Do Rats Hibernate in Winter? 

Forest rat at meal in winter

Do rats hibernate in winter? Not even the slightest. When temperatures start dropping in the fall, rats begin leaving their natural habitats in search of a warmer environment, including houses. Rats remain active throughout the winter, especially if they’ve entered your home that’s full of food and nesting materials.

Let’s explore why rats do not hibernate like some other rodents, and how they survive the coldest months of the year in different environments.

Do Rats Hibernate in Winter? 

Rats do not hibernate in winter, but they do become less active. This applies to all rat species, ranging from roof rats to woodrats. They cannot completely shut off their bodies like ground squirrels, prairie dogs, and other hibernating rodents. To survive the chilly winter, rats search for a warm environment with easy access to food and water. 

If they’re near a residential area, they look to build nests in your attic, chimney, walls, vehicle, and basement. In rural areas, rats will look to build nests in sheds and barns.  

Rats won’t suddenly raise the panic alarm and look for shelter when temperatures reach the dew point. The following section demonstrates how rats adapt to the lower temperatures and hang tough till the beginning of spring. 

What Do Rats Do in the Winter? 

Since they’re forced to flee their normal habitats, these intelligent rodents start doing some prep work in early fall. The first thing rats normally do is find a warm, dry location for their nests and food cache. Following that, their level of activity depends on the environment they’ve selected to escape from the cold. 

Shield From the Cold

When shielding themselves from the cold, rats prioritize location over the nesting material. They seek out a warm, dark place where they won’t be bothered by humans or predators. If possible, they can shelter in moist areas to satisfy their water needs. During winter, brown rats are the most common species spotted in houses close to urban and residential areas. 

They are attracted to sheds, roofs, cellars, cupboards, and spaces beneath your home when seeking shelter from the cold. Pack rats and other rodents are drawn to the heat of an active engine, and if nearby, will designate the vehicle as a suitable environment. Abandoned cars in garages are just as appealing to rats and house mice. Their nests can be found in parts that are concealed and protected, such as vent compartments and engines. 

Rats living outside of human-occupied areas use caves as warm, natural shelters. It’s not uncommon for several groups of rats to occupy a single cave space. If sewer rats find the sewage system too cold for their liking, then they may be tempted to swim up your toilet through the drain pipes. 

Build Nests

Rats start building nests after finding a warm and safe environment for the winter. Rat nests look similar to bird nests, but messier. If they’ve made their way into your home, they will use cardboard, insulation, seat cushions, fabric, paper products, and other material to build their nests. When sheltering near barns or sheds, rats will gather grass, straw, and twigs to make nests. 

Feed On Stored Food

Lots of animals prepare for the winter by eating loads of foods, but rats can’t do that. When fall arrives, they stop becoming opportunistic eaters and start collecting enough food to last throughout the winter. Rats eat a variety of foods including nuts, seeds, grains, and fruits. 

If none are available, they have no qualms about switching to small insects or their own feces. Rats will drag their findings back to their nesting area and store them for consumption throughout the winter. 

Resume Breeding

Baby rats
Photo Credit: Kseniia Glazkova / Canva Pro / License

Rats sheltering comfortably in your home will see no reason to stop breeding in the winter. The nests along with stored foods make it a safe and warm environment for pups to grow. In contrast, rats sheltering in less comfortable locations with limited amounts of food may halt breeding until the spring. 

Dig Burrows

Baby rat peeking out of a burrow
Photo Credit: Rhys Leonard Photography / Canva Pro / License

Rats are excellent diggers. If they can’t find shelter in a more preferable environment such as your home, rats will make full use of their digging capabilities. They will look for a rock, wall, or fence and dig a burrow beneath or against it. Ultimately, rats will always prefer using your home as shelter rather than burrowing. They can eat through insulation or run along utility lines to enter your living space. 

Enter a State of Torpor

Rats enter a state of torpor when outdoor temperatures drop, but what does that mean? Their metabolic rate and activity levels temporarily decrease, allowing them to conserve energy and body heat during winter. 

Get Creative 

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and these furry pests will stop at nothing to seek shelter during the winter. Rats chew through electrical wires, burrow under floorboards, climb up downspouts, and squeeze underneath doors. Once they start multiplying in your home after successful breeding, you’ll be left with no choice but to hire rodent control specialists. 

Do Rats Leave Their Shelter in Winter?

Yes, rats will come out of their shelter when the food cache runs low. Rats collect and store food in preparation for the winter, but it’s not like they can calculate the exact amount needed to last for the season. When their stockpile starts running low, rats will risk exposing themselves to the outside world and hunt for food. If they’re lying low in your home, they will enter your kitchen and grab whatever they can find. 

Yucky fact: Rats that are starving and reluctant to expose themselves will consume their own droppings in order to survive. 

What Happens to Rats Without a Winter Home? 

Rats that haven’t found a warm environment for the winter will most likely die. This is especially true in northern states with long, snowy winters. Pack rats, kangaroo rats, wild rats, norway rats, and all other rat species need a warm environment to survive the winter. 

What Will Rats Do in the Spring? 

Rats shake off their winter slumber and return to their natural habitats in the spring, which means business as usual. The first thing they’ll do is start searching for food, especially if their winter stockpile diminished earlier than anticipated. Rats and other rodents that put a halt to the breeding process will restart as temperatures gradually increase. As mentioned earlier, rats that were comfortable in your home would’ve resumed breeding throughout the winter. 

FAQ About Rats During Winter

What is the ideal temperature for rats? 

During winter, rats will leave their natural habitat and seek shelter in homes, barns, sheds, warehouses, and other dry locations. The spot in which they build nests and store food must be warm enough to keep from shivering throughout the coldest months. Generally speaking, rats feel most comfortable in temperatures ranging from 64 degrees Fahrenheit to 79 degrees Fahrenheit

Will rats cause health issues when wintering in your home? 

Rats are carriers of various diseases that can be detrimental to your health. These include:

  • Salmonellosis
  • Leptospirosis
  • Rat-bite fever
  • Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS)

If your home is infested with rats, you should immediately contact rat control specialists to get rid of them and keep your loved ones healthy. 

Do rats get furrier in the winter? 

The fur thickens to keep the rats warm during the winter, but it’s not highly noticeable to humans. The thick, dense fur acts as an insulator to minimize heat loss. It serves as a natural regulator to help them maintain a comfortable body temperature. 

How long do rats live?

Rats live 1 to 3 years, depending on the species and their environment.

Furry Critters Wintering in Your Home? Call the Experts

Rats leave their natural habitats and look for warmer environments when temperatures start to drop. In residential areas, rats will be attracted to the conditions provided by your home. They will find endless food in the kitchen, build nests using various materials, and stay protected from their most feared predators. Such conditions allow rats to remain active during the cold, which means they’ll keep breeding. Within a few weeks, your home will have a rat infestation. 

Have rats found their way into your home despite your best efforts to keep them out? Don’t let the infestation get out of hand, hire a rodent control company to get rid of the disease-carrying pests.

Main Photo Credit: Gabdulvachit Konurov / Canva Pro / License

Jeffery Keusseyan

Jeffery Keusseyan is a writer that enjoys working in a pest-free environment. His researching skills help provide readers with effective measures to keep unwanted critters out of the house.