Rats are one of humanity’s most obnoxious and occasionally dangerous perennial pests.
They eat our food. They damage our property by gnawing on anything they can chew (which, for some species, includes wood and even concrete). They defecate and urinate in our houses. They carry fleas that spread disease. Also, many of them are simply unpleasant to look at.
There’s a reason that the very mention of a rat sighting in or near someone’s home causes feelings of disgust.
If you’ve ever seen one in or near your home, you’re probably wondering how to get rid of rats. If you’ve never seen one, you probably want to keep it that way. In this blog we’ll talk a bit about rats, what attracts them, how to discourage them from trying to take up residence in your home and what to do if they already have.
How to get rid of rats: know your enemy
Rats are omnivorous, long tailed rodents that are found on every inhabited continent on Earth. There are 56 known species of rats that vary quite widely from each other in size, temperament and behavior. They’re very similar to mice; indeed the two can easily be mistaken by the untrained eye. Although infestations by either rodent are rightly considered highly undesirable, rats and mice are very different.
If you’re a North American reader, the rats that you are mostly likely to come into contact with are one or more of the following four species: Roof Rats (aka Ship Rats or Black Rats), Norway Rats (aka Brown Rats or Sewer Rats) and Wood Rats (aka Pack Rats) and Marsh Rice Rats. These species of rats live in different places but there is some environmental overlap so if you ever see a rat and are not sure what species it is, consult a pest control expert.
When a person thinks of a rat in the abstract, they’re most likely thinking of a Norway Rat even if they don’t realize it.
Norway Rats are found pretty much everywhere in North America and are a common sight in urban areas. These rats most likely originated in China and gradually spread around the world making homes out of pretty much any place that humans have made homes out of.
Norway Rats can grow to be quite large: almost 2’ from head to tail in some cases (rats becoming as large as cats is an exaggeration, but not an overly dramatic one) and can weigh a pound or more.
Norway Rats will eat just about anything they can. They like vegetation but they will also eat meat, including small birds, if the opportunity presents itself. Norway Rats can also be quite vicious when cornered or otherwise provoked, so caution around them should always be exercised.
If you live in a coastal region, particularly the west coast, Gulf Coast or South Atlantic coast, there’s a good chance that rats you encounter will be Roof Rats. Roof Rats are medium-sized rats that can get up to about seven inches long. Unlike their close relatives, Norway Rats, Roof Rats struggle in colder climates.
The preferred diet of Roof Rats are seeds, nuts, fruits and other things that are often cultivated by farmers, making the Roof Rat a perennial irritant to farmers.
Wood Rats are indigenous to North America and are found primarily in the deserts and woodlands of the western U.S., Canada and northern Mexico. They vary in size depending on where they live and they eat seeds, nuts, berries and, in the case of the larger ones, small birds and mammals. Wood rats are known to often build their nests very high in trees if they live in woodlands.
Marsh rice rats
If you live in the southeast, watch out for Marsh Rice Rats. These little critters are indigenous to North America and have been living quite happily in the marsh regions of the southeast for a very long time. They are probably also the most distinctive behaviorally. Marsh Rice Rats are quite sociable and curious. They’re not generally afraid to approach humans and they are probably the least offensive to look at. They’re a medium sized rat that can grow up to about a foot from nose to tail.
Marsh Rice Rats are excellent swimmers and climbers. They feed mostly on green vegetation, rice, fungus and small insects.
How to get rid of rats: Why is it important?
This may be an obvious question, but we thought we’d touch on it anyway. While there are a number of reasons, the most important, in our opinion, is that rats spread diseases.
It isn’t just the rats that carry diseases either. Most rats unwittingly play host to fleas and these fleas unwittingly play host to bacteria and viruses. Both the fleas and the bacteria can carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans as well.
This reason alone is enough to want to get rid of or at least control the population of rats.
How to get rid of rats: how?
If you have rats, this is the big question on your mind. That’s why we’ve put together some practical advice on how to get rid of rats. The first thing to know is that any successful regimen will probably contain at least a few of these ideas.
How do I get rid of rats permanently?
One of the best ways to get rid of any undesirable thing is to prevent it in the first place. To be sure, the natural world is complex and impossible to control so there is no sure-fire way to prevent rats from trying to establish themselves in or near your home. However there are things you can do to minimize the possibility and or at least keep the problem contained.
Keep it clean
Keep things clean. Keeping your home and yard clean and clutter free denies rats places to nest. It can also deprive them of material they use to make nests and it makes it easier for their predators to find and hunt them.
Close the buffet
Properly store your food and clean up any food messes in your home. Food attracts all kinds of pests: insects and animals. Properly storing food so that its appearance or smell can’t attract pests is a great way to prevent them from even being curious about your home in the first place. Cleaning up food messes has the same effect.
Control points of entry
Rats will often enter a home through cracks, crevices and other openings. Basically anything they can get their heads through is sufficient. These can be anything from holes in roofs or walls to gaps in the interfacing where pipes enter and exit the house. Locating and sealing these small points of entry will make it hard for rats to enter the home in the first place.
Wondering how to get rid of rats? Let other animals do it for you.
Making your home and property an accommodating place for a rat’s natural predators helps quite a lot. Fortunately, rats have a lot of natural predators. In addition to humans, various mammals, birds and reptiles will hunt and kill rats.
Cats and dogs
Many households have cats and/or dogs that live inside, outside, or both and both dogs and cats are very effective rat killers. In addition to their speed, agility and highly-attuned senses of smell and sight, cats and many species of dogs are instinctive hunters that will hunt rats simply because they are there.
Also, for a creature the size of a rat, a large house cat or dog is a very intimidating sight and the mere presence of these animals can sometimes act as natural, passive rat repellent.
A word of caution on this point. While cats and dogs are highly effective and lethal predators, large rats can be a danger to them. This is especially true if you have kittens, puppies or adult cats and dogs that are simply smaller.
Even fully grown cats and dogs may struggle to subdue a fully grown rat, especially a large one like a Norway Rat. While the former will almost always defeat the latter, a Norway Rat will usually go down fighting and can severely injure even a large, fully grown cat or dog with extensive hunting experience.
If you keep dogs or cats for rat control, keep an eye on them and make sure they receive veterinary care if necessary.
Many birds hunt rats as well. Owls are especially effective rat hunters because they, like rats, are nocturnal. Making your yard an accommodating place for owls to nest may provide you with a natural night watchman-or watchbird in this case.
Some reptiles love to eat rats. Snakes especially are very effective rat hunters who can, if they are large enough, swallow a rat whole. Many people may not like the sight of snakes any more than they like the sight of rats but a modest population of non-poisonous snakes can be a great way to keep the rat population in check.
Lay Some Bait; Set an Effective Trap
The idea here is to use a rat’s love of food against it. Setting a trap and baiting it with food they like to eat (or a substance that mimics the smell of food they like to eat), can lure rats to their doom. Trap placement is important and some types of baits are more effective than others, so feel free to consult us if you’d like specific advice.
Professional Pest Control
Finally, if you want to know how to get rid of rats, consider having another human being deal with it for you. Specifically, you should bring in a human being with the training and tools to deal with a rat problem. We have years of pest control experience and can diagnose a rat problem, determine how extensive it is and then deal with it.
If you have a rat problem, or just suspect that you have a rat problem, get in touch with us and we can help.