Rats and mice are commonly depicted in unsanitary environments, emerging out of sewers and falling from subway ceilings, but the truth is these pests can live in a variety of environments. They are highly unsanitary, carrying many diseases and disease-causing parasites. These rodents are also infamous for gnawing through a variety of materials in search of food sources, including electrical wiring, leaving structural damage and hazards in their wake.

How to Tell If You Have Rats or Mice

In order to develop a pest control plan to handle a rodent infestation, you need to get an idea of whether you’re dealing with rats or mice. They are similar in appearance, behavior, and diet, so it’s easy to get the two confused. But there are a few distinct differences you can consider that can help you determine which one you may be dealing with.

When trying to determine if you have mice or rats, consider the following:

  • Physical characteristics. What does the rodent look like? Pay attention to size, tails fur color, and other aspects of the rodents’ appearance.
  • Rodent droppings. What does the fecal matter left behind look like?
  • Food preferences. What are the rodents targeting for meals? Though rats and mice do have similar diets, there are a few key differences you should consider.
  • General behavior. Where are the rodents building their nests? This may help you determine if you have mice or rats, and might even help you identify what species you’re dealing with.

If you ask yourselves those questions, you may be able to tell what sort of rodent infestation you have. Below, we’ll explore how mice and rats are different in each of those categories.

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Physical Characteristics

The most noticeable difference between mice and rats is their physical appearance.

  • Rats are medium to large rodents, usually between 6 and 9 inches long with thicker tails about the same length as their bodies. Rat tails are scaly instead of hairy, and their ears and eyes are small. They are usually darker brown or black in color with gray, white or black bellies. Their snouts are blunter than mice. The two most common types of rats include Norway rats and roof rats.
  • Mice are on the smaller side, between 2 ½ and 4 inches long with long tails between 2 ¾ and 4 inches long. Their tails are thin and hairy, and they have slightly larger ears than rats. They are typically dusty grey or brown in color with cream-colored bellies. Their snouts are triangular and pointed. Mouse ears are also noticeably larger and rounder than rats, with rat ears lying close to the head. The most common types of mice include house mice, deer mice, and field mice.

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You may be able to tell what kind of rodent is in your home simply by finding their droppings. In fact, rodents are incredibly smart–droppings may be the only evidence of their presence.

  • Mice produce rod-shaped fecal matter that is usually ⅛-¼ inch long with pointed ends. If these droppings are fresh, they will be soft and moist, but if they are older, they will be hard and dry. Typically, people will describe mouse droppings as being similar in size and shape as grains of rice.
  • Rats also produce rod-shaped fecal matter, but their droppings are usually larger than those of mice due to their bodily size difference. Roof rat droppings are about ½ inch long and pointed at the ends like mice, but Norway rat feces are about ¾ inch long and blunt on the ends.

Food Preferences

Rats and mice both love to eat cereals, grains, fruits, and vegetables. However, they have slightly different preferences when it comes to food sources. Rats are omnivorous and will consume meat if available, while mice are strictly herbivores, living off a diet of plants. Rats tend to like foods with higher fat content than mice do, making them more likely to rummage through garbage cans for snacks. Rats are also more likely to consume pet food and bird seed than mice are as they seek out protein-rich foods.

Behavioral Differences in Rats and Mice

Typically, homeowners see an uptick in rat and mouse activity during the colder months as rodents seek shelter, food, and water sources. These pests are intelligent, curious creatures, and they’re adept at finding safe places to raise their young — which unfortunately means they’re very good at concealing themselves. To the average individual, rats and mice may behave similarly, but they actually have very different personalities and gravitate toward different environments.

Rats are curious by nature, often exploring their environment in search of food or new places to build nests. They also tend to be more social than mice and can become tame if given enough attention and care.

Mice, on the other hand, are skittish and easily frightened by loud noises or sudden movements. They are also more likely to hide than rats and tend to nest in dark, isolated areas like attics or behind walls.

In addition, rats (especially roof rats) are much better climbers than mice and can easily scale vertical surfaces, seeking nests on higher ground. Mice, on the other hand, typically travel along walls or baseboards when indoors.

mouse emerging to chew on wood

Which Is Worse: Rats vs. Mice

 Both rodents can cause damage to property, spread disease, contaminate food, and become dangerous if they are not properly eliminated. However, in terms of size and potential for destruction, rats have the advantage over mice.

Rats can cause more extensive damage simply because of their larger size. They can also chew through materials such as insulation and drywall that mice cannot. In addition, rats are more difficult to control due to their intelligence and adaptability.

Getting Rid of Rodents

If you have noticed signs of mice or rats in your home, it is important to take action quickly. Your best bet to eliminate rodents from your home is to contact professionals. Exterminators like the ones at Dodson Pest Control are highly familiar with the behavior patterns of both rats and mice. However, if you want to attempt to tackle the problem on your own, there are a few methods you can try.

There are a few different methods for getting rid of rodents, but it is best to use a combination approach that involves preventative efforts and treatment tactics.

  1. The first step is to seal off any potential entry points into your home by patching up holes in the walls and floors.
  2. The next step is to eliminate the rodents’ food sources. Store all food in airtight plastic or metal containers and make sure your kitchen is always clean. Additionally, take out garbage regularly and keep outdoor trash cans sealed off with lids. Clean up any spilled pet food or bird seed as soon as possible.
  3. If you have a garden, cover it with mesh to prevent rodents from entering. Keeping your house and yard free of clutter and debris will also help get rid of a rat and mouse infestation.
  4. Finally, you may want to set mouse traps baited with peanut butter in areas where you’ve seen or heard rodents. Make sure to check the traps regularly and dispose of any dead rodents immediately.

Rodent Control Should be Handled by Professionals

Traps and poisons are some of the most common ways to get rid of mice and rats, but these methods can be both dangerous and ineffective. Both types of rodents breed rapidly, so you may not be able to get rid of them all with DIY methods. Professional pest control services are the sure-fire way to address a rodent infestation.

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