Rat Tattoos: Symbolism, Meanings & More

Rat Tattoos: Symbolism, Meanings & More

Considering that rats have a mixed reputation, you might wonder what tattoos of them mean. As it turns out, tattoos of these furry creatures can express cultural heritage, intelligence, and even good luck.

Until recently, rats were a rare subject for tattoo art. Mainly because many people associate them with death and disease. However, they’re becoming increasingly popular thanks to rats gaining a more positive reputation.

What Is the History of Rat Tattoos?

Rat tattoos were relatively rare up until recent years.

Throughout most of history, western cultures reviled these creatures as pests and vermin. And because of that, rat tattoos often had negative connotations. Sometimes, self-described outcasts would get them in defiance to signify their supposedly lower social status.

However, the rise of rats as popular housepets and movies like Ratatouille helped vastly improve their image.

Now, rat tattoos are far more common. They can signify perseverance, cleverness, and industriousness in Europe and the USA.


Conversely, Eastern cultures have historically had a more appreciative view of rats. Some, such as Indian Hindus, even venerate them as spiritual vessels.

Still, tattoos were not and still aren’t as common in most of Asia as they are in the West.

What Is the Symbolism of Rats?

The symbolism behind rats varies greatly between places and cultures.

Below, I’ll show how differently people around the world see them:

  • Japan – In Japan, rats are symbols of good fortune and prosperity. Because of their rapid breeding, they’re also associated with fertility and a strong family legacy.
  • Europe – Rats here have long symbolized death and disease. This is because there is a strong historical association between them and deadly plagues like the Black Death.
  • India – In Hinduism, it’s believed that the Lord Ganesha travels the Earth on a rat because it can overcome any obstacle. As a result, rats symbolize relentlessness and ingenuity. They can also indicate greed from hoarding.
  • China – In the Chinese Zodiac, a rat won the “Great Race” between animals by hiding on an Ox. Because of this, rats symbolize success and cleverness.
  • USA – Some Native American tribes view rats as symbols of grit and cunning. It’s theorized this came from their propensity to find food stores and escape danger.

As you can see, these furry creatures have gained quite a mixed reputation. However, as time goes on, cultures worldwide continue seeing them in a brighter light.

What Are the Meanings of Rat Tattoos?

For a long time, rat tattoos were associated with things like death and decay. But thankfully, this stereotype is quickly eroding.

These days, rat tattoos can mean numerous positive things. Especially when combined with cultural imagery, such as the Chinese Zodiac.


Here are some of the positive meanings behind rat ink:

Positive Meanings

  • Cleverness and intelligence
  • Long-term prosperity
  • Fertility
  • Perseverance
  • Industriousness
  • Charisma
  • Decisiveness and initiative
  • Good luck
  • Science and academics (lab rats)
  • Overcoming challenges
  • Defiance
  • Surviving against the odds

Negative Meanings

Below is a list of some of the negative connotations of rat tattoos:

  • Greed and avarice
  • Decay
  • Disease
  • Death, particularly from disease
  • Dirtiness or defilement
  • In Christianity, rats are sometimes associated with evil
  • Bad omens

Keep in mind that the meaning of a rat tattoo differs depending on the depiction.

Food and gold around rats can suggest prosperity. On the other hand, including skulls and poison means darker and more cautionary symbolism.


Characteristics and Styles of Rat Tattoos

One of the great things about rat tattoos is the variety of styles they come in.

Many pieces are done with a cartoonish flair. This makes the rat look more cute and palatable to people who have a bad knee-jerk reaction to them. Such depictions are generally positive or commemorative.

Alternatively, others prefer the American traditional style. This technique accentuates their “ugliness” by making them look fat and grotesque.

American traditional rat tattoos commonly feature the creatures as dead, drowning, or standing on skulls. Such inkwork symbolizes cautionary messages about mortality and greed.

And unlike other animals, rats are often personified in tattoos by wearing clothes or using tools. Japanese-style ink, in particular, depicts them wearing robes and carrying lanterns or swords.

Where Should Rat Tattoos Go?

There isn’t a hard and fast rule on where you should get a rat tattoo on your body.

Generally, most people get theirs somewhere on their arms, legs, or shoulders. There are a couple of reasons for that.


For one, these locations are excellent for showing off tattoos. And ink art of a rat is sure to be a great conversation starter.

Secondly, rat owners often let their furry friends rest on their arms or shoulders. Not to mention that they can easily climb up your leg if you’re wearing pants. So, these locations are fitting for rat tattoos.

However, there are other excellent options worth considering.

Some women have tattoos of rats on their chest with the tail curled around the breast.

Other people may get it on the side of their heads since a rat’s body shape fits perfectly around the ear.

Does the Type of Rat Affect Tattoo Meaning?

If you’re familiar with rats, you might know that there are dozens of species.

Some are tiny and brown, while others are giant and hairless. And the type of rat you choose can dramatically affect the aesthetic and message of your ink.


The black rat is most commonly associated with death and dark omens. Mainly because they have been the target of blame for spreading diseases throughout history. In fact, many black rat tattoos today still feature them on skulls.

However, their reputation for cleverness and docility has thankfully spread. Black rats now may also symbolize determination, intelligence, or are depicted jokingly.

On the other hand, white rats have a close association with science and learning. This is because of their widespread use in laboratories for experimentation.

Brown rats (also called “fancy rats”) are the most common domestic breed and feature in many tattoos. These designs are typically commemorative in meaning, honoring a particularly beloved pet.

Final Thoughts

The meaning of rat tattoos varies greatly between cultures. They have long indicated prosperity and fertility in the East.

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