Why Do Rats Have Long Tails?

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Some people love them and keep them as pets, others are grossed out by them, especially by their long tails. 

Rats are very smart and social animals, that can make great pets, but the types that live in the sewerage or on the attack can quickly become a pest. People who are afraid of rats often find their tails revolting. But why do rats have long tails? And why does it gross people out?

As a whole, rats need their long tails to be able to thermoregulate the body temperature and to balance out their movements then they move on uneven or moving grounds. 

Rats need their tails for various reasons. 

Let’s have a look at the structure of the tail first.

The tail is the extension of the vertebral column of the rat. A rat tail consists of three layers. The one in the center is the vertebrae (bone). The next layer is tendons and the last layer is skin. 

Rats use their tails to balance and thermoregulate. 


When you see a rat climbing up a rope or walking on moving ground, you will see the tail wiggling around or pointing straight to one side. Since the tails are the extension of the vertebral column, the rats use them to balance just like a tightrope walker uses a pole. 


Like many other animals, rats cannot sweat. The only possibility to regulate their body temperature is through their tails. The tail of a rat is furless and can release body heat. This can be done by dilating or constricting the blood vessels in the tail. If the rat needs to cool down, it can let the warmer blood flow through the tail. Through the furless surface of the tail, the blood can cool down and return to the body at a slightly lower temperature. 

Escape From Predators

In the wild, rats sometimes use their tails to confuse or defend themselves against predators. A rat can rather tolerate a scar or injury on the tail than on other parts of the body. If a predator cuts off a part of the tail, the rat can will survive and run away. 

Why Are People Afraid of Rat Tails?

There is no right or wrong answer to that question. People who are afraid of rats often find their tails disgusting and there is no scientific explanation for that phenomenon.

As a whole, there is no scientific explanation for the fear of rat tails, but the reasons could be the fear of the rats in general and the fact that the tail is furless and looks like a worm or a snake.

Rats are able to adapt quickly to new environmental conditions and can multiply fast in new environments. They can become a pest and bring pesticides or substances with them, that can harm humans as history showed us. 

The tail of a rat has no fur to be able to thermoregulate the body. To some people, it might look like a worm or a snake, and since many people find worms disgusting or are scared of snakes, it could also be a reason to be afraid of a rat’s tail.

Why Do Rats Eat Their Tails?

The tail of a rat is an important part of its body. It is not possible to throw off the tail as some reptiles can. A rat cannot grow its tail back, therefore eating its own tail must have a serious reason.

As a whole, a rat might eat its own tail to protect itself, or if a situation is too stressful to handle for a rat and leads to awkward behavior. A reason to protect itself could be to prevent a serious infection to spread from the tail to other parts of the body. 

Animals have the tendency to react with disturbing behaviors in extremely stressful situations. A stressful situation could be a cage that is too small or being constantly bullied by the other rats, the lack of nutritious food, or a serious disease. 

Eating its own tail is an alarming sign and that rat should be taken to a pet right away. It could mean that the rat is seriously stressed out about something, or very ill. 

What Happens if a Rat Loses its Tail?

Many people are grossed out by a rat’s tail. This is why some breeders have started to breed tailless species. But what if a rat has to tail?

As a whole, if a rat loses its tail or is born without a tail, it usually has a lower life expectancy. The tail is essential to thermoregulate the body or the rat and to help the rat balance. A rat’s tail is the extension of the vertebral column and is essential for long and happy life.

A rat without a tail will have trouble regulating body temperature. When the temperature is high, the rat will not be able to lower its’ body temperature which can lead to health issues or heart attacks. 

Another problem for rats without tails is the fact that they are not able to balance out their movement properly. If a rat climbs on a rope, it will use the tails to balance out the body weight, in order to stay on the rope. Without a tail, it will have trouble staying on the rope. 

The tail of a rat does not grow back. Once a tail was cut off, it will always stay that way. 

Will a Rat Die if it Loses its Tail?

Even though the tail of a rat is the extension of the vertebral column and an important part of the rat’s body, it will not necessarily die if it loses its tail.

As a whole, a rat that lost its tail will not necessarily die right away, even though the life expectancy is shortened because of the obvious disadvantage of the rat, especially in the wild.

A rat would rather have the tail injured by a potential predator than another part of the body. Without the tail, a rat will have trouble thermoregulating the body and balancing out movements, but it can survive if the injury is not too bad.

A rat that lost its tail has a lower life expectancy than a rat with a tail.

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