Rats can be a problem in the home. Unfortunately, you may not see them until there is a large infestation and it becomes more difficult to get rid of the rats. Rodents can cause a great deal of damage, contaminate food, and carry disease. Fortunately, there are ways to effectively kill the rats, with the two best ways as traps (including both open and enclosed rat traps) and baits.
How to Find the Rats
The first step in ridding your home of rats is finding where they are living. Because they are nocturnal (most active at night), rats aren't often seen in the open during the day. But, it is easy to see signs of their presence.
Signs of rat presence include:
- Live or dead rats
- Droppings, especially around human or pet food or in or around trash areas
- Noises in the dark, such as scratching sounds from the attic
- Nests or piled nesting materials in hidden areas
- Evidence of gnawing of wires or structural wood
- Burrows around the yard or under the home or outbuildings
- Gnawed fruits in trees
- Smudge marks along walls or rodent hairs along paths, in nests, or near food
Traps can be an easy and inexpensive way to get rid of rats. Traps are relatively cheap, if unbaited, can be left in place for long periods. But all traps, baited or unbaited, must be regularly inspected, as a dead or dying rat or a food bait can attract secondary insects and cause an infestation. Traps should be set where rat signs are seen and in out-of-the-way, hidden areas, especially in attics, basements and near food sources. Always take care to keep traps away from potential triggering by children or pets.
- Snap Traps. Rat-sized wooden or plastic traps can be one of the most effective means of capturing and killing rats and can be the least expensive. When using a snap trap to capture a rat, be sure to use a larger trap labeled for rat control. The small mouse traps are not likely to kill or hold the rat, and could, instead, inhumanely injure the rodent.
- Live Traps. Live traps use the rodents' natural tendency to investigate and wiggle into holes. In these traps, the rodent can get in but cannot get out. This is often through a wind-up mechanism triggered by touch. When the rodent goes into the hole, the mechanism snaps it to the other side of the trap where it is captured. These traps must be regularly inspected and emptied. In addition, once captured, the rodent must be humanely killed or released where it won't reenter the home or building or be of harm to others.
- Glueboards. Glueboards are not usually very effective in rat control, as these larger rodents can sometimes pull themselves loose from the glue or, if caught by only a foot or two, it can simply drag the board around stuck to its body.
Baits include those used in traps and those that poison rats without using traps. These are the usual types:
- Baiting Traps. Dry pet food can be a very attractive bait for rats, so can nuts, dried fruits and dried meats, such as bacon. These can be attached to the trap with thread, wire or even glue. For rats, soft baits, such as peanut butter and cheese, are not always effective, because the rat can sometimes pull off the bait without snapping the trap.
- Rodenticides. Rodenticides are the poison pesticides for the killing of rats and mice. Some can be bought at home stores, but a new EPA regulation has now limited these to specific baits sold only in disposable, ready-to-use bait stations. This can help protect children and pets from inadvertent contact with or eating of these poison baits. If the rat population has gotten high, it may be best to contact a licensed pest control professional, as they have access to and knowledge of proper use of bulk rodenticides. Otherwise, it is generally recommended that homeowners use traps to control and eliminate rats. When any pesticide or rodenticide is used, all label directions must be read and precisely followed.
- Bait Stations. Bait stations are enclosed equipment in which a rodenticide bait is placed. The station does not trap the rat, instead, when used properly and locked in place, the rat can enter the station to eat the bait, while it the bait is protected against accidental contact or ingestion by children or non-target animals.
Bait and Trap Placement
The most important aspect of any control effort is the placement of the trap or bait. The two most common rats in the U.S. are the roof rat and the Norway rat. Because they have different characteristics, traps should be set differently for each:
- Roof rat. As its name indicates, this rat is most likely to be found in higher places and upper levels of the home. Thus traps should be placed off the ground in the attic, rafters of the garage, on shelves and ledges.
- Norway rat. This rat is less of a climber, so traps should be placed in hidden areas, along walls, in dark corners, etc.
It is important that all traps be placed where they will not be disturbed by children or pets, and that they are protected against accidental contact.