Rats in the Attic: What Do You Do?


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.

Why Do Rats Choose to Infest Your Home?

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.

Never Use Rat Poison in Your Attic

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.

And Certainly Don’t Send Your Cat In To Fight Rats

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.

The Only Way to Fight Rats in Your Attic

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.

How do you trap a rat?

  1. Choose the right trap. Use a combination of modern traps like the Rat Zapper Ultra, old-fashioned wooden rat snap traps, and rat glue traps for confined spaces. Use the larger sizes for rats. A mouse trap may only catch the paw of a rat. The rat will gnaw off its paw to avoid being trapped. You want a trap that results in a clean kill.
  2. It’s important to use the right bait. Read this article called What is the Best Rat Bait?
  3. Choose the right sites. It’s not enough to toss a couple of rat traps at the attic door. Rats will figure out a way to climb around or over them. You need to get into your attic and take a look at the trails of urine and droppings where rats run.

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.

  1. Put out enough traps. There may be as many as two dozen rats in your attic before you even notice odors or damage. Put out two dozen traps.
  2. Check traps regularly. Remove dead rats with gloved hands. Wrap the dead rats in plastic, and place them in the garbage outside, putting the lid on the garbage receptacle tightly. When you don’t get any new rats in your traps, then you don’t need to check any more.

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.

Prevention Follows Extermination

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.


Simon Mann is a "handy man" to have around the house. Although he was a trained carpenter he went on to become a VP of a construction company. Any pest or DIY problem you may have, he always seems to come up with the right solution.

View Comments

  • What do you think about motion sensor flood lights in the attic to make it less hospitable to wildlife? With LED battery powered lights I can turn the attic into a beach at noon.

  • I hired a guy who specializes in termites and bugs but has very little experience with rats (I didn't know this until it was too late). I hired him because my attic was infested with rats and had been for years before I bought the house. The guy charged me 3K to clean my attic, replace the insulation, and seal up the attic against future rat infestations. He did the cleanup and insulation, but never properly sealed the attic. As a result, the attic is once again overrun with rats despite my efforts to catch them with traps. You're so right that the traps won't make a difference if you don't seal the attic, but how do I find someone who can and will do the job and guarantee the results? The guy I hired came back a few times over the ensuing couple of years to try to find where the rats were getting in, but his efforts were only half-hearted and he ultimately gave up, with returning any part of my 3K. I can't afford to have that happen again, and am at a loss for what to do. Any advice would be much appreciated.

    • Hi Lou, sorry to hear about your predicament. I agree it is always a problem finding reliable and skilled people. If you have problems then there is a high probability your neighbors have a problem as well. Try talking with them to see if you can work out a solution together. You can go into your attic during the day, don’t turn on the lights, and see if daylight is seeping in from any holes.

  • I have rats in the wall. U can hear them playing all night. Running up and down the walls. I've caught about 20 in the last month, but now I can't catch any. But I still hear them every night. Help me

  • Hi rats in my attic have demolished my Christmas decorations eaten sentimental items. I have spoke to my insurance i have a good policy with accidental cover yet I am not covered for rodant damage is there any other way i could be covered on any other insurance.

    • I doubt it. I now recommend homeowners to check their insurance policy prior to taking it out for pest damage cover.

  • I just killed a rat I believe in my garage. It is grey bigger than a mouse with a long tail. I hear them running in my bathroom ceiling and shower ways. I live in a four plex apt. Management is aware of them. Last 3 tenants have complained. Nothing has been done yet. What are our rights.

    • The first thing to do is check the lease. There is a health and safety issue here which is probably the best way to approach this situation. Furthermore, check your insurance policies as they often include legal expenses cover.

  • Simon, what are your thoughts on using disposable latex gloves when setting rat traps provided the "fingers" of the gloves are not touched by human hands?

    Does anything more than soaking wood and plastic rat traps in boiling hot water need to be done to rid the trap of human scent?

    • Yes using disposable latex gloves should be fine and no, nothing else needs to be done apart from putting your traps in boiling water.

      • I have had a rat infestation before in my walls and inbetween first floor and second floor ceiling pest control come out basicly just put two rat traps and blue poisen behind cupboards and left it never came bk to check on it there was an intense smell for weeks we were all ill same symptoms head aches saw eyes lips limbs hurting to the rats are back and we've got alot blue bottles were gunna try tackle this our selves any tips please ??

        • Make sure you put the rat bait in rat bait stations. More importantly you need to understand how the rats have been able to return. Check for holes where rats can get in and plug these holes fast. Make your environment as rat unfriendly as possible. Remove all food, water and nesting materials.

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