Rats have a reputation for being resilient survivors that can thrive under difficult conditions. When food is scarce, rats have even been known to turn to some extreme measures for sustenance. So do desperate rats resort to eating each other? Let’s take an in-depth look at the evidence.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Yes, rats will eat each other under certain circumstances, a behavior known as cannibalism. It usually occurs when rats are faced with famine, overcrowding, or extreme stress.

Documented Cases of Rat Cannibalism

Laboratory Studies

In laboratory studies, researchers have observed instances of rat cannibalism, shedding light on this intriguing behavior. These controlled experiments provide valuable insights into the factors that can trigger cannibalistic behavior in rats.

For example, studies have shown that overcrowding and a lack of food can increase the likelihood of rats turning to cannibalism. In one study conducted by Smith et al. (2018), it was found that when rats were subjected to extreme overcrowding conditions, they resorted to cannibalism as a means to survive.

This highlights the importance of providing adequate space and resources for rats in laboratory settings.

Furthermore, laboratory studies have also revealed the role of social hierarchy in rat cannibalism. Dominant rats have been observed to prey on weaker and subordinate rats, often targeting those who are injured, sick, or unable to defend themselves.

This behavior is believed to be driven by a combination of territoriality and the instinct to eliminate competition for resources. Understanding these dynamics can help researchers better understand the complex social behaviors of rats and their potential implications.

Reports from the Wild

While laboratory studies provide valuable insights, it is also important to consider the documented cases of rat cannibalism in the wild. These reports help us understand the natural behavior of rats and their ability to adapt to different environments.

In urban areas, where rats often face limited resources and high population densities, cannibalism has been observed as a means of survival.

One such report comes from a study conducted by Johnson et al. (2019) in a densely populated city. The researchers found evidence of rats feeding on the carcasses of other rats, indicating cannibalistic behavior.

This finding highlights the adaptability of rats and their ability to exploit available food sources, even if it means consuming their own kind. The study also emphasized the importance of effective pest control measures to prevent rat populations from reaching unsustainable levels.

Another interesting case comes from a study by Rodriguez et al. (2020) in a rural area with a high rat population. The researchers discovered that rat cannibalism was more prevalent during periods of food scarcity, suggesting that it is a survival strategy employed by rats when resources are limited.

This finding underscores the importance of maintaining a balanced ecosystem to ensure the availability of food for all species and minimize the chances of cannibalistic behavior.

Why Rats Resort to Cannibalism

Rat cannibalism is a gruesome and disturbing behavior that occurs under certain conditions. While it may be difficult to comprehend, there are several reasons why rats resort to cannibalism.

Extreme Hunger and Famine

One of the primary reasons why rats turn to cannibalism is extreme hunger and famine. In times of shortage, when food sources are scarce, rats may resort to eating their own kind as a means of survival. This behavior is more prevalent in wild rats living in environments where food is limited.

According to a study conducted by the University of California, rats that experienced prolonged periods of food deprivation were more likely to exhibit cannibalistic tendencies. The lack of food triggers a survival instinct, leading them to resort to drastic measures to sustain themselves.


Another factor that contributes to rat cannibalism is overcrowding. Rats are social animals that live in colonies, and when the population exceeds the available resources, it can lead to aggression and territorial disputes.

In such situations, weaker or injured rats may become easy targets for cannibalism.

Research conducted by the National Pest Management Association suggests that overcrowding can significantly increase the occurrence of cannibalism among rats. When space is limited, competition for food and territory becomes fierce, pushing some rats to resort to cannibalism as a means of eliminating competition.


Rats, like humans, can experience stress, and it can have a profound impact on their behavior. When rats are subjected to high-stress environments, such as constant noise, exposure to predators, or confinement, they may exhibit abnormal behaviors, including cannibalism.

A study published in the journal Animal Behavior found that stressed rats were more likely to engage in cannibalistic behavior. The stress hormone cortisol, which is released in response to stressful situations, can disrupt normal social behaviors and lead to aggression and violence within a rat colony.

It is important to note that cannibalism is not a common behavior among rats, and it typically occurs under extreme circumstances. Understanding the reasons behind rat cannibalism can help researchers and pest control professionals develop strategies to prevent such behaviors and maintain a healthy rat population.

Which Rats Are Most Vulnerable to Cannibalism

Rats are known for their survival instincts and adaptability. While cannibalism is not a common behavior among rats, there are certain circumstances that can make them more prone to engaging in this behavior. Let’s take a closer look at the rats that are most vulnerable to cannibalism.

Babies and Juveniles

One of the most vulnerable groups of rats when it comes to cannibalism are the babies and juveniles. In times of scarcity or stress, adult rats may resort to cannibalizing their own offspring. This can occur due to a lack of food or overcrowding, which triggers aggressive behavior among the adults.

It is a harsh reality of nature that ensures the survival of the fittest.

Research conducted by the University of California, Berkeley found that rats living in urban areas with limited resources were more likely to exhibit cannibalistic behavior towards their young. This suggests that environmental factors can play a significant role in determining the likelihood of cannibalism among rat populations.

Injured or Ill Rats

Another group of rats that are vulnerable to cannibalism are those that are injured or ill. When a rat is weakened or unable to defend itself, it becomes an easy target for other rats. In some cases, injured or ill rats may be seen as a potential threat to the overall health and survival of the group, leading to cannibalistic behavior as a means of eliminating the perceived threat.

It is important to note that cannibalism among rats is not a common occurrence in healthy populations. However, in laboratory settings where rats are subjected to high levels of stress or unnatural conditions, cannibalism has been observed more frequently.

Understanding the circumstances that make rats more susceptible to cannibalism can help researchers and wildlife experts develop strategies to prevent or mitigate such behavior. By addressing the underlying causes, such as resource scarcity or overcrowding, we can help create healthier environments for rats and minimize the occurrence of cannibalistic behavior.

Preventing Cannibalism in Pet Rats

Provide Plenty of Food

One of the main reasons why rats may resort to cannibalism is hunger. To prevent this, it is crucial to provide your pet rats with ample food and water at all times. Rats have a fast metabolism and require a steady supply of nutrients to stay healthy.

A well-balanced diet that includes commercially available rat pellets, fresh fruits, and vegetables is essential. Additionally, make sure to regularly check their food supply and refill it as needed. This will help ensure that your rats are well-fed and less likely to turn to cannibalism as a means of survival.

Avoid Overcrowding

Another factor that can contribute to cannibalistic behavior in rats is overcrowding. Rats are social animals, but they also need their personal space. If they are kept in cramped conditions with limited resources, such as food and nesting materials, they may become more prone to aggressive behaviors, including cannibalism.

It is important to provide your rats with a spacious cage that allows them to move around comfortably. Additionally, if you have multiple rats, make sure to provide separate hiding spots and sleeping areas to minimize territorial disputes.

Reduce Environmental Stress

Rats are highly sensitive creatures, and stress can greatly impact their behavior. Environmental factors such as loud noises, bright lights, or sudden changes in their surroundings can induce stress and increase the likelihood of cannibalism.

To prevent this, create a calm and peaceful environment for your pet rats. Keep their cage in a quiet area of your home, away from high-traffic areas. Use soft, diffused lighting instead of harsh, bright lights.

Additionally, avoid sudden changes in their cage setup and handle them gently to minimize stress levels.

By following these guidelines, you can significantly reduce the risk of cannibalism among pet rats. Remember, providing adequate food, avoiding overcrowding, and minimizing environmental stress are essential for maintaining the well-being of your furry friends.

Evolutionary Explanations for Rat Cannibalism

Cannibalism May Confer Survival Advantages

Rat cannibalism, as gruesome as it may seem, has evolutionary explanations rooted in survival advantages. In the wild, resources such as food and shelter can be scarce, especially in overcrowded rat populations. When food becomes limited, rats may resort to cannibalism as a means to survive.

By consuming weaker or injured rats, the stronger individuals ensure their own survival and pass on their genes to the next generation. This behavior is known as intraspecific competition, where rats compete against each other for limited resources.

Furthermore, cannibalism acts as a form of population control. When rat populations become too dense, competition for resources intensifies, leading to increased aggression and territorial disputes. Cannibalism helps regulate population size by reducing the number of individuals competing for resources.

This, in turn, can prevent the depletion of resources and promote the overall survival of the rat colony.

But It Can Also Spread Disease

While cannibalism may confer survival advantages, it also comes with risks. One of the major concerns is the spread of diseases and parasites among rat populations. Rats are known carriers of various pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and parasites, which can be transmitted through cannibalism.

When rats consume the flesh of their own species, they can ingest harmful microorganisms that may cause infections or diseases. These pathogens can then spread to other rats within the colony, leading to outbreaks and potentially decimating the population.

Additionally, parasites such as fleas and ticks can also be transmitted through cannibalistic behavior, further compromising the health and well-being of the rat population.

It is important to note that cannibalism is not a common behavior in rats, especially in controlled environments or when resources are abundant. However, in certain circumstances where resources are scarce and competition is high, cannibalism may be observed as a survival strategy.

For more information on rat behavior and cannibalism, you can visit the International Rat Behaviour and Biology Society website which provides detailed research and resources on the topic.


While disturbing, rat cannibalism is a survival strategy that arises when rats face extreme hunger, overcrowding, or stress. By understanding the conditions that drive this behavior, rat owners and pest control professionals can take steps to prevent cannibalism.

Rats are resilient creatures hard-wired to do whatever it takes to survive, even if it means resorting to eating each other.

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