Rats have long been depicted as vicious creatures with a taste for human flesh in books, movies, and urban legends. But is there any truth to the idea that rats will actually eat people if given the chance? Read on to find out the facts behind rat predation and attacks on humans.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: While extremely rare, rats have been known to opportunistically feed on the flesh of dead or dying humans, but they do not hunt down and kill healthy living people to eat.

In this comprehensive article, we will explore the realities behind rat predation, examining scientific evidence and case studies of rat attacks. We’ll look at what types of situations can lead rats to scavenge on human remains, discuss how common this actually is, and analyze the risks rats may pose to vulnerable populations.

By the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of the facts regarding rats’ dietary habits and their potential for predation of humans.

Documented Cases of Rats Feeding on Humans

Infants and Bedridden Elderly at Highest Risk

While it may sound like a horror movie plot, there have been documented cases of rats feeding on humans. However, it is important to note that these incidents are incredibly rare and typically occur in specific circumstances.

Infants and bedridden elderly individuals are particularly vulnerable to rat attacks. Their limited mobility and inability to defend themselves make them easy targets for rats seeking sources of food.

Rats are known to be opportunistic feeders, and if they come across a helpless individual, they may resort to nibbling on exposed body parts. This can lead to serious injuries and even fatalities, especially if the victim is unable to seek immediate medical attention.

Opportunistic Scavenging, Not Active Predation

Contrary to popular belief, rats do not actively hunt and prey on humans. They are primarily scavengers, feeding on readily available food sources such as garbage, discarded food, and even animal carcasses.

In cases where rats have been found feeding on humans, it is usually because they stumbled upon a vulnerable individual or a deceased body.

Rats have a highly developed sense of smell and can detect the scent of decomposition from a significant distance. This, coupled with their ability to squeeze through small openings, allows them to access areas where they can scavenge for food, including human dwellings.

Very Rare Overall – A Handful of Modern Cases

While incidents of rats feeding on humans do occur, they are extremely rare. In fact, there have been only a handful of documented cases in modern times. The majority of these cases have been reported in urban areas where rat populations are high and sanitation is a concern.

One well-known case occurred in a major city where an elderly woman, who lived alone and had poor sanitation practices, was found deceased with signs of rat activity. Another incident involved an abandoned building where rats had infested a room containing a homeless individual.

It is important to remember that these cases are outliers and do not represent the typical behavior of rats. Rats are more likely to avoid human contact and seek out easier food sources. Taking proper measures to maintain cleanliness, seal entry points, and eliminate rat habitats can greatly reduce the risk of any encounters with these rodents.

Rat Diet and Feeding Habits

Rats are known for their ability to adapt to various environments, and this extends to their diet. They are classified as omnivores, which means they eat both plant and animal matter. This flexibility allows them to survive in a wide range of habitats, from urban areas to fields and forests.

Omnivorous Opportunists

Rats are opportunistic eaters, which means they will consume whatever food sources are readily available to them. Their diet can include fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, insects, and small vertebrates.

This adaptability is one of the reasons why rats have been able to thrive in human settlements.

Carrion is a Small Part of the Diet

Contrary to popular belief, rats do not primarily feed on dead animals or human flesh. While they may scavenge on carrion when it is available, it only makes up a small portion of their diet. Rats are more likely to consume fresh food sources, such as fruits and vegetables, grains, and household scraps.

Preference for Easy Meals

Rats are intelligent creatures and will always choose the easiest and most accessible food sources. This is why they are often found in areas where food is easily accessible, such as garbage bins, compost heaps, and food storage areas.

They are skilled at finding entry points into buildings and will take advantage of any opportunity to access food.

Hunting and Killing Only When Desperate

Rats are primarily scavengers and opportunistically feed on whatever is available. While they have the ability to hunt and kill small animals, they typically only resort to this behavior when they are desperate for food.

In urban environments, where food is abundant, rats are more likely to rely on scavenging and stealing food rather than actively hunting.

It is important to remember that rats are more interested in finding a reliable food source than targeting humans as prey. By keeping your living spaces clean, sealing any potential entry points, and properly storing food, you can minimize the chances of attracting rats to your home.

Rat Teeth and Jaws – Are They Adapted for Flesh Eating?

Rats are notorious for their ability to chew through almost anything, including wood, plastic, and even electrical wires. However, the idea that rats are capable of eating humans is largely a myth. Let’s explore the truth behind their teeth and jaws to understand why.

Sharp Incisors – For Gnawing, Not Flesh Tearing

Rats have long, sharp incisors that continuously grow throughout their lives. These teeth are perfectly adapted for gnawing and chewing through tough materials, such as wood and wires. While their incisors may look intimidating, they are not designed for tearing flesh.

In fact, the structure of their teeth is better suited for grinding and slicing through vegetation and other fibrous materials.

Weak Bite Force

Despite their sharp incisors, rats have relatively weak bite force compared to other animals. According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, the bite force of a brown rat is only about 20 Newtons, which is significantly weaker than that of a human.

This means that rats would have a difficult time inflicting serious harm or breaking through human skin with their bite alone.

Incapable of Subduing Healthy Prey

Rats are opportunistic feeders and will scavenge for food whenever possible. However, they are not equipped to hunt and subdue healthy prey, including humans. Their small size and relatively weak jaws make it highly unlikely that they could overpower a human or cause significant harm.

Rats are more likely to target easily accessible sources of food, such as garbage or stored grains.

It’s important to remember that while rats can carry diseases and should be dealt with promptly to prevent infestations, the notion that they are actively seeking out humans to eat is largely unfounded.

If you suspect a rat infestation in your home or workplace, it is best to contact a professional pest control service to handle the situation safely and effectively.

The Myths and Misconceptions Around Rats Eating People

Rats are often associated with fear and disgust, and one of the most common myths surrounding these creatures is their alleged tendency to eat people. However, it’s important to separate fact from fiction when it comes to rodent predation.

Let’s debunk some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding rats and their supposed appetite for human flesh.

Exaggerated Reports and Urban Legends

While there have been occasional reports of rats nibbling on humans in extreme cases, they are extremely rare and often exaggerated. These stories tend to circulate as urban legends, causing unnecessary panic and fear.

It’s crucial to rely on verified sources and scientific studies to understand the true nature of rat behavior.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rats are more likely to bite humans out of self-defense or when they feel threatened. Their primary diet consists of grains, fruits, vegetables, and other plant matter, not human flesh.

Rats are generally scavengers and opportunistic feeders, meaning they will eat whatever is readily available and easily accessible.

Horror Movie Depictions

Horror movies and sensationalized media depictions often perpetuate the idea of rats attacking and devouring humans. These fictional portrayals have fueled the misconception that rats are bloodthirsty predators.

It’s important to remember that movies are meant to entertain and often exaggerate reality for dramatic effect.

Real-life interactions with rats are far less dramatic. In urban areas, rats are more likely to scurry away when confronted by humans rather than launching a vicious attack. They prefer to avoid human contact and are adept at finding food and shelter in less populated areas.

Misunderstanding Opportunistic Scavenging

Rats are opportunistic scavengers, meaning they will take advantage of any available food source. In rare cases where rats have come into contact with deceased humans, they may scavenge for food. However, this behavior is not unique to rats and can be observed in other animals as well.

It’s important to note that rats are not actively seeking out human flesh as a primary food source. They are more likely to feed on garbage, pet food, or other organic matter that may be present in their environment.

Proper waste management and maintaining clean living spaces can help minimize the presence of rats and their potential interactions with humans.

When Rats Attack – Understanding Aggressive Behavior

Rats are often portrayed as menacing creatures, capable of inflicting harm on humans. While it is true that rats can be aggressive in certain situations, it is important to understand the factors that contribute to this behavior.

Territorial Disputes

One of the main reasons rats may display aggression is due to territorial disputes. Rats are highly territorial animals and will fiercely defend their chosen area. When confronted with intruders, they may become aggressive in an effort to protect their territory and resources.

This can include biting, scratching, and vocalizing their presence.


Rats are generally skittish and will try to avoid confrontation whenever possible. However, if they feel threatened or cornered, they may resort to aggression as a means of self-defense. This is particularly true if they perceive a direct threat to their survival or the safety of their offspring.

Disease and Starvation Can Lead to Uncharacteristic Aggression

Rats that are suffering from disease or starvation may exhibit uncharacteristic aggression. When their health is compromised, they may become more desperate and willing to take risks to obtain food and resources. This can lead to unpredictable behavior, including aggression towards humans.

Predatory Attacks on Humans Still Extremely Rare

While it is true that rats can be aggressive, it is important to note that predatory attacks on humans are extremely rare. Rats are opportunistic feeders and are more likely to go after easily accessible sources of food, such as garbage or pet food.

They are not natural predators of humans and will generally only attack if they feel threatened or provoked.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been very few reported cases of rats attacking humans. In fact, the CDC states that the risk of being bitten by a rat is low, especially if proper sanitation and pest control measures are in place.

It is important to remember that while rats are capable of aggression, they are not inherently vicious creatures. In most cases, they will try to avoid humans and will only resort to aggression as a last resort.

By understanding the factors that contribute to their aggressive behavior, we can better coexist with these creatures in our environment.


While disturbing stories and graphic fictional depictions may play up the idea of bloodthirsty rats hunting humans for food, the reality does not match the hype. Rats are opportunistic omnivores that may scavenge on corpses and vulnerable infants or elderly, but predatory attacks on living, healthy humans are extremely rare.

By understanding rats’ true dietary preferences, physical capabilities, and reasons for aggression, we can view rodent predation risks realistically and prevent harmful misconceptions that cause unnecessary fear and persecution of these intelligent animals.

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