Squirrels vs. Rats {How to Tell the Difference}

Do you hear noises in your attic, basement or garage? Could it be Squirrels or Rats? How can you tell the difference between Squirrels vs. Rats?

Do you see droppings? Are there clear and noticeable tracks that you wish to investigate further? Do they belong to rats or squirrels?

In this article, you will find out all you need to effectively tell the difference between Squirrels vs. Rats. 

Squirrels vs. Rats: How to Tell the Difference

The appearance of their bodies, tracks, nests and droppings help to determine if you are dealing with a rat or squirrel problem.

Squirrels are larger as they bound from one place to another. Rats drag their hairless tails and scurry on all four feet.

Another giveaway is that rats are nocturnal or active at night and squirrels can be heard more throughout the day as they are diurnal.

Why Do We Confuse Rats With Squirrels?

Although rats and squirrels is look completely different from each other, it’s hard to tell them apart when you can’t see them. This is because they sound similar when they are rummaging through your home undetected.

Squirrels and rats are both rodents. They prefer to chew and gnaw on materials around the house. They also prefer to stay away from humans and are shy or timid in nature. They have similar diets, droppings and will look for food sources in the same locations.

How to Tell the Difference Between a Squirrel and a Rat

There are multiple ways to tell the difference between these two rodents. Here are the top 5 ways:

  1. Appearance
  2. Nesting habits
  3. Diet
  4. Activity
  5. Tracks

1. Appearance

Squirrels have thick bushy tails and rat tails are much thinner without any hair on them. Squirrels are also larger than a rat and plumper in shape.

It’s going to be easier to determine whether or not you are looking at a rat or squirrel that they are up close. The obvious giveaways are that rats have rounder ears with squirrels having bushier tails.

Rats have a longer tubed shaped body. The hands and feet of rats are also hairless. Squirrels have bigger eyes and furry limbs.

2. Nesting Habits

Although both types of rodents can live indoors, squirrels would prefer to live in trees. They will build nests near homes then make the effort of going in and out of your home to look for food sources if there is a space that allows them through.

Rats would prefer to raise their young in warm locations in between your walls or basement if possible. The nest of a squirrel is larger than the rat. Squirrels like to collect leaves, twigs, bark and moss.

Rats will use other types of available materials for their nest around the home. They may use cardboard, insulation,  cloth or even plant material.

It will be harder to locate a nest of a rat because they try to hide it in between walls or crevices. You may also have to look inside the insulation of your home to find a rat’s nest.

​3. Diet

Squirrels enjoy foraging for the following types of food:

  • Nuts
  • Acorns
  • Seeds
  • Flowers
  • Fruits
  • Insects

Rats have no problem eating the same types of food as a squirrel. A rat’s diet is a little bit wider and more omnivorous.

They will eat plenty of meaty rich foods and anything they can find inside a garbage can such as meat, fish or rotting fruit and vegetables.

4. Activity and Movement

The activity of a rat and squirrel could be their biggest difference of all. The fact remains that rats are nocturnal while squirrels are diurnal.

Rats are more active during the night while you are asleep. If you are hearing noises at night waking you up, it’s most likely a rat.

Squirrels however, are diurnal. They are active during the day. If you are hearing more rummaging sounds in and around your home while you are awake, it’s most likely a squirrel rather than a rat.

Squirrels like to forage in the morning until the evening. They return to their nest at night. Although rats are more active during the night, they will adapt to your schedule. They are waiting for you to be out of the house or in your rooms before they start their activity.

5. Tracks

Squirrels like to leap and bound. This leaves more gaps between each of their prints. The back toes of a squirrel is longer than a rat’s. They come up closer to the front paws with each bound. Squirrels do not drag their tail.

A rat drags its hairless tail as it moves. You will see a tail mark on the ground. Their front footprints  have more space between the back footprints. This is because they are running instead of bounding like a squirrel.

Rats also rely on running near walls to help guide their poor vision. If you notice any oily fur it’s most likely coming from a rat because they can smear or smudge their bodies against walls or corners as they are using them for guides to scurry along with their poor eyesight.

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How To Tell The Difference Between Squirrel vs. Rat Poop

It’s time to become a detective. It’s obvious that we are not seeing the squirrel or the rat that we may be hearing. They have left some evidence behind. The evidence in question is clearly droppings.

How can you tell if these droppings you are seeing belong to a squirrel or a rat? Here are some clues:

1. Appearance

The droppings of a rat and scroll are both dark brown or black in color. The ends are blunted and the locations can be found in similar areas in or around the home.

Squirrel poop is more rounded at the ends. Rat poop is tapered. Squirrel droppings look more like coffee beans because they are rounded. A rat poop is more pinched, tapered and bulges in the middle.

2. Locations

You may find the droppings of a squirrel in tree trunks or branches. If a squirrel is inside your home, these droppings will also be found in the attic.

Rat droppings are found more in baseboards or in cupboards. You may find droppings behind your fridge or washing machine. These poops are more concentrated in this area and may continue to be present the next time you visit the same locations.

3. Habits

Rats like to create one area for defecating. Squirrels can release their droppings in random locations without caring as much. Rats on the other hand, like to assign one area for pooping.

4. Cleaning

When cleaning the feces of either animal, approach with caution. These droppings contain a number of diseases. Wear a mask and gloves if possible.

Keep your distance and sweep it up instead of bending down to pick it up. You can also spray it first with a chemical solution such as an all-purpose cleaner.

Is My House Damage Coming From A Squirrel or Rat?

If you are noticing any type of damage in or around your home, you are left wondering whether or not a squirrel or rat may have caused it.

Squirrel Damage

Most of the structural damage that you may be noticing outside of your home should be attributed to a squirrel instead of a rat.

Common types of damage that squirrels do include:

  • Holes dug around the yard
  • Bark stripped from trees
  • Tossed soil
  • Broken flowers or stems
  • Fruits or vegetables removed off plants
  • Chewing through roof shingles
  • Damage to house siding
  • New entry points created

Squirrels may look cute but they also carry diseases. It’s important to stay away from their droppings. Squirrels are also known to carry Lyme disease. It’s important to keep them away from our homes.

Rat Damage

The damage that you notice inside your home could be more likely be caused by a rat. The types of damage that rats do in a home include:

  • Spread waste
  • Contaminate pantries
  • Tear through packaging
  • Ruin personal possessions
  • Poison your food
  • Gnaw on furniture, baseboards and planks of wood

Both squirrels and rats could be responsible for chewing or destroying wiring, pipes and wood. You may end up with leaks or power outages. If the damage is localized in your attic, it could be attributed to a squirrel or a rat.

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What Are the Similarities Between Squirrels and Rats?

Squirrels and rats both belong to the rodent family. Since they are both belonging to this species, their favorite pastime includes chewing on multiple items that will cause damage.

They will chew on pipes, wires, food or any other possession of yours that may potentially cause unfixable damage.

Both types of rodents are clever enough to hide from humans and stay out of sight. They have adapted to steer clear of larger animals to avoid predation. Squirrels and rats are capable of leaving a mess inside your home.

To the untrained eye, both of their droppings look very similar. Squirrel droppings are slightly rounder at the ends, while rat droppings are more tapered.

How Can I Tell Squirrels and Rats Apart?

There are many ways to tell squirrels and rats apart if you can’t see them up close. Let’s look at a few factors:

  • Noise
  • Active Periods 
  • Mating
  • Hoarding Food
  • Tracks and Marks


Squirrels make vocal noises like squeaks, barks, and grunts. They also thump or flick their tail to communicate.

Rats make squeaking, chattering or high pitched squeals. Some of these pitches are so high that we may not be able to notice them.

Both rodents like to scurry, but rats do this more. The rapid movement of a rat running involves faster feet movement. Squirrels bound and leap two feet a time in many cases. You may be able to tell the difference from the speed of their scurrying.

Active Periods

Squirrels are going to be active when you are. You can hear them during the day thumping, bounding, leaping or dropping acorns on your roof. You may hear them climbing up the sides of the exterior walls.

Rats will only come out when the house is emptied or everyone has settled for a night of slumber. Since they are nocturnal, they will do most of their damage at night.


Squirrels mate twice a year on average during the late winter or late summer. They make distinct noises when mating.

Rats mate all year round. They make babies at a rapid rate and therefore are a much larger threat of creating an infestation that grows out of control.

Hoarding Food

Both species of rodents like to create stores of food. Squirrels like to hide their food above ground in the attic or in nests on or in trees. Rats will try harder to hide their food in between walls or insulation.

Squirrels will be more picky about what they hide and eat. Rats will look for just about anything that is remotely edible.

Tracks and Marks

Squirrels have 4 toes in the front and 5 toes in the back. Their back feet line up with their front feet and they bound forward.

Rats run with 4 distinguished feet doing their own thing. The path is usually straight and guided by walls or other surfaces that help with their poor eyesight. Rats may leave greasy or oily marks from their fur.


We hope the information provided can help you tell the difference between rats and squirrels that are possibly infesting your property and becoming a nuisance.

Their tracks, nests, droppings, active periods, movements and appearance show enough differences to be able to distinguish between them.

Nighttime noises are most likely coming from a rat. Daytime activity could be a squirrel in your attic or on the roof.

We hope you can prevent them from entering your house and we would like to help with treatment options with our extensive catalog of articles related to these rodents. Please visit us again soon and use our search bar to obtain plenty of relevant information to handle this nuisance once and for all.


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