span

A pair of male and female rats can quickly cause a rat infestation if they are in your home. A female rat can give birth to more than 70 rats a year if left unchecked. Rats can begin reproducing just three months after they're born, which exponentially increases the number of rats in your home. Rats have an average lifespan of two years.

Signs You Have Rats in Your Home

Even though they are significantly larger than mice, rats can still enter a building through small holes that are just 1/2 inch wide. Rats are also strong swimmers and can enter buildings through drain pipes or toilets. While they don't frequently climb, rats can do so to reach food, shelter, or water.

Rats are creatures of habit and rarely stray from their routines or known pathways. Unlike mice, they are very cautious and hesitate to approach new objects. They also like to stay close to home and rarely travel more than 300 feet from their burrow. Rats are nocturnal creatures and do most of their activities at night.

Some signs of rats in your home include elongated droppings (up to 1/2 inches long), medium-sized five-toed tracks, and burrowing holes. If you suspect that you have rats in your house, place a trap along their normal path for the best chance at catching them.

Take Back Your Home

A furry rodent in your house is no fun, but once you know whether you have a mouse or a rat problem, you're one step closer to eliminating the pest. If you're ready to get rid of your rodent problem, call a pest control professional and free your home of rats and mice.

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