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Squirrel vs Rat

A white rat lying on a stone covered in green molds.

Family time in my household can sometimes lead to the development of some really interesting debates. I am often tasked with generating the research—the latest being on the topic Squirrel vs Rat.

Squirrels and rats are rodents that belong to the distinct family called Rodentia. They both have specialized teeth for gnawing. They are both intelligent species. Other than this, they have very little in common concerning behavior, lifespan, and reproduction.

Let’s explore the differences shared between Squirrels and Rats. What happens if a squirrel and a rat are in a fight? Which would be the most suitable choice as a pet? Let us have a deeper look at finding these answers.

Table of Contents

Differences Between Squirrels and Rats

A squirrel walking on a branch of tree.

While squirrels and rats share similar mental and physical characteristics, their behaviors and life cycles are completely different.


Squirrels are larger than rats. They also have thick, bushy tails. Rats, on the other hand, are hairless and thin.

Nesting Habits

Squirrels are more likely to build their nests in trees outside. Rats prefer dark places, generally attics or in cupboards.

Diurnal or Nocturnal

While squirrels are diurnal, this means that they are mostly active during the day. Rats, on the other hand, are nocturnal. They are mostly active at night.

So if you hear any noises in the attic at night, it is highly unlikely that it is a squirrel.  It could be that you are dealing with a rat. Rats possess poor eyesight, and they are largely dependant on their whiskers for direction.

Squirrels possess excellent daytime vision, called peripheral vision.  They hunt for food during the day, protecting themselves from their predators.

Reproductive Habits

A family of rats hiding under the tree.

There is a distinct difference between the reproductive habits of squirrels and rats.  Squirrels usually mate twice a year, producing two litters. These squirrel offsprings are generally born towards the end of spring or summer. The litter size is about 5 to 6 offspring at a time.

The gestation period in a California ground squirrel is about 30 days. Sexual maturity is reached at about 12 months. In comparison, the Eastern grey squirrel can have a gestation period of 44 days, reaching sexual maturity at 15 months.

On the other hand, Rats are more sexually active than squirrels, giving birth to about six litters per year. The litter size could be about 5 to 6 offspring at a time. The gestation period of the laboratory Norway rat is about 21 to 23 days. In comparison, the gestation period of the wild-caught Norway rat is 21 to 24 days.

Unlike squirrels, rats only need 2 to 4 months to reach sexual maturity. Rats reproduce much faster than squirrels.


Squirrels tend to live longer than rats. The house rat usually lives about a year in the wild and about four years in captivity. On the other hand, squirrels have a varying lifespan, depending on the species and the type.

The Red squirrel lives up to 5 years in the wild and eight years in captivity. The Eastern fox squirrel has eight years in the wild and up to 18 months in captivity. Eastern grey squirrels can live up to 12 years in the wild and 20 years in captivity.

Hibernation Patterns

Although rats do not hibernate during winter, they tend to show a lower activity level in the cold. They are generally active throughout the year.

Squirrel hibernation patterns can vary according to the species. Eastern grey squirrels, red squirrels, and some ground squirrels do not hibernate in winter. The Arctic ground squirrel and the thirteen-lined ground squirrel hibernates in winter. They also undergo physiological changes during hibernation.


Squirrel sitting on a branch of tree.

Rats tend to communicate through frequencies that are inaudible to the human ear.  When the sound of the rat becomes audible to the human ear, it generally means that the rat is expressing some pain.

The sound of a squirrel, on the other hand, is very audible to the human ear. They often make these sounds when they see a predator in the area. The sounds they make also vary depending on the species.

The California ground squirrel communicates through whistles and chatters. The Richardson’s ground squirrel communicates through whistles and chirps. The North American red squirrels communicate through barks and seats. The Eastern grey squirrel produces six different types of sounds. These can range from buzzes and moans.

The sounds differ based on the urgency of their pleas for help from predators.


Squirrels prefer a varied diet. They will forage for nuts, seeds, and flowers, sometimes even insects and caterpillars. However, the Norway rats prefer a diet with plenty of proteins and carbohydrates, raiding the garbage or pantry goods for meat, fish, cereal, and fruit.

Squirrel vs. Rat – Which One is Stronger?

Close-up of a rat in the woods.

The squirrel is larger than a rat. The squirrel also tends to be more agile and have better reflexes than the rat; therefore, they will be able to escape easily from any clawing of the rat.

 Although the rats have density and weight on their side, this can often be the factor that causes them to be less agile. The squirrel is more likely to bite and tear off the rat with its sharp teeth, leaving the rat fatally injured or dead.

Can Squirrels be Kept as Pets?

An eating squirrel resting on the man's hands.

Since squirrels have sharp claws and teeth, which causes them to bite as a defense mechanism in staying out in the wild, not all breeds are suitable pets.  They also love to jump and climb, often requiring a larger living area. Keeping them confined to a cage might not be the best choice.

 In some states keeping a squirrel as a pet is also illegal.  Before making this decision, it might be advisable to visit the US Fish and Wildlife website on permit requirements. Most vets also do not treat wild animals as pets. You will therefore need to find a vet that is licensed to care for wild animals.

Type of Squirrels that are Often Kept as Pets

A prairie dog wandering the woods.

Should you wish to keep a pet squirrel, the less dangerous squirrels would be listed below.

  • Gray Squirrels
  • Chipmunks(Ground squirrels)
  • Flying Squirrels
  • Prevost Squirrels
  • Prairie Dogs( Type of ground squirrel)

Can Rats Be Kept as Pets?

A pet rat standing on the hardwood flooring covered with autumn leaves.

Rats are social and intelligent animals that make wonderful pets. They are easily tamed, making it easy for them to be handled. Rats are not low-maintenance rodents. They will require a fair amount of attention and exercise time outside their cage, perhaps around one hour per day.

Rats that are Often Kept as Pets

A rat opening its cage.

Should you opt to keep a pet rat, the most suitable options would be listed below.

  • Standard Rats
  • Rex Rats
  • Satin Rats
  • Bristle Rats
  • Dumbo Rats


Squirrels vs. Rat the final decision depends on your personal preference.  Although they both are rodents, each has its unique characteristics. Their differences, however, seem to outweigh their similarities.

If you are opting to keep either a rat or a squirrel as a pet, ensure that you are mindful of the bylaws of your state with regards to permits, especially if you lean more towards keeping a squirrel as a pet.


The Spruce Pets: Pet Rats

Wikipedia: Squirrel

Wikipedia: Rat