Do Rats Carry Rabies?

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You might have heard frightening stories about rats carrying various diseases – which is definitely true. Rodents are carriers of a number of different viruses, which are shed through their saliva, urine, and droppings. They can carry fatal pathogens like hantavirus

Yet, one common question pertains to a virus more commonly seen in bats, raccoons, and coyotes. Do rats carry rabies? This deadly virus is notorious for its severe effects on both animals and humans.

To set the record straight, this article sheds light on the relationship between rats and rabies, discusses potential risks associated with rat-borne illnesses, and offers valuable information on prevention measures to keep you and your loved ones safe.

Key Takeaways

Rats can theoretically contract and spread rabies. However, there is a low risk of transmission to humans compared to more common carriers like raccoons, foxes, and bats.
Even though it’s extremely unlikely for rats to transmit rabies, they are responsible for other risks such as hantavirus and salmonella.
Diseases spread by rats aren’t typically spread through bites, but are transmitted through contact with their urine or feces.

Rabies and Rats

Rabies is a viral disease that affects the nervous system and can cause fatal encephalitis in humans and other animals, but in contrast to popular belief, wild rats are generally not known for carrying rabies.

What is Rabies?

Rabies is a preventable viral disease that primarily affects mammals and can be life-threatening if left untreated. The infection is typically transmitted through contact with the saliva of an infected animal, most commonly via bites or scratches.

Nonetheless, there have been reported cases of rabies in rodents throughout northeastern and mid-Atlantic states due to infections from enzootic raccoon strain. Scientists theorize that rats do not frequently carry rabies because they are small animals; thus their chances of survival after an attack by a rabid predator diminish significantly.

Can Rats Carry Rabies?

While it’s certainly possible for rats to contract rabies, instances of rats carrying the virus are extremely rare due to their small size and low survival rate after an attack by a larger infected animal.

The risk of contracting rabies from wild rats is much lower than that from more common carriers like raccoons, foxes, and bats.

Rats, often associated with spreading diseases and posing a public health risk, are surprisingly less likely to carry rabies compared to other common animals. Though it is possible for these rodents to contract the virus, instances of rats carrying rabies are extremely rare. While this comes as reassuring news for those concerned about potential exposure from rats, it’s crucial not to let our guard down entirely.

Wet Rat on Dark Gravel

Rats vs Other Wild Carriers of Rabies

Rabies is a deadly viral disease that primarily affects mammals, and it’s essential to understand the distinction between rats and other animals known for carrying rabies.

Although rodents, such as rats, can theoretically contract rabies, they represent a low risk of transmission to humans compared to more common carriers like raccoons, foxes, and bats.

Nevertheless, it’s crucial not to dismiss the potential dangers associated with rat infestations completely. While their likelihood for transmitting rabies is significantly lower than other mammalian species, precautions should still be taken when dealing with these pests.

Implementing rodent control measures can help reduce the chances of making contact with potentially infected rats or contaminated saliva – which remains one of the main transmission methods for this brain infection virus.

Risks of Rabies

Rodent-borne rabies can be transmitted to humans and pets through bites, scratches, or contact with the infected animal’s saliva or nervous system tissue – but it is exceptionally rare. More likely exposure is through your pet’s interaction with wild animals like raccoons or bats. 

Transmission to Humans and Pets

Rats, like other animals such as raccoons and bats, can transmit rabies to humans and pets through bites or scratches. The virus is present in the saliva of infected animals, making any break in the skin from an animal bite a potential pathway for transmission.

Once transmitted, the virus attacks the central nervous system, leading to severe symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle weakness or spasms, seizures, and even death. It’s important to note that not all rats carry rabies and being bitten by a rat does not necessarily mean exposure to rabies; however, it is still crucial to seek medical attention if bitten or scratched by any wild animal.

Symptoms and Treatment of Rabies

Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system of mammals, including humans. Symptoms of rabies can take weeks or months to appear and often include fever, headache, weakness, and muscle spasms. 

In later stages, symptoms can progress to confusion, agitation, hallucinations, and paralysis.

There are no cures for people who have contracted the virus; however, post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) vaccinations given immediately after exposure before any symptoms onset-can prevent infection from developing in bite victims effectively.

Treatment also typically involves one dose of immune antibodies on day one followed by four doses of the vaccine over a fourteen-day period (days 0-3-7-14).

Symptoms of Rabies in Animals

Rabies symptoms vary depending on the animal species and its behavior. In general, common signs of a rabid animal include aggression, disorientation, and strange movements or vocalizations.

For example, bats with rabies may exhibit unusual flying patterns or appear grounded while still alive.

Other signs of an infected rat include loss of appetite, weakness or seizure activity. It’s important to note that not all animals display obvious signs of infection before they die from rabies complications so it is best to be cautious around wild animals especially when they are behaving in a way that is unusual for them.

Other Health Risks Associated With Rats

Rats can transmit a number of other diseases such as hantavirus, which can be transmitted to humans through indirect contact with their urine or feces when cleaning, or by consuming contaminated food.


Hantavirus is a viral disease that can be transmitted through inhaling dust or particulate matter that is contaminated with the virus, which is carried by rodents such as mice and rats. This could mean anything contaminated with rat urine, saliva, or droppings. 

The virus causes severe symptoms such as fever, muscle aches, and difficulty breathing.

Hantavirus can also cause life-threatening conditions such as hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) and hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS). In the United States and other parts of the world, only certain species of rodents are known to carry the virus.


Rats are often associated with the spread of dangerous infectious diseases, and Salmonella is one such bacterium that rats can carry. This bacterium thrives in warm-blooded animals like rats and can contaminate their feces, which then contaminates food and water sources.

Humans can contract Salmonella by consuming food or water contaminated with rat feces bacteria. Symptoms of this infection include diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, and vomiting.

It’s important to maintain proper hygiene when handling anything that could come into contact with rat feces bacteria as it can quickly lead to contamination. 

Proper hand washing techniques after handling anything possibly contaminated with animal waste will reduce your chances of contracting an infection such as Salmonellosis from contact through the mouth or other means.

How to Prevent Rat Infestation

To prevent rat infestations – regardless of the risk of rabies – you need to seal any external entry points in your home, remove food and water sources, implement rodent control measures such as traps or baits, and vaccinate your pets.

Sealing Entry Points

Sealing entry points is a crucial step in preventing rodent infestations and controlling the spread of diseases like rabies, hantavirus, salmonella, and other viruses. Rats can squeeze through openings as small as a quarter inch, so it’s essential to block every potential entry point.

They love places like crawl spaces, walls, attics, pipes, barns, and basements – anywhere they can find food and water. So pay extra special attention to entry points to those areas.

It’s best to use durable materials such as steel wool or caulking instead of temporary solutions like foam or plastic that rodents can easily gnaw through. Sealing off entry points helps to create an effective barrier between your home and any wildlife outside.

Remove Food and Water Sources

Eliminating food and water sources is a critical step in preventing rat infestations and controlling the spread of rodent-borne disease. Rodents are attracted to places with easy access to food, making garbage and leftover pet food common attractants.

Even foods that are supposedly deterrents such as coke or onions are not effective and should be cleaned.

By keeping food stored properly in sealed containers and removing any loose rubbish, we can limit access for rats and reduce their population rapidly. Additionally, rodents need water to survive, meaning that eliminating standing water in bird baths or fixing leaks will help reduce potential breeding sites for rats.

Sanitation practices such as cleaning up garbage frequently can also help control rodent infestations by reducing the presence of potential nesting materials.

Rodent Control Measures

To prevent rat infestations, it is crucial to implement effective rodent control measures. One critical step in this process is to identify and seal off any entry points rats may be using to access your property.

Another important measure is removing food and water sources that attract rats. This includes cleaning up garbage and rubbish regularly, storing pet food indoors in sealed containers, and ensuring there are no standing bodies of water on your property.

Additionally, implementing rat-proofing techniques such as screening vents with mesh wire can prove highly effective in controlling rodent populations.

Vaccinating Pets

It is crucial to vaccinate your pets to protect them from rabies and other diseases carried by rodents. Rabies can be fatal for both animals and humans, so preventative healthcare for pets is essential.

Canine vaccinations are particularly important in areas where wildlife is common as wild animals can transmit the disease through bites or scratches to your pet without you knowing. 

FAQs About Rats and Rabies

While it’s a myth that all rodents carry rabies, it is still a possibility – albeit a rare one. These are the most frequently asked questions when it comes to the relationship between rats and rabies. 

Do All Rats Carry Rabies?

Contrary to popular belief, not all rats carry rabies. In fact, according to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), rodents such as rats and mice have not been well-documented to transmit the virus that causes rabies to humans.

It’s important to note that while they can carry the virus, it’s next to impossible for a domestic rat within a home or building to contract rabies. 

However, if you suspect any exposure or contact with wild rodents, or get bitten by a wild rat, it is best to contact your local health department immediately.

Can Rats Transmit The Virus Through Urine And Feces?

Although rats do not typically carry rabies, they can still transmit dangerous diseases through their urine and feces. Rabies is not known to be transmitted this way. It is, however, transmitted through saliva – when it enters any of your mucous membranes, including eyes and mouth. 

Of course, the most common way is through a bite from an infected animal. 

Rats are known carriers of bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli, as well as viruses like hantavirus that pose a serious threat to human health.

It is important to take precautions when dealing with rodent infestations in order to minimize exposure to disease transmission through their waste. 

Sweeping and vacuuming should only be done using proper protective gear such as gloves and respiratory masks, and all surfaces should be thoroughly disinfected after cleaning up any droppings or urine traces left behind by rats.


While many people may be afraid of rats and believe they carry rabies, the reality is that the risk of a wild rat carrying this disease is small. While it’s important to take measures to prevent rodent infestations and control other viral-bacterial health risks associated with rats, worrying about getting rabies from these animals should not be a major concern.

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Sean is the founder of Conquer Critters. With more than 17 years of experience in dealing with various pests, he is passionate about spreading his knowledge to help everyone manage their pest problem in the fastest, most effective manor possible.

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