Is A Cat Scared Of A Rat?

Typical Behaviors of Cats Around Rats

Cats typically exhibit fear responses when encountering rats, due to the rat’s large size and aggressive tendencies compared to the cat. Common fear behaviors cats display around rats include hissing, growling, swatting, puffing up fur, arching their backs, and fleeing from the perceived threat (Kuo, 1930).

When afraid, cats will often hiss through their teeth as a warning sound. The hiss demonstrates the cat’s agitation and signals the rat to keep its distance. Cats may also growl deeply from their throats to seem fierce and intimidating. Swatting paws and puffing up fur make the cat appear bigger and more challenging to the rat. Ultimately, the cat wants to avoid a physical confrontation, so fleeing from an approaching rat is the cat’s final defense. According to animal behaviorist Nicholas Porter, “The cat’s hissing, growling, swatting, puffing up fur, and running away are instinctual fear responses when encountering rats, dating back to the evolutionary origins of felines.” (Porter, 2021).

Evolutionary History Between Cats and Rats

Cats and rats have a long shared evolutionary history as predator and prey. As recent research shows, cats were originally domesticated by early farmers to help control rodent populations around grain stores. This predator-prey relationship evolved over thousands of years, with cats relying on rats and mice as a food source while rats tried to avoid being caught and eaten.

In the wild, rats can be dangerous prey for cats. Large rats have sharp teeth and can bite, scratch, and injure cats, especially kittens and smaller cats. According to a study of feral cats and rats in New York City, rats accounted for much of the serious injuries and deaths suffered by the cats. Rats will aggressively defend themselves and their young, requiring cats to cautiously hunt them.

This shared evolutionary past of predation and competition has left an imprint on cats’ behaviors and instincts towards rats even today. The size, strength, and aggressiveness of rats means cats have an inborn wariness and respect for rats as prey. However, cats’ natural hunting instincts to stalk, kill, and eat rats still remain strong despite potential dangers.

Cats Can Be Scared of Rats Due to Size

One of the main reasons a cat may be scared of rats is due to the rat’s size. Rats tend to be noticeably larger and heavier than mice. According to the site Rentokil (, an adult rat can reach 8-10 inches in length including the tail and weigh around 225-450g. Comparatively, mice have much smaller, slender bodies and typically only reach 3-4 inches in length.

Seeing a rat that is double the size of a mouse or more can be intimidating for a cat. Even if a cat is an experienced mouser, the rat’s larger size may give it an advantage in a confrontation. Cats generally rely on agility, stealth, and the element of surprise when hunting rodents. But with rats being bigger and potentially more aggressive, cats may become wary and frightened when facing off against them.

Kittens and smaller cats may be especially intimidated by the larger stature of rats. The size differential is greater, putting them at more of a disadvantage. Until a cat gains more hunting experience and maturity, the rat’s size alone can be enough to scare off a cat.

Cats Can Be Wary of Rats’ Aggression

While rats typically avoid confrontations, they can become aggressive when cornered or protecting their young. Rats have strong jaws and sharp teeth that can deliver painful bites. According to wildlife experts, rats may bite cats in self-defense if the cat attempts to kill them (source).

Rats, especially larger ones, can emit aggressive squeaks, growls, and lunges to scare off potential predators like cats. While a rat is unlikely to kill a cat, they can give nasty bites that deter cats from future confrontations (source). As a result, some cats may become wary and frightened by rats that aggressively defend themselves.

Cats that encounter aggressive rat behaviors may choose to avoid rats in the future rather than risk injury from bites. This learned caution around rats can sometimes manifest as fear or skittishness in cats. However, well-fed domestic cats are still natural hunters and will typically prevail against rats when determined, despite potential aggression.

Cats Use Caution When Hunting Rats

Despite their natural hunting instincts, cats tend to be cautious and calculated when hunting rats. Rats can be aggressive when cornered and their bites can cause serious injury, especially to a cat’s face, ears, and paws. Cats have an innate ability to assess dangers, so they will typically approach rats carefully and only attack when they feel they have the upper hand.

According to one source, cats prefer to catch rats by surprise and aim for a quick, clean kill rather than getting locked in prolonged struggles ( Cats rely on their stealth and use their lightning-fast reflexes to grab a rat before it has a chance to retaliate. Their goal is to dispatch the rat swiftly to avoid injury.

Additionally, cats will carefully survey an area and pick their hunting ground wisely when targeting rats. They prefer confined spaces where the rat cannot flee too far. By cornering their prey, cats can better control the interaction and strike decisively. Overall, cats display cunning hunting techniques against rats, leveraging their agility and environment to compensate for their smaller size.

Kittens May Be More Frightened of Rats

Kittens and young cats may be more frightened of rats than adult cats. Kittens have less hunting experience and their small size makes them more vulnerable to potential attacks or retaliation from large rats. As described by some cat owners on Quora, kittens can be “terrified” of rats and run away from them rather than engaging them as prey (source).

Kittens typically weigh between 3-5 pounds at around 4 months old, while large rats can exceed 2 pounds in size. This size disparity means kittens recognize rats as formidable opponents. Additionally, kittens lack the confidence and finely honed hunting skills of adult cats. With their immature abilities, kittens may perceive rats as intimidating adversaries. They tend to exhibit fear through crying, hiding, or fleeing until they mature.

Cats’ Personalities Play a Role

Just like humans, cats have a range of personality types. This contributes to whether an individual cat is more or less likely to be afraid of rats.1 Scaredy cats tend to be more timid, anxious, and frightened by new experiences. These cats will likely be more afraid of rats than bold, confident cats.
Kittens that were undersocialized or had traumatic experiences may grow into scaredy adult cats. On the other hand, cats with an intrepid spirit and little fear are more likely to show no fear towards rats. Their boldness gives them confidence to face the rat despite the size difference. Super-chilled out cats may also show less fear due to their unflappable temperament.

Knowing your cat’s personality can give you insight into how they will react to rats. Scaredy cats need more precautions taken to protect them, while bold hunter cats can likely hold their own. However, all cats should be monitored around rats to prevent potential harm.

Early Socialization Reduces Fear

Kittens who are socialized with rats from a young age are less likely to develop a fear of rats as adults. This early exposure teaches kittens that rats are not a threat. According to research by Ahola (2017) published on the National Library of Medicine (, kittens who are weaned too early and do not receive proper socialization can develop increased fear and aggression as adults. By regularly exposing kittens to rats in a calm, positive environment starting at 2-7 weeks old, cats can learn to see rats as fellow occupants of the home rather than frightening intruders.

Early socialization teaches kittens how to interact properly with rats and understand typical rat behaviors. This prevents fearful reactions later on. Kittens should be supervised when socializing with rats to avoid trauma on either side. With gentle guidance, kittens will gain confidence and learn that rats are not to be feared. Proper early socialization with rats creates a landscape of trust rather than fear.

Training Cats to Deter Rats

Cats can effectively be trained to catch and deter rats. According to this source, cats have a natural predatory instinct to hunt small prey like rats and mice. However, some training can help refine and develop those instincts. Training a young kitten by having them observe an experienced mouser can be helpful in showing them techniques for catching rats. Using positive rewards when they do catch rats will reinforce the behavior. Adult cats without rat catching experience can also be trained using play techniques and rewards to hone their instincts. For example, using toys that mimic rats during playtime can teach cats to pounce. Giving treats when they show interest or catch toy “rats” encourages the predatory behavior. Training sessions should start small and increase in difficulty as the cat progresses. With time and consistency, cats can become quite proficient at deterring and catching rats around the home. Proper training allows cats to put their natural hunting abilities to work in helping control rodent problems.

Precautions for Cats Around Rats

When cats and rats interact, it’s important for cat owners to take precautions to protect their feline companions. This is especially true when it comes to preventive care for cats that may be exposed to rats.

One of the most important precautions is keeping your cat up-to-date on vaccinations. According to the ASPCA, cats should receive vaccines for panleukopenia, calicivirus, rhinotracheitis, and rabies as kittens, with booster shots throughout their lives. These vaccines help prevent diseases that can be transmitted by rodents like rats (1).

It’s also crucial to use flea, tick, and parasite prevention regularly. Parasites are easily spread between rats and cats, so monthly preventatives keep your cat protected. Work with your vet to choose the right parasite prevention plan for your cat.

Keep rats out of your home as much as possible by sealing any entry points and tidying food spillage that could attract them. This limits direct contact between rats and cats. It’s also wise to provide stimulation with toys and cat trees so your cat is less inclined to hunt rats (2).

If your cat does catch a rat, take it to the vet right away. They can check for wounds and give preventative antibiotics in case of rat bite fever or other illnesses. Be vigilant for any signs of sickness in your cat after rat interactions.

While encounters between cats and rats can occasionally happen, preventive care keeps your cat safe and healthy. Talk to your vet for any other precautions you can take based on your cat’s lifestyle and rat exposure.

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