Can Cats and Rats Be Friends? What Science Says


Rats don’t get much love from pop culture or social media. But that’s not fair because these rodents can be loving, caring, and gentle pets. Cats, in contrast, are everyone’s favorites. More importantly, they are a threat to rats; cats kill, eat, or just hunt the little guys for fun.

So, does that mean these two can never be friends?

Not quite. With early socialization, it’s possible to turn things around. You will need to put a lot of effort into supervision, of course, and it may not always work. But some felines can see the rat as a companion. Can rats and cats coexist? Let’s find out!

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Why Do Cats Hunt Rats in the First Place?

In the wilderness, cats are obligate carnivores and need to have meat as their primary food source. So, it’s only natural for them to hunt small rodents as they are the main source of food for felines in the wild. Without a steady supply of meat protein, cats won’t be able to grow flexible muscles, see clearly, or produce offspring.

Occasionally, felines feed on lizards and snakes, but rodents are still their favorites. Now, cats hunt for two reasons: to get food or to hone their hunting skills. This applies to both wild and domestic kitties. That’s why any small animal that’s rendered by a cat as prey won’t be safe living under the same roof with it.

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Image Credit: Stefan_Sutka, Shutterstock

Are They Good at Killing Rats?

The short answer is no, cats aren’t that great at chasing or catching these rodents down. Rats are much stronger and more flexible compared to mice. They’re also pretty big and aren’t afraid to fight back. Now, humans have been using felines as the ultimate remedy against rodents for thousands of years. However, recent research by Michael H. Parsons suggests that kitties are horrible rat hunters.

In his experiment, the doctor brought seven feral cats to a recycling plant infested with rats (up to 150 units). Strangely enough, the furry buds only managed to kill two rodents in 79 days! This goes to show that cats are bad at killing rats. That said, when there are felines around, most rodents, including rats, tend to migrate to somewhere safer.

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Felines and Rodents as Friends: Is It Possible?

According to Gregory Glass, a UF professor, once rats reach a certain size, they stop being afraid of cats. Felines, in turn, avoid them and prefer to go after the juveniles. And it’s not rare for these two animals (cats and rats) to be looking for food in the same pile of trash. In most cases, cats only attack adult rats if they haven’t had anything to eat for days. Other than that, they’ll likely leave them alone.

Does that mean rats and cats can warm up to each other over time? Well, there are no 100% right or wrong answers here. This largely depends on their personalities and the way they were brought up. If you adopt both pets as kits and provide plenty of supervision, this could happen. However, the feline’s ancient instincts won’t go away easily.

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Image Credit: Fer Gregory, Shutterstock

The Cat’s Background: Why Does It Matter?

In the wilderness, it’s up to the mothers to teach their kittens how to hunt. That’s how the babies learn about stalking, chasing, and killing prey. And when they grow into adults, they stick to the same old techniques. Even the choice of prey is heavily influenced by the mother. For example, if she taught the offspring how to take down mice, that’s what they’ll be hunting for the rest of their days.

Or if the kittens were trained to hunt birds, they would largely ignore rodents and go after a blue jay, house wren, or any other birdie. More than that, they won’t be able to take down any other type of prey that they haven’t been hunting since birth. So, yes, the background does very much matter. If your cat doesn’t see rodents as prey, the chances of it becoming friends with a rat will be much higher!

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Rats Can Fight Back and Harm Cats

This might come as a surprise, but felines often take huge risks when attacking prey. Birds and rodents can fight back, causing serious injuries to the feline. And if they carry an infection, that can mean lights out for the furry hunter. But cats prefer to let grown rats be and focus on the smaller ones. That’s why they do a great job of killing mice yet can never truly hurt a population of rats.

Now, cats aren’t exactly the biggest predators out there. Compared to other felines (lions, tigers, cheetahs, and even wild cats), domestic kitties are much smaller. So, they have to be careful in choosing their prey. This is actually great news if you want to keep rats in the house. The bigger the rat, the less worried it will have to be about the cat. The feline might even be scared of the rat.

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Image Credit: Viacheslav Lopatin, Shutterstock

Do Rats Attack Cats? What About Kittens?

Here’s another fact that you might not know: rats can kill cats and even dogs! This only applies to kittens and puppies, of course, and rats usually attack the smallest breeds. Therefore, if your cat recently gave birth to a bunch of adorable kittens and you have a big, mighty pet rat, it could attack those babies. That happens rarely, but you still need to be careful.

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So, Can These Pets Co-exist Peacefully?

In all fairness, it would be best to keep the rat and the cat in separate rooms. Ideally, these pets should never cross paths, as that may end badly for the rodent. The rat will be perfectly happy having an entire room to itself, knowing it won’t be in danger. As for the cat, unless it’s been hunting rodents all of its life, it won’t necessarily be interested in finding access to that other room and killing the little guy.

A cage for the rat may also work. But, if the cat is always around, that will be stressful for the rodent. The feline might be looking for opportunities to attack (like when you’re away). To avoid that, make sure the cage is outside of the feline’s reach, the bars are sturdy, and there are no big gaps. This will keep the rat safe from the bigger, stronger predator.

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Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

Introducing a Rat to a Cat: A Quick Guide

When you bring the rodent home, don’t let the cat see it; instead, keep the rat in a separate room. Both creatures have a very specific scent and will know of each other’s presence via the odors. Give them time to get used to the idea of living under the same roof. Only then let the rodent and the feline have a proper introduction. Go slow, always keep the rat in a cage, and abort the second you notice signs of stress.

Be very patient, provide supervision, and prevent the feline from getting too close to the rodent. Watch closely and reward it for being friendly. If the rat seems to be comfy around the cat, you may open the cage door and see where that goes. Depending on the cat’s temperament, background, and hunting habits, it might recognize the rat as a little buddy and start a beautiful friendship!

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Conclusion

A friendship between a cat and a rat is not a common thing. That said, if you put your mind to it, you might be able to help these pets see eye to eye. With a bit of luck, felines can have the same dynamic with a rat that they have with dogs, especially if you adopt and raise them together as babies.

This doesn’t guarantee a 100% success rate, however. Cats are carnivores and hunt rats as a source of food. So, it would be best to keep them in separate rooms. Or, if the two seem to like each other, you may put the rat in a cage. But still, never leave them alone with each other!


Featured Image Credit: Etienne Outram, Shutterstock



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