“Rats” is a four-letter word. Just to mention rats in everyday conversation is to imply dirt, debris, distress, and death but learning how to get rid of rats doesn’t have to take an obscene amount of time.
While a domesticated white rat can make an intelligent and loyal pet, the hoards of black and brown rats lurking in sewers to invade our homes can turn our lives on end. The Pied Piper and the BBC describes their history and habitat.
Rats are a perennial public health and environmental health services problem. In ancient times, rats carried the fleas that carried plague. In modern times, there are still places where rats transmit plague, and two of them are in the United States. Throughout history, rats have transmitted other rare but potentially devastating diseases through their urine and droppings such as rat-bite fever, hantavirus, typhus, meningitis, foot and mouth disease, and leptospirosis. Rats can gnaw through insulation, chew through sheet rock and ceiling panels and wall paper, soak carpets and upholstery with their urine, and become so numerous that they even terrify the family cat and you yourself inside of your home.
Where do rats live? The simple answer is, just about anywhere. This article will give you the basic information you need to know how to get rid of rats. It will discuss methods that work and methods that don’t work for getting rid of rats, beginning with that traditional predator of rats and mice, the cat.
Note: Click on any topic in the table of contents below to jump to that section in the page.
Table of Contents
Employing Cats to Remove Rats
There is no more natural method for exterminating rats than keeping cats. The problem with using cats for rodent control is that there is no guarantee that the kitty you come to love will have a natural inclination or skill for hunting and killing rodents. And if your inside-outside pet cat is a good mouser, then you may also notice song birds missing from your yard or even wake up one morning unable to locate the family hamster.
Kittens usually learn how to hunt rodents at night by watching their mothers. It’s only natural to keep a good mouser and her kittens for long-term pest control. Keeping multiple cats to keep rodents in check, however presents additional problems. Cats are territorial. They will mark their territory with urine. They can catch tapeworms, roundworms, tularemia, toxoplasmosis, and yersiniosis (you can read about the last three symptoms at the National Library of Medicine, CDC and the Department of Health respectively) from the rats they catch and pass that disease on to dogs or even to you and your family. Furthermore, rats reach places in your home too small for a cat to squeeze in. It’s a temptation to put out poison in the nooks and crannies that can’t be entered by cats.
Rat Poison for Rat Control
Rat poison might seem like a quick and easy way to rid your home of a rats nest. Just sprinkle out the bait, wait for the rat to take it, and you will never see the rat again. That is exactly what happens. And that is the problem.
The original rat poison was a chemical called coumadin, or 4-hydroxycoumarin or 4-hydroxythiocoumarin to be more precise. This is the same chemical that is used to make a drug to prevent blood clots in human blood called warfarin. Tiny amounts of coumadin were added to a bait. Rats would eat the bait over a period of days as the coumadin built up in their bodies. Eventually their capillaries would begin to leak and they would start bleeding into their muscles and joints. In about a week the rat would lose so much blood that it would experience shock and die, leaving its carcass to decay and incubate disease and odor.
The makers of rat poisons eventually realized that having a rat slowly get sick and die in a crawl space under the floor or inside walls was not an optimal method of pest control. They created a second generation of anticoagulants that acted in the same way as coumadin, only a lot faster with a much smaller dose. These chemicals include bromadiolone, difethialone, difenacoum, brodifacoum, and flocoumafen.
Bromadiolone is used in the UK for rats that are resistant to coumadin. It works as an antagonist to vitamin K, which the bodies of rats (and people) use to make clotting factors. A rat that finds leafy greens to eat can resist bromadiolone indefinitely.
Difethialone has been banned in the US and many other countries because it is dangerous to house pets and people. Difenacoum is being phased out because it can get into the water supply and kill fish. Brodifacoum is highly toxic to rats and also to cats that might catch them after they have been poisoned. Brodifacoum is extremely toxic to fish, and can kill dogs, small mammals, and small children. It builds up in fatty tissue and is only slowly released by fatty tissue. Accidental poisoning can take months to treat. And flocoumafen is so toxic that it is only used when there is a rat problem in sewers in the US and UK.
Rats and mice can harbor probiotic bacteria just like people can. These bacteria help activate vitamin K, which counteracts coumadin. Many rat poisons contain antibiotics to kill friendly bacteria. This reduces the competition for disease-causing bacteria so that infections can explode in both rats and people.
The Classic Rat Snap Trap
If you don’t want to use cats to get rid of your rats, and you don’t want to use poisons to get rid of your rats, maybe you want to consider rat traps. Simple spring-loaded mouse and rat traps that snap shut on a rodent trying to eat a bite of food promise a quick and painless death.
Most users of these type of traps puzzle over the question of “What do rats eat?” The simple answer is that cheese and peanut butter are a gourmet treat for rats. Most people don’t have immediate success with baiting a trap, however, the fact is that before you get the “feel” for loading a traditional spring-loaded trap with a tiny tray you will probably trap your finger at least one or two times. You’ll put it out and wait for a few days, and the bait will still be there. That’s because rats avoid new objects in their environment.
After rats become accustomed to having the trap in their territory, they may learn that they can activate the trap by bumping against it or just by running past it, exposing a safe morsel of bait they can eat at their leisure. If the trap works, you have to remove and dispose of the rat and the trap because it is a lot easier than trying to clean it. It’s best not to trap your finger in a wire coated with bacteria or poisons from the blood and body juices of the dead rat. All of these problems can be avoided however, if you just use the right kind of rat trap like the Victor rat zapper.
Glue Traps for Rats
Glue traps are a cruel way to catch rats. They capture but do not kill rats. The animal struggles to escape until it dies of a heart attack or dehydration. It urinates and defecates on the trap before it dies. If you find the animal on the sheet of glue before it dies you will have to remove a live and angry rat that has teeth with which to express its displeasure. Glue traps can only be used once. For most homeowners, one experience with cleaning up after a glue trap is more than enough.
If these common methods of rat control don’t work, what does? The most common methods used to attempt to get rid of rats don’t work. But there are at least 10 methods that do. Let’s start with 3 ways to get rats out of your house.
How to Keep Rats Out of Your House
- Keep doors and windows shut. They are the most common entry points for rats. Inspect and seal gaps around pipes and wires entering your dwelling. Be especially careful about openings to and from your attic, basement, or crawlspace and the rest of your house. Any sign of rodent access is a sign you need to close a gap.
- If the cost of rodent removal is your primary concern, and traditional rat traps haven’t worked for you, try the Victor Rat Traps M326, which comes in a set of nine traps. The unique innovation of these traps is a plastic tray to hold the bait. Rats can’t snatch the bait off the tray without setting off the trap. The size of the tray makes it less likely that vibrations will set off the trap without a rat getting caught.
- If you just don’t want to handle dead rats at all, zap rats by electrical means instead. Rat zappers like the Agri Zap RZU001 Rat Zapper Ultra kill rats with quick jolt of electric shock. When you find a dead rat, just lift the door of the trap and dispose of the rat in the trash bin, keeping your hands clean and your pets safe. (Be sure to wear disposable plastic gloves when you handle your zapper to avoid transferring your scent to the trap.) You can even add “Rat Tale” accessories to the RZU001 Rat Zapper Ultra by Agrizap to inform you as an indicator light flashes on a monitor you can place anywhere in your house to tell you a rat is in the trap.
- If you have a heart to catch rats and release them to the wild, test out a Havahart Rat Trap. After you have had the trap in place for a few days, any rat in the area will feel secure enough to run inside the trap to get the bait. Pressure on the food tray closes the door behind the rat, and you can then take the trap to a park or grassland and let the rat go with the press of a lever. You can’t catch rats in the tiny plastic containers designed for catch and release of mice to places where they won’t do damage. You’ll need a metal cage like the Havahart Rat Trap to accommodate an adult rat.
How to Keep Rats Out of Your Attic
Rats can’t actually fly. It just seems that way when they find their way into your attic before they migrate into the rest of your house, rats in toilets almost always arrive via the roof. Here are three tips for keeping rats out of your attic.
- The most important tip is that the best way to deal with an infestation of rats is to stop it before it starts by maintaining a physical barrier between them and you. The place most people forget is the roof. Most houses and apartments have a pipe from the sewer to the roof that allows gas to escape from the sewer lines. This prevents the sewer from backing up into plumbing. On very windy days and on very still days the air pockets can form that allow rats to swim or crawl out of the sewer and onto your roof, where they may be able to enter your house. Make sure the opening of the pipe extends above your roof and that any doors or windows to attics are carefully sealed.
- Any small hole in your roof and attic will admit rodents and other pests. An easy way to stop this is to seal up even the smallest of holes. Go up to your attic in daylight but don’t turn any lights on. If you see sunlight coming in anywhere, then block the holes.
- Sonic pest controllers are more likely to work in your attic or basement than anywhere else in your home. The absence of other electronic gadgets in these locations makes the ultrasonic noise the only thing the rats hear in your attic or basement.
How to Keep Rats off Your Property
The most important thing you can do to keep rats from entering your property is to avoid creating an outdoor home. Keep grass and weeds mowed. Keep wood and any kind of building material off the ground. If you keep a composter for your garden, never add eggshells, meat scraps, or kitchen grease. Other methods of keeping your property rodent-free include:
- Let your cats and dogs roam your garden. Even if they don’t catch rats, their scent will scare rodents away.
- Use a Havahart trap – but make sure it is not large enough to accommodate a skunk. If you capture a raccoon or opossum, be sure to handle the trap with gloves to avoid getting bitten.
- Place an Agri Zap in a rats nest and place it in a location that is open to your yard but sheltered from wind, rain, and snow. Use the “Rat Monitor” feature so you will know when you need to empty the unit to avoid attracting larger animals.