How to Cope with Residential Rats

While poisons may be a tempting solution to a rat or mice problem, the chemicals also poison the animals that eat the rodents, including foxes, owls, hawks and bobcats.

For example, 90 percent of bobcats in a National Park Service study had rat poisons in their systems, and about 70 percent died due to that poisoning. A number of dogs, cats and songbirds (who eat pellets that fall out of the bait box) also have been unintended victims of rat poisons. These poisons can take up to 10 days to kill rats via internal bleeding, and as the poisons begin to slow rats down, they become easy pickings for both neighborhood pets and local predators, who then become secondary victims.

Rats can be a household problem.

Of course, killing rat predators doesn’t reduce the overall rat population and may actually make it worse over time. Instead, the Park Service’s Nature Neighbors program recommends a number of techniques that don’t require poisons.

  1. Use traps: Traps capture rats, which can then be removed. Make sure a rat-control company uses these and not poisons.
  2. Prevent entry: Seal all holes, gaps and crevices into your home, decks, crawl spaces, garages and attics. Use 1/4-inch metal mesh or solid panels for entry points and steel wool for small holes. Seal attic vents, roof vent pipes, cable and pipe holes, gaps under doors, gaps under garage doors, dryer vents, and gaps in roof tiles. Keep hedges and bushes away from buildings and remove tree limbs within three feet of buildings.
  3. Remove food: Prevent access to fruit trees and gardens. Trim fruit tree branches three feet from fences and wires, while also placing secure metal bands (three-feet high) around these trees to prevent climbing. Prevent access to both bird feeders and fallen seed. Feed pets inside and secure trash and compost bins.
  4. Remove shelter: Remove ivy and trim thick vegetation. Remove wood and debris piles. Trim bushes two feet up from the ground. For more information, visit go.nps.gov/natureneighbor.

— Laurel Busby

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