As the weather cools off many animals will start looking for ways into your home – searching for food, water, and warm shelter for the winter. This is especially true for rodents – both mice and rats. Can you tell the difference between a mouse and a rat? Besides the obvious differences in their appearance, they also differ in habits, diet, habitat, and movement.

The most common species of mouse in the United States is the house mouse. The two most common species of rats in the United States are the brown rat (Norway rat) and the black rat (ship rat, roof rat). Check out the information below to learn the differences between these rodent species.


Front view of a mouse on a white background
Mice are smaller, usually measuring between 1 and 4 inches long and weighing about 0.5 ounces. They have small heads, small feet, and pointed snouts. They have large ears with some hair on their ears. They have light brown bodies with gray shading and dark tails. Mice have a musky odor and are color blind. Their droppings are shaped like rods. Mice have larger ears and a longer tail compared to their body length than rats do.

 A Brown Rat on a lawn nibbling on grass
The brown rat has a heavy, thick body with short ears with dark hair on them. They also have blunt snouts. Brown rats have brown bodies with black shading and shaggy coats. Their tails are dark on top and pale underneath. Adult brown rats weigh about 11 ounces. Brown rat droppings are shaped like capsules.

Side profile of a Black Rat on a white background
Black rats have light, slender bodies and large ears with no hair on them. They have pointed snouts. Black rats have gray bodies with black shading and smooth coats. They also have dark tails. Adults weigh about 7 ounces. Black rat droppings are shaped like spindles.

Rats in general have longer body lengths, measuring about 8″ in body length plus another 9″ of tail length. Rats have larger feet and heads compared to their body size than mice do.


Mice usually live on the ground or in nests in burrows. They will build their nests near their food source. They will use nearly any soft material or finely shredded paper to build their nest. They can be found indoors or outdoors, in cities or rural areas.

Rats will dig under buildings, along fences, and under plants and debris. The brown rat usually lives on the ground or in burrows. It is also usually seen in buildings, sewers, and outdoors. The black rat is usually seen in buildings around ports and in ships. They will nest high up in roofs, attics, and trees.


Mice prefer to eat cereals but will feed on almost anything. They tend to seek food in the same place everyday, making them easier to trap. They don’t need to drink water but they will if it is available.

Brown rats prefer cereal. They also tend to seek food in the same place everyday, making them easier to trap. Brown rats drink about 2 ounces of water a day. Black rats prefer moist fruits. They tend to seek food in different places each day, making them much harder to trap. Black rats drink about 1 ounce of water per day.


Mice can climb, jump, and swim, jumping up to 13 inches! They can also run along wires, cables, and ropes. They are nocturnal and are most active from dusk until dawn. They are curious and will often come out to investigate new things, which also makes them easier to trap. Mice can enter buildings through openings as small as 1/4″ in diameter.

Rats can enter a building through a hole as small as 1/2″ in diameter. Rats are strong swimmers and can live in sewers. Rats can enter buildings through broken drains and toilets. Rats will climb to get food, water, and shelter. Rats follow regular routines and paths everyday.  Rats usually stay within 300 feet of their nest or burrow. Rats are nocturnal. Rats have poor eyesight.


Now you can identify between a mouse and a rat. But how do you prevent them from coming into your home? Check out these 7 tips to prevent these rodents from getting into your home.

  1. Look For Them. Signs of both mice and rats include droppings, gnaw marks, tracks, and burrows. These signs can especially be seen around food sources.
  2. Sanitation Is Key. Mice and rats will come into your home in search of food. Store food in airtight containers. Don’t leave food or dirty dishes out overnight. Wipe crumbs off the counters. Sweep and vacuum floors regularly. Secure your garbage. Don’t leave pet food out overnight and store it in airtight containers, also.
  3. Block Them Out. Eliminate any entry points into your home. Seal any cracks in your foundation. Seal around any openings in the walls, especially around utility pipes and vents. Use weather stripping for gaps in doors and windows.
  4. Check Outside. Remove debris from around your home. Keep your yard mowed and weeded. Trim shrubbery away from the sides of your home. Keep woodpiles away from your home.
  5. Use Your Pets. Cats and even some dogs will hunt rodents. Use them as a ready made form of pest control.
  6. Trap Them. There is never just one moue or rat so it is best to use several traps at a time. It is also a good idea to use different types of traps. Use whatever food the pests have been feeding on as bait in your traps. Place traps perpendicular to the walls and near where you have seen signs of their presence.
  7. Contact The Pros. If you suspect a mouse or rat problem in your home, contact a pest control professional. They will be able to evaluate your home, identify what kind of rodent you have, and set you up with a comprehensive treatment plan.