Aisling is the author of "Dog Funeral Evangelism." Her articles on dream interpretation and Jungian psychology have over 2.1 million views.
In the waking world, mice and rats bring up outright revulsion in the hearts of most people. Due to their association with death and disease, these rodents number among the least desirable of all animals that most people want to meet up with in their waking lives.
But what about in the dream world? Are rats and mice similarly despised there? Do they carry the same negative symbolism in dreams as they do in the waking world?
Unfortunately, rats in dreams do carry largely negative symbolism in dreams, such as:
- Fear and anxiety
- Sickness and disease
But rats do, in fact, have some positive associations. In fact, in some cultures, such as the Chinese, the rat is seen as a symbol of good luck and good fortune. Even in Western society, rats in dreams have positive meanings such as:
We'll also have a look at common activities of rats and mice in dreams such as biting, gnawing, and rats chasing us in our dreams. And just for fun, we'll also have a look at the world's largest rodent whose size and traits will definitely surprise you!
So let's go ahead, confront those dream rats, and find out what they're trying to tell us.
Rats and Mice as Symbols of Rejection
The poor little mouse is one of the most reviled creatures on earth. It is shunned, feared, hunted, and it hated. It ranks right up there with snakes, spiders, and roaches as creatures most likely to win an award for least loved animal on the planet!
In dreams, mice and rats might symbolize our own feelings of rejection.
If we've been passed over for a promotion, or left by a lover, or betrayed by a friend, we may feel as if we ourselves are like lowly mice, spurned by everyone around us and seeking solace in a tiny hole in the wall.
It is good to remember, though, that we are all—each and everyone—valuable beyond measure. Even the best of us suffer rejection and betrayal at some point in our lives.
We do well to remember that we have worth beyond the actions of a single person or event. Perhaps remembering the positive attributes of mice and rats, the ones listed below will help us to weather whatever temporary rejection we've suffered.
“I was a mouse trapped in a corner, looking for a crack to flee through but despairing of finding one.”
— Danielle Teller, All the Ever Afters
Rats and Mice as Symbols of Fear and Anxiety
Given the fear that rats and mice elicit from people in the waking world, it is easy to see that in dreams they carry that same fear quotient.
Fear and anxiety are tricky things. They are feelings and not pleasant ones at that. They certainly don't necessarily indicate the facts of our lives.
For example, if we've had abandonment issues in the past, then getting into new relationships can trigger old memories of loss and cause us to fear the same thing happening again. We may become anxious at the thought of feeling abandoned and rejected once again.
In dreams, rats and mice can represent the fears and anxieties we feel in waking life. It is important to confront those feelings and remember they are simply feelings, not fatalistic prophecies.
Rats and Mice as Symbols of Disease
One of the reasons human have a visceral, repulsive reaction to rats and mice is due to their association with disease, especially the bubonic plague. (Check out the link below about surprising new research on the plague and the possibility of rats' innocence.)
Rats and mice in dreams can symbolize not only sickness and disease itself, but also fear of contracting illnesses—especially those that spread rapidly and do a lot of damage. But rats as symbols of sickness don't necessarily mean literal, physical illness. They can symbolize sickness of an emotional, mental, or spiritual sort.
Unhealthiness and disease can also refer to relationships that are toxic or unbalanced situations. Check the other images in the dream for additional clues as to what area of health might be compromised.
It is important that we get a handle on our lives when rats appear in dreams because in the waking world, rats and mice are prolific breeders. (Think of the phrase "breeding like rats.)
Rats and mice in dreams can indicate that whatever is unhealthy in our lives is something that is rapidly getting out of hand and in need of immediate attention.
Rats as Symbols of Betrayal
Rats in dreams can be symbols of betrayal. After all, one of the most common derogatory labels assigned to rats is that of the "rat fink."
In George Orwell's 1984, rats were used to symbolize the worst thing in the world, the thing with which the government used to torture people into submission. But the symbolism in the book served as dual function as the rats also symbolized the fact the those tortured would end up betraying others as a result of being broken.
When we dream of rats, they may symbolize betrayal we have experience by others, betrayals we have perpetrated in some way, or fears of such betrayal—fears that we are going to be betrayed or anxiety that we're capable of betraying someone we love.
Betrayal comes in different shapes and sizes. The white lie we thought harmless that comes back on us, covering for someone else when we knew we ought not to, cheating on a spouse or partner, sandbagging a co-worker to get an undeserved promotion...all of these are types of betrayal and all of them can show up as rats in dreams.
When we are the betrayed, rats are very likely to show up in our dreams as symbols of the depth of pain betrayal bestows on us. Betrayal, the loss of faith in someone previously trusted, is a particularly poignant and hurtful feeling to process. While unpleasant, dreaming about rats might be a way of giving a name to our sorrow and giving us a chance to heal.
Mice and Rats as Symbols of Cleverness
People who have favorable associations with mice and rats may also be pleased to hear they have another positive meaning in dreams: cleverness.
It takes a lot of cleverness to live as mice and rats do. Humans hate them, wild animals love them—just not in the way anything wants to be loved! They are hunted, pursued, poisoned, and yet, somehow, they manage to survive.
Mice and rats are so clever, they can live inside our homes undetected for quite sometime, traveling along floors boards and craftily keeping out of sight.
In dreams, therefore, rats and mice can symbolize our own cleverness, our own ability to work alongside unfriendly co-workers, or in inhospitable environments, going unnoticed, but carefully carving out a spot for ourselves, unseen until the day our efforts are recognized and we've outsmarted those who never saw us coming!
Pizza Rat and Perseverance
Believe it or not, rats and mice do have some positive associations. In China, the Lunar Year of the Rat is considered a particularly fortunate year. In some cultures there is also superstition that seeing a white rat is a sign of good luck as white rats are considered symbols of perseverance.
We all remember Pizza Rat, the rat captured on video in a New York subway carrying home a slice of pie bigger than itself. For many people, Pizza Rat symbolized everything New Yorkers embody—boldness, tenacity, and most of all, perseverance.
There are people who identify positively with mice and rats, even keeping them as pets in their homes. For such people, mice and rats in dreams can symbolize our own ability to persevere, to adapt, and survive in harsh and sometimes horrid circumstances.
“When the mouse laughs at the cat, there's a hole nearby.”
— Nigerian Proverb
Dreams About Rats Biting
Since rats are most commonly associated with sickness, disease, and all manner of unseemly things, being bitten by a rat in a dream can symbolize our fear of being tainted in some way.
A rat biting in a dream can mean that we have either involved ourselves in something that could ruin us or at least ruin our reputation and our worries about our behavior are showing up symbolically as biting rats.
Alternatively, we sometimes have a persistent shame syndrome, where we carry around shame that is not ours at all. Those of us who grew up in homes filled with abuse, lies, and betrayal often feel as though they are tainted in some way—completely unlovable.
A dream about a biting rat might symbol a feeling that we are infected in some way, that something is in our very blood that makes us, like a rat or mouse, one of society's outcasts.
I cannot stress this enough or say it too many times: feelings are not facts. Feelings are reflections of our surroundings and reactions to those surroundings. For people who grew up abused, it is more than important to remember that there was never anything wrong with us, there was something wrong with the people who abused us. If you have such feelings of shame and despondency, a professional therapist can work wonders helping navigate them and get the healing you deserve.
Rats Gnawing in Dreams
When trying to interpret rats in dreams, it's particularly helpful to think of their actions in waking life to get to their dream symbolism.
Rats and mice are not only known for gnawing away at pretty much anything they can find, but also at doing so in secret. And the bad news about rats and mice is that they're so adept at hiding, by the time you see one, you've already got a significant problem. There's no such thing as a single mouse in the house!
If we take the waking life action of rats and move it out into metaphor, rats and mice gnawing in dreams can symbolize something gnawing away at us. What's eating away at us can be anxiety, emotional distress, guilt, or even resentment.
In waking life, mice and rats can and will gnaw through electrical wires, sometimes even sparking fires as a result. At the very least, a gnawing mouse or rat can damage appliances and circuitry to the point that it no longer functions.
Mice and rats gnawing away in dreams can symbolize similar activity on a metaphorical level. They can indicate that there is a person or a situation exhausting us, siphoning away our energy.
Dreams About Being Chased by Rats
Chase dreams are a fairly common dream theme. Oftentimes, chase dreams involve a person chasing us, but sometimes animals pursue us as well.
Animals in dreams typically symbolize a part of ourselves and as much as well might want to run away from the parts of us we don't like, there is absolutely no way to escape ourselves.
Since rats typically represent the more unpleasant and negative aspects life, they likely represent something unpleasant, some aspect of ourselves that we fear or dislike. Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, says that rather than running from things that chase us in our dreams, we should actually allow it to overtake us.
Why would he advise such a stance?
There are a couple of reasons. One reason is because can only operate as whole human beings when we are fully integrated and that means integrating even the aspects of ourselves that we dislike.
Another reason is because whatever we run from has power over us, we run from what we perceive will harm us or overpower us. Letting the symbol overtake us puts us in the driver's seat because we remove the power it has when we confront what we're running from.
Alternatively, rats chasing us in dreams can symbolize simply fear itself. Pairing the rat with the other symbols will give clues as to what it is that we're afraid of.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
— Carl Jung
Just for Fun
If you're terrified of rats and mice, you may not want to watch the next video—or maybe you do. It might change your mind about members of the rodent family.
Capybara are the world's largest rodents. Native to South America, they stand about 4.5 feet tall and weigh between 75-145 pounds. They heaviest capybara weighted in at 201 pounds. That's heavier than a Great Dane!
Capybara are intensely social animals, living in groups of about 20-30 members. They are also some of the friendliest creatures you'll ever meet and unlike the rat and mouse members of their family, they are generally loved by every animal they meet—in the exact ways animals want to be loved!
- Rats: The Shadow of the Collective Human Psyche | Tanner's blog
Look at the rat as a symbol of the shadow of the collective unconscious.
- Maybe Rats Aren't to Blame for the Black Death
A provocative new study suggests that medieval plagues spread via fleas and lice on people.
© 2019 Aisling Ireland
Aisling Ireland (author) from Bolingbroke, GA on March 04, 2019:
Thank you, Lorna! Rats are SO clever. I love that you had rats as pets. I'm one of those few people who find rats, mice, and rodents in general adorable. I've always had a soft spot for them, maybe because I always pull for underdogs and misfits!
Lorna Lamon on March 04, 2019:
Great article - my daughters had pet rats when they were little and we were amazed at just how clever they were. I sometimes dream about various animals so your piece explained a lot. Thank you for sharing.