Rat vs. Possum {12 Ways to Tell the Difference}

What’s that noise on the roof? Do you hear any rustling outside in your backyard or on your roof? Is it a possum or a rat? How can you tell the difference between Rat vs. Possum?

It would be pretty easy to tell them apart if you are looking at them directly. The problem is that the noise is coming from outside or from an unknown location and you’re not sure if it’s a possum or rat.

What if the damage has been done and you arrive the following morning to investigate and try to figure out if a possum did it or a rat?

Would you like to know all the differences between Rats and Possums?  In this article, we will dive deep into the war between rat versus possum and the 12 ways you can tell the difference.

Rat vs. Possum

Rats are medium sized rodents belonging to the family known as Muridea. Possums are larger and belong to the marsupial order known as Didelphimorphia.

Rats have long, elongated faces with an extended snout. They are mostly black, white and gray. Possums have hairy or bushy tails with a rounder face and a smaller snout. Possums also have an opposable toe, sharper claws and are nocturnal compared to a diurnal rat.

What Is the Difference Between Rat and Possum?

There are many factors that separate rats from possums. It’s harder for you to tell when you can’t see them in the dark and you might only be hearing the sounds of pitter patter or rummaging.

Here are some key differences between rats and possums:

  1. Rats are rodents while possums are marsupials.
  2. Rats need to gnaw constantly because their front incisors never stop growing. Possums don’t undergo this issue.
  3. Rats give birth to mature kits while possums give birth to embryos that are not yet mature.
  4. Female possums have sacks to hold their babies and look after them while they mature. Rats do not have pouches.
  5. The tail of a rat does not have any hair while possums have bushy tails.
  6. Possums are nocturnal while rats are diurnal and are active both day and night.
  7. Rats are omnivores that eat almost anything. Possums are mainly herbivores but they will also engage in opportunistic omnivorous eating tendencies when necessary.
  8. The claws of a possum are sharper than a rat.
  9. The eyes of a possum are more towards the front of their face while rats have their eyes positioned bilaterally.
  10. A rat face is more slender while a possum’s face is rounder.
  11. Possums have larger eyes.
  12. Rats mainly squeal while possums growl or rasp.

A Brief Comparison Between Rat Vs. Possum

  • Avg. Rat Size = 8-16 inches (including tail)
  • Avg. Possum Size = 2.5 feet
  • Avg. Rat Weight = .5-1 lb
  • Avg. Possum Weight = 1.7-14 lbs.
  • Appearance of Rat = gray, brown, black, white with hairless tail, pointy face and pink feet.
  • Appearance of Possum = Thin bushy tail. White face, gray body, pink feet
  • Diet of Rat: Almost anything
  • Diet of Possum: Mostly herbivores who are opportunistic omnivorous scavengers.

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How To Differentiate Rats and Possums

If you wake up to find damage in or around your property, it could be caused by a possum or a rat. It will not be easy to tell the difference between them once the damage has been done.

Let’s look closer and investigate to see if we can differentiate any other differences between the damage that rats and possums can cause or the mess they can leave behind.

1. Urine & Droppings

Since opossums usually sleep in one area, they can create a hole through thin plasterboard materials. Possums urinate much heavier than a rat and can leave a giant stain in the area where they have released their fluids.

It could be a stain in your attic floor or you may see it on your ceiling. The smell will be harsher and more easier to recognize.

Rats do not resting in the same areas. They can move around more often and therefore you might find their urine or droppings all over the place.

Possum droppings are mostly in the smaller clusters around the areas where they rest or sleep. The urine stains of rats are much smaller and harder to notice.

2. Weight

The easiest giveaway between a rat and a possum is their relative size. Possums can weigh up to 14 lb or or 4 kg. There is a giant weight distribution and difference between them.

Only the largest rats can make it up to 1 lb and usually you’ll find them in much smaller sizes.

3. Noises

Rats make excited noises when they are jumping or pitter-pattering from one area to another on your roof. You might hear a rat making a thud noise when they are jumping from one area to another.

Possums can make loud growling, screeching or rasping noises that are different from the squealing you would hear from a rat.

4. Around Humans

Rats are more scared of humans and will try to stay still or motionless when there is a human around. Possums will not do much besides continue chewing or making noises when they hear the presence of human or homeowner.

5. Odor Upon Death

The odor coming from a dead possum is much more foul and offensive. Especially during the summer, this smell can linger for up to eight weeks.

The stench of a dead rat could go away in 4 weeks. Hopefully you can call a professional to help remove the dead carcasses and resume cleaning the area to get rid of the stench.

How to Test Whether or Not There Is a Possum or a Rat

A simple test to find out if you have a rat or possum infestation requires using an apple. You can place the apple somewhere around the ceiling, attic or any spots that you have heard these animals possibly visiting or damaging.

If most of the apple has been consumed, the damage has been done by possums. If the apple has only been gnawed at in different areas but most of it remains intact, you may notice teeth marks that belong to a rat.

This is a simple test that helps to determine whether or not you are dealing with a possum issue or a rat problem.

How Do I Get Rid of Roof Rats and Possums?

If you have a rat or a possum on the roof of your house, it is going to take a little bit more than shooing them away.

A residential pest control expert can help you in this matter or you can try some DIY techniques.

  1. Don’t leave food outside.
  2. Don’t leave a open containers or bowls of pet food hanging around.
  3. Store leftovers and seal all garbage bags and containers by placing them into plastic or metal bins
  4. Remove all entryways that allow for rats or possums to make it up to your roof. Seal all access points.
  5. Cut or trim all branches that lead to your roof. This will make it harder for a rodents and marsupials to make their way up to the top of your house.
  6. Don’t leave garbage hanging around outside of your home. Leave your trash in tight fitting containers with lids that cannot be easily opened.
  7. Perform weekly outdoor home maintenance. Keep bushes and shrubs closer to the ground and stack your firewood further away from the home.
  8. Keep your garage and shed clean. Don’t leave plant seeds or fertilizers out in the open.

Consider a consultation or inspection from an expert if the steps above do not help get rid of these pests from your property.

What Are Some Behavioral Differences Between a Possum and a Rat?

One of the most obvious giveaways between knowing if you are hearing a possum or rat is that possums are not usually active during the day. They are nocturnal marsupials compared to diurnal rats who are active both day and night.

Rats are more agile climbers that can easily scale fences and electrical wires on the roof of a house. A rat would also would love to shred materials like paper insulation to create a nest on your roof.

A possum doesn’t wish to create a nest on your roof. Although they can climb quite well, they are larger and their movements are carefully done in a way to prevent them from a heavy fall.

Possums look for vegetation that is native to the area. They are not as inclined to scavenge indoors or go through your foodstuffs.


If you see more than one of these pests at a time, you are most likely dealing with a group of rats. If you are seeing the tail of this past looking hairless then it is most likely a rat as well.

Above all else you will notice that one of these animals is much larger than the other. And a tall possum will outgrow a rat of any species.

The ears of a possum are shorter with a white patch behind it. The face is rounder and the snout is less protruding.


Thanks for visiting ThePestManagement.com 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