Rodents make up 40 percent of all mammal species on the planet. There is a multitude of different types of rodent species living around the world today, including in Southern California and across the United States. Rats and muskrats are two types of rodents that live in California and elsewhere around the country. If you are like many people, you probably do not have a clear understanding of the differences that exist between rats and muskrats.

Most Common Types of Rats in the United States

In the United States (including California), the two most common types of rats are:

  • Norway rats (also known as brown or sewer rats)
  • Roof rats (also known as black rats)

Norway rats have coarse brown or dark gray fur on their upper bodies. They have a lighter shade of fur on their underbellies.

Norway rats are ground-dwelling creatures that are not adept at climbing. Thus, they enter homes or businesses through the ground level or even the basement. As one of the monikers assigned to this type of rodent suggests, they can also enter into a building via sewer lines.

Roof rats have black fur, not as coarse as the coats of Norway rats. Roof rats are strong climbers. They can easily make their way up trees and often do so to gain access to residences and businesses through rooftops.

Description of Muskrats

In simple terms, muskrats look much more like beavers than they do rats. Beavers are considered cousins of muskrats.

In contrast with rats, muskrats have thicker tails. They have a thicker coat of fur and have a stockier appearance than rats.

Habitat of Rats Versus Muskrats

Rats tend to dwell near human habitats. Muskrats do not follow that course as a matter of routine.

Rats can be found living in a wide range of environments across the United States. The two most common types of rats found in the United States build their nests on the ground (in burrows) or in trees, depending on the specific species. On the other hand, like beavers, muskrats are aquatic animals and live near bodies of water or in wetlands.

Rats tend to live in large communities. Muskrats are not social in this manner. Indeed, individual muskrats can be extremely territorial. Muskrats do burrow like the Norway rat. However, they burrow near ponds or streams.

Rats will enter into buildings of different types for shelter or food. Muskrats never migrate into buildings as a means of seeking shelter or food. Whilst rats are attracted to human populations, muskrats avoid those situations.

The common name assigned to muskrats set forth another way this rodent is distinguishable from a rat. A muskrat emits a musky odor when it feels threatened.

The Disease Distinctions

Another distinction between rats and muskrats is based on the type of diseases these two types of rodents are capable of spreading. Before diving into the distinctions between the diseases spread by muskrats and rats, there is one illness that can be contacted via both of these animals: leptospirosis.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that is contracted by humans that come into direct contact with the urine of rats or muskrats. In addition, a person can contract the disease by coming into contact with water contaminated with urine from one or another of these rodents.

A leptospirosis infection can be treated fairly easily with antibiotics. With that said, if not properly diagnosed or if the disease is contracted by someone in a developing country, it can prove fatal.

Other diseases spread by muskrats to humans include:

  • Tularemia
  • Giardiasis
  • Rabies

Other diseases spread by rats to humans include:

  • Salmonella
  • Hantavirus
  • Rat-bite fever
  • Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis
  • Black Plague

Protecting Yourself From Rat and Muskrat Disease

You are far more likely to be exposed to diseases carried by rats than by muskrats. With that said, if you enjoy recreational activities in natural bodies of water, the possibility exists that you can contract leptospirosis from muskrats. As was noted, provided you seek medical attention promptly, antibiotics will resolve such an infection.

Rat diseases, including salmonella and hantavirus, can be contracted by coming into contact with droppings of these rodents. Indeed, hantavirus can live even in dried rat droppings for an extended period of time. Because rat droppings can crumble easily, dust from these feces can become airborne carrying the virus along with it. Humans can inhale this dust containing the virus, becoming infected with hantavirus.

Because of the diseases that can be caused by rats and their droppings, you are likely better served seeking professional assistance to eliminate these rodents from your home or business. The same holds true for rodent droppings cleanup by a professional biohazard remediator.

If you have a pond or other body of water on your property that is occupied by muskrats, you need to check with wildlife authorities about whether and how the animals can be removed. You need to hire a professional to assist you in removing and relocating a muskrat from your property or otherwise lawfully dealing with this type of rodent.


Emily Kil

Co-Owner of Eco Bear Biohazard Cleaning Company

Together with her husband, Emily Kil is co-owner of Eco Bear, a leading biohazard remediation company in Southern California. An experienced entrepreneur, Emily assisted in founding Eco Bear as a means of combining her business experience with her desire to provide assistance to people facing challenging circumstances. Emily regularly writes about her first-hand experiences providing services like biohazard cleanup, suicide cleanup, crime scene cleanup, unattended death cleanup, and other types of difficult remediations in homes and businesses.