Get Rid Of Rats
The poor rat is universally disliked. Commonly associated to the plague and the perennial prop for the Horror Movie industry, rats have a seriously bad image problem. These intelligent commensal rodents are present throughout the world, with the exception of the polar regions and some isolated islands.
Rats are known carriers of several diseases, including Weil’s Disease (Leptospirosis), Rat Bite Fever and Cryptosporidiosis. That alone is a good enough reason to not want them sharing your home! They have very strong jaws and are able to gnaw through cables and pipes, thus presenting a fire or flood risk and, if that’s not enough, a female Brown Rat can have 5 litters in a single year. With litter sizes ranging from 7 to as many as 14, it doesn’t take long for a rat population to grow if left unchecked. If that makes you worried – read on and you’ll learn how to get rid of rats from your home.
If you see a rat these days, it is almost certain to be a Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus). Brown Rats are also known as the Norway Rat and other localised names. You may also see Black Rats (Rattus rattus), also known as the Ship Rat and Roof Rat, however, these rats are generally to be found in warmer sub-tropical and tropical climates and occasionaly around ports in temperate regions. By the way, a rats colouration can be affected by it’s environment, so Brown Rats can appear grey and Black Rats can appear brown.
So, what are the first signs to look out for in the home? Often, the first thing you will notice is sound. An adult Brown Rat typically weighs over 250g (9oz) so they have the bulk to move things around, knock things over and make scratching/scrabbling noises, particularly if they have accessed wall and ceiling voids. They have the strength to drag food away, so look out for packeted foods disappearing (I once discovered a whole loaf of bread dragged from one side of a shop to another). Rats are great tunnelers, so look out for burrows around the external perimeter of your home and beneath any outbuildings, discarded wood or other garden junk. If there are holes and gaps present in the fabric of your home that are not quite large enough for a rat, they have the strength in their jaws to widen the space and gain entry. Typically, these areas are often around pipework so check your walls and floors where waste water pipes pass through them. You may have heard anecdocal evidence of rats entering homes via the toilet, i.e. swimming up the waste pipe! Well, in all my years experience, I have never seen or dealt with a location where this has happened. It may be possible (where the toilet is located at ground level) but would definitely be the exception, so don’t get paranoid when using your loo.
Some Rat Urban Myths
On a similar note – a phrase I’ve often heard is “rats as big as cats”. Again, I have dealt with rats in all locations from inner city hospitals to rural farms and I have never seen any of these leviathan rats.
My favorite one has to be “if you corner a rat, it will go for your neck”. This one is easy to explain. Rats have very poor eyesight and if chased into a corner, pursued by a burly farmer wearing a big winter coat, may, in a panic, try to escape by heading for the nearest point of light. Where is the narrowest part on the silhouette of the farmer? You guessed it – the neck. All the rats I ever cornered always tried to escape along the wall past my ankles.
Back to the Problem
One final thing to look out for. Unlike mice, who leave their droppings all over the place, rats like to choose a quiet place to set up their latrine (see – they’re not all bad). So a pile of droppings in a corner behind an item of furniture or maybe behind stored items in the garage/shed/outbuilding is a sure sign that rats have found your home.
OK, so how do you get rid of rats? Well you can use rat traps, rodenticides or try sonic repellers. If you are going to use rat traps, there are cage traps and break-back traps. Cage traps are basicly a mesh box with a pressure plate and a spring-loaded door. The trap is baited with some suitable food just behind the pressure plate. As the rat enters and approaches the bait, it steps on the pressure plate to release the door and is caught inside. These traps are called “humane” traps as they do not injure or kill the rat. Cage traps have a couple of disadvantages – they are relatively large and not suitable for use inside the average size home and they catch the rat but do not kill it, leaving you with the problem of disposing of said rat. I don’t recommend that you release any live-caught rats back into the environment either. Any people resident in the area wouldn’t be too grateful and you may even be contravening local laws. There are some new electronic and other variations on the “humane” live traps but they all have the problem of disposing any captured animal. There are some electronic rat traps that kill the rat by electrocution, thus removing the disposal problem.
The alternative is the trusty old break-back trap. These follow the same design as the smaller mouse trap – being a wooden, plastic or metal base, with a pressure plate (or spike) and a spring-loaded metal arm. A small amount of food is placed onto the plate (or spike, depending on the trap design), the spring-loaded arm is pulled back and a locking pin is connected to the pressure plate. Please be careful when setting these type of rat traps. Due to the size of the quarry, the springs used on these traps are very powerful and you could risk significant injury to your digits should you set the trap off by accident. Ideally, you want to set your rat traps between where the rats are entering the area and where they are feeding and position them perpendicular to a wall, so that when the spring-loaded arm is sprung, it travel towards the wall.
Covering the trap is always advised, however, make sure there is enough head room above the trap to allow for the spring-loaded arm to operate unhindered. You can use any food to bait the trap but choose something that doesn’t become loose and is easy for the rats to remove without springing the trap. Bacon or any other meat, chocolate and peanut butter are ideal.
A couple of tips: rats are intelligent and may be wary of your traps, so it is a good idea to bait the trap without setting it for a couple of days. This allows the rats to feed from the trap and become accustomed to it. Once you see that the bait is being taken, you can set the trap and be confident of success. You can tie the bait onto the trap with thin wire to ensure it is not picked-off without springing the trap. Dispose of any trapped rats by burying them.
The availability of rodenticide (poison bait) will vary from country to country, however, it is likely to be in the form of a wax block, pellets or a loose grain anticaogulant. The active ingredient (poisonous chemical) used in the bait is likely to be Bromadiolone, Brodifacoum, Flocoumafen or Difenacoum. Stay clear of any baits that use warfarin as the active ingredient. Warfarin is an old rodenticide (first generation) and rats developed a resistance to it decades ago. Anticoagulant baits are chronic poisons. This means that it will take a few days after consumption before death occurs, so don’t expect overnight results. If you have young children, look for a bait that contains BITREX. Bitrix is a very bitter substance and is unpallatable to humans (it is used in the special nail varnish available to help stop nail-biting). As always, read the label on your chosen bait and follow all safety instructions. These rodenticides are harmful to any non-target species, including family pets.
Granular or pelleted bait are often supplied with small plastic trays, if not, be sure to purchase or use something suitable to present the bait in. A tray will also make it easier to remove unused bait after the rats have been eradicated. You may even be able to purchase bait in feed-size sachets. Place your baited trays in the areas where the rats are active. The bait should always be covered, so if you are positioning a tray along a wall, cover it with a length of wood or cardboard. An 18″ (45cm) length of drainpipe is an ideal place to lay bait. If the rats are burrowing in your garden or yard, place your bait directly into the burrows. Wax block baits often have a hole through them. Thread the blocks onto some string and then loop the string through a section of drainpipe, so that the wax blocks are suspended through the pipe. This prevents the rats from taking the blocks and hoarding them. If rats are active outside your home, you can take a metal skewer or tent peg and thread the blocks onto it before securing to the ground and be sure to cover it.
Check your bait every 3 – 5 days and replenish as required. Keep a look out for any dead rats and dispose by burying them. Other wildlife is at risk of secondary poisoning if it eats a poisoned rat.
If there is no evidence of rat activity outside your home but the rats are gaining entry from beneath your floor, there is a good chance that they are entering via an adjoining property or that there is damage to a subterranean drain or sewer. This will become evident if bait is being taken over several weeks without a decrease in activity. Should you suspect this is the case you will need to first approach your neighbour and ascertain whether they are experiencing a similar problem and then contact the water company or body responsible for the drains and ask them to carry out an inspection.
Reducing The Risk Of Recurrance
Once you have solved your rat problem, the last thing you want is a swift return of some new furry friends. So the first thing to do is to make sure your yard or garden is tidy. Remove any junk wood, corrugated sheeting, waste masonry or any other junk that could provide shelter. Trim back any overgrown vegetation and don’t stack anything against the walls of your property. Take a tour around the external walls of your home and look for holes around pipes, damaged ventilation bricks and gaps beneath cladding. Gaps around pipes can be sealed with cement and gaps to cladding and ventilation bricks can be covered with steel mesh. Don’t use chicken wire as rats can chew through this with ease.