Rats vs Mice (What’re The Differences?)

Picture this…

You wake up one morning, stumble into the kitchen looking for the coffee pot and you see something disturbing on the counters. At first you think it’s the cute black sprinkles found on cupcakes? Then you realize no one was eating cupcakes…

"Is there droppings on your kitchen counter?!"

mice vs rats differences

The initial shock that mice, or worse yet, rats, have invaded your home sinks in. Looking further, you begin to find droppings in the pantry, garage and under the sink.  Your worst fears are now realized.

Of course the next question comes... is it mice or rats?

It doesn’t matter because your wife is already gathering the kids and calling the movers.

Before you join your wife in packing understand that a mice of rat infestation, while serious, is fixable, if you follow a set of simple guidelines.

So what are the differences between rats and mice, and how should you go about treating them? Keep reading to find out…

How to identify if you have mice or rats?

The first thing you might think to do is figure out if what you have is a mouse or a rat. If it’s a rat then what type of rat is it?

Thankfully, regardless of which type of rodent you have, controlling the infestation for each are similar.

​Mice

Mice in most areas will be the common House Mouse (Mus musculus).

Rats​

Rats in most areas can be one of two types:

  • Rattusnorvegicus (commonly referred to as the Sewer Rat or Brown Rat) are normally found in urban and rural areas. These guys like to burrow, live in sewers, infest homes, basements, and crawl spaces. The brown rat is the most common rat you’re likely to find. They are omnivorous and a supreme survivor in and around all human habitats.
  • Rattusrattus (commonly referred to as the Roof Rat or Black Rat) are common long tailed rats found around docks, waterfronts and ports of entry. These rats likes to climb and can be found in your trees or attics. Black rats are picky feeders only eating small portions of each food source which makes baiting more difficult to knock these guys out.
mouse inside house

So what are the difference between mice and rats?

When trying to figure out if you have a rat problem or a mice problem, there are a few key areas you should keep in mind when trying to figure out which type of rodent you’ll be treating.

The Droppings

For most, the first evidence of a rat or mice infestation are fecal droppings. As disgusting as it is, the shape, size and color matters in identification.

Most people don't readily carry conversion charts to measure the size of droppings so mental visualizations work best...

Mice Droppings

Mice droppings are about the shape and size of a grain of rice or smaller depending on the size of the mouse and black in color.

The above regarding “sprinkles” used for cupcakes is a good approximate size for mouse droppings.

​When you do have a mouse infestation, the droppings are numerous in the areas where you see activity such as under the sink, behind the hot water heaters, or in utility closets.

On average, a mouse can lay 40 to 100 droppings a day, and they tend to poop anywhere and everywhere.

Rat Droppings

Rat droppings, regardless of species, will be larger and normally thicker in size.

For a mature rat, the best comparison is to look at your pinky finger and check out the size of your fingernail length. This should give you a basic idea of the size of a rat dropping.

As far as color…

Rat droppings are normally black, thicker, and larger with tapered ends.

If you have a rat infestation, they tend to produce less droppings per day (about 20 to 50 droppings per day for rat), and they tend to show more control and be more selective in their areas of defecation.​

Mice and rat droppings clean up safety tips

If you find some droppings, I would not be concerned with old versus new, simply remove the droppings carefully from that area with as little disturbance as possible.

Monitor that area to see if more collect. Please use caution. Rodent droppings are often contaminated with bacteria, diseases, and viruses. When they are disturbed, particles can get in the air and can be inhaled (whether you know it or not).

When cleaning them up, I do not recommended you use a vacuum cleaner or sweeper. Lightly dampen the area with a water mist to prevent dusting and remove with gloves and disposable paper towels.

The size and shape of rats and mice

Again, most people do not carry a tape measure for measuring the size of rats and mice running around their house. Mice tend to be smaller, but so are young rats. The tips below are a better form of visual identification if you think you’ve seen a mouse running around your house.

rat tails
  • Mice Tails vs Rat Tails: If you see fur on the tail of your critter, that’s a dead giveaway that you have a mouse. Mice tails have hair, but rats do not. A bald, scaly tail is gross and very noticeable on rats. The furry tail on the mouse is not as threatening or noticeable.
  • Mice Body length vs Rat Body Lengths: Rats, even the younger ones, have longer bodies, while mice are short and stubby in stature. Combine the longer body with a bald tail and you have a rat. Short body, fur on the tail, and you have mouse.
  • Mice Ears vs Rat Ears: Ears may be the least reliable method of identification but could help. Mice have larger ears that tend to flop while rats have shorter ears and a larger head. When one stumbles on a rat or mouse, the last thing you’ll probably be looking at is size of their ears, but if you find a dead rodent this might be a good thing to look out for.

The why, what, and how of a rat or mouse infestation

Believe it or not, this may be the most critical factor if you’re dealing with an infestation.

If you want to rid your home of these unwanted guests you must identify why they chose your home, what enticed them to come in, and how they gained entry. In general, rats and mice are similar in how they find and get into your house, but when it comes to removing them, there could be differences.

Keep reading to see if you’re at risk…

First, ask yourself why rats or mice would choose your house...

Both rats and mice are opportunists and survivalists.

They enter human dwellings for either food, shelter, or a nesting space. Once inside, they're not leaving unless you evict them or eradicate them, and rodents tend to ignore their mail.

Often the infestation is a direct result of something the homeowner has provided to lure the infestation to the home.

Here are some examples of things you might be attracting mice with…​

  • Bird feeders: Mice and rats are constantly searching for food and a bird feeder is an “all you can eat” dinner for them.
  • Pet droppings and food storage: If you have pets and store their food in an open space (garage, closet, etc), it’s like your home or yard acts as fast food drive through. Mice and rats are attracted to the droppings, which offers a quick nocturnal snack. If you store pet food and bird seed inside you might as well hang out a “vacancy” sign for rodents.
  • Trash Sites: Garbage produces odors that rodents simply can’t resist. If your garbage cans are not kept sealed and clean, the scents will draw rodents in great numbers.
  • Habitat Conducive: If you have changes in the weather or environment, that may also produce what is known as "rodent migration", where mice seek a more livable home to breed and nest. If you have a significant increase or decrease in rain, temperature fluctuations, or new construction nearby, these might also produce a migration.

Next, ask yourself what do the rats and mice want in your house...

If you find the rodents were drawn by the bird feeder or the garbage, then you can remove or repair the “what” that drew them to your house.

This brings me back to the importance of knowing the “why”. If you know why rats or mice were drawn to your home, then it’s easier to actually do something about it. At the same time, just knowing why they were attracted to your home is not enough. You have to actually correct the problem. before you'll see any noticeable difference.​

Then, ask yourself how could rats and mice have gotten into your house...

Now that we’ve covered the “why” and the “what”, we need to look at how they are entering the home.

Mice and rats are ingenious when it comes to entering buildings. They are tenacious gnawers and can chew through almost any material, however they WILL seek areas of least resistance.

The first thing you should do is thoroughly check the exterior of your house. You should be looking for small openings around the garage doors and pipe/wire chases that enter the structure in all locations. Check your windows and doors for small areas remembering mice can squeeze through areas as small as a quarter in diameter.

Use copper mesh to stuff the holes and garage door sweeps on the garage doors. Good exterior inspections and seal up techniques are important to keep infestations from occurring.​

Getting rid of rats and mice, what are the options?

Getting rid of mice or rats in your home is not that difficult if you follow the recommended steps.

Once you have completed the steps above you can then move onto actual treatment plans. In most cases rats are easier to eliminate then mice despite the fact rats are more disturbing.

Here's a quick video I found that breaks down some more of the differences between mice and rats.

A Note About Your Treatment Options

Depending on the killing option you select, you’ll increase the risk that you’ll be killing mice and rats in your wall instead of easily reachable locations (like your closet). Snap traps, as we mentioned, are a slightly better option because they’ll literally trap the rat where they are. Rodenticides have delayed action poisons, which take effect after they’re crawling around your walls.​

Rat Treatment Options:

Snap Traps

snap traps for mice or rats

For rat infestations snap traps might be your best option.

They are relatively easy for homeowners to manage, and rats are not as prolific as mice infestations in numbers and aggression.

Another great benefit of snap traps is that they are nontoxic, which means you do not have to run the risk of poisoning pets or children. For your traps, just place a bit of peanut butter, chocolate, or some beef sticks to attract the critters.

Even though the traps aren't toxic, it's still imperative that your rat traps be placed in areas where pets and children do not have access and areas where rat activity has been observed. Remember, rodents are neophobic (fear of new objects) so it may be necessary to pre-bait the snap trap before making it active.

Just remember to remove your dead rat immediately when you nab one.

Glue Boards

mouse glue boards

Given that glue board are more a form of rodent torture than rodent removal, I do not recommended them for rat or mice infestations…

Rodenticide Bait Stations

​If you select a rodenticide over snap traps, you run the risk of a rat dying in your walls or attic. The odor of a dead rat in the walls is almost unbearable and lasts for days.

This is an option only really used for severe rat infestations. I highly recommend consulting a professional if you think your infestation needs bait stations.

Tracking Powder

​Tracking powder is a restricted use product only, and not for homeowner use.

Mice Treatment Options:

Snap Trap

​For mice, this is NOT the best solution.

The reproductive rate and population numbers for mice will out negate any snap trap program you put into effect. While you may catch one mouse here and there, the population is going to outpace any traps you lay down.

Rodenticide Bait Stations:

mice bait stations

Mouse bait treatments are probably your best option for mouse treatment if you put out enough bait stations in secluded areas where you see activity.

Dead mice typically do not have much of an odor (thankfully) and will be relatively unnoticed if they die in a wall.

If you do decide to use rodenticide for mouse problems, please be prudent and safe. Consider using only tamper resistant bait stations and always put them where children and pets cannot access the tamper resistant station (remember, not tamper proof do not confuse the terms).​

For mice, the risk of secondary poisoning is minimal and bait displacement (bait being put in places where it should not be) is not as common as it is with rats.

If you do opt for mouse bait with rodenticide here are my recommendation (only use rodenticides with antidote vitamin K1):​

  • ContracBlox (Active Ingredient: Bromadiolone)
  • Victor Multi-Kill Block (Active Ingredient: Difenacoum)
  • First Strike Pacs (Active Ingredient: Difenthialone)

Final Thoughts

Although rats and mice have their differences, they both are serious problems that carry the risk of disease, food contamination, and structure damage. Getting rid of rodents in your home is a process not an event. Make sure you follow the recommended guidelines I outlined above and you should be in a good position to save your home from these pests.

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