Do Rats Play Dead? {How You Can Tell}

Have you ever seen a motionless rat or mouse spring back to life miraculously and continue on with its life? Do Rats Play Dead?

Why and how long do rats act like they are dead? How does this type of immobility become an adaptation in rats? Do baby rats play dead too?

In this article, we will find out, “Do rats play dead?”

Do Rats Play Dead?

Yes. Because rats have many predators, they play dead to dissuade larger threats from trying to kill them. Birds, cats, and snakes may continue hunting rather than try to scavenge on the corpse of a dead rat.

Playing dead gives the rat an opportunity to survive. They are using “tonic immobility” or “feigning death.”

How Long Will a Rat Play Dead?

A rat can and will play dead for as long as it takes. This could usually be for 5-30 minutes. They played dead in order for the passing threat to continue on.

Once the predator or threat in question has moved on, the rat begins to move its body once again. A rat can also play dead when a pet owner is trying to hold it.

They have not become comfortable with you yet and would play that way in order for you to stop trying to pet them or pick them up.

When Do Rats Fake Death?

Rats with fake death when they enter a state of immobility. They scruff up there neck and go limp. A baby rat can do this to help its mother to carry it in times of danger. If the baby rat is squirming, it makes it harder for the mom to carry the baby. This is an example of the dorsal immobility.

A pet rat and will do the same thing. This is why you should hold them by their midsection or their lower half. If a rat feels secure and supported, it will not go limp.

Another type of faking death is called tonic immobility. If you put pressure on the rats upper back, the rat may freeze or play dead. This is an example of the fight or flight reflex. When an animal like a rat knows that it will not be able to outrun its predator, the fear reaction will allow it to play dead.

It’s like a trance that takes over the rat. The more fearful or submissive a rat is, the longer they will remain this way. An aggressive rat can put a submissive ride into tonic immobility as well.

How to Tell if Your Rat Is Playing Dead

If you would like to tell how a rat that is playing dead is not actually dead, check with the following ways:

  1. Look at the rat’s chest to see if the rib cage is moving. If the chest is rising, the heart is beating.
  2. Check to see if the rat’s eyes are still open.
  3. Gently move the rat into a dark a location and see if it responds and starts to move. 
  4. Remove items or larger animals from the area.
  5. Wait and see what happens in a matter of 5 minutes or more.

With your patience, in about 30 or fewer minutes, you may end up seeing this rat spring back to life. If you do not want the rat to do, so this is a good opportunity to place a bag over it and relocate or euthanize the nuisance pest.

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Can a Baby Rat Play Dead?

Yes, baby rats have adapted to play dead almost immediately after they are born. They are able to make their bodies go lymp to allow their mothers to carry them easier without them squirming.

They also pretend to be dead as a act of defense. This defense mechanism help these defenseless creatures from the attack from larger threat.

How Do You Tell if a Rat Is Playing Dead?

Try this tactic: hold a mirror close to the mouth of a rat so you don’t have to get too close. Take a video with zoom if you don’t want to get too close either. Watch and see if the mouth is breathing.

Look for the chest rising as well. Wait anywhere from 1 minute to 5 minutes. This rat will most likely spring back to life or “wake up” when there are no perceived threats anymore.

You might be the threat and you may also need to back away. If this is a nuisance pest, pick up the rat with gloves and a garbage bag. Transport this rat to a location 2-6 miles away from your home or euthanize it.

Why Do Rats Play Dead?

Rats usually play dead when they are afraid. They will do so until they feel that the danger has passed on. They can switch from acting dead to running away if they need to.

They need to outrun, outlast and outlive live their predators. Rats have survival skills that allow them to do so. Rats are able to identify danger and their surroundings and this is one of the actions they need to take to avoid it. Playing dead helps the rat to survive.


Do Rats Play Dead With Their Eyes Open?

Rats don’t usually play dead with their eyes open. They close their eyes and appear to be  dead to anyone around them.

They will try to pull their limbs in and hold their breath as long as it takes. This could be 5 minutes or up to 30 minutes. Many predators will choose to not scavenge a dead creature and will continue hunting for one that is alive.

Do Pet Rats Play Dead?

Yes. Pet rats play dead. They do so because they are not playing a game with you or comfortable with you. What they are actually doing is showing fear of you.

You will need to teach this animal that you are not a threat. After many frequent feedings and calm interactions, this pet rat will not play dead with you any longer, if you are handling it with care.


Thanks for visiting for the best information to help you to make the pest control process easy, safe & affordable.

Jason Barrett

Hello, I'm Jason. I have 11 years of experience in dealing with pests. I try to provide you the best information that'll help you to make the pest control process easy & affordable