Do you suspect you have rats in your attic? Some of the signs you may notice—beyond actually seeing the animals themselves—are tracks left in dust, droppings too large to be from mice, or brownish oil stains along floorboards where rats have rubbed against them. While Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) are most common, it may also be roof rats (Rattus rattus) or another species depending upon where you live. Because some rat species are protected, it’s important you know what species you have before making plans for getting rid of them in case you need guidance from your state wildlife agency.
Why do I have rats?
Like most unwanted wildlife in and around homes, rats are usually attracted by an overabundance of easily accessible food. Do you leave pet food out in dishes or other containers? Is there spilled birdseed on the ground, or do you store it outside in a container that might be chewed to gain access? Is your garbage properly secured? Do you put food scraps in an open compost pile? Once attracted by food, rats can’t help but notice that you seem to be offering shelter, too. This may be merely cover provided by ivy, debris, or a woodpile. Or, it may be access into your home, via openings you don’t know exist.
How are they getting inside?
When you’re looking for holes rats may be using to enter your home, you’re going to have to look more carefully than you would likely expect. They can squeeze their way into remarkably small holes. Young ones, for example, only need a hole one-quarter inch in diameter. They can also use their teeth to enlarge a hole. Look for holes along the foundation of your home, anywhere that different building materials intersect, entry points of utility wires and pipes, and spaces under doors or around windows. Check the gap under the garage door, or at the outer edges. Once inside a garage, rats can usually find a way into a home.
Getting them out without causing another problem
Naturally, when you have rats in your home you want to put an end to the problem fast. But don’t panic and opt for poison. You’ll end up with the carcasses of dead rats, decaying in your attic or the walls of your home and causing a terrible stink. Whatever your level of concern for humane treatment of animals may be, you certainly do not want to deal with the dreadful smell that results from using poison. If you do care about resolving problems humanely, poison is a poor choice on those grounds as well. Here’s your action plan for solving the problem successfully and with the least amount of cruelty.
- Protect your food items! Toss any food items showing evidence that rats or mice have accessed the contents. Place untouched foods into containers that cannot be chewed. If you feed pets outside, start feeding them indoors or stay with them while they eat and remove their dishes right after. If you feed birds, stop feeding them until you have solved the rat problem. If you store pet or bird food outside, use metal cans with tight-fitting lids.
- Determine how rats are getting inside. Follow the guidelines above for locating likely points of access to your home. If the abundant food source that attracted them disappears and you locate the entry points the rats use to gain shelter in your home, you are well on your way to solving the problem.
- Set up one-way doors on main openings and seal off other openings. Before you rush off to grab a trap, try non-lethal methods first. They’re effective and humane. Rats inside your home can exit through one-way doors, which they will readily do to access natural foods to survive. Once they exit, they’ll be unable to reenter. Use hardware cloth to seal openings, as rats can chew through most other materials.
If further action is necessary to get rid of the rats, choose the least inhumane option. In most cases, this means using snap traps. Though the rats will suffer before they die, it won’t be for as long as with other methods, such as poison or glue traps, which cause extraordinary suffering. If you have to resort to using a lethal method like snap traps, it is all the more important to address the problems that attracted the rats and enabled them to gain access to your home. Manage your foods and trash more carefully, and keep an eye on the exterior of your home for possible openings so you can seal them up.