How do Roof Rats differ from Norway Rats
Roof rats share a common ancestor with Norway rats, and there are many similarities in their behaviour and appearance. However, Roof rats have some distinguishing characteristics.
- Roof Rats are smaller than Norway rats, more petite, longer tail, larger eyes and ears, and a more pointed nose.
- Dumbo rats are a type of Norway rat which have rounded ears that stick out to the side, but are otherwise identical to standard, “top-eared”, Norway rats. There is no equivalent in Roof Rats, which are always “top-eared.”
- Roof Rats are not as colorful and don’t have as distinct markings as Norway Rats. Currently, we only have agouti, light gray, and black Roof Rats. Some have subtly lighter or darker patches, and some have light or white bellies or white tipped tails. Norway rats come in a variety of colors, including Agouti and Black, but also champagne, fawn, blue, chocolate and mink. And markings, such as self, berkshire, hooded, capped, and Siamese. You even a have a choice of curly or straight coats. So, you might say Roof Rats are comparatively “boring” looking, but they make up for it in other ways!
- Roof Rats originated in South Asia, while Norway Rats originated in North Asia. Therefore, Roof Rats are more susceptible to cold weather, while Norway Rats are less tolerant of hot weather. Roof Rats should be kept away from drafts and you should avoid keeping their cages on the floor, especially in the winter. Although Roof Rats are relatively more tolerant of hot weather, you should still avoid putting them in direct sunlight, and ensure that they always have plenty of water to drink. Also, due to their long tails, Roof Rats, especially babies, are susceptible to tail injuries due to low humidity (a condition known as “ringtail”), so make sure the humidity near their cage doesn’t drop below 50%.
- Roof Rats are more active and playful than Norway rats. They are full of energy, which is either good or bad depending on your preferences. If you put a Norway Rat on a sofa, it is more likely to stay on the sofa. Norway Rats are not as good at climbing and are somewhat afraid of heights. A Roof Rat will sit still while it’s eating if you bribe it with a treat, or while you scratch it’s cheek (if you do it just right.) But, in general, the minute you put a Roof Rat down, it will be exploring and looking for mischief. A sofa is just another place for climbing or jumping. They may stay there to be with you (like Roofy in this video), but they don’t have to.
- Roof Rats are an arboreal species, while Norway Rats evolved to live in burrows. You can easily recognize the difference in this video, where males and females of both species were challenged with a vertical cat tree. I think you can guess which species had more fun playing on it!
- Roof Rats are gentler and less aggressive than Norway rats, so they are a better choice for people who are fearful of rats. My Roof Rats have almost never bitten me to hurt me. Sometimes they gently nibble to get my attention or request a treat! Rarely, a baby might bite out of fear if mishandled, it’s not very painful. If a Norway Rat is mad, scared or wants to dominate you, they may stand their ground and bite. Hard! Roof Rats will simply avoid you (which they are very good at!), or maybe screech and hiss at you, like this stroppy buck:
- Roof Rats are less prone to inbred genetic diseases, like tumors or misaligned teeth, as they have only recently been domesticated. In the wild, animals need to be healthy to survive. Because of their naturally slender body and higher activity levels, they are less prone to obesity, and related health issues like diabetes heath disease, joint and foot problems. Therefore, their healthy lifespan is longer than Norway rats. So they are less likely to have long, expensive illnesses. Some of our older Roof Rats can get plump and lazy, like Bandito, but he’s still doing good compared to a male Norway rat!
- Roof Rats are probably more intelligent than Norway rats. They can easily be taught tricks, like this little guy.
Nuts and other treats work as motivation, but so will social interaction once your rat has bonded with you. We easily taught Roofy tricks that felt like fun and games for her.
- Roof Rats will learn to do tricks all on their own, just to amuse themselves. They love playing in water, and some learn how to push the little ball up in their water bottle so they can enjoy a shower. I’ve seen them let the water run down their bodies, and scrub themselves clean like a tiny person! I have never seen a Norway rat act like this (if yours does, please share the video!)
- Roof Rats have less sexual dimorphism than Norway Rats. Adult males and females have similar size, behaviour and appearance (aside from the extra rear baggage carried by the males.) Male Norway Rats are much bigger, fatter, lazier and more aggressive or dominating than females. Some Norway rat owners develop a strong preference for one sex over the other because they really are different. But you won’t notice much difference between male or female Roof Rats as pets.
- Roof Rats are harder to breed in captivity than Norway Rats. Male rats often need to dominate females somewhat to mate with them. Male Norway rats are bigger and more aggressive, so they rarely have any problems. But some male Roof Rats are so gentle and easy-going that they get driven off, even injured by most females.
Males like that are great pets, but are useless for making babies. This could be why breeders had trouble domesticating this species.
Fortunately, Roofy and Stumpy hit it off, and successfully mated:
- Some female Roof Rats can become very agitated if they are disturbed while they are nursing their babies, and will obsessively carry them around while looking for a quieter location. Fragile, newborn babies can become injured and even die if the mother will not eventually settle down. Norway rat mothers are more likely to defend their nest, sometimes very aggressively, rather than grab babies and run away. This is possibly why people more often find abandoned Roof Rat babies than Norway Rat babies.
- Probably because they have been bred in captivity in large colonies for so long, pet Norway rats have developed partial resistance to chronic respiratory infections like Mycoplasma. However, they are carriers even when they are still asymptomatic. Unfortunately, Roof Rats are not as resistant, and they can sometimes become seriously ill, even die, when exposed to infected Norway Rats.
- If you are sure that your rats are healthy, you may (cautiously) allow Norway Rats and Roof Rats to play together. We have found that Male Roof Rats can usually, safely play with Female Norway Rats, and there is no danger of pregnancy as they are different species.
Notice that the Roof Rats in the video spend more time climbing on and interacting with Qiong? This is because Roof Rats are more vertically orientated than Norway Rats, are more playful and they tend to be more attached to their owners.
- Although Roof Rats look similar to Norway Rats, they are not the same species. Their energy level is higher and they can be more timid until they know you. This is especially true for baby Roof Rats (less than 7 weeks old). Adult Roof Rats of either sex are somewhat comparable to female Norway Rats, but babies are in a whole different category. They eventually grow out of it, but you will need to be patient and careful not to lose them until they do.