Can rats eat humans?

What you should know about rats

Some facts about rats

  • The animals are shy and nocturnal.
  • As social animals, they need conspecifics because they don't like to be alone.
  • Rats are surprisingly smart.
  • There are millions of rats in Germany. Nevertheless, experts see no risk of a rat plague.
  • Like all wild animals, rats can also transmit diseases, but this is very rare in Germany.
  • The plague was not transmitted by the rats themselves, but by the rat flea.
  • Rats kept as pets belong to a tame breed of rats and are not wild animals.

Not all rats are created equal

There are 65 species of rats worldwide. Only two species of rats live in the wild in Germany:

  • The Black rat has become very rare in this country. She likes it warm and lives higher up, for example in the attic.
  • The Brown rat however, is widespread in our country. She likes to live deep down, likes water, digs passages and loves sewers so that she can move around undetected and protected. That is why the sewer system is a land of milk and honey for the brown rat: it feeds on what we flush through the toilets. The animal can get into the basement via sewage pipes, where it also feels comfortable.

The Color rat is not a wild rat, but a tame breeding rat species that is usually kept as a pet. It is descended from the brown rat, but is no longer a wild animal.

Why rats have a bad image

The first house rats immigrated to Europe in the Middle Ages. They eat garbage and the most important thing that humans need to survive: grain. This gives the animals their bad reputation: rats live at the expense of others.

Rats have also been inextricably linked with the plague since the Middle Ages. They do not transmit the disease themselves, but the rat flea that lives in their fur. Plague epidemics no longer exist today, but the disease breaks out again occasionally. However, the plague itself is considered to be almost extinct.

While it's true that rats can transmit up to 120 different diseases, so do many other wild animals. Only those diseases are passed on that occur in a region anyway.

In Europe, in extremely rare cases, this is leptospirosis. This is a rare infectious disease caused by bacteria called leptospires. In Germany only around 100 people develop leptospirosis each year.

Rats are also viewed critically because they are extremely willing to reproduce. The animals are considered sexually immoderate. A rat mother can theoretically have almost 2,000 children and grandchildren per year. This fuels the fear that the animals could cause a plague. But there are no signs of this.

Rat poison only in professional hands

Rats are regarded as voracious, dirty, and vectors of disease - an incredibly bad reputation! No wonder many want to get rid of the animals. The drug of choice is rat poison. It is the only effective remedy against rats, but it is dangerous to humans, pets and also other wild animals that should not be controlled, such as barn owls and buzzards.

New rat poisons are only permitted under strict conditions and only sold to professionals. Around 870 tons of poison bait are laid out annually in Germany against rats and mice.

Rat poison works differently today

Rats are pack animals. They need conspecifics and take care of them. If one rat eats poison bait and dies on it, the other will be deterred. They no longer eat the bait.

Rat poison therefore works differently today than it used to: the deadly effect sets in with a time delay. Rats that have eaten the poison do not die until a few days later. In this way, other rats do not become suspicious and also eat the poison bait.