What Do Rats Eat in Winter?

What Do Rats Eat in Winter?

Rats, like all rodents, are warm blooded mammals that naturally seek out warm environments for their own comfort and for the protection of their young. But unlike many other animals—including other rodents, such as chipmunks—rats do not hibernate during the cold winter months at all. In fact, they’re not even capable of storing up extra fat in their gut like squirrels do. Rats have no special characteristics driven into their genetics that would allow them to survive the winter months with ease. But somehow, despite the challenges presented to them, we still see rats in winter, thriving in snowy landscapes, rummaging through subways and sewer lines, and sometimes even within our own homes! Rather than suffer through the cold, rats actually seem to live quite well, hardly unbothered by the winter weather. They’re still as pesky as ever, prospering so greatly that there’s usually plenty of little rat spawn by the time spring comes around again.

You might ask, how is this possible? When food naturally becomes more scares in the cold for a lot of living creatures, how is it that rats continue to thrive seemingly without a hitch? What do rats eat in winter? Here’s not only a list of foods rats can eat, but a short comprehensive guide to how rats outsmart the harsh winter months.

Understanding Rats

Let’s understand one thing first. Although rats seem to do quite well in the cold, the truth is that rats hate the winter, and they’re constantly searching for warm places to call home. When you see the critters suddenly breaking their way into your attic or basement, scurrying about, causing you a headache, it might not be what you think. Their rambunctious activity isn’t a sign that rats are immune to the cold, or even empowered because of it. Instead, it’s quite the opposite. Their survival instincts are fierce which is why they become exceedingly desperate to seek shelter within your warm house during winter as opposed to spring and summer, where shelter is mostly abundant.

Let’s look at how these rodents naturally survive in the wild. This will help you understand how exactly you can safeguard your home from these unwanted visitors.


To answer the previous question about how rats find food in the scarcity of winter, these guys are clever enough to start hoarding way in advance! We’re talking even as early as late summer to early fall. If you were to sit and observe rats’ eating habits through spring and summer, (which is something none of us usually have any desire to do) you’d notice how they would start to change as autumn approaches. Instead of the way rats usually eat, sampling every little thing they find, leaving 80% of what they consume uneaten, you’d witness rats hoarding up this food, bringing it back to wherever their nests lie to be consumed at a later time.

brown rat eating in winter

Courtesy of wolfgang_vogt

What Do Rats Eat?

Rats are not picky eaters in the least! They will find anything and everything to bring back to their nests for themselves and their young. Here’s just a brief list of foods rats can eat:

  • Bird seed
  • Pet food
  • Nuts
  • Grains
  • Insects
  • Meats
  • Leftovers thrown away in the garbage.

Understanding what kinds of foods rats can eat, will help you keep these rodents away from your home, even if they may already be attempting to find their way indoors. Don’t give them an extra incentive! Bird seed and pet foods become some of the easiest attractors to rats. This is because homeowners enjoy having bird feeders near the home, and they usually leave their pet food out for their dog or cat to come and eat as they please. Although these are generous gestures to the animals that are welcome, it doesn’t keep away those that are not.

Because of this, it might be best to take down the bird feeder as the colder seasons approach, or at least move it somewhere farther away from the home. If rats feel no threat in stealing seeds right out of the bird feeder every day, they won’t hesitate for a moment to reap the benefits of your nice warm house as well. The same goes for pet food. All uneaten foods should be picked up and stored away when it’s not feeding time. And don’t forget about those garbage cans! Be sure to seal them shut with a lid to keep rats from digging through the trash. If rats are confident that they can consistently sneak food from these places, they will definitely make it a routine.

Of course, this also goes for keeping the inside of the house clean and as free of crumbs as possible. A place that doesn’t have food is not a place a rat ever wants to be. Learn more here about what rats love to eat and how to keep them out of your pantry for good!

Nesting and Burrowing

So far, we have a basic understanding of what rats eat, and we know they like to hoard up these foods as a safety net for winter, but you might still be wondering how exactly they survive the winter cold. Physically. Especially if they’re unable to succeed in breaking indoors. That’s where a rat’s resourcefulness, once again, comes into play.

Rats can burrow! Not the same way snakes or gophers do. Rather, when rats burrow, their holes consist of only one entry and exit point. This is because rats, even freezing rats, would rather seek out shelter within your home than stay in a little hole. They’ll constantly search for better places to live while they continue to scavenge for any bits of food they can find for their nests. And since their nests are often times built within these burrows, they usually hunt for warm places to dig—likely next to fences and walls which will act as an insulator, keeping the rodents warm with their own body heat as they wait out the weather.

rat burrow and nest

Courtesy of David Dibert

You might have heard the term “rat’s nest” before. It’s usually in reference to one’s disheveled, knotted bedhead. Picture the worst case of that you’ve ever seen and it’s not so far from the reality of a rat’s real nest. Just as strands of hair clump together and spring out in all sorts of directions, rats don’t really have any fancy ways of designing their nests like birds do. They basically just clump together anything they find and call it good! Items that they might use for a nest are paper, cloth, hair, twigs, cotton, etc… anything soft, warm, and easy to carry, they’ll use for nesting material. Finding these items lumped together is usually a tell-tale sign for rats living in the area.

Have a Rat Problem?

Sometimes despite even your best efforts, pesky rats still find their way indoors, crawling into the attic or basement where they hope to stay the remainder of winter, or even forever if you’ll allow them! This, of course, is a major problem considering wild rats carry many types of diseases and should never be allowed to dwell in a home.

Once a rat gets comfortable, you’d be surprised at how quickly an infestation can manifest. If you’re currently hearing noises at night or seeing bite marks in your cereal boxes or fruit, it’s time to put an end to it. Rats are extremely resourceful and will do just find outdoors, so if you need help handling these unwanted visitors, don’t hesitate to call your local pest control. The Green Rat Control is every bit prepared to take those rodents off your hands in the fastest way possible, even rodent proofing your home to ensure they never return.