When people think of rats, they generally group together medium-sized rodents with long, thick tails. Though the rat (rattus) species originated in Asia, they can now be found around the world in every environment that will support their temperature needs. Rats have historically been seen as a nuisance animal, from carrying bubonic plague in medieval Europe to pestering New Yorkers trying to ride the Subway. Their hardiness and continued propensity to adapt to changing landscapes and lifestyles of the people they live alongside have also made them great choices for scientists who need test subjects, and for people looking for smallish, low-maintenance pets.

What do house rats eat versus what do wild rats eat

Rats mainly become a problem when they infringe on the lives of their human neighbors. Except for the brown rat, which can be seen both day and night, especially in cities, rats are almost exclusively nocturnal. A person wondering how to get rid of a nightly visitor to their attic needs to first know what enticed the rat into making it their home, too. The most important question to ask yourself is, “what do rats eat?” Both brown rats and house rats are highly adaptable and will eat just about anything. House rats will basically eat anything digestible and especially enjoy stored grains (think bird seed in your garage), while brown rats tend to be slightly pickier. Brown rats are omnivores, but they prefer a carnivorous diet and will eat snails, birds, fish, poultry, rabbits, and roadkill. Their frequent appearance feasting on dead bodies on TV cop procedurals, even if it’s a bit of an exaggeration, making people think that’s all they eat, certainly isn’t helping their popular image as dirty and unwanted pests.

Outside of urban areas, rat diet varies widely depending on the species and their habitat. Australia’s giant white-tailed rat is commonly found in the rainforests of Queensland and other off-shore islands and spends its time up in the trees eating fruits and nuts. It also scavenges on the ground for fungi, small reptiles, crustaceans, and bird eggs. Another Australian rainforest rat is the pygmy white-tail, and it eats mainly fruit and seeds, but also some beetles and other bugs. Rice field rats can be found in rice paddies eating seeds and young seedlings. They are a major problem for rice farmers throughout Southeast Asia and can damage as much as 50% of the crop!

Rats are scavengers

Common to all species of rats is that they are opportunists and scavengers. They will survive on whatever is available to them and can live as long as three years in the wild, though most only make it about a year and a half. But how long can a rat live without food? Starving out a problem rat (or rats) may be an option if you’re pretty patient, but it’s certainly not the most expedient solution. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, rats can go for four days without food. Remember, though that they may have stores you don’t know about when you cut off their main source, say, for example, by locking up your pet’s food in a stainless steel container.

Your house or business may also have specific concerns that made it more inviting to rats. When rooting out their food sources you might need to ask yourself, “do rats eat dog poop?” or “do rats eat roaches?” As omnivorous scavengers, rats will almost certainly eat dog poop, though it probably would not be their first choice. There is a lot of conflicting information on the internet about whether or not rats will eat dog poo, but since both it and the rats can carry disease, it’s definitely best to keep the former cleaned up just in case it might be attracting the latter! Even if rats won’t eat it, though, it’s really not a good idea to try to use dog poop as a deterrent when you’re looking for a way to keep rats out of your garbage cans, as one website suggests. Another sign that a deep-cleaning is necessary—the presence of roaches may indeed invite rats and mice. Both house rats and brown rats will definitely eat roaches, and if you have issues with both in your house or business then you’ll absolutely want to call in a professional exterminator.

When considering using bait to poison or to trap rats, you may find yourself wondering, “do rats eat meat?” and “can rats eat peanut butter?” The answer to both questions is, yes! According to Animal Planet, peanut butter is a much better bait for rats than the popular TV solution of using cheese. As I mentioned, before, rats also love to eat meat and a bit of raw beef would be another good bait to get them to go where you want.

The most important thing to remember when trying to avoid inviting unwanted guests into your home or onto your property is that rats truly are scavengers. Anything from unfinished bowls of pet food, to bird feeders, to mango trees, to garbage cans without lids, will attract a passing rat. And then it will only be a matter of time until he tells all of his rat buddies about it. The best thing you can do is keep food sources locked away where rats can’t get to them. Think:

  • trash put in secure cans that can’t be easily opened by those lacking opposable thumbs;
  • bird feeders put away until you’re sure your rat problems are fully dealt with;
  • fruit or berries that have dropped from trees swept or washed away;
  • and daily pet waste cleanup parties.