I am often asked “are rats dangerous”, which is a difficult question to answer, I find myself asking “are rats dangerous in comparison to what?”. Certainly they are more dangerous to us than say, a snail, but they are far less dangerous to humans than, well, other humans!
You can find danger anywhere if you look hard enough, but rats don’t come near to featuring anywhere on my list of things to be concerned about
My first experience with rats
As a teenager I had a companion rat called Elemental, or Mental for short, and I adored him. He was a black hooded rat who was rescued by a friend from some school kids who were badly abusing him. I had no experience with rats so didn’t know what to expect but he was fantastic, very affectionate, extremely clever and a devoted friend.
He went everywhere with me, sitting on my shoulder or hiding down my t-shirt. I had a large cage for him but I never bothered to keep it shut, he slept in the bed with me! And when he died I was utterly bereft. That is where my love of rats began.
As an adult I have been truly horrified at how “disposable” these sensitive, intelligent animals are viewed in society. “Are rats dangerous” is not the question I ask, but how do I protect rats from humans. It is not only acceptable and encouraged, but in some cases it is the law to kill them. The most common being a slow, agonising death from poisoning.
How does rat poison work?
There are 5 ways rat poisons work and at differing speeds:
- Death from internal bleeding (5-7 days)
- Death from heart attack (3-4 days)
- Death from lung failure (12 hours – 2 days)
- Death from central nervous system failure (14 hours–4 days)
- Death from dehydration (3-5 days)
All five of these poisons cause extremely painful, drawn out deaths. I researched how each of these deaths occur and have decided not to give details in this blog. It is extremely distressing to read, of course to experience it would be unimaginably worse.
The pest controller hoax
The question “are rats dangerous” is readily answered by pest controllers with a resounding YES. And they keep this myth alive for one over riding reason, profit. They make their money from the lack of knowledge most people have about rats. The chances of you falling ill because of the presence of rats is minimal, you are far more likely to get ill from being around other humans. I don’t know anyone who has died from being around rats, yet I sadly know many who have been killed by cars. Perspective is needed.
The truth is, killing rats will not solve the “problem” of their presence, the rats will die and more rats will move in creating a cycle of suffering for the rats and profit for the pest controllers.
The solution is relatively simple, rats love warm places with a steady food supply and protection from the elements. Remove the food supply and make the environment inhospitable, and the rats will move on. Prevention is key if you don’t want to share your space with our furry friends.
Rats show empathy
As humans, when we see another human suffering we feel distress for them, this emotion has been observed repeatedly in rats. In one study at the University of Chicago, two rats were placed in cages. One was allowed to roam free and the other was restrained in a clear tube. This tube could be opened from the outside only. Most rats quickly learned how to open the door to free the trapped rat and did so consistently. I encourage you to read the article here.
The study had it’s doubters, who were convinced the rats were not releasing their companions for altruistic reasons but for companionship. So another study was conducted in Japan to test if rats saved other rats for the company or if it was out of empathy.
An experimental box with two compartments divided by a transparent partition was built. On one side a rat was forced to swim in a pool of water, causing the rat distress and the only way the rat could escape is if the rat on the other side (not in water), pushed open a small door which allowed the other rat to get to safety.
Within days the rats were regularly saving the other rats by opening the door, however they did not open the door if there was no danger to the other rat confirming they were responding to the rat being in distress, not because they wanted the company. You can read about it in more detail here.
These and other studies are some of the many reasons I find the question “are rats dangerous” so confounding. Rats are altruistic and deserving of our admiration and care.
Rats are clever
Rats are extremely clever animals who excel at learning and understanding concepts, they are like little dogs! YouTube is filled with videos of rats performing tricks, I have lost many hours of my life to watching rat videos and don’t regret it for a moment!
I had a neighbour a few years ago who didn’t know me very well and we somehow got onto the subject of rats. He told me how he uses the rat poison that “dries them out when they die so they don’t stink under the floorboards”. I asked why he would want to kill animals in such a horrific manner and his response was that the humane traps don’t work because once you catch one rat the others learn not to go into them.
Unfortunately his thought process there is the same as so many humans where rats are concerned, instead of marvelling at how they are intelligent, altruistic beings, they think ‘vermin’.
So are rats dangerous?
Where there are humans, there are rats. We are messy, irresponsible animals who have no respect for our environment. Rats run around after us clearing up the discarded food we leave everywhere. Yet we very rarely see them. That is because they don’t want any trouble, they live alongside us trying to live their lives while keeping out of our way.
So in conclusion my answer to the question, “are rats dangerous” is a heartfelt NO.
The next time you see a rat please remember, they mean you no harm, they are doing their best to keep out of your way. So be kind and offer them the same respect.