Do Rats Play Dead? (Common Reasons and What to Do) (2024)


One of the most intriguing animals on earth is the rat. They can adapt to practically any habitat and thrive there. Additionally, they have a high IQ and can outwit even the most skilled predators. But do rats play dead?

When threatened by a possible predator, rats are known to move in a distinctive way.

When they feel any danger close by, they will immediately start acting dead in the hopes that the predator will move on. They have used this survival talent to deceive several predators and prolong their lives.

Keep reading below as we discuss this in more detail.

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Do Rats Play Dead?


Rats, like other animals, are capable of playing dead as a survival strategy known as “playing possum.” This behavior is an instinctual response to a perceived threat, designed to make the rat appear less desirable to potential predators.

However, it’s important to note that playing dead, or tonic immobility, is not a common behavior in rats, and it’s more likely to happen with wild rats than with pet rats.

When a rat is playing dead, it will become completely limp and unresponsive to outside stimuli. Its breathing will become slow, and its heart rate will decrease, making it appear to be dead.

Some rats will even emit a strong, musky odor, as this is a defense mechanism that signals to the predator that it’s not desirable prey. The rat may remain in this state for several minutes or even longer, depending on the severity of the threat.

The rat will only return to its normal state once it feels safe again or the threat has passed. This behavior is more likely to happen when the rat is caught by surprise, for example, when a predator grabs the rat unexpectedly.

In situations where the rat has time to prepare, it is more likely to run away or hide instead of playing dead.

It’s important to note that playing dead is not something that can be trained or encouraged in pet rats, it’s an instinctual behavior that occurs as a defense mechanism.

Additionally, as pets, rats are not in a state of constant threat, and they are usually not going to be in a situation that would prompt them to play dead.

Domestic rats are unlikely to play dead, as they have become acclimated to human presence and usually do not perceive humans as a threat.

Moreover, rats are intelligent creatures; they are quite curious and playful, and they enjoy playing with toys and interacting with their owners. They can be taught tricks and even learn to play games like fetch.

Domestic rats usually don’t need to play dead to survive, and if you notice your rat playing dead regularly, it could be a sign of a health problem, so it’s important to consult with a veterinarian for an evaluation.

How to Tell if a Rat is Playing Dead or Asleep


Telling the difference between a rat that is asleep and one that is playing dead can be difficult, but there are a few key differences to look out for. Here are some steps you can take to determine if a rat is asleep or playing dead:

Check for Limpness

When a rat is playing dead, it will become completely limp and unresponsive to outside stimuli. Its limbs will hang limply, and it will not respond to touch or movement.

In contrast, when a rat is asleep, its body will be relaxed but not completely limp, and it will still be able to move in response to touch or movement.

Check for Breathing

A rat that is playing dead will have slow and shallow breathing, while a sleeping rat will have regular and normal breathing.

Check for Heart Rate


A rat that is playing dead will have a slow heart rate, while a sleeping rat will have a normal heart rate.

Check for Odor

Rats that play dead might emit a strong, musky odor, this is a defense mechanism, this is not something you will notice when a rat is asleep.

Check for Duration

The duration of playing dead behavior is usually shorter than regular sleep, usually, playing dead lasts for 5-30, while a rat’s sleep will be longer, and it will move occasionally.

Check for Context

The context of where the rat is located and how it was found can also give you clues about what it might be doing.

If the rat is in a place where it would typically hide, or if it was found in an area with potential predators, it’s more likely that the rat is playing dead.

What to Do If a Rat Plays Dead?


When a rat plays dead, it’s important to understand that this is a natural behavior for the animal and that it is designed as a survival strategy to make it appear less desirable to predators.

However, as pet rats are not in a state of constant threat, it’s not common for them to play dead.

Here are some steps you can take if you find your pet rat playing dead:

Remain Calm

When a rat plays dead, it is usually in a state of fear or stress. By remaining calm, you can help reassure the rat that it is safe and that there is no longer any threat present.

Remove the Stressor

If possible, try to identify and remove the stressor that is causing the rat to play dead. This could be a loud noise, a sudden movement, or even a new person in the room.

Give the Rat Space


Once the stressor has been removed, give the rat some space and time to recover. Rats will come out of dead mode on their own once they feel safe again.

Observe the rat

Observe the rat for a few minutes; it should start moving and respond to your presence after a short period of time.

Check for Any Injuries

Once the rat is back to its normal state, you should check it for any injuries, especially if it played dead for a prolonged period of time. If you notice any injuries, it’s best to consult with a veterinarian.

Create a Comfortable and Safe Environment

As a pet owner, it’s your responsibility to ensure that the rat’s environment is safe, comfortable, and free of stressors.

Rats are social animals; they thrive in environments with plenty of room to move around and explore and regular interaction with their owners.

How to Dispose of a Dead Rat


Finding and dealing with a dead mouse in your home can be an unpleasant task, but it is important to handle it properly to prevent the spread of disease and potential hazards. Here are some steps to take when disposing of a dead mouse:

Safety Precautions

Before handling the dead mouse, be sure to protect yourself by wearing gloves and a face mask.

If the mouse was found in an area where you suspect it may have been exposed to disease, take additional precautions, such as wearing protective clothing and eye gear.

Locate the Rat

If the mouse is in an accessible area, you can use a long-handled tool such as tongs or a broom to pick it up and place it in a plastic bag.

If the mouse is in a hard-to-reach area, such as in the wall, you can use a small container or a plastic bag and a stick to pick it up, being careful not to touch it with your bare hands.

Seal the Bag Properly


Once you have picked up the mouse, seal the bag tightly and label it with the date and “biohazard” or “dead mouse” to ensure that others do not accidentally come into contact with it.

Dispose of it Properly

Dispose of the mouse in a sealed, heavy-duty plastic bag, then place that in a covered trash can. The trash should be taken outside as soon as possible and put in a sealed trash bin with a tight-fitting lid.

Clean and Disinfect

After disposing of the mouse, clean and disinfect the area where it was found.

Use a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water, or a commercial disinfectant, to clean the area and any surfaces that the mouse may have come into contact with. Be sure to allow the area to dry completely before using it again.


To prevent mice from entering your home in the first place, it’s important to eliminate any potential entry points and food sources.

Seal up holes, cracks and crevices around the exterior of your home, and keep food stored in airtight containers. Keep your home clean, keep crumbs and food scraps cleaned up, it will make it less appealing for mice to move in.

Conclusion For “Do Rats Play Dead”


Like all rodents, rats would always find ways to avoid being eaten by predators.

Because rats are such cunning creatures, when they are caught by a predator, they always pretend to be dead and then figure out how to flee for their lives when they have the greatest chance to do so.

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