What is the best predator for rats?

Quick Answers

Rats can be very difficult pests to control, but using natural predators is often the most effective and environmentally friendly method. Some of the top predators for controlling rat populations include:

  • Cats – Excellent hunters, cats will kill and eat rats. Keeping cats indoors or in a contained outdoor space like a barn can allow them to hunt rats while protecting native wildlife.
  • Terrier breeds – Small terrier dog breeds like Jack Russell Terriers and Rat Terriers are bred specifically to hunt and kill small prey like rats.
  • Snakes – Certain species like corn snakes and king snakes are adept rat catchers and can be safely kept as pets.
  • Owls – Nocturnal hunters like barn owls and great horned owls will prey on rats at night.
  • Hawks – Red-tailed hawks, Cooper’s hawks and other raptors hunt rats.
  • Weasels – Excellent ratters, weasels are fierce predators despite their small size.
  • Foxes – Foxes will opportunistically prey on rats though they have a more varied diet than some other predators.
  • Coyotes – In rural areas, coyotes may help control rat populations.
  • Mink – Semi-aquatic mink hunt rats along waterways and in barns.

The best predator or combination of predators depends on the specific environment and rat problem. Factors like geography, climate, native wildlife, presence of poultry/livestock, and proximity to human homes help determine which predator can be used most effectively.

What Makes a Good Predator for Rats?

An effective natural predator for rats has some key characteristics:

  • Hunts primarily at night like rats – Nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dawn/dusk) hunters are most likely to cross paths with and prey on rats.
  • Able to fit into rat burrows and hiding spots – Must be able to physically access rats in their tunnels, nests and other cramped spaces.
  • Highly motivated by rats as prey – Should have a strong, innate drive to hunt and kill rats. Generalist predators that eat a wide variety of prey are less reliable for rat control.
  • Skillful hunters in tight spaces – Stalking, killing and eating rats despite their agility and hiding abilities.
  • Co-exists near human homes/buildings – Can potentially be used around homes, farms or industrial sites with rat problems.
  • Predation is sustainable – Able to subsist largely or entirely on rats, without depleting the population too quickly.

Certain predators match these criteria better than others, though a combination of different predators may produce the best results.

Top 5 Best Predators for Rats

Based on the ideal characteristics for effective rat control, these animals consistently prove to be the top predators:

1. Feral Cats

Feral cats that live outdoors in rural areas, farms, factories or urban alleys/parks can be extremely effective ratters. Key advantages of cats include:

  • Nocturnal hunters – Active mostly at night when rats are too.
  • Able to access rats in burrows and tight spaces.
  • Strong instincts to hunt and kill small prey like rats.
  • Very agile with quick reflexes to catch rats.
  • Will return to transport and eat kills – reducing disease risks.
  • Thrive close to buildings and human infrastructure where rats live.

Well-fed cats may hunt less, so populations subsisting mainly on rats maintain strong predation pressure. Feral cat colonies can work together to ambush invading rats effectively.

Potential downsides of feral cats include risks to native bird populations. Keeping cats enclosed can allow for rat control while protecting other wildlife. Neutering also helps curb cat population growth beyond sustainable levels.

2. Terriers – Jack Russell, Rat Terrier and Others

Many terrier breeds share traits that make them exceptional ratters:

  • Originally bred to hunt vermin – strong prey drive.
  • Very agile with the ability to chase rats into burrows and walls.
  • Muscular, energetic and fearless enough to kill rats quickly.
  • Smaller sizes allow them to pursue rats into tight spaces.
  • Easily trained to hunt and dispatch rats.

Breeds like Jack Russell Terriers and Rat Terriers have long histories as respected ratters. While some terriers may need training not to go after other small animals, they can be very focused rat hunters. Their energy also makes them patrol farms and homes vigilantly for rats.

As domesticated dogs, terriers are easier to manage than some wild predators. They can be taught to leave livestock or pets alone. Overall an excellent predator option for long-term rat control near people.

3. Snakes – Corn Snakes, Kingsnakes and Others

Though many people fear them, certain snake species make outstanding natural rat control:

  • Nocturnal/crepuscular -Active mainly at night when rats are too.
  • Slender shape allows access to tight burrows and crevices.
  • Rats and mice are the primary prey for many species.
  • Constrictors like corn snakes and kingsnakes quickly suffocate rats.
  • Venomous snakes like cobras can also dispatch rats effectively.
  • Can subsist almost entirely on steady supply of rats as prey.

Non-venomous constrictors are best suited to home and farm use. They pose minimal risks to humans or livestock, can be safely handled when maintained properly in enclosed spaces. Though not as interactive as terriers, snakes require very little care while eliminating many rats.

4. Owls – Barn Owls, Great Horned Owls

Various owl species regularly hunt rats at night:

  • Completely nocturnal hunters – ideal for encountering rats.
  • Excellent night vision and hearing to detect rats.
  • Powerful talons allow them to snatch and carry large rats.
  • Wings adapted for silent flight help ambush rats undetected.
  • Open habitat near barns or fields provides good rodent hunting conditions.

Installing nest boxes or perches can encourage wild owls to frequent a property and reduce the rat population. Unlike other predators, owls are not contained so they may range over a larger area. But their presence applies constant rat predation pressure.

5. Weasels – Least Weasels, Stoats, Mink

Though small, weasels are remarkably fierce and effective rat predators:

  • Primarily nocturnal activity matches rats’ habits.
  • Long, slender bodies allow them to pursue rats in burrows.
  • Strong natural instincts to hunt and kill small rodents.
  • Tenacious hunters despite their size disadvantage vs rats.
  • Help control rat populations in rural areas and near waterways.

As wild predators, weasels can be more difficult to systematically use for rat control. But maintaining natural habitat corridors benefits weasels and allows them to reduce rat numbers naturally. Their presence is an indicator of a healthy, balanced ecosystem.

Other Notable Rat Predators

Beyond the top predators already covered, there are a few other animals worth mentioning that can help keep rat populations in check:


Foxes are opportunistic predators that will eat rats when they come across them. However, rats are usually a supplemental part of a fox’s diet rather than a primary food source. Red foxes and gray foxes active at night are the most likely to prey on rats. Though not specialized ratters, foxes contribute to natural population control when present.


In rural areas, coyotes may opportunistically prey on rats in barns, fields or other outdoor places. Their varied diet and larger range make them less reliable for focused rat control. But coyote presence can indicate a healthy ecosystem where rats won’t dominate.


Semi-aquatic mink hunt rats along shorelines, waterways and in barn rafters where rats may gather. Though not controlling rats across wide areas, mink can significantly reduce rat populations in their immediate vicinities, especially near lakes, streams and ponds. Their water-resistant coats and swimming ability let them pursue rats in damp areas.

Hawks – Red-Tailed Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks

Though most hawks prefer bird prey, some species like red-tailed hawks and Cooper’s hawks will opportunistically prey on rats in fields, yards or along brush lines. Though not highly specialized ratters, their diurnal hunting provides extra predation pressure on rats.


While not precisely predators living solely on rats, hungry raccoons will eat rats opportunistically. Raccoon rat predation is most likely to happen near water or in damp areas where rats’ paths cross with raccoons. Though not an overt rat control method, raccoons may contribute slightly to reducing populations.


Like raccoons, skunks are omnivores that will eat small rodents including rats when the opportunity arises. Given their ability to dig and enter tighter spaces, skunks can potentially access rats in burrows. Overall minimal impact on populations though.


In forested areas of North America, fishers are one of the few predators able to regularly kill and eat porcupines. They are also adept ratters in rural wooded and brushy areas. Their numbers are small though, limiting their broad influence on rat control.

Key Factors in Choosing Predators for Rat Control

Geography & Climate

Choosing suitable predators depends heavily on geography and climate:

  • Terriers and feral cats do best in more temperate regions with milder winters.
  • Snakes that can’t handle cold winters are better suited to southern regions.
  • Some predators like weasels and mink are adapted for colder northern climates.
  • Raptors may shift migration patterns based on location.
  • Arid regions in the southwest may have fewer rat resources to support predators.

Native, well-adapted predator species are usually the best choices. It helps to understand the natural ecosystem and food chain in your specific area.

Proximity to Homes & Livestock

When using predators in close proximity to people, pets or livestock, manageable, low-risk choices are safest:

  • Feral cats and terriers can be managed directly by people.
  • Snakes can be kept securely in barns or controlled spaces.
  • Predators like coyotes that potentially threaten pets/livestock may be riskier.
  • Wild predators should be supplemented with contained, domesticated ratters.

A mix of managed predators and natural existing ones is ideal for farms and rural homes.

Native Species & Existing Ecosystem

It helps to choose predators already native and adapted to the local habitat:

  • Native predators help maintain natural ecosystem balance.
  • Avoid introducing new exotic predator species that can disrupt habitats.
  • Boosting populations of existing but threatened native rat predators can help restore balance.
  • Be aware of impacts if reducing the rat population too quickly.

Gradually strengthening natural predator populations leads to sustainable rat control without unintended consequences.

Legal Restrictions

Some potential predator options may be restricted or regulated:

  • Venomous snakes prohibited in many areas.
  • Introducing non-native predators may require permits/licenses.
  • Protected species like bears, mountain lions, or birds of prey can’t be used in most cases.
  • Local animal control laws may prohibit unconventional predators.

Always follow applicable laws and obtain any necessary permits when using predator species for rat control.

Combining Multiple Predator Species

Using multiple predators together can boost effectiveness:

  • Different hunting styles increase pressure on rats.
  • Active at different times of day covers more rat activity.
  • Prevents over-dependence on a single predator species.
  • Creates redundancy if one predator population declines.

A diverse mix of predators like terriers, feral cats, snakes and raptors can provide comprehensive control throughout the day and night.

Rat Predator Habitat Needs

To thrive and effectively control rat populations, predators need adequate habitat:


  • Reliable food source – mainly the rats themselves.
  • May need supplemental feeding during low rat population periods.
  • Access to drinking water.


  • Burrows, dens and nest sites for wild predators.
  • Barns, sheds, stables or similar shelter for contained predators.
  • Housing weatherproof and free of hazards.


  • Sufficient territory and roaming areas for wild predators.
  • Adequate spaces for dogs and confined predators.
  • Perches, ledges and nest boxes for raptors.

Providing artificial shelters like owl boxes and snake habitat can boost predator numbers. Remove threats like rodenticides that can poison predators.

Potential Drawbacks of Using Rat Predators

Despite the many benefits, there are also some potential drawbacks to consider with predator rat control:

  • Some predators may themselves become nuisance animals if overpopulated.
  • Danger to other small pets like rabbits, hamsters or chickens.
  • Risk of attack/injury from predators like coyotes, raccoons or venomous snakes.
  • Added costs to feed and care for predator animals.
  • Can be less convenient than set-and-forget rodenticide baits.
  • May not completely eliminate all rats in severe infestations.
  • Require some habitat management to encourage predators.

Proper planning to provide for predators’ needs while mitigating risks is important for success.

Using Predators in Combination with Other Methods

Integrating natural predators with other techniques can improve rat control:

  • Sanitation – Remove rat food sources so predators hunt them, not your feed.
  • Exclusion – Block rat entry points to contain them for predators.
  • Traps – Catch rats predators miss for quick reductions.
  • Toxicants – Limited rodenticide use in extreme cases may complement predators.

For example, installing snake nest boxes while sealing buildings and cleaning up garbage reduces escape options for rats, funneling them towards the snakes.

Ultimately, natural predation combined with eliminating conditions favorable to rats provides sustainable population control. The environmental benefits of this approach also support a healthy ecosystem.


Among the many potential predators for natural, sustainable rat control, feral cats, terriers, snakes, owls and weasels tend to be the most effective for broader rodent management. Their innate hunting abilities and preferences for rats as prey make them well-suited to keeping populations in check long-term.

Native wild predators like coyotes, foxes, mink and raccoons contribute to rat predation peripherally. On farms and rural properties near human homes, managed predators like terriers under human supervision optimize safety.

Providing habitat including shelter, food and water to support predator species encourages their success controlling rats. This ecological approach avoids over-reliance on toxicants while benefiting the local ecosystem. Integrating predators with sanitation and exclusion tactics leads to comprehensive, lasting rodent control. Overall, boosting natural predator populations is a sustainable, environmentally sound rat control strategy.

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