How to Tell the Difference Between Squirrels and Rats
Worried About Rodents?
Critter Control Near You
When attempting to identify wildlife in the home, homeowners often mistake squirrels and rats. Understanding the similarities and differences between squirrels and rats is key to identifying the type of infestation you have and how to solve it.
Squirrels and rats have several similarities stemming from their belonging to the order Rodentia, which includes other rodent species such as muskrats and beavers. The name “Rodent” comes from Latin and means “to gnaw”. Squirrels and rats, like other rodents, must constantly gnaw on hard materials to keep their incisors ground down and sharpened. Throughout their lifetime, their incisors continually grow. Other similarities include body and head shape, and diet.
Here is how you can tell the difference:
- Appearance: On average, squirrels are larger than rats. Squirrels have thick, bushy tails, whereas rat tails are thin and hairless.
- Nesting Habits: Both species can live indoors, but squirrels are more likely to build their nests in trees. Rats also nest outdoors, but they prefer to raise their young in wall voids or basements.
- Diet: Squirrels forage for nuts, seeds, and flowers. Rats will eat everything from pantry goods to garbage.
- Activity: Squirrels are diurnal. Rats are nocturnal.
- Tracks: Rats drag their tail. Squirrels bound.
Appearance: Squirrel vs Rat
With a decent visual of the critter, identification is fairly easy. Both Fox and Eastern Grey squirrels are on average larger than rats. All squirrel species have thick, bushy tails, whereas rat tails are scaly, thin, and hairless.
The bodies of rats are long and tube-shaped, and their snouts are blunt. Rats also have relatively small, hairless ears and their fur can be brown, gray, black, or even white in color. Lastly, rats possess hairless hands and feet. On the other hand, squirrels have larger ears, brown and grey fur color, hair on their feet, and relatively bigger eyes.
Both rats and squirrels will enter homes, but squirrels are more likely to build their nests outdoors in trees or in the ground. Occasionally, squirrels will build nests in an attic or within gaps of the roof if the area is suitable. Rats also nest outdoors, but they prefer to raise young in wall voids or basements, especially areas close to food sources or warmth.
The nest of a squirrel is typically much larger, composed of clumped-together collections of leaves, twigs, bark, moss. Rats will use anything available for nest material, including cloth, insulation, cardboard, and plant material. Rat nests are well-hidden, often in walls, crawlspaces, or in insulation.
Diet of Squirrels vs Rats
Squirrels forage for nuts, acorns, seeds, flowers, fruits, and sometimes eggs, insects, and caterpillars. Rats are similar to squirrels in that they are omnivorous and have a varied diet. However, Norway rats prefer a diet with plenty of proteins and carbohydrates and will raid household garbage cans or kitchen pantries for meat, fish, cereal grains, and fresh fruits.
Activity and Movement
A key difference between a squirrel vs. a rat is the period of activity. Rats are nocturnal critters, meaning they are most active at night. Pay attention to the clock when you hear noises and make a note of the time. This will often provide all the information you need to know. Scuffling behind the wall at 2 am? Most likely a rat or mouse. Thuds in the attic? Likely a flying squirrel (or raccoon). However, sounds seem amplified in the middle of the night, so those thuds could come from a rat.
Ground and tree squirrels are diurnal. They forage in the morning until the early evening and return to their squirrel nests at night. Homeowners typically hear noises in the early morning or evening when the critter is leaving and entering the home.
While animals typically stick to their natural behavior, rats are notorious for adapting to the schedule of the inhabitants of the home they have invaded. Thus, they become when everybody is out of the house, day or night.
Tracks and Prints
Squirrels bound, leaving behind irregular gaps between paw prints. Additionally, their back toes are longer and come up alongside their front paws as they bound.
In contrast, the tail of a rat drags as it moves, leaving behind an obvious tale mark as they move. In addition to their footprints, they tend to stick to one path. With poor eyesight, they run alongside walls for guidance. As they have oily fur, you may notice smudges or smears along walls and corners.
Squirrel vs. Rat Poop
Homeowners can use feces to tell the difference between a squirrel and a rat infestation. While both types of droppings can be dark brown to black in color with blunted ends, they are found in different places around the home.
People often find squirrel feces in attics or around tree trunks. In comparison, Rat droppings often appear along baseboards, in cupboards, and behind refrigerators or washing machines. Rat poop is typically concentrated in one area, as they tend to designate a specific area for a bathroom. Refrain from getting close to squirrel poop or rat feces, as they are known vectors o a number of diseases.
Squirrel vs. Rat Damage
Squirrels do most of their structural damage outside. While capable of causing significant damage to home and business interiors, squirrels are more likely to dig holes in yards, strip bark from trees, and steal from gardens. As for structures, they tend to chew through roof shingles, house siding, and more to create entry points. Squirrels also are capable of spreading disease to people and pets, including serious illnesses like Lyme disease.
In contrast, rats do most of their damage inside. Rat waste can contaminate pantries, ruin personal property, and carry diseases, including rat-bite fever, plague, and food poisoning.
One commonality between rats and squirrels is chewing or gnawing on anything and everything in your house, including electric wires, PVC pipes, and wood. This often occurs in the attic and commonly leads to leaks, power and WiFi outage, and structural damage. Other signs aside from chewing are often needed for the untrained eye to differentiate between a squirrel and rat in your attic.
Get Rid of Rodents
Squirrels and rats both pose serious threats to homes, businesses, and the people and pets within. You should never attempt to remove either species without professional guidance. Rats and squirrels require separate solutions, and any infestations should be approached with the most advanced removal techniques. Contact our technicians at Critter Control if you believe you have a rat or squirrel infestation.
indicates required field.
Get them out.
Experience wildlife or pest issue? We can help! Complete this form and your local Critter Control® office will contact you to assist.
Keep them out.®
Best Bat Removal
Brandon was out to please and make out lives easier with out bat situation. Above and beyond of the call of duty and got the job done. Thank you!
BAT POOP CLEAN-UP AND PREVENTION! Bat guano removed from gables. No bats found in attic, so put new screens on all gable vents, as one screen was close to breaking and then bats may have gotten in! Great work in Tulsa
Squirrels and chipmunks were in our attic. So we called Critter Control to do an inspection. Their representative climbed all over our very steep roof and found several places where squirrels had entered our attic.
Upon inspection of the attic, evidence of bats was also found. The Critter Control team came on time to completely caulk the entire perimeter of the house and create an exit strategy for the squirrels and bats.
Because bat droppings
can cause histoplasmosis, this also required total removal and replacement of our attic insulation and sanitizing the space. Not a small job in a 1,300 sq. ft. attic! While Critter Control’s cost was high, our homeowners insurance covered most of it. Everyone representing Critter Control was professional, courteous and timely. I would highly recommend them to anyone who thinks they might have unwelcome guests living in their attic
On recommendations from a nearby pest control company, I called Critter Control for suspicious bat droppings
Madison came out the same day to do an inspection. She was knowledgeable, thorough, and highly professional. She examined the ‘matter’ that had been scattered on my threshold and thought it was foliage. But she then asked to go up to my attic space where the bats could be roosting. She had to walk up 3 flights of stairs with a heavy ladder. She again spent some time searching all the nooks and crannies and found nothing.
She seemed so interested in her craft, it was truly inspiring to see! She reassured me and is writing up a prevention strategy for my appraisal. She charged me NOTHING!! I am so impressed. We need more Madisons in this world!
Service: Bat Removal in San Diego
We noticed droppings on our brand new deck - we were given their number from our contractor. They came the next day. Brian looked at it and said - yeah, bats!! He then checked every area in our attic and he explained exactly what needed to be done.
He found evidence of a mice infestation, provided a referral and they are helping us as well. Great service, very informative, very professional! We are very satisfied and would recommend them to anyone who has any issues with any critters!