Rats are known for their agility. While they might seem big and cumbersome compared to mice, rats are solid climbers and swimmers. Most of the time, when we see a rat, it’s only for a split second as they scurry between hiding spots. But while rats are certainly fast, especially given their size and small limbs, they are relatively slow compared to some other rodents. A rat’s running speed tops out at about 8 miles per hour. By comparison, a squirrel can run almost twice as fast, reaching speeds of 15 miles per hour running full-tilt. These speeds are faster than the average human; we run at 5-6 miles per hour. The fastest running speeds ever recorded in people are 21 miles per hour for women and 23 miles per hour for men.
Speed isn’t the only factor determining how agile rats are, however. Rats rarely run for very long; they usually only run when they’re covering the open ground between concealed spots and can’t stay hidden. While they’re out of sight, rats move more slowly. They’re better suited to short, intense bursts of movement than sustained efforts; they prefer a sprint to a marathon.
But it isn’t their speed that makes rats challenging to catch. Rats have quick reflexes and excellent pathfinding abilities. Even in unfamiliar environments, rats can quickly pick out escape routes and hiding spots, making them difficult to corner. Most pest controllers recommend that if you find a rat in your home, you trap it if possible. But anyone who has ever had to do this will know that it’s more difficult than it sounds.
Rats are definitely fast, but they can’t evade cats and other predators that have evolved to hunt them.