What Is the Difference Between Mice and Rats?

Rats and mice are both rodents that can infest your home causing property damage and spreading disease. Although they are similar in appearance, there are some distinct differences in both appearance and behavior. The most obvious difference between mice and rats is size. Rats can reach an adult size of nearly 16 inches from the tip of their nose to the tip of their tail while a full-grown mouse rarely grows larger than 7 to 8 inches in length. But there are more subtle differences as well.

How Do Mice and Rats Differ in Looks?

One of the distinguishing features of mice is a pointed face and large ears giving it a friendly appearance. Mice are often depicted in fairy tales and storybooks as endearing creatures while rats are often seen as evil or foreboding. A rat’s head or face is more blunted and the ears are much smaller.

Mice have a long, thin tail that is covered with fur or hair, while a rat has a shorter, thicker tail that is bare or covered with scales. A mouse’s tail is longer than his head and body, while a rat’s tail is shorter than its head and body.

Mice may be brown, white or gray while rats can be white, brown, gray or black. The color of the rat or mouse depends on its species.

How Is Mouse and Rat Behavior Different?

Both mice and rats are nocturnal critters that tend to stay out of sight during the day and come out to find food at night, but mice are more daring than rats. Mice are social animals and like to explore, while rats are more cautious of sources of danger.

Mice are excellent climbers and can scurry up the inside of your walls to reach the attic where they often chew on insulation to make nests. Rats can climb too, but they are more inclined to stay in the basement or in crawl spaces.

Should You Be Worried If You See a Mouse or Rat in Your House?

An occasional mouse or rat that wanders into the house when it gets cold outside isn’t cause for immediate alarm, but you may be in for serious problems if you don’t get rid of it right away. Mice and rats are rapid breeders, with mice breeding much faster than rats. A mouse is able to breed at 8 to 12 weeks and can produce 7 or 8 litters of 4 to 16 babies in each litter a year. According to Bob Vila, one breeding mouse can produce over 125 mice in five months if you don’t get rid of it right away. Rats reproduce at a slower rate, but one or two rats can balloon into many in a short time.

Can Mice and Rats in Your House Make You Sick?

Both mice and rats carry diseases that can be spread throughout your home. Because they dribble urine and feces behind them wherever they go, they spread disease-causing bacteria and viruses too. Mice and rats can contaminate food surfaces, get into your food and even spread disease through nesting material.

What Other Problems Do Mice and Rats Cause?

Mice and rats destroy property by chewing through insulation and electrical wires and can pose a risk of fires. They also seek out nesting material and may enter closets, dresser drawers or boxes of stored clothing and gnaw it to shreds to make nests. While mice are generally limited to light materials, like fabric, cardboard and paper, rats can do quick damage to nearly anything in their path. Some report that rats can even chew through concrete and glass.

They also leave behind an offensive odor that can be difficult to get rid of.

How Do You Get Rid of Mice and Rats?

Traps are effective if you catch the problem early. There are many styles available from no-kill traps to snap traps that kill the rodent when it stops for the bait. Mouse and rat bait can also be used, but beware, mouse and rat bait are poisons and are harmful to small children and pets. Read the label carefully before using any kind of mouse or rat bait.

Some keep a cat known as a mouser to keep the mice at bay in their home. This can be effective for catching mice that come in from the cold in the fall but isn’t likely an effective solution if you have a large mouse or rat population sharing your home.

A mouse or rat infestation may require the work of an exterminator to get rid of them for good. An exterminator has the equipment and expertise to track down mice and rats and eradicate them. He will also identify entry points to your home and either seal them for you or provide you with tips on how to prevent mice and rats from entering your home in the future.