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Yes, Rats Run the Streets of New York. But Why Do They Rule Over Your Dreams?

A bunch of plastic rats in a row, symbolizing dreaming of rats.

Photo: Stocksy / AUDSHULE

If real-life rats looked—and cooked, TBH—like Chef Remy does in Ratatouille, maybe New York City wouldn’t have declared a full-blown war against them. Alas, the average street rat is a little less cute and charismatic than the Pixar rodent. Despite their intelligence, we tend to write off rats as disease-laden pests that invade our pantries and cupboards in search of their next meal. It’s not so strange, then, to get a little concerned when they begin to invade our subconscious, too. According to dream analysts, dreaming of rats is steeped with symbolism, and could indicate areas of your life that need some immediate addressing.

Experts In This Article

Ahead, dream experts dive into the meaning of rat dreams and share four potential reasons why you might be dreaming of rats lately.

What does it mean when you dream of rats?

Before we give interpreting dreams about rats a go, we first need to appreciate that our dreams are wholly complex and highly individualized. According to Stephanie Gailing, dream decoder, astrologer, and author of The Complete Book of Dreams: A Guide to Unlocking the Meaning and Healing Power of Your Dreams, the symbolism of rats in the dreamworld depends largely on our own unique experiences and associations with the rodent. Someone whose childhood pet was a rat will likely a more positive association with the rodent than, say, a college student whose first and only experience with a rat included a 3:00 a.m. call to a pest control hotline.

“[Rats are] very archetypal of what might be hidden, like hidden motivations, or maybe a fear of your shadow, of the dark part of yourself.” —Stephanie Gailing, dream decoder and astrologer

“As with any symbol in a dream, the rat is going to represent some part of you or something—or someone—that directly and currently affects you,” adds dream analyst Lauri Loewenberg, author of Dream on It: Unlock Your Dreams, Change Your Life. This is why the context in which a rat appears in our dream matters greatly, as does how often they appear. Recurring dreams tend to signify problems in our life that come up over and over. If the long-tailed rodent consistently appears in your stress dreams, for example, perhaps it represents fear or anxiety that needs to be addressed.

“It’s also important to pay attention to the behavior of the rat in the dream,” says Loewenberg. Are you dreaming of rats hiding in your house, or are you dreaming of rats attacking or biting you? Do several black rats scurry about your dream in a group, or is there a singular gray rat? All of these details can help you paint a picture of what the dream may mean.

This all being said, there’s a few common themes associated with dreaming of rats. Below are four possible interpretations of rat dreams.

Symbolism of rats in dreams: 4 possible themes at play

1. Lack of control

Rats and mice are notoriously hard to catch: They scurry in and out of corners, hurriedly zipping from one place to the next. They also steal and hoard bits of food, collecting crumbs as they go about. Because of this, “a dream about rats could symbolize that there is something lurking, something that you feel like you don’t have control over,” says Gailing. “The rat shows up, and then the rat disappears.”

Consider if there’s something out of your control that’s been bothering you lately (or gnawing at you, rather). Gailing also suggests reflecting on areas of your life wherein you have a concern about things being stolen, or a lack of available resources.

2. Snitching or ‘ratting someone out’

Whether it’s deserved or not, rats have a longstanding reputation of being sneaky and capricious. (Exhibit A: Just as a group of crows is called a “murder” of crows, a group of rats is often referred to as a “mischief.”)

“Rats are known for infesting filthy places,” says Loewenberg, “so they are often associated with dirty places, and therefore, ‘dirty’ people that act in a low-down dirty fashion, like someone who snitches, or throws another under the bus.”

Ask yourself: Is there a rat in your life? Might there be someone ratting you out to someone else? Alternatively, do you want to rat somebody out? All of these questions could shed some light on the meaning of your rat dreams.

3. Things you’ve been hiding—or things that are being hid from you

Rats tend to hide in dark, hard-to-reach places, making a home out of walls, basements, and alleys. In that same vein, a rat in your dreams could symbolize an area of yourself that you’re trying to keep under wraps. “They’re very archetypal of what might be hidden, like hidden motivations, or maybe a fear of your shadow, of the dark part of yourself,” says Gailing.

Too, says Gailing, the appearance of a rat in your dream could symbolize a concern for dark, destructive elements that are out of your scope. Pay attention to areas of your life that may be shrouded in mystery—there may be something that needs to be brought into the light.

4. Contamination, disease, and death

Although research suggests that rats weren’t the primary carriers of the deadly bubonic plague, the rodents can still spread many other harmful diseases. Since we tie them to death and the spread of illness, dreaming of rats could be associated with feelings of contamination. Perhaps something (or someone!) has been invading your physical space or your thoughts recently, suggests Gailing.

What is the spiritual meaning of the rat?

Rats tend to get a bad rap as dirty, disease-toting pests in the Western world, but there are many different cultural interpretations of rats that exist beyond this association. The spiritual meaning of rats ranges from culture to culture and region to region.

In Chinese folklore, rats are depicted as quick-witted, resourceful beings, and as such are commonly associated with good luck and good fortune. In Japanese mythology, the god of wealth, named Daikoku, is closely associated rats, reinforcing this identity as a prosperous, lucky rodent. And in Europe, Apollo, the Greek god of the sun, archery, and prophecy was closely linked to mice, while the lesser-known Greek god Arimanius favored rats.

Do rats mean good luck?

Because of their affiliation with the Black Death, rats haven’t exactly earned a reputation as harborers of health and happiness in Western culture. However, in Chinese culture, rats are considered to be especially auspicious, and are associated with good luck, prosperity, and wealth. Someone who has this positive association with them might be more likely to have good dreams about rats rather than bad ones.

According to ancient Chinese myths, the rat came in first place during a race held by the Jade Emperor. Because of this, the rat is the first of 12 animals that make up the Chinese zodiac. Each 12-year cycle of the Chinese calendar starts with the Year of the Rat. The more you know!

No matter your associations with them, dreaming of rats over and over again can be a sign that there’s something your subconscious is trying to tell you. Use a dream journal or other tool to reflect on the content of the dream and how it made you feel—then start to connect the dots between what’s happening in the dream world and your real life. With any luck (and a little emotional work on your end), the rats will scurry out of your dreams in no time.

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