Home /


/ Can Rats Swim & Are They Good Swimmers? (Sewer Rats Explained)

Can Rats Swim & Are They Good Swimmers? (Sewer Rats Explained)

Rats can swim, and they are good at it. No one knows if they like to swim, but they do it out of necessity. Rats can hold their breath for three minutes and swim up to a kilometer. This ability allows them to swim through pipes, sometimes coming up through the toilet.

Have you ever wondered how rats managed to get to your home?

The truth is, they do so in many ways.

Rats are skillful animals. They can jump, climb vertically, and even swim.

Rats can jump up to 36 inches vertically and 48 inches horizontally. They are skilled climbers too, able to reach high places like trees, roofs, or attics. 

Lastly, rats are great swimmers. They can swim for up to three days and hold their breath for three minutes.

All these skills help them effectively infest homes and other places they want to live in. It is necessary to know these aspects to properly get rid of rats.

In this article, you learn whether rats can swim, how they swim, and whether they can swim up in the toilet.

Can Rats Swim?

Yes, rats can swim. They learn this early in their lives, especially brown and black rat species. Rats swim to reach food sources or travel long distances. Some rats can swim a mile or more.

Everyone knows that rats travel through sewers and pipes to get to various places, including toilets. 

They do so by swimming.

Swimming is a skill that has helped rats become one of the most widespread species on earth.

Rats learn to swim in the early stages of life, being forced by their circumstances. They swim for the following reasons:

  • Find different food sources that they find in the water.[1]
  • Cover certain distances.
  • Get to certain places.
  • Get rid of predators.

Wild rats often swim through sewers and pipes to reach buildings they cannot enter from the outside.

Pet rats swim to play or cool down when it’s hot outside.

Related Article: Can Rats Climb? (Are They Good Climbers and Jumpers?)

Do Rats Swim

Can Rats Swim Underwater?

Rats can swim underwater, but they are not aquatic animals. They do it for short distances as they do not have gills.[2]

Aquatic animals have modified bodies, allowing for better swimming. They also live in, on, or near the water. 

There are semi-aquatic species of rats, which have their bodies adapted to hunt in the water. They are called water-rats and have webbed fingers and furry tails.[3] 

All these traits help them swim better and hunt underwater.[4]

 Water ratCommon rat
FaceRounded and blunt.Pointy.
TailFurry. Half the length of the body.Pink tail that seems hairless. The same length as the body.
EarsSmall and furry.Visible and hairless.
PawsFurry.Pink and hairless.
Fur colorDeep brown or black.Light brown or black.
Swimming traitsWill dive if alarmed.Will not dive if alarmed.

How Long Can Rats Hold Their Breath?

Rats can hold their breath between 30 seconds and three minutes. They also can spend up to three days treading water, according to National Geographic.

Rats can swim up to a mile without interruption. An experiment tested how long rats can swim. They were put into a bucket of water and swam for 15 minutes, whereafter they stopped and sunk.

After they were removed from the water, dried, and allowed to rest, they were reintroduced to the bucket. The rats swam for almost 60 hours in the second phase of the experiment.[5]

How Do Rats Swim?

Rats swim like dogs. They use their front and hind legs to swim and their tail to maintain direction and balance.

Rats use their legs and tail when swimming. 

The tail moves from side to side and has two roles:

  • It acts like a rudder for direction.
  • It helps maintain balance.

They use their hind legs as a propeller to move forward, pushing off the surface of the water. They also use their forelimbs when swimming, but they are not as strong. The forelimbs help them stay above water.

Their fur also plays a role when they are swimming. It helps them float.

How Do Rats Swim
Image Source

Are Rats Good Swimmers?

Rats are good swimmers. Their swimming capabilities vary greatly between species and individuals. Norwegian rats (Rattus norvegicus) are the best swimmers among common rats. They can swim over a kilometer (0.6 miles).

Rats have small bodies and spend most of their lives on land. They are good climbers but also excellent swimmers. 

They are strong swimmers because of their strong hind legs and aerodynamic body. These traits help them swim and adapt to different water levels.

As with any species, certain skills belong to the individual. There are rats that are better or not so good at swimming. 

Compared to the black rat (Rattus rattus), the Norwegian rat (R. norvegicus) is the best swimmer. It can travel at least one kilometer through the water.

Are Rats Good Swimmers
Image Source

Do Rats Like Water?

No one knows if wild rats like water. What is certain is that they swim out of necessity to find food or to escape from predators. Pet rats, on the other hand, are known to like water. They like to play in the water or cool off.

Rats are natural swimmers. Swimming is a skill they learn from an early age. No one knows if they like water or swimming. 

What is certain is that they do it out of necessity. They do it to survive.

Pet rats, on the other hand, swim out of pleasure. They like water. Many pet rats like to play or cool off in the water.

How to Introduce Your Pet Rat to Water

Not all pet rats like water. Some are shy or scared of water. If you see your rat move away from water, do not insist on teaching it how to swim. This is stressful for the pet.

Here’s how to teach your pet rats how to swim:

  • Prepare a container and fill it with water to cover only the rat’s paws.
  • If it can’t get into the container by itself, provide it with a ladder.
  • Put stones and treats in the water, such as peas.
  • Put your rat on the ladder and watch it.
  • If it doesn’t want to go into the water, you can take a little peanut butter, yogurt, or anything else you know it likes on your finger and try to make your pet follow it into the water.
  • Do not put your pet rat directly in the water. It will scare it.
  • If your rat has entered the water, let it stay as long as it wants.
  • Once the rat is out, increase the depth of the water (slowly). It will take a few days for you to see progress.

Your pet rat should always feel safe. This helps it associate swimming with good memories.

Can Rats Swim Up in the Toilet? (Sewer Rats)

Rats can swim up in the toilet. This is also one of the ways rats get into people’s homes. Brown rats or sewer rats are those that use the pipes to swim to people’s toilets.

As they are good swimmers and can hold their breath for a long time, rats can swim up the toilet.

This behavior is rare, as they prefer to enter the house by other means:

  • Holes
  • Cracks
  • Under the doors
  • Through the attics, etc.


How Far Can Rats Swim?

Rats can swim between 0.5 and 1 kilometer without stopping. The Norwegian rat, which is the best swimmer among rats, can swim over a kilometer. They can also tread water for three days.

Can Rats Breathe Underwater?

No, rats can’t breathe underwater. Their respiratory system is similar to ours, and they need air to survive. They do not have gills like fish or other animals. Rats can hold their breath when underwater for 30 seconds to three minutes.

Can a Rat Swim in the Sea?

Rats can swim in any body of water, including salt water. They are generally the last to abandon a sinking ship. A rat from New Zealand swam 400 meters in the sea from one island to another.

Can I Let My Pet Rat Swim?

Some pet rats love water and they like to play or cool off in it. If you notice your rat likes water, you can let it swim. Make sure your pet always has a ladder or something to grab to get out of the water. To make the experience even more fun, put some treats in the water, such as raw or frozen peas.

About Iulia Mihai (DVM)

Dr. Iulia is a certified veterinarian with more than 10 years of experience in the field. With extensive knowledge of diet, care, and medication, she helps Misfit Animals provide readers with accurate knowledge on technical topics.

Looking for something?

Try searching our website!