Your guide to dead rat removal and disposal
I'm often called to private homes and commercial properties because the owners can smell something truly awful – the body of a decomposing rodent in their walls, attics, or garages.
Rats are extremely agile and highly effective climbers but they can fall into hard-to-reach cavities and become trapped. Homeowners may be able to hear them scratching and squeaking as they become distressed.
If you know the general location of the nest and can gain access to clear dead rats then using poison within a baited trap is a solution.
However, if you're not certain I recommend using an electronic rat trap over poison any day. These traps are much more humane as they kill rats instantly. Electronic traps also make it much easier for you to dispose of the dead rat (without seeing it or touching it) so you can simply dispose of it within a sack and put it in the trash.
Where to look for a dead rat
Property owners who have been suffering from a rat infestation often use poison to kill rats. This usually results in the rodent making its way back to its nest to die. The body temperature of poisoned rodents starts to drop as the internal organs start to fail. They can also become dehydrated so will seek water and moisture so they can drink.
In summary, you should look for rats in the following areas:
- Near to plumbing or areas where rodents can access water such as bathrooms
- Areas where warm air circulates and will provide warmth typically near ceiling lights or chimneys
- Locations where rodents would feel comfortable making a nest to raise their young
Start by drilling a small hole in the wall before removing a section of the drywall to get to the dead rat
How to find a dead rat in the wall
Dead rats inside walls and crawl spaces can be hard to find often requiring a keen sense of smell and common sense. There is no secret sauce to finding a dead rat, simply use your nose and some strong sniffs. As you get closer the smell will become stronger.
Put your nose up against the wall and gradually move along sniffing. Bear in mind air currents can make it harder to find and can deceive you as to the actual location.
Once you get to an area where the smell is stronger don't start to cut holes out of your drywall, start by drilling a small hole through the wall then have a sniff. Sometimes the decomposing body will start to leave a stain on the wall which you'll be able to see.
How to find a dead rat in the attic
Attics are usually well ventilated but can be narrow in places and hard to get to. Locating the body of a dead rat in the attic can therefore be a challenge.
Often the smell is worse directly below the area in which the rat died, this can mean standing on a step ladder and attempting to sniff the ceiling. If the rat has been dead for some time a small brown stain may appear on the ceiling indicating the location of the rat.
Use a keyhole saw to create a small square in the ceiling and give you enough room to grab the rat (wearing thick rubber gloves to protect yourself).
What should you wear to dispose of a dead rat?
Once the offending rat has been found you can start the disposal. Extreme precaution should be taken when disposing of dead rodents. The chance of contracting diseases and illness from handling rat carcasses is high so always wear a protective kit including thick rubber gloves.
If the smell is particularly pungent and the offending rodent has been dead for some time then wear a mask with a respirator. The smell is usually strong enough to knock you off your balance when you get up close.
For extra precaution place your hands inside black sacks and use these to collect the body, turning the sack inside out as you pick it up will allow you to tether the ends and dispose of it with minimum fuss.
Can you put dead rats in a normal bin?
Using the black sack method above will allow you to put rats and rodent carcasses in normal garbage cans, fastened and sealed securely so no other pests or insects will be attracted to the smell. The last thing you need is flies getting to the body to lay their eggs and creating another infestation.
Don't leave your trash lying on the ground. This will only attract more pests and create another problem for you.
Getting rid of the smell from a dead rat
Rats are dirty filthy animals and they smell regardless of being dead or alive. They leave their droppings everywhere they go which contain nasty diseases such as Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, Lassa Fever, Leptospirosis, and the Plague to name a few.
Rat diseases can kill and cause serious illnesses in humans and their pets. Prevention is always the best cure. Use steel wool to close holes and any gaps where rats might be able to get into your property.
The smell of a dead rat is particularly pungent. It smells like rotting meat with a mixture of propane gas. GRIM.
Did you know? The smell from a rotting rat can spread over 300 meters from the body.
It's imperative that you locate and dispose of the dead rat before attempting to get rid of the smell. It can be challenging clearing the smell so use a strong cleaning chemical such as an enzyme-based biohazard cleaner and ventilate the area well. Open all the windows in your property and use electric fans to dissipate the odor. It's important you act quickly before flies find the body and lay eggs to rapidly turn into maggots and more flies.
Best ways to get rid of the smell from a dead rat
The smell of a dead rat can be difficult to remove even after disposing of the body. Fluids and stains left behind need to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. Thankfully there are a number of excellent absorbent products which I recommend for getting rid of the dead rat smell and to help clean up the mess left behind. Any walls or surfaces which have been saturated by the dead animal's fluid will need to be removed and replaced.
1. Earth Care Odor Removing Bag
Place a bag of this near the rat odor and it will remove the smell usually within 24 hours. One bag provides coverage of up 100 square feet and lasts up to 4 months. You may require several bags for a particularly bad infestation.
2. Zero Odor Pro
This spray product is non-toxic and biodegradable and leaves a slight trace in the air so you know where you have sprayed. It's an effective spray that can be used for rats, odors created by pets, and is powerful to deal with the strongest odors of all – skunk spray.
3. Nature's Air Sponge The Original Odor Absorber
Placing these around your home will help get rid of the most powerful of smells. Popular with pet owners they work by absorbing offensive odors and pollutants and are made with natural non-toxic ingredients so won't harm the environment.
4. Super Strength Commercial Enzyme Cleaner and Odor Eliminator
Made in the USA, Bubba's is one of the best professional household cleaning solutions available to remove stains from flooring, upholstery, rugs, and carpets. Recommended for the removal of dead rat odors.
5. Angry Orange Pet Odor Eliminator
Originally manufactured for use in commercial environments where odors are strong, it can now be purchased for residential use.
6. Rocco & Roxie Oxy Stain Remover
A popular brand of stain remover, Rocco and Roxie can be used to effectively clean up the mess left behind by rats. Spray on and leave it to soak for a few hours before wiping it up.
7. Nature's Miracle Stain and Odor Remover
Designed for dog urine, feces, vomit, and drool this product is also a highly effective cleaner on the stains left behind by dead rats. It can be used on carpet, tiles, hardwood, and lino.
How long does it take for a rat's body to decompose?
The amount of time it takes for a rodent to decompose is dependent on multiple factors, these include the size of the animal, the temperature and humidity of where it's died. If flies find the animal they will leave their eggs to hatch into maggots and within 2 weeks your home will be filled with flies. Typically it can take up to 2 months to decompose completely and for the smell to go, sometimes longer. If the body is contained it will dry up once the fluids evaporate.
What diseases do dead rats carry?
Dead or alive rats carry disease which can be spread to your pets and family members if you come into contact with their feces, urine, saliva, and nesting material. The most common ways to become infected are through ingestion, inhaled particles, scratches, and bites.
With no specific treatment, Hantavirus is a potentially life-threatening disease that can cause fever, fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
Salmonella can typically be found in rats' feces as they carry the bacteria in their digestive tract. Symptoms include fever, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Famous for killing millions of people centuries ago, it is still possible to catch the plague from the rats running around behind the walls and in the attic of your home. Symptoms depend on which type you contract (Bubonic, Septicemic, Pneumonic) but thankfully can be treated with antibiotics. (something they could have done with in the middle ages).
4. Rat Bite Fever
Usually spread by a bite or scratch from an infected rodent and as the name suggests will lead to fever, skin rashes, headaches, and muscle pain.
5. Lymphocytic choriomeningitis
Usually found in mice but can also be caught from rats. This disease affects humans in 2 stages, the 1st stage is nausea, vomiting, headaches, and 2nd stage is more severe, leading to meningitis.
Found in every state in America Tularemia is transferred to humans by an infected tick or deer fly bite after they have been in contact with an infected rodent. This is a life-threatening illness but can be treated with antibiotics.
It's important to remember that finding, disposing of, and cleaning up from a dead rat infestation should only be done with due care and without causing any harm to yourself, family, or pets. Dead rats can be hard to locate and the smell from their rotting carcasses can be vile. This is a guide only and I always recommend seeking the help of a pest control specialist if you're uncertain.
Related: How to kill rats