What is the Difference Between Squirrels and Rats?

Squirrels and rodents are generally easy to distinguish from each other. But even if it’s quite easy to differentiate the two species, being more specific about their differences can help you in the event of an infestation.

So what are some of the differences between squirrels and rats? While the two animals are rodents, they have differences when it comes to their physical appearance, behavior, droppings, and the damage they cause. Looking at the similarities of the two species is also helpful when it comes to understanding more about them.

Squirrels Vs. Rats

In the event of an infestation, knowing the differences between the two animals can help you come up with strategies that are better fit to help eliminate them. Here are the four categories you may want to look at to help identify the two species from each other: 

1. Physical Appearance

There are five main differences when it comes to distinguishing a squirrel and a rat based on their physical appearance: their size, tails, fur, head, and limbs. You can refer to the table below lists to know more about these characteristics:

CharacteristicRatSquirrel
SizeAn adult rat can measure up to 16 inches from its nose to its tail. An adult squirrel measures around 15-20 inches, including its tail. 
TailRats have thin and scaly tails which stay vertical most of the time. A healthy squirrel has a bushy tail that’s covered in thick, bristly fur.When they stand or sit, their tails usually go up. A squirrel’s tail “flops” and curls, and doesn’t stay vertical most of the time. 
FurA rat’s fur can be brown, grey, black, or white. A squirrel’s fur can be a mixture of grey and brown and they also have fur on their feet and tails. 
HeadRats have more pointed heads with large eyes. Compared to rats, squirrels have blunter heads and they have eyes that are proportionately larger. 
LimbsRats have moderately long legs and narrow hind feet. Their feet and “hands” are hairless compared to that of a squirrel’s. Squirrels have large hind legs and smaller fore-paws. Their fore-paws end in tiny fingers that look like a human hand.

2. Behavior

Another factor that can help you determine a rat and a squirrel from each other is their behavior. The two animals tend to have different eating habits, sleeping schedules, nesting habits, life cycles, movements, and sounds they produce. Here is a closer look on these characteristics:

CharacteristicRatsSquirrels
Eating habitsRats eat almost anything they can find. Some of the food rats prefer are nuts, grains, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and sweet and salty snacks.Compared to mice, they are more likely to eat meat and even roadkill. Squirrels aren’t picky eaters, but they are generally more herbivorous than rats. They tend to eat nuts, roots, seeds, mushrooms, and insects.Additionally, squirrels can sometimes prey on rats and eat them if there is a scarcity of food. 
Sleep scheduleRats are nocturnal creatures, which means they stay awake at night. This is why you’re more likely to hear rats squeaking at night rather than at daytime. These creatures are more active during the nighttime because they have poor eyesight. They rely on their whiskers and sensitive sense of smell to navigate around places. Squirrels are diurnal, which means they’re more active during the daytime. An exception to this are flying squirrels since they’re nocturnal. These creatures are more active during the day because of their keen eyesight. They have great peripheral and vocal eyesight, allowing them to see what’s above and beside their heads without moving too much.  
Nesting habitsRats usually nest in the garden or underground. These rodents dig holes in overgrown parts of the garden where there is rich soil. Indoors, they find materials like cardboard, shredded paper, and cotton that provide them with warmth to nest and burrow. They build their nests in lower places of the home like the basement and garage or inside cabinets and drawers. Squirrels nest in tree cavities and build their nests with leaves and dry twigs. In some cases, they build their nests in areas that are 60 feet above the ground or more. When they are indoors, they usually find shelter in attics, ceilings, and walls. Additionally, some squirrels hibernate during the winter unlike rats. 
Life cycleRats are sexually active creatures, with a female rat giving birth to up to 6 litters per year. The average lifespan of a rat is around 1 to 4 years. They tend to live longer in captivity compared to when they live in the wild. Squirrels usually mate twice a year which means they can produce two litters in a year.These creatures tend to live longer than rats and have an average lifespan of 5-20 years. This depends on the kind of squirrel and whether they are living in the wild or not.  
MovementYou can identify a rat by its movement if it looks like it’s “scurrying.” These rodents also move quickly when they are disturbed. If the rodent seems to run, then you’re probably dealing with a rat. You’re also less likely to see a rat standing upright because of their large body size and shorter tails.  Rats are also great swimmers, so it won’t be unusual for these creatures to enter your home through drainpipes and the toilet. You can identify a squirrel with their movement since they typically move by bounding, which makes it look like they are hopping. If they move in an up-and-down motion, then you’re probably dealing with a squirrel. You’re also more likely to identify a squirrel because you can see them standing upright. 
Sounds producedRats produce squeaking or chattering sounds that you can usually hear at night. A rat also hisses when they are in pain, and they scratch on different surfaces like walls and ceilings.  Squirrels are known for their sharp cries that sound like a “quq” or “kwa” which you can hear during the daytime. You can also hear scratching sounds when these creatures are indoors. 

3. Droppings

Another factor that can help you determine what rodent you’re dealing with is to look at the droppings and urine they leave behind. Based on their physical characteristics alone, rat and squirrel droppings are pretty challenging to distinguish from each other. However, there are certain signs these two rodents leave behind which are subtle yet different enough to help you determine the animal in your property. 

One of the most apparent differences between the two animals is how they mark their pathways. Rats navigate inside a property by creating urine pillars that eventually become their travel routes. You can identify these urine pillars by looking for any grease marks or dark smears on walls. And while rats tend to scatter their droppings and urine in different areas, squirrels don’t. Squirrels don’t produce runs around an area and usually disperse their droppings in one in a single area. You can find a squirrel’s droppings near their shelter or in the areas where they feed on.  

4. Damage Caused

To determine whether you’re dealing with rats or squirrels without seeing the rodent itself, you can assess the damage you see. For example, you can look at how these creatures eat and damage the plants in your garden. 

Since rats are nocturnal creatures, the damage caused by these rodents happen overnight. You may wake up in the morning and see that the fruits and vegetables in your garden have been fed on. On the other hand, since squirrels are diurnal creatures, you can see them doing the damage while you are awake. Oftentimes, you can find squirrels near the trees and areas they are feeding on during the daytime. 

Additionally, you can closely inspect how the fruits and vegetables were chewed on. For citrus fruits like oranges, rats tend to eat the entire fruit and leave the peel hanging on the tree while squirrels usually leave partly-eaten fruits scattered on the ground. Rats are also more likely to eat and cause damage to vegetables compared to squirrels. 

Are Squirrels Rodents?

Yes, squirrels are part of the rodent family which means that they are closely related to rats. To know more about squirrels and rats, it’s best to look at what makes an animal a rodent. The word rodent comes from the Latin word rodere which means to “gnaw,” and there are more than 2,050 species of rodents on the planet. 

Despite their morphological diversity, rodents have one thing in common: they are characterized by their endless growing upper and lower pairs of incisor teeth. These animals can also be identified through their small, robust bodies with short limbs and long tails. Rodents are also identifiable because of their behavior since most of them tend to nest and burrow.  

Similarities of Squirrels and Rats

Aside from being both rodents, squirrels and rats also share some similarities. The two rodents share the following characteristics:

  • Both mammals: As previously mentioned, both creatures are rodents which means they belong to the mammal family.  They both have fur on their bodies and their way of reproduction is through giving birth to live babies.
  • Strong teeth: Both creatures have strong teeth that continually grow throughout their life and allow them to chew through almost any kind of material. They’re also constantly gnawing on different objects, so you can often notice holes in the walls and furniture when they have infested your home.
    Both squirrels and rats also have complex jaw structures to help accommodate their teeth. Their masseter muscles are attached to the jaw and the skull to provide them power for chewing and gnawing. 
  • Smart creatures: Another characteristic that both squirrels and rats share is that they are both smart creatures. Researchers usually use rats in their behavioral studies, while squirrels have been proven due to their amazing memory.  

Are Squirrels Considered Pests?

Rats are usually considered as pests when they make their way indoors since they tend to chew holes in walls and furniture and carry several diseases. And while you might think that squirrels are cute and do no harm, they can also cause significant damage, making them fall under the pest category. Here are some of the damages that squirrels can cause:

  • Squirrels can cause several damages to the garden because the rodents can feed on growing fruits and vegetables. They may also dig several holes in the ground which can be frustrating for people who grow plants.
  • A bird feeder in your garden can be prone to destruction during a squirrel infestation. These rodents are persistent and strong enough to break your bird feeder to feed on the bird seeds which causes the bird seeds to spill on the ground.
  • Gnawing on furniture and other objects is a common problem homeowners face when squirrels find themselves indoors. This damage can cause costly repairs and even ignite a fire, especially when the rodents chew on electrical wiring.

There are also several diseases that squirrels can carry and transmit to humans. Although these diseases are rare, it’s still important to be wary of these to ensure your safety and the safety of other humans and pets. Some of the diseases squirrels can transmit include:

  • Tularemia: Tularemia is a rare infectious disease that attacks the skin, eyes, and lymph nodes. The disease comes from the bacteria Francisella tularensis, and a person can get infected by tularemia through a bite or direct exposure to an infected animal. Some symptoms of tularemia include swollen lymph nodes, fever, headaches, and a skin ulcer from the site of infection. 
  • Leptospirosis: Just like rats, squirrels can also transmit leptospirosis to humans. This disease is transmitted when a human the infected urine comes into contact with open wounds. A person who is infected with leptospirosis experiences symptoms like headaches, rashes, fever, and vomiting.
  • Diseases from parasites: Another way that squirrels can transmit diseases to humans is through the parasites that live on their body. The ticks and fleas that live on a squirrel’s body can be passed onto humans and cause diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.  

How to Keep Squirrels and Rats Away

Since both squirrels and rats can both cause significant damage to your property and belongings, it’s important to know how to keep them away. There are several methods to help deter these animals and some of these methods include the following: 

  • Rodent-proof the house: To keep these creatures away from your home, it’s best to seal any entry points that lead them indoors. Rodents find their way indoors through climbing long tree limbs and plants that connect to doors and windows, so make sure to regularly trim the plants in your garden.

    These animals, especially rats, are also able to squeeze themselves in holes or cracks as small as half an inch. To prevent them from entering through these tiny gaps, you can seal the cracks using a compound of caulk and steel wool. Other materials like concrete, metal, glass, and hard plastic can also help you with the said problem. For larger spaces like doors and windows, you can use some sheet metal since this allows air to ventilate indoors while still blocking out the rodents.
  • Set up traps: Trapping is a quick and affordable way to keep the animals away once they step foot in your property. Some of the traps you can use to catch squirrels and rodents are snap traps, glue boards, and electronic traps. When using traps to catch these animals, remember to use a bait that they find enticing like nuts, seeds, and fruits. You should also remember to handle the bait with gloves and set several traps to increase your chances of trapping a rodent.
  • Use strong odors: Items with strong odors make great rodent repellents. For example, you can use kitchen ingredients like onions, pepper, and garlic that have pungent scents that both animals can avoid. Peppermint oil can also help keep rats and squirrels away. You can either soak a cotton ball in peppermint oil and leave soaked cotton balls around the home, or dilute peppermint oil in water to create a homemade rodent repellent spray.
  • Place rodent repellents: Rodent repellents are another common way to help deter squirrels and rats. One popular device available on the market are electronic rodent repellents: a device that emits an ultrasonic sound that rodents find irritating. When plugged in, this sound can’t be heard by humans but can help keep rodents and other pests away. There are also commercial rodent repellents that use chemicals and poison, but remember to carefully read the manufacturer’s label on these products to prevent any unwanted accidents.
  • Keep your house unattractive: Food and water are two main factors that attract rodents and invite them into your property to live and breed. You can deprive these animals of food by transferring any food into airtight packaging or glass jars with tight fitting lids so that they can’t chew their way through it. It’s also important to never leave out any exposed food and empty bowls or glasses of water around the house. The bird seeds from bird feeders can also attract these animals, so remember to sweep any bird seeds that fall to the ground or invest in a rodent-proof bird feeder.

    Additionally, any clutter they find inside your home can provide them with great nesting areas. Make it a habit to inspect your house of any clutter and set aside some time to clean and clear these spaces. It’s also suggested to store belongings inside heavy duty plastic containers instead of cardboard boxes. 

Rodent Control at Pinnacle Pest Control

Whether you’re facing problems with squirrels, rats, or mice, the best way to eliminate them is to call for professional rodent control. Pinnacle Pest Control provides excellent rodent control services for areas in Northern California. We have a team of highly trained experts and technicians who can help provide customized solutions and strategies to eliminate the pests. 

Our team is equipped with the latest technology in pest control to guarantee that we offer the best service possible. We restore your home and safety by effectively eliminating pests and prevent them from coming back. To know more about Pinnacle Pest Control and our services, you may give us a call today. 

Read more: 8 Tips: How to Keep Mice Out of the Shed

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