Mouse Tail vs Rat Tail – 7 Key Differences


While they are both rodents, people can sometimes have difficulty in distinguishing between a mouse and a rat. OK, so there will often be a size difference, but what happens if you just catch a glimpse of their tail?

Well, there are a number of key differences you should be looking out for when it comes to telling the difference between a mouse and a rat. So, we are going to check out 7 of them to help make your life easier when it comes to identifying which rodent you have around your home or garden.

Now, obviously being able to identify a rat or mouse is something you want to do if you are considering getting one for a pet. Even though they are both from the rodent family, they do require slightly different things when it comes to caring for them.

Clearly, there’s a whole lot more to identifying a rat or mouse than just looking at their tail. However, you will notice that there are more differences than most people would have initially anticipated.

So, let’s look into all of this tail stuff.

rat in some dried leaves

Difference 1 – A Mouse Tail is Longer

When we say a mouse tail is longer, we are talking about in comparison to the rest of its body. Of course, a small mouse could never have a longer tail than a large rat, that would be insane. Instead, it’s all about percentages.

If you are looking at a percentage thing, then the tail on a mouse is going to be roughly the same length as the size of its body and head put together. That proportion doesn’t apply to the rat as it does come up as being less than the sum of those two parts added together.

But in the actual length term, the tail of a rat can grow longer than that of a mouse. Typically, the tail of a mouse will be from anywhere between 5 cm and 10 cm in length. The tail on a rat can vary from 8 cm up to over 25 cm on the larger varieties. However, the average is substantially shorter than 25 cm, so it’s relatively rare to see a rat with that length of tail. [Source]

This is something you will see with the naked eye. If you have the chance to see the whole of the rat and mouse, then it probably won’t sit right with you when you see it in real life. 

So, if you saw a mouse and a rat side by side, then you would see this balance in action. It’s deceptive the fact that the rat tail is longer as we look at the length of the entire body and notice when something appears out of sync. 

But thankfully there’s a lot more to telling the difference between a rat tail and a mouse tail than simply how it measures up to the rest of their body.

Difference 2 – A Mouse Tail is Thinner

Another main difference is the thickness of the tail in question. Here, we see that the tail on a mouse is going to be thinner when compared to that of a rat. 

This is something that will be easy to spot. The tail on a rat just looks chunkier in nature, and that’s because it is. The tail on a mouse appear more fragile than the tail you will see on a rat. This even applies in proportion to the thickness of their body.

Remember, a mouse is not a thin little rodent. It will still carry some weight on its body, and at times will be more slender than a rat, by comparison.

But the fact that the tail on a rat is thicker doesn’t mean they use their tail for different reasons. Both a rat and mouse will use their tail for balance reasons, along with a whole host of other important factors, but there is one area which explains why a mouse tail is thinner.

That reason is because of the surface area a rat needs on its tail to help its body temperature. This is something we will come back to later on, as it really does play such an important role in the overall health of a rat. Luckily for a mouse, it won’t have the same concerns.

So, the fact the tail is thinner is something that really does stand out when comparing the two.

Difference 3 – A Mouse Tail Often Matches the Color of its Body

This is another cool difference between the two, and it’s all to do with the color of the tail. You will often find that the tail of a mouse is going to closely resemble the color of its body. That just does not happen when you are dealing with a rat.

Actually, with a rat, it’s often going to be the case that their tail is lighter in color than the rest of their body. You may also notice that the tail has a pink color to it, and that’s not something you will typically get with a mouse.

In fact, the color of the tail is something that is going to help anybody to work out whether it’s a rat or a mouse that they are dealing with. 

brown rat close up

Difference 4 – A Mouse Tail Has Hair

Aside from the color, it’s also a fact that the tail on a mouse will often have hair on it while the tail on a rat will be hairless.

That is what will contribute to the color difference, as it makes sense that the tail of a mouse is going to have the same color hair as the rest of its body. Also, it lets you see the real color of their skin when you have a rat as that shows their actual skin instead of being covered in hair.

So, if you just catch a glimpse of the tail, then stop and think as to whether or not it had hair on it, as that is a surefire way of being able to tell the difference between a rat and a mouse.

You see, a rat uses its tail to help regulate its body temperature. It needs it to be hairless to stop it from overheating at various times. The mouse does not have the same issues, so having hair on their tail won’t cause them any problems. [Source

This is all to do with the fact that rats do not sweat. They need to use other mechanisms to then cool down. Their tail plays an integral role in all of that.

Difference 5 – A Rat Tail Has a Scaly Looking Texture

If you were able to remove the hair from the tail of your mouse, then you would notice another major difference between the tail of a rat and mouse. In this instance, the rat will have a scaly texture to their tail, and that’s going to give it much more of a rough look than you get with a mouse.

A mouse tail is far smoother. Of course, the hair is going to help with that as well, but the actual texture is different. However, we understand that you will most likely catch sight of hair before you go ahead and get to see what lies underneath it all.

The reason why the tail on a rat has a scaly texture is thanks to the amount of oil that is produced in their tail. But the scaly look that comes on their tail can also change over time. This is generally linked to one of two things happening to their health.

First, they may not be carrying out the correct hygiene procedures throughout the day. This leads to a build up of the oil, and the general look of their tail is going to be pretty poor.

The other reason is because they could be losing out on some protein in their diet. That can then lead to changes in their tail, whereas mice do not have the same sort of problem when it comes to their own tail.

Difference 6 – A Rat Tail Can Have Two Colors

This is something else to consider, and it’s the fact that the tail on a rat can come with two colors. This is more common with the brown rat where it will be dark on the top and lighter on the bottom, so it’s not exactly a uniform color.

But a rat tail is not going to be the exact same color across the entire species. There will be some subtle changes to the colors you see, and it’s all to do with the pigment in their skin.

Their skin will change ever so slightly, just like us humans, and that pigment change is then closely reflected in the color of the tail. You can even have two rats from the same family that will then end up having different colored tails, whereas that’s not generally going to happen when it comes to dealing with a mouse.

However, do remember that the mouse has had its skin hidden away because of the hair that appears on its tail. If you see an apparent mouse with a bare tail, then it means something is either wrong with the health of the mouse, or it’s a rat and has been incorrectly called a mouse.

Difference 7 – A Rat Tail Can Change Color, If Not Kept Clean

This is the final difference to speak of when it comes to a rat tail and a mouse tail. While a mouse tail is going to stay the same color throughout its life, the same cannot be said for a rat.

For a rat, it’s important that they try to keep their tail as clean as possible. However, if they neglect this part of their daily hygiene, then their tail can, and will, change color.

It’s all to do with dirt getting into the skin, so in that sense it does work the same as for us when we don’t wash our hands. That dirt on our hands will stain and change the color of our skin, and it will stay like that until we wash them.

A rat goes through the same process, but a mouse really doesn’t have to contend with those sorts of issues when dealing with their own tail. This is all thanks to it being covered in hair, so it protects the skin underneath. It seems that a mouse has the best deal in the tail department.

So, those are 7 rather important differences between the tail on a rat and the tail on a mouse. As you can see, it’s actually quite easy to tell the difference between them, and you don’t even have to get a good look. A quick glimpse will be enough to allow you to distinguish between the two.

Of course, there are a multitude of other differences you may want to check out, but at least now you are in a good position to choose between a rat or a mouse simply by its tail.

Barry Gray

Barry is a freelance writer from Scotland. He has written about pets for over a decade, and his work has been turned into a range of ebooks, courses, and material for diplomas. Barry is passionate about all animals, but particularly dogs, fish, rabbits, birds and spiders. You can find out more about Barry at https://mercurypets.com/our-writers/

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