Apart from cockroaches, one of the world’s most prolific household pests is rats. These resilient rodents are relentless breeders and can be found in virtually every continent and country in the world, except for Antarctica and just recently, the Canadian province of Alberta.
In this article, we discuss why you should take steps to prevent rat infestations, and how do it.
There are about 60 different species of rats, but the most common rats you’ll likely encounter are the Norway rat or brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) and the black rat (Rattus rattus). By their names alone they’re easy to tell apart and identify. What both species have in common are their other physical characteristics; most rats are medium-sized, and their bodies can measure 9 to 11 inches in length, with a tail that can be 7 to 9 inches. An adult male rat can weigh up to 2 pounds.
Rats are mostly nocturnal and shy away from well-lighted areas, preferring to make nests in dark, damp places like sewer drains and attics. Rats are pretty good swimmers and have been known to swim up toilets. They are also known to have quite an appetite and will readily consume food left by humans or food that isn’t secured or locked away (including pet food). Rats that live in rural areas will more likely consume fruits, nuts and wild vegetables, while urban rodents will eat meat. Rats will chew or gnaw at hard materials like wood, metal and even hollow cement blocks. Their teeth are constantly growing, driving them to gnaw on hard objects. They are also amazing intruders or escape artists, depending on the situation; some of the larger rats can squeeze through holes measuring only an inch in diameter, about the diameter of a dime.
Rats in Human History
One unforgettable event in human history that placed rats in the forefront was the devastating bubonic plague of 14th-century Europe. In a matter of weeks, over one-third of Europe’s population of 90 million died. Italy, France, England and Germany would see entire towns wiped out due to the horrific epidemic. Rats carried fleas which had the Yersinia pestis bacterium that caused bubonic plague, which spread readily due to lack of basic hygiene.
Add to this that stray dogs were at first to blame for spreading a “miasma”, then superstitious clergymen called for a widespread culling of cats which they branded as “witches’ accomplices” that may have caused the plague (also called the “Black Death”). The dogs and cats could have kept the rat population in check and killed rats that had plague-carrying fleas before they could reach human habitats. Add to that mix archaic medical beliefs and practices, and you have a deadly mix of factors that led to the widespread devastation caused by the bubonic plague. The ignorance about how bubonic plague spread, such as by contact with the fluids of dead infected animals or victims, also ensured that the plague remained. As fearful already-infected townsfolk fled their cities for “safer” areas, the plague spread even more.
There was no cure for the plague, and the only reason the plague stopped was that it worked too fast on its victims and killed off all those infected before the disease could spread further. By the time bubonic plague had done its work, 40 million Europeans were dead.
Why You Should Fear Rats
Not to spread any overblown fear of these furry creatures, but rats can sometimes carry a number of potentially deadly diseases, which they can spread by their saliva, urine or feces; they can also carry parasites like ticks and fleas that may also carry these diseases.
Some of the most lethal diseases rats may carry include rabies, leptospirosis, rat bite fever, Rickettsial disease, salmonella, bubonic plague and the Hantavirus, a highly contagious and potentially lethal sickness that comes from infected rats’ saliva, feces or even its dehydrated urine.
Signs of Infestation
It’s not difficult to know whether your home has been “invaded” by rats. Look for any of these signs to know if you have a rat problem:
- Presence of rat excrement – You may find rat droppings. These are usually 12mm long and you will likely find them close to where you handle or keep food.
- Teeth marks – Inspect any wood furniture and doors for signs of rats gnawing on them.
- Greasy fur marks – Sometimes rats leave a greasy, fur-patterned “trail” on routes they use.
- Squeaking and scratching – Rats are social animals and communicate with each other by squeaking; if they manage to get into your walls, floors, ceilings or other crawlspaces, expect to hear them squeak and scratch around as they scurry about.
- Bad odor – you may notice a stinky, musky smell emanating from a rat that recently ran across your floors.
- Chewed-up food packages – Inspect any food that’s in your cabinets. If you notice any boxes or packets of food that have been broken into, throw them out in sealed garbage bins.
How to Get Rid of the Rats
Now that you’ve discovered your home is also home to these unwanted pests, how do you get rid of them?
There are several steps you can take to get rid of rats and keep them from coming back. Here’s what you should do:
Step 1. Identify Their Feeding and Nesting Areas.
Rats that take up residence will occupy areas of your home to feed and sleep in. Look for places where they leave their droppings; that will mean that their “nest” is definitely nearby. Don’t actively “hunt” for them as this will only scare them off temporarily and they’ll only retreat to more inaccessible parts of your home.
Step 2. Set Up Rat Traps or Rat Poison.
You can use either method to kill the rats yourself but take note of the possible “consequences” of either method.
Traps require that you bait them with some food. If you have pets, make sure to keep them away from the traps. Traditional rat traps that go “snap” are more humane than poison but need to be checked regularly. Once you see that the trap has worked and killed the rat, remove the trap immediately. If the trap only severely injured the rat, put it out of its misery with a quick blow to its head with a hefty object, like a hammer.
Poison works slowly. Some rat poisons require you mix it with food. Follow the instructions to the letter on packages and never mix the poison and the food with your bare hands. Use a disposable item like a stick or long plastic spoon. Dispose of any implement you used to mix the poison by sealing it in a garbage bag and keep any pets or children away from the poison and the disposables you used. Remember that any rat poison takes about a week to kill the rat; usually the poison causes rats to bleed internally and they may die in a spot inaccessible to you. Note: You may learn of the poison’s success by the smell of a dead rat which may have retreated to an inaccessible place before dying.
Glue Boards or Sticky Traps use powerful adhesives that trap rats and make escape impossible. There’s no way to get them off the glue, so be sure you intend to kill the rat. Some rats may try to chew off their legs or feet to escape, so check on the glue board or sticky trap regularly. A rat caught in this kind of trap will usually have its head stuck to the glue, and will eventually die from suffocation as it tries to squirm its way out.
Step 3. Get Rid of the Rat
Dispose of the rat properly by stuffing into a garbage bag. Make sure that the bag is tightly closed and place the bag in a tightly-sealed garbage can or bury the rat in your yard. Make sure that no pets or small children can get to the rat carcass; you never know what sort of parasites or diseases the rat may have carried.
Preventing Rat Infestation
A rat taking up residence means neglect on a homeowner’s part, so don’t neglect these steps to make sure your home doesn’t get infested:
Make it a strict practice to always seal your trash, especially when you throw food away. Don’t make your garbage accessible to rats at any time, and be sure every member of your household doesn’t take this for granted.
Check your home for possible entry points. Drains, attics, closets, cabinets should all be inspected for wear. Fill any holes in walls, floors and ceilings. Repair all broken screen doors and windows. Check also your garage door, chimneys, air conditioning vents, and crawlspaces; seal them all off from access from outside to prevent rats from breaking in.
Don’t always believe the hype. Some companies may try to sell you gadgets that “emit high-pitched frequencies that repel pests, including rats”. The Federal Trade Commission has deemed many of these “sound machines” useless and have issued stern warnings to some of these companies.
Seal off any drains or pipes leading into your home with fine wire fencing or “wire balloons”. These will let water in and keep rats out.
Remember to never leave any food or leftovers out; keep all your foodstuffs in tightly-sealed containers.
A rat infestation isn’t as serious as it would appear, but not something to scoff at either. Should you discover that any rats have invaded your home, determine where they could have entered and seal that entry point off. Check if any food has been left out and store it properly and seal off all your trash, especially any edibles. Make it a strict household rule to NEVER leave anything edible out in the open, even if it’s already in the garbage. Rats have a keen sense of smell and will follow the scent of food back to its source every time. Repair any screens, clean out any rubbish from your attic, cabinets, garage and storage areas.
The trick to keeping rats out is to deny these opportunistic vermin of any food to scavenge. If these measures failed to keep them out, use time-tested traditional traps or poison to get rid of any rats. Nip your rat problem in the bud, before they multiply and cause further damage to your home, or even bring sickness to your household. If all else fails, call the exterminator.