When people think of rats, they generally picture a group of medium-sized rodents with long, thick tails. Though the rat (Rattus) species originated in Asia, they’re now found all over the world, in every environment that will support their needs.
Throughout history, rats have been seen as a nuisance animal, from carrying the bubonic plague in medieval Europe to pestering New Yorkers trying to ride the subway. Their hardiness and ability to adapt to changing landscapes and lifestyles have made them a great choice for scientists who need test subjects. This also makes them perfect for people looking for small, low-maintenance pets.
Rats mainly become a problem when they intrude on the lives of their human neighbors. Rats are almost exclusively nocturnal. The brown rat is an exception to this and can be seen both day and night, especially in cities. If you’re wondering how to get rid of a nightly visitor to your attic, you first need to know what enticed the rat to make it their home, too. The most important question to ask yourself is “What do rats eat?”
House Rats vs. Wild Rats: Their Diets
Both brown rats and house rats are highly adaptable. House rats will basically eat anything digestible. They especially enjoy stored grains (like that birdseed in your garage). Brown rats, on the other hand, tend to be slightly pickier. Brown rats are omnivores, but prefer a carnivorous diet and will eat snails, birds, fish, poultry, rabbits, and roadkill. They frequently appear on TV, feasting on dead bodies. This is a bit of an exaggeration, making people think that’s all they eat, which certainly isn’t helping their reputation as dirty, unwanted pests.
Outside of urban areas, rat diets vary widely, depending on the species and their habitat. Australia’s giant white-tailed rat lives in the rainforests of Queensland and on other off-shore islands. It 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-tailed rat. This rat eats mainly fruit and seeds but also enjoys some beetles and other bugs. You’ll find ricefield rats eating seeds and young seedlings in rice paddies. They’re a major problem for rice farmers throughout Southeast Asia and can damage as much as 50% of the crop!
Rats Are Scavengers
One thing that all species of rats have in common is that they’re opportunists and scavengers. They’ll survive on whatever is available to them. In the wild, rats can live as long as three years, 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 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, rats can go four days without food. Remember that they may have food stores you don’t know about. So, you need to consider this when you cut off their main source by, for example, storing your pet’s food in a stainless-steel container.
The most important thing to remember when trying to avoid inviting unwanted guests into your home or onto your property is that rats are scavengers. They will be attracted to anything from unfinished bowls of pet food to bird feeders, fruit trees, or garbage cans without lids. Then, it will only be a matter of time until that rat tells all of its rat buddies about what it found. The best thing you can do is keep food sources locked away where rats can’t get to them.
How To Make Your Home Uninviting to Rats
Your house or business may also have specific things that make it more attractive to rats. When searching for food sources, you might ask yourself, “Do rats eat dog poop?” or “Do rats eat roaches?”
As omnivorous scavengers, rats will almost certainly eat dog poop. It probably won’t be their first choice, though. You’ll find a lot of conflicting information online about whether or not rats will eat dog poo. But since both the poop and the rats can carry disease, it’s definitely best to keep the former cleaned up just in case it’s attracting the latter! Even if rats won’t eat dog poo, it’s not really a good idea to try to use it as a way to keep rats out of your garbage cans, as one website suggests.
Cockroaches are another sign that your house needs a deep cleaning. The presence of roaches may attract rats and mice. Both house rats and brown rats definitely eat roaches. So, if you have both in your house or business, you’ll absolutely want to call in a professional exterminator.
When considering using baits 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 trope of cheese. As we mentioned before, rats also love to eat meat, so a bit of raw meat would be another good bait to use to get them to go where you want.
Four quick ways to keep your house unattractive to rats:
- Put your trash in secure cans that aren’t easy to open if you don’t have opposable thumbs.
- Put all bird feeders into storage until you’re sure your rat problem is fully dealt with.
- Sweep or wash away any fruit or seeds that fall from trees on your property.
- Hold daily pet waste cleanup parties.