Getting rid of rats seems like an impossible task for so many homeowners and business owners, and has been for longer than we can remember. These small rodents seem to be impossible to get rid of for everyday people, leaving us frustrated and lost. Even many pest control professionals have been perplexed by these invasive and destructive creatures.
With a little bit of education, let’s see if we can relieve some stress and help you figure out what works—and what doesn’t—when it comes to getting rid of rats.
How to Identify the Species of Rat
The first thing that needs to be done is identify the species. Many people assume that because rats and mice are so similar that the treatment will be the same; that is unfortunately not the case.
The differences between rats and mice will play out in everything from appearances to behavior. To make sure your plan for removal will be more effective, here are the main differences between rats and mice:
- Rats may grow to as large as 7-15 inches, while mice typically reach 5-8 inches.
- Rats’ tails tend to be hairless and scaly, while mice tend to have thin and hairy tails.
- Rats’ facial features tend to be blunter with a shorter set of whiskers while mice are sharper, more triangular, with longer whiskers.
Once you have identified your pest as a rat and not a mouse, you must then identify what species, as each will react and behave in a different way.
Rodents are comprised of over 2,000 species between rats, mice, and squirrels. That’s a bit overwhelming, especially for a DIY pest controller, so let’s focus on the two most common types of rats found in the US.
Norway Rats are the larger of the primary rat species in the US, measuring between 13-15 inches in length and can be a reddish color, a brownish-gray, or black with a gray underside.
As well as being the larger of the two species, they are also the bigger reproducer. They can have 8-12 pups per litter and between 5-7 litters each year: this adds up quickly, and can turn a small problem into a large infestation.
Norway rats are the more common that we see on a day-to-day basis as they stay close to ground level, often in or near garbage disposal areas, sewers, fields, and—when close to our homes—they prefer holes near the foundation or woodpiles.
Roof Rat (aka Grey-Bellied Rat)
The roof rat is by far the more agile and acrobatic of the two main species, and can be found in trees, attics, ceilings, or other above ground spaces. As the smaller of the two common rodents species—only measuring between 7-10 inches long—they tend to be more difficult to differentiate from a mouse (keep in mind the face shapes and tails as described above).
Roof rats typically have smaller litters of only 5-8 pups, with 4-6 litters per year. Although they don’t reproduce as quickly as their Norway rat counterparts, if left untreated it will not take long until you have a large problem.
Both species are primarily nocturnal, so if you are hearing things throughout the day, then you know your infestation level is high.
How to Inspect Your Home for Signs of Rats
Your next step will be to inspect your home.
Look for Signs of Chewing
Rats can cause extensive damage to structures with the amount of chewing that they do. Rats’ teeth never stop growing, so they will continue to chew on everything to file them down. Insulation, wiring, wood, drywall, and even piping will fall victim to a rat’s need to file its teeth down. Check your home for signs of this type of damage.
Look for Indications of Nesting
Burrows or nests are sure indicators that a rat has made your residence its own home. You can also check for gnaw marks, a large number of droppings, or even rub marks around potential points of entry as these are all signs of an infestation. Once these have been identified you can now begin some steps to protect your home.
Look for Entry Points—and Seal Them
You can seal holes and cracks greater than ¼” throughout your home, install weather-stripping on the bottom of exterior doors, as well as cut vegetation away from the side of your home (including tree limbs and branches that overhang roofing).
If you do opt for a DIY method to exclude rodents, you can utilize materials such as metal flashing, hardware cloth, or even steel wool. These materials can help seal gutters, close up vent openings, or seal up holes.
Ineffective Rat Control Methods
Many of us have attempted to find DIY remedies and ways to keep rats away from our homes. We have heard someone somewhere say that these are guaranteed to work—but most of these are not likely to be successful.
Natural and Chemical Repellents
Here are some of the ideas that can be readily found as a way to “keep rodents away”:
- Bay Leaf
- Peppermint Oil
- Castor Oil
- Baby Powder
- Instant Mashed Potatoes
Really, none of these methods are going to do what you want them to. You will still see rodent activity, they will still damage your property, and they will still cause mischief.
Bait Boxes and Poisons
The internet is full of information about bait boxes and poisons; much of the information is good, but there is plenty that isn’t. It’s important to be discerning when considering which types of poisons and/or bait stations to utilize.
Rodents are extremely intelligent creatures and will begin to recognize that when they consume these poisons/baits, they are dying off, and will eventually stop eating what has been left. You will then see the activity raise back up and reach unacceptable levels again.
Poisons Used in DIY Rodent Control
Most of the poisons and baits you find over the counter are formulated with Bromethalin, an extremely fast-acting neurotoxin that may result in a quick decrease in activity but will not likely continue to be effective.
Far more effective methods use slower-acting poisons like Fumarin and Warfarin. These are a multi feed system that takes longer to affect the population, but will have a better, long-lasting result.
Bait Box Placement and Type
Lastly, we need to consider where we’re going to place our poison and/or bait stations.
Many products have instructions to simply “place in areas of activity”, which can often be inside your crawl space, attic, or living area. When rats consume a poison, they will typically return to their nesting area (your home) in order to find a place to die. They will quickly begin to smell as they decompose, and you won’t know where they are to remove them.
It is highly recommended that any poisons or baits be placed outside of your home in tamper-proof containers that only rodents can access. Tamper-proof bait stations help ensure that non-target animals, pets, and even children don’t handle or consume poisons.
Effective DIY Steps to Getting Rid of Rats
Here are some great tips for the DIY home and business owners that will assist in getting rid of these pesky critters:
Mitigate Conducive Conditions
Eliminating or reducing conducive conditions is a vital step towards effective rat control. This can include:
- Improving sanitation
- Removing bird feeders
- Cutting back vegetation away from exterior walls/roofs
- Picking up dog feces
- Ensuring there are no piles of debris or garbage that can create a place for harborage
As we discussed earlier in this article, rats will typically enter your home from a vent or a small entry point. Here are some areas to pay attention to and seal off when possible:
- Crawl space vents
- Unsecured crawl space doors
- Broken garage door weather stripping
- Gaps caused by construction or installation of major appliance (i.e. hot water tanks, furnaces, HVAC systems)
- Torn roof vents
These areas can be sealed with items found in big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes. Here are some effective materials to use when rodent-proofing your home or business:
- Hardware cloth
- Wire mesh
- Wooden building materials
- Sheet metal
There are many different types of traps available depending on the situation, such as:
- Snap traps
- Glue boards
- Live catch-and-release traps
Typically, if you are trapping in an area where there is no concern for pets or children coming into contact with the devices, then snap traps are effective and ideal. However, if the traps will be set in areas where this may be an issue, then glue boards will be the way to go.
You will want to bait these traps with items of interest. Anything from food (peanut butter is the classic go to, however chocolate and dried fruit are also effective) to nesting materials such as cotton balls, yarn, or pieces of cloth are effective for baiting traps. If one type doesn’t work, try something different.
Remember that placing bait on the interior is not recommended. The bait stations must be completely secured and labeled in accordance to local regulations; if used incorrectly, these stations can harm other wildlife, your pets, or even the environment. It is recommended that you partner with a licensed pest control technician to handle the baiting process properly.
If you are unable to eradicate the issue on your own it may be time to call your local Pest Control Professionals. These professionals can help you trap, bait, and even assist in rodent-proofing in most cases. Listen to the advice of your pest control expert if they tell you that your damages and infestation are worse than you originally thought, take note of any recommendations, and continue to follow your list of preventative steps.
You and your pest professional can collaborate in order to eradicate your problem, and you can continue to live your life being safe, happy, and healthy!