What Do Rodents Eat? 18+ Foods They Eat

Written by Kyle Glatz
Published: November 12, 2022
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Rodents are small mammals from the Rodentia order. These creatures are known for their small, furry bodies, long tails, and ever-growing incisors. The diverse mammals are pests to some, pets to others, and known for their widespread populations worldwide. Today, we will answer the question, what do rodents eat?

You’ll learn about the diverse fare consumed by these small animals and why they may not be as innocuous as you initially believed.

What Do Rodents Eat?

Baby squirrels, a type of rodent, looking out for their mother.
Since they have such a large distribution, rodents have many choices about the foods they eat.

©Nilanka Sampath/Shutterstock.com

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Rodents mostly eat grasses, herbs, flowers, tree bark, grains, leaves, vegetables, fruits, and, sparingly, insects. 

For the most part, rodents are herbivorous. However, not all of them are herbivores. Many are omnivorous, and some, like rats, can be considered omnivorous, even if they are predators of other animals in their habitats.

Many rodents are highly opportunistic in nature, taking meals they can safely consume without harming themselves. They’ll snatch up insects they run into throughout the day or feed on a bag of dog food left outside.

Furthermore, rodents are known for eating foods that can be safely stored for long periods, like nuts and seeds. They will often take and store food in their nests and burrows. That way, they still have meals available to them when food is scarce or dangerous to obtain.

A Complete List of What Rodents Eat

Rodents will try to eat many different foods to meet their dietary needs. Since they have such a large distribution, rodents have many choices about the foods they eat.

Some of the most common foods that rodents eat include:

  • Herbs
  • Grasses
  • Flowers
  • Roots
  • Moss
  • Tree bark
  • Grains
  • Leaves
  • Insects
  • Fungi
  • Nuts
  • Vegetables
  • Fish
  • Carrion
  • Fruit
  • Small mammals (including other rodents)
  • Snails
  • Pet food
  • Scraps of human food
  • Arachnids

Of course, some rodents are entirely herbivorous. They won’t purposely hunt down insects and eat them. Other rodents are far more aggressive and will actively hunt smaller animals. Some are technically omnivorous because they eat insects along with their preferred plant-based diet.

How Do Rodents Find Food?

Rodents primarily find food by using their sense of smell, but their sense of touch is also important. Most of them are mere opportunists. They venture out of their nesting area and search for a meal. Typically, when they head out into their local environment to locate food, rodents use a combination of their sense of smell to locate food and then navigate toward the meal using their senses of smell and touch.

For example, mice have such powerful senses of smell and touch that they can detect very small scraps of food in near darkness.

Rodents are careful, but they are not often shy in the presence of humans. In fact, mice, rats, squirrels, groundhogs, and many other types of rodents will purposely live near humans to have access to their abundant food supplies.

Mice and rats don’t let the walls of your home prevent them from getting a good meal, either. They’ll gladly come into your home to feast on pet food, food in your trash, and more. They’ll grind through building materials to make their way inside, too.

Are Rodents Dangerous to Humans?

One of the smallest rodents, a little mouse, eating a tomato.
Mice and rats can carry significant diseases like Hantavirus and monkeypox.

©dr OX/Shutterstock.com

Yes, rodents can be dangerous to human beings. You’re not going to be attacked by feral guinea pigs, but rodents are notoriously dangerous as vectors for disease. Mice and rats can carry significant diseases like Hantavirus and monkeypox.

Also, rodents can chew through the electrical wiring in your home and cause a fire or contaminate your home with feces and urine.

Rodents can potentially be dangerous to humans, but they’re not a deadly threat.

What Do Pet Rodents Eat?

Pet rodents eat various foods like vegetables, fruits, specialized pet food for their breed, grasses, and even some types of meat. The food that a pet rodent eats will be heavily influenced by the kind of animal it is, along with other factors such as its age.

What Do Baby Rodents Eat?

Baby rodents usually thrive on their mother’s milk for the first month or so of their lives. The amount of time they are reliant on this food source greatly depends on the animal species.

Once they can leave their nesting area, they will eat some plants, vegetables, fruits, morsels of food, and even tiny insects. Young rodents quickly learn to obtain a meal anywhere they can.

What Do Rodents Eat in Winter?

Rodents eat vegetables, grains, nuts, grasses, seeds, garbage, and other foods in the winter. In short, they consume many of the same foods in the winter that they eat throughout the rest of the year. Many rodents do not hibernate throughout the winter, so they need to have access to meals if they want to survive.

Many rodents will stock their nesting areas with food so they have meals to sustain them through the winter. They’ll take a portion of whatever they gather throughout a foraging journey and save it for later.

For the most part, they’ll continue to seek out abundant food sources in the colder months. For example, they’ll stay around farms that have harvested their crops and feed on the scraps of vegetables, fruits, and seeds. They’ll also seek food, shelter, and warmth inside human structures, especially as cooler weather becomes more prevalent.

All in all, rodents eat a wide variety of foods. Some rodents, like guinea pigs, are almost entirely herbivorous and survive on grasses, vegetables, and fruit.  Some species are less discerning than others, though. Rats will consume just about anything, including members of their species.

If you’re keeping a rodent as a pet, you must pay close attention to its diet. Every animal is a little bit different in terms of its dietary needs. Use pet guides or consult experts to determine what you want to feed your furry mammal friend.

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About the Author

I've been a freelance writer since 2013, and I've written in a variety of niches such as managed service providers, animals, and retail distribution. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading, and writing for fun.

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