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The rat population in the United States of America is continuing to rise – particularly in urban areas where food and places to nest are readily available – so it is imperative that we act fast to prevent rats from infesting our homes.
Even the thought of a rat infestation is enough to give anyone nightmares! Rats spread disease which can put our health and safety at risk, cause serious destruction to our businesses and homes, and can be harmful to other native wildlife. But if treated quickly and efficiently, via humane or inhumane methods, you can be rat-free in no time at all.
Preventing a rat infestation
Prevention is always better than cure, so rat-proofing your property is a sure-fire way to prevent an infestation or a problem from re-occurring. Here are my top tips for rodent-proofing your home and stopping a rat infestation:
- Rats are adept at squeezing through the smallest gaps and holes so make sure that you seal all pipes leading to outside water supplies, garden hoses, and hot water tanks with steel or bronze wool.
- Vents in attics and gaps under window sills are easy to access points for rats, so ensure that these are well maintained at all times.
- Make sure that your chimney is screened or capped at the top to stop rodents from climbing up and down.
- Make sure that you store firewood away from your home, ideally in a lockable outbuilding.
- Always clean and wash down work surfaces after preparing food. Even the slightest crumb can catch a rat’s attention. Sealing food in airtight containers can often help too.
- Make sure that pet food is placed high up in glass, plastic, or metal containers and that all bowls are washed regularly and never left unattended. Take pet bowls away overnight if possible.
- Place your trashcans well away from the house and ensure that they are tightly sealed. Wash them out regularly, especially in hot weather when they are likely to smell.
- Add a sweep to the bottom of garage and outbuilding doors, as frames are likely to swell and decrease in line with the weather leaving gaps and cracks for rats to enter.
- Stop rats eating at your birdfeeder close to the house. Spilled berries and nuts will only attract rats to your property and provides them with a constant food source.
- Make sure your garden is well-maintained and your grass is regularly cut, as this will make rat spotting easier. Do not plant shrubs or greenery too close to your property as it encourages rats to dig under the foundations.
Take a look at our rat infestation guide below as we detail the signs to look out for and what to do to eradicate the problem.
Signs you have a rat infestation
Rats are generally nocturnal – sleeping during the day and foraging for food at night. However, they will risk scurrying around during daylight hours in order to retrieve food. Rats are social animals and live in packs so if you hear the tip-toeing of claws, or worse still, see a rat in your home there are likely to be many more scuttling around. As they are competent climbers, you should listen out for scratching noises coming from the walls and attic or unusual noises such as grinding or gnawing.
Other signs of rodent presence include rat droppings, of which an average rat can produce 40 a night. Generally, these are dark brown in coloring and around the size of a single grain of rice. These are often more readily spotted around food sources, pet dishes, and trashcans.
Living in such dirty environments, rats tend to have greasy bodies and due to their poor eyesight, will often leave smudge and smear marks along work surfaces and walls as they scamper about. They have long tails and distinctive footprints so look out for imprints in dusty areas.
Where do rats nest?
Rats are a little bit like humans, in that they like to evaluate their habitat before moving in. Topping the list for somewhere to live in security, food, and warmth. Rats, unlike mice, also need a constant water supply taking in up to 60ml each day. For these reasons, our attics, walls, basements, and gardens provide the perfect setting in which to nest.
Rats are agile climbers and when they have their sights set on a place to rest they will jump, gnaw and burrow their way to success, causing serious destruction along the way.
Lofts and Attics: Attics are generally unoccupied so provide a quiet and sheltered space. They offer a plethora of hidey holes, cozy corners, and readily available resources such as loft insulation, cardboard boxes and cabling that can be shredded to make a nest. If you suspect you have a rat infestation in your attic, then check your loft for chewed materials and rat droppings.
Walls: Cavity walls provide rats with the freedom to travel out of sight. Accessing small gaps and creeping through pipes allows them to move from the top to bottom of the house without being seen. If you hear rats in your walls, you should act immediately as their constant chewing could cause cables to get damaged and electrical fires to start.
Kitchens and Laundries: Appliances such as cookers, washing machines, dishwashers, and tumble dryers give off heat and provide a warm and toasty place to live. Gaps near pipework offer easy access to rats who want to come and go to and from your property with ease. Always make sure you check behind your appliances if you think you have rats.
Basements and Cellars: We often store our food and drink in dimly lit rooms underneath the house in order to keep them cool. However, these lesser-occupied areas are a haven for rats with multiple entry points and plenty of nourishment readily available. Make sure you store things up high, ideally in metal or glass containers and if you do suspect rats, check to see whether any bags have been tampered with.
Sheds and Garages: Just like basements and cellars, outbuildings such as sheds and garages allow rats to scurry around inconspicuously and are full of useful materials to gnaw on for nests. Regularly visiting and disturbing any potential areas where rats are likely to nest is highly recommended.
Gardens: Ponds, bird feed, trashcans, and bushes are all commonly found in the garden and give rats all the resources they need to live, feed and raise a family. They can dig holes and make burrows up to 3 meters deep, so keep an eye out for any suspicious holes popping up in your backyard.
How to get rid of rats the humane way
Getting rid of rats is not an easy task. Once they have taken up residency and start to multiply the problem can easily start to get out of hand. Rats are intelligent creatures and highly suspicious of humans (and with good cause). Agile and quick, they prefer to move around inconspicuously at night seeking out food and water.
Use a humane rat or mousetrap
Live humane traps are favored by many who are worried about the implications of using poison within their home or for those with a soft spot for these twitchy nosed pests. Once caught unharmed, however, it is up to you to find an appropriate place to release the rat. Anything more than 100 meters away from its point of capture is considered inhumane by PETA whereas if you choose to release it too close to your property, you take the risk of the rat returning unphased by its unplanned vacation.
Get a pet cat to catch rats
If you are a cat lover, then a rat infestation could provide the perfect excuse to purchase a furry companion. Renowned for being predators of small rodents and originally specifically bred to keep the rat population at bay, they offer a natural way of getting rid of rats and are a great long-term deterrent.
Use ultrasonic repellents
Ultrasonic repellents offer another solution to repelling rats. Having used them myself, I would say they are probably best used in conjunction with other methods. These devices work by emitting a high-frequency sound that is painful to rodents, ultimately driving them away from their nest. One major flaw to using these is that they can’t be heard through walls, so you simply end up driving the rat from one room in the house to another or having to invest in multiple devices.
Use rat poison and baited traps
In my expert opinion, the best way to rid yourself of a rat infestation is through using traps and poison. I would recommend purchasing some off-the-shelf rodenticide and placing it in secure rat bait boxes between their holes and where you think their food or water supply may be.
Although it may take a while, as rats are notoriously suspicious, they will eventually be enticed enough to start using them. You should ideally check on the poison every few days and replace it as necessary. If you notice that there are not visiting the trap, then I would recommend taking the poison directly to the rats themselves, placing it down the holes before covering it over so that they can not escape.
If you have children or pets in the house, I would advise that you look at alternative methods as poison can be highly dangerous when exposed, ingested, or inhaled (read: are rat poisons harmful to humans?).
It is no surprise that rats prosper when living side by side with humans. We inadvertently provide them with sustenance and shelter in which to flourish and grow. By being more aware of the environment we live in, looking out for key signs of rodent presence and taking effective measures to control rat infestations, take us a step closer to eradicating them for good.