What’s the best way to deal with a rat infestation in your attic? Questions about how to get rats out of the attic are in the top 10 inquiries at professional exterminator offices, but rats are one pest that homeowner’s should take care of for themselves. Don’t get into a hurry to call the Orkin man. The advanced pest control that will really work for removing rats is to remove them yourself.
A rat problem doesn’t mean you keep a dirty house. A rat problem means your house is a warm and safe place where rats can find food and hide from their predators.
Rats have keen senses of hearing and smell but bad eyesight. They navigate by following trails of urine they lay down themselves or that are left by other rats before them. They have excellent speed and balance, but they prefer to keep their whiskers in contact with a wall and to travel through tiny openings into which their predators cannot reach.
These pesky critters leave the droppings anywhere and everywhere. They have teeth that continue to grow even when they are adults. Their teeth would penetrate their skulls if they didn’t wear them down by constant gnawing. Rats will gnaw through wood, insulation (causing electrical shorts and sometimes even fires), and PVC pipes (causing costly leaks).
In colder climates, that rustling in your attic is more likely to be due to a Norway rat, also known as a brown rat. Norway rats have a longer body, shorter tail, and slightly less bulk than their cousins in warmer climates. Norway rats prefer to live in basements or on the ground floor, but they will venture into your attic when they must.
In warmer climates, your rodent infestation is more likely to be due to a black rat, also known as a roof rat, house rat, or ship rat. Black rats like to climb. Sometimes they live in dead trees. They will enter your attic as their destination of choice to make a new home.
Both kinds of rats are noticeably larger than mice, about twice the length and four to six times the weight. Rats breed and give birth all year long, up to six times a year. A female rat can become pregnant within 48 hours of giving birth, and just two rats can multiply to dozens if you don’t take appropriate measures to stop them.
Rat poison seems like the easy solution to a rat invasion. Rat poisons are best used outdoors and only with a rat bait station. If you put out poison, rats will indeed die. Where they die becomes the problem. A rat can die inside your walls and slowly decay, leaving an intense odor for months. Just because the rat is dead, that doesn’t mean that the fleas and ticks on it will die, too. Poisoning a rat leaves the ticks that can cause Lyme disease. It does nothing to clean up the urine that can give your pets or even you a disease called leptospirosis, or the droppings that can cause Salmonella infections.
Another horrible idea is sending your pets, cats or dogs, into your attic to root out rats. The rats outnumber your cat or dog sometimes by dozens to one. Your pet will die a horrible death—and likely be eaten by the rats.
You can’t poison rats. You can’t frighten pregnant rats with coyote urine. And if you use a cage trap to capture a rat alive so you can release it elsewhere, it will just be killed by other rats when you place it in a new territory. You can’t amp up electronic pest repellents loud enough to discourage cold and hungry rats from staying inside your nice warm attic above your “supermarket,” especially in winter. You can only block off entry to new rodent home invaders and kill those that are left behind with traps.
You have to seal your attic first for any rat control program to work. Any hole or crack more than about ¾ inch (18 mm) wide will just allow more rats to come in. You have to put a halt to rodent entry to be able to make a permanent solution to your problem.
Then you have to trap and kill the rats that remain in your attic. You just aren’t going to be able to get rid of rats with lots of little Havahart no-kill traps, and even if you could, you would need to check them twice a day to make sure your captures did not suffer thirst or starvation.
Use a wild life or security camera to spy on them. The camera will enable you to identify the type of rat and where it travels, i.e. the rat runs.
Then you need to put out traps in those runs, preferably where the trail comes out of an enclosure or the rats turn a corner. Remember, rats like to keep their whiskers in contact with a hard surface, so if you just toss traps out into the middle of the floor, you aren’t likely to get many rats.
What do you do about a rat in the ceiling? If your ceiling has drop panels, remove them, and place the trap there. If not, rely on traps in the attic.
Once you get the rats out of your attic, it’s time for cleanup. Vacuum up droppings. Use an enzyme-based fogging antimicrobial cleaner to get rid of “brown grease” and dried urine. Wear a face mask and gloves.
New infestations are inevitable if you don’t make your property unattractive to rats. Don’t leave pet food outside overnight—or even the water bowl. Keep debris, compost, and rubbish away from your house. The broader the exposed area between your house and any outdoor rat habitat, the less likely a rat is going to risk a run to your house. A cat with freedom to roam your yard actually helps prevent rat infestations, but not by confronting the rats directly. None of these steps help, however, if you don’t have all of the rats already out of your house.