What Do Rats Like to Eat?

by | May 6, 2024

Rats have opportunistic feeding habits and exhibit a vast range of dietary preferences that influence their behavior and survival strategies. In natural settings, rats tend to favor a primarily vegetarian diet, where they consume a variety of fruits, plants, and seeds. However, the dietary habits of urban rats have adapted to life with humans. Urban rats have become proficient scavengers that thrive on a diet that includes garbage, meat, pet food, and leftovers from human meals. This adaptability not only helps them survive in diverse environments but also makes them notable pests.

The distinction in dietary preferences between different rat species further complicates control efforts. For instance, Norway rats often show a preference for protein-rich foods like meat scraps or pet food, while roof rats predominantly consume fruits and are frequently found in areas with fruit trees. Understanding these dietary tendencies is crucial for developing effective pest management strategies, as it helps in identifying what attracts rats to certain environments.

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Are Rats Picky Eaters?

Contrary to what might be expected, rats are actually very selective when it comes to their food choices. They display preferences that can vary significantly depending on what’s available in their environment. In scenarios where their favored foods are abundant, rats will show a clear preference for certain items such as grains, seeds, nuts, fruits, and vegetables which are staples in their natural diet. However, when their preferred food sources are scarce, rats become less picky and more driven by the necessity to eat whatever is accessible. This includes a wide range of less desirable items, from trash and compost to pet food and, in extreme cases, even their own fecal matter to extract any remaining nutrients. This dietary flexibility is a survival mechanism that allows them to thrive in both wild and urban settings.

How Rats’ Diets Have Evolved

rat eating meat

Rats have remarkably adapted their diets over the centuries to thrive in various environments, particularly in close proximity to humans. Their omnivorous and scavenging nature allows them to exploit a wide range of food sources as they have adapted their eating habits based on the availability and variety of foods in their immediate surroundings. This adaptability has been crucial to their survival in diverse habitats. A key evolutionary trait that aids their survival is their cautious approach to new foods. Rats typically nibble on unfamiliar foods in small amounts initially to test for safety, a behavior known as “neophobic tasting [1].” This strategy protects them from potential toxins and helps them avoid traps or poisoned baits, which in turn can render some rodent control methods less effective over time. The intelligence and adaptability of rats in their dietary choices highlight the need for strategic and sustained control measures. Homeowners and pest control professionals must focus on eliminating access to food sources and use integrated pest management strategies that adapt to the ever-evolving feeding behaviors of rats.

What Do Rats Eat in the Wild?

In the wild, rats demonstrate a diverse and opportunistic dietary pattern but exhibit clear preferences influenced by their environment and specific species traits. Typically, their diet encompasses a broad range of organic materials that includes grains, seeds, nuts, and fruits which are plentiful in natural settings. Additionally, they are capable of consuming smaller animals and insects which demonstrates their true omnivorous nature [2]. For instance, Norway rats are particularly drawn to protein-rich foods and can eat a variety of prey such as crustaceans, birds, rabbits, eggs, and carrion. On the other hand, roof rats are often referred to as ‘fruit rats’ because they have a strong preference for tree fruits. This aligns with their natural propensity to climb trees where such foods are accessible.

The adaptation of rats to urban environments has significantly broadened their dietary options, particularly in human-dominated areas where food waste and garbage provide constant food sources. Urban rats have learned to exploit these abundant and varied food resources which include pet food, meat scraps, and even pet feces. This dietary flexibility not only highlights their ability to survive in just about any environment but also highlights the challenges in controlling their populations.

rat eating fruit

Rats have a notable inclination towards fruits and plants which form a substantial part of their diet in wild environments. Fruits are particularly favored due to their accessibility, sweetness, and high energy content and because they provide essential vitamins, nutrients, sugars, and hydration. It is common for roof rats to be found eating tree and vine ripened fruits like apples, stone fruits, grapes, and melons [3]. In addition to fruits, rats are also known to consume a variety of vegetables and plants including leaves, stems, and roots which offer hydration, fiber, and occasionally medicinal benefits that help with digestion and natural parasite control. The presence of edible plants or a garden can make your yard a potential feast for rats which emphasizes the importance of garden maintenance, proper compost management, and regular cleaning of animal excrement to deter these rats effectively.

Do Rats Eat Meat?

Rats are omnivores that have no problem consuming meat, although it typically forms a secondary component of their diet due to its lesser availability in the wild. Rats tend to be scavengers rather than predators [4], which means they usually consume meat they find rather than source through hunting. In urban settings, rats often have access to meat scraps from human food waste, such as remnants of hamburgers or hotdogs, which significantly increases their opportunities to eat meat. Additionally, rats will eat roadkill because this is an easy source of protein to exploit.

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Do Rats Eat Nuts and Seeds?

rat eating nuts

Nuts and seeds are integral to a rat’s diet, especially in the wild, where they serve as reliable sources of protein, fats, and other essential nutrients. Due to the challenges wild rats face in accessing animal proteins, they often turn to plant-based alternatives. Nuts and seeds, from sunflower and pumpkin seeds to walnuts, peanuts, and almonds are particularly valued not only for their nutrient content but also for their availability and ease of storage and consumption. These foods naturally align with rats’ foraging behavior, as they can easily gather and hoard these items which is crucial for their survival in colder months when food is scarce. This preference for nuts and seeds is further enhanced by their high protein and fat content which makes them excellent energy sources.

Do Rats Eat Eggs?

Eggs represent a highly nutritious and valued food source for rats that provide a rich supply of protein, vitamins, minerals, and essential calories. Despite their relatively large size compared to the rat, these rodents have developed effective strategies to handle and consume eggs [5]. It is not unusual for farmers to witness rats skillfully rolling chicken eggs out of coops and toward their nests which demonstrates their ability and determination to procure these valuable resources. In the wild, where chicken eggs are less accessible, rats will often seek out the nests of smaller birds to feed on their eggs. The pursuit of eggs involves minimal risk and requires less energy compared to hunting or finding food. This efficiency, coupled with the high reward in terms of nutrient intake, shows why eggs are a favored target among various rat populations.

Do Rats Eat Bugs?

Rats are indeed opportunistic eaters and do not shy away from incorporating insects and small invertebrates into their diet. These creatures serve as an important protein source for rats, especially when other preferred food sources like fruits, nuts, or seeds are scarce [6]. Insects not only provide protein but also essential fats and other nutrients that might be less abundant in plant-based foods. Common insects that rats might feed on include crickets, cockroaches, grubs, worms, and snails.

Do Rats Eat Fungi?

Rats can also include fungi such as mushrooms in their diet. Fungi can offer a variety of nutrients that may not be readily available in other food items consumed by rats. However, consuming fungi requires a level of selectiveness as not all mushrooms are safe for consumption. Rats, with their keen sense of smell and taste, often manage to avoid poisonous varieties of mushrooms which demonstrates their ability to distinguish between safe and harmful foods.

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Do Rats Eat Garbage?

rat invading dirty dishes

In urban environments, rats frequently turn to garbage and human scraps as a primary food source to exploit the readily available waste that cities invariably produce. The abundance of food waste in urban settings not only attracts rats but also facilitates their survival and growth.

This diet shift is not natural but is driven by the convenience and constant availability of human refuse, which provides a diverse buffet of edible items without the need for extensive foraging or hunting. While garbage does not represent the healthiest choice, it sustains urban rat populations and supports their proliferation in densely populated areas. The only major issue with rats that consume filth, is that it exposes them to dangerous pathogens that can be passed on to humans through contamination and exposure to rat feces [7].

Do Rats Eat Pet Food?

Rats are always on the lookout for accessible and nutritious food sources which draws them to pet food, which is often rich in protein and carbohydrates. Dry pet food, which is commonly left in bowls overnight, presents an irresistible and convenient opportunity for these opportunistic feeders. The high nutritional value and the ease of access make pet food an ideal target for rats and allows them to consume a balanced meal without the effort of foraging which exposes them to predators and other risks. This habit not only sustains the rats but can also lead to repeated infestations near homes where pet food is regularly available.

What Foods do Rats Not Like?

While rats are known for their versatile and opportunistic eating habits, there are indeed certain foods that they tend to avoid due to their strong smells or flavors. These natural deterrents can be useful in discouraging rats from frequenting certain areas or consuming specific food sources. Here is a list of foods that rats generally dislike:

  • Hot peppers: The capsaicin in hot peppers acts as a natural deterrent for rats who are sensitive to the intense spice. Foods or areas treated with hot pepper flakes or sprays are typically avoided by rats.
  • Garlic: Similar to hot peppers, the potent aroma of garlic is off-putting to rats which makes garlic another effective natural repellent.
  • Raw onions: The sharp smell of raw onions is unappealing to rats and causes them to steer clear of areas where these are present.

Incorporating these items into your pest management strategy can help repel rats by utilizing their natural aversions to maintain a rat-free environment.

What Foods are Poisonous to Rats?

Certain foods that are common in human diets can be particularly harmful or even toxic to rats. Consuming these can lead to various health issues, ranging from mild discomfort to severe complications that could result in death. Here is a list of foods that are known to be toxic to rats:

  • Blue Cheese: Contains mold that can be harmful to rats.
  • Licorice: Contains substances that can be toxic when ingested by rats.
  • Poppy Seeds: Can cause toxicity and result in fatal outcomes.
  • Bitter Almonds: Contain cyanide, which is poisonous to most animals, including rats.
  • Green Potatoes: Contain solanine, a toxic compound that can harm rats.
  • Rhubarb Stems and Leaves: Are toxic and can cause serious health issues.
  • Fungus on Grains: Can produce mycotoxins that are dangerous to rat health.
  • Caffeine: Highly stimulatory and can cause cardiac problems.
  • Lemon Peels and Mango: Contain d-limonene, which is linked to cancer in male rats.
  • Raw beans and Sweet Potatoes: Contain compounds that are harmful in their raw form and can lead to severe health issues like kidney stones or cyanide poisoning.
  • Chocolate: Has no nutritional value and can contribute to obesity and dental issues

What Attracts Rats to Your Property?

Rats are drawn to properties that provide their fundamental necessities: food, water, and shelter. A thorough inspection of your yard might reveal several potential attractions for these unwelcome visitors. Shelter opportunities for rats can be abundant, especially if your property has stacks of firewood, piles of bricks, or general clutter where they can hide. Water sources such as leaky faucets, birdbaths, storm drains, or even pet water bowls create ideal drinking spots for rats. In terms of food, rats are remarkably adaptive and are known to consume everything from seeds and grains to garden vegetables, fallen fruits, nuts, and refuse in compost heaps. Furthermore, urban environments enhance these attractions by providing plentiful scavenging opportunities from garbage bins, pet waste, and fruit trees which help rats survive in city settings. Ensuring your property is clear of such attractants is key to deterring rat infestations.

What Attracts Rats Inside Your Home?

Rats are drawn inside homes for the same reasons they might find their way onto your property. However, their presence may increase during the colder months when external food sources get harder to find and temperatures drop which make outdoor survival challenging. Inside homes, they are particularly attracted to easily accessible foods like cereals, oats, rice, and pet food. Additionally, unsealed garbage cans and any residues of oils or fats left on kitchen surfaces or stoves can be highly enticing to these pests. Beyond the search for food, rats also seek out cozy, dark, and secluded areas within the home to nest. Common nesting spots include underused furniture, cluttered storage boxes, and the insulation found in walls or attics where they can stay warm and undisturbed.

How to Get Rid of Rats

Eliminating rats from a home can be a challenging task that often goes beyond simple DIY methods like cleaning and setting snap traps. Due to the resilience and cunning nature of rats, the most effective way to deal with a rat infestation is to enlist the help of a professional pest control service. These specialists are trained to thoroughly inspect your home, identify what is attracting rats, and understand the extent of the infestation. They can then devise a customized plan that targets the current population and implements preventive measures to keep rats from returning. This comprehensive approach typically involves sealing entry points, removing attractants, and strategically placing traps and baits. Working with professionals ensures that the removal process is thorough and safe and addresses both the symptoms and the root causes of the rat infestation.

What Foods are Best for Rat Traps?

rat eating cheese

Choosing the right bait is crucial for effectively trapping rats, as these creatures are particularly attracted to foods that are high in nutrients, fats, and proteins. Here are some of the top choices that have proven successful in luring rats to traps:

  • Peanut Butter: Peanut butter is highly aromatic and irresistible to rats. It also has a sticky texture that makes it difficult for rats to grab the bait without setting off the trap.
  • Cheese: Strong-smelling varieties like cheddar are particularly effective. It’s advisable to tie the cheese to the trap to prevent rats from easily stealing it without setting off the trap.
  • Meats: Items like bacon or sausage are very enticing due to their strong smell and high fat content. Securing these tightly to the trap ensures that the rat will trigger the mechanism while attempting to take the bait.
  • Sweets: Small amounts of chocolate or a smear of jam can also attract rats, though they should be used carefully to avoid drawing in other pests like ants.

In addition to selecting effective bait, the placement of traps is equally important. Rats are cautious and tend to take small bites before fully committing to a food source, so combining these baits with a sticky binder like peanut butter can increase the chances of a successful capture. It may also be beneficial to experiment with different types of bait to discover which one best attracts the rats in your particular situation. Once a preference is identified, use that bait consistently in your traps. Always ensure that your environment is kept clean and free of alternative food sources to maximize the effectiveness of the traps and remember to wear gloves when setting traps to avoid transferring your human scent to the bait.

How to Prevent Rats

Preventing rats from becoming unwelcome guests in your home involves a combination of good hygiene, secure storage, and vigilant maintenance. Here are several effective strategies to deter rats:

  • Secure food storage: Keep all pet food in airtight containers or bins immediately after feeding and ensure that all human food is stored securely. Rats are drawn to accessible food sources, so eliminating their access to these can greatly reduce their interest in your space.
  • Maintain cleanliness: Ensure that your kitchen and dining areas are free from food scraps by washing dishes immediately after use. It also helps to regularly sweep or vacuum any food debris from floors and wipe down counters after food is prepared.
  • Manage waste properly: Regularly dispose of garbage and use bins with tight-fitting lids to minimize odors that attract rats. If you compost, opt for a well-sealed compost bin rather than an open compost pile.
  • Seal entry points: Conduct routine inspections of your home for any cracks, holes, or gaps in the structure. Seal these potential entry points with robust materials like steel wool, metal mesh, or concrete patching compounds that are resistant to gnawing.

By implementing these preventive measures, you can create an environment that is less inviting to rats and significantly reduce the likelihood of an infestation.

Contact Absolute Pest Management if You Are Dealing with Rats

If you’re dealing with a rat infestation, or simply want to ensure your home remains rat-free, don’t hesitate to contact Absolute Pest Management. Our team of experienced rat control professionals is equipped with the knowledge and tools necessary to effectively assess and handle any rat problem. We offer customized solutions that are tailored to your specific needs to ensure that your space is secure and protected against these persistent pests. We have offices in Austin and Buda, Texas and serve all of our surrounding communities. Reach out to Absolute Pest Management today and take the first step towards a safe and rat-free environment.

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Rat Diet FAQs

  • What are rats’ favorite foods?
    • Rats can eat just about anything but they do have some favorite foods that include grains, seeds, nuts, fruits, and sweets like chocolate. They are also drawn to high-protein foods such as meat scraps, eggs, and pet food. These preferences make rats highly adaptable to various environments, whether they’re foraging in the wild or scavenging in urban areas.
  • Do rats eat any animals?
    • Rats are omnivorous and will eat animals if the opportunity arises. They sometimes consume small birds, insects, and other vertebrates particularly in situations where other food sources are scarce. Rats are opportunistic feeders and will adjust their diet based on availability, which can include animal protein to meet their nutritional needs.


[1] https://extensionpubs.unl.edu/publication/740/html/view

[2] https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/406647

[3] [6] https://www.skedaddlewildlife.com/location/pickering/blog/what-fruits-vegetables-do-rats-eat/

[4] https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/lafayetteco/2017/10/01/rats-and-mice-signs-characteristics-and-control/

[5] https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/rodent-control-in-the-poultry-house.html

[7] https://www.nmhealth.org/publication/view/guide/997/

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