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Do Rats Hibernate? (How Rats Survive the Winter)

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Rats do not hibernate. They are active all year round. Instead, rats enter daily lethargy during the cold months. This state lasts for several hours and helps them save energy when food is lacking. They also take shelter in warm places, away from predators.

Among the animals that hibernate are bears, badgers, and prairie dogs, but not rats.

Rats are seen less when the temperature drops because the food is harder to find, or missing. Not because they’re sleeping.

These rodents start gathering provisions for the winter in early fall. Rats do this to avoid having to leave their nest during the cold days.

In this article, you will learn whether rats hibernate, what they do in the winter, what temperatures rats can survive, and more.

What Is Hibernation?

Hibernation is a state of deep lethargy when the metabolism is slowed down. It is much more than a simple sleep. During hibernation, several vital functions of the body slow down to preserve energy. Only a few animals hibernate, and the rat is not among them.

It is difficult for many animals to find food during winter. Some animals solve this problem by hibernating.

Hibernation is not sleeping. It is a state of inactivity and deep lethargy, as opposed to daily lethargy.[1]

Animals that hibernate consume more food than their regular intake before hibernation to store energy in their bodies. They survive with the excess fat they stored up during summer and autumn.

Their bodies draw on the fat for energy, allowing them to sleep for long periods without eating.

Related: How & Where Do Rats Sleep?

What Is Hibernation

Some animals double their weight in preparation for hibernation.

Hibernating animals experience a change in their bodily functions to save energy:

  • Their body temperature drops.
  • Their heart rate reduces (sometimes by up to 90%)
  • Their breathing slows.

These changes help them to survive for a long time while sleeping.

Hibernating animals do occasionally wake up to fulfill their needs:

  • Look for food.
  • Change position.
  • Urinate and defecate.

Here are some examples of hibernating animals:

  • Bears
  • Hedgehogs
  • Bats
  • Snails
  • Snakes
  • Some lizard species, etc.

Do Rats Hibernate?

No, rats do not hibernate. Instead, they go into a state of daily lethargy. Their bodies still experience a drop in activity to lower their energy needs, but not as drastically as hibernation.

Rats, mice, and other wild or domestic rodents do not hibernate in the cold months. 

Instead, they look for food to stock up before the cold months arrive. They store it to eat during the winter, instead of eating it beforehand. 

In environments where food is not plentiful, rats come out of the burrow in the winter to look for it.

Pet rats, those born and raised in captivity for generations, do not stock up on food for winter. They do not change their behavior during winter and remain active because pet rats have food at their disposal provided by their owner.

Do Rat Hibernates

Some rodents do hibernate, including the following:

  • Prairie dogs
  • Ground squirrels
  • Chipmunks
  • Meadow jumping mice
  • Wild hamsters

What Do Rats Do During Winter?

Rats stay in warm places and away from predators during winter, especially if they have food supplied in advance. Their activity level decreases in order to preserve energy.

With the arrival of cold weather, rats are forced from the environments in which they live to seek shelter. They seek shelter in buildings, such as houses, apartments, basements, or industrial buildings. 

These buildings are warm and dry and provide rats with a warm winter shelter free from predators.

If rats do not have access to buildings, they will hide in natural shelters or dig a burrow under rocks, fences, etc.

Those that have not been able to find more food during the fall can come out in winter to search for it. Rats can also eat each other when there is not enough food.[3]

What Do Rats Do During Winter

Can Rats Survive in the Cold?

Rats can survive in cold weather, but they die if it is too cold. Extreme cold causes hypothermia or freezing. Cold and humidity can also cause rats illnesses, especially respiratory, which can lead to death.

Too low or too high temperatures can cause discomfort in rats and lead to illness and even death.

The optimum temperature for rats is 65-80℉ (~18-26℃).[4]

If the rats fail to find a warm, dry shelter in time when the winter comes, they will die of hypothermia or freezing.

Pet rats thrive indoors. If you can’t keep them inside your house, make sure they are in an area away from air currents and cold. The most suitable place is a warm and well-ventilated enclosure with natural light.

If you only have one rat, adopt another (preferably of the same sex). Rats keep each other warm and company.

Keep pet rats warm by adding the following to their enclosure:

  • A layer of wood chips.
  • Shredded newspaper.
  • Warm material, such as fleece.

Due to the cold air and humidity, rats can get respiratory infections and die.

Can Rats Survive in the Cold

When Is Rat Season?

The rat season begins in late summer or early fall. During this period, rats become more active as they prepare for the cold season by hoarding food and finding shelter.

The rat season usually begins in autumn and sometimes in late summer. 

During this period, rats are more active and start looking for food and shelter for the winter months. Rats do this so they don’t have to leave their burrow too often during the cold season.

Related Article: Do Rats Come Out During the Day?

Do Rats Store Food?

Yes, rats store food to survive winter. Rats that don’t have enough food stored up will go out during winter to search for it. If they fail to find any, they eat each other.

Food is not plentiful during winter in the wild. For this reason, some animals choose to hibernate, while others stock up on food. Rats are the kind of animals that make provisions for the winter.

In the fall, rats make provisions and carry the food to their shelter or burrow. They do not consume it immediately but pile and save it for when the cold months to come.

Rats eat almost anything that is alive or dead, including fruits, vegetables, seeds, or meat. If resources are not enough, rats can eat insects or even their feces or each other. 

Because rats prefer to take shelter in buildings and around settlements, they usually find enough food throughout the year and do not need to eat feces or each other.

Do Rats Store Food

How to Keep Rats Away From Your House During Winter

To keep rats away during winter, you need to eliminate food and shelter. Cover up all holes and any access points rats fit through. Clean your house regularly and do not leave food scraps laying around. Keep pet food in glass or metal containers out of reach for rats.

To keep rats away from your home during winter, eliminate any means that provide them with food and shelter. 

Here’s how to rat-proof your house before winter:

  • Block and insulate all holes and cracks rats can pass through (larger than ¼ inches).
  • Cut the branches of the trees that reach your roof.
  • Cut the ivy or any other climbing plants that are found on your fence or home.
  • Make a habit of cleaning your house regularly, insisting on the kitchen area. This is the area where rats most often look for a place to build their nest.
  • Do not leave trash or pet food outside.
  • Store the pet food in a metal or plastic container (materials that are impossible to chew).
  • Keep your pet bowls inside the house.
  • Do not leave food or leftovers outside.
  • Pick up your pet feces or any leftover fruit or nuts that have fallen from trees during the summer/fall.
  • Keep your yard clean, free of piles of leaves, fallen branches, or debris.


Do Rats Have Babies in Winter?

Rats can breed throughout the year but prefer to do so in the warmer months when there is plenty of food. There’s often a lack of food in the winter, and the low temperatures are not suitable for newborns (rats are born without hair).

Do Rats Like the Cold?

No, rats do not like cold weather. They prefer warmer months when the temperatures get to 65-80°F. Rats die if temperatures are too low (freezing temperatures) or high.

Do Rats Come Out in the Winter?

Rats do not go out in the winter unless they are out of food or have been attacked in their burrow. In winter, rats prefer to stay warm and feed on the supplies they have gathered since fall.

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.

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