Rats — a common household pest. These scampering critters pose a number of threats to humans and pets alike. You know you have them, but you’re not sure what to do next. Should you use traps? Poison? You’ve got to do something because infestations can quickly get out of control when left untreated (or when treated improperly).
This complete guide to rats is designed to equip you with the right knowledge and tools for addressing your rat problem. Learn how to identify the signs and deal with these pesky rascals using the right products and practices.
What Dangers do Rats Pose?
You might be tempted to ignore one or two rats because they’re just trying to survive just like any other animal living alongside humanity. And really, how dangerous can they be? Unfortunately, rats bring a host of problems with them — including potentially life-threatening disease. Rats are carriers of several diseases that can put the people around them in danger, including the following:
Rat-bite fever (RBF) is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Streptobacillus moniliformis and Spirillum minus, and transmitted (as the name suggests) by rat bites and scratches. It can also be transmitted through contact with urine or feces, or surfaces contaminated by urine or feces, from an infected animal.
Symptoms include fever, vomiting, headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, and rash. When left untreated, RBF can be fatal, so it’s important to see a doctor if you’re experiencing any symptoms and you’ve been in close contact with rats. Treatment includes a course of antibiotics.
Consuming food or water contaminated by salmonella bacterium in rat feces can lead to salmonellosis. It’s important to wash your hands if you’ve come into contact with rat droppings and throw out any food you suspect a rat has been into.
Most salmonella infections do not require treatment and resolve in about a week. Symptoms include diarrhea and stomach cramping.
Rats can also spread leptospirosis through their urine. Touching rat feces can also lead to infection.
Leptospirosis can cause a variety of symptoms and can be mistaken for other diseases. Some people have no symptoms, but those who do may experience the following.
- High fever.
- Muscle aches.
- Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes).
- Red eyes.
- Abdominal pain.
Leptospirosis can lead to kidney failure and meningitis in severe cases. It’s important to let your doctor know of any contact with rats if you’re showing any symptoms of leptospirosis so an accurate diagnosis can be made. Treatment includes a course of antibiotics.
Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome
Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) is spread by inhaling dust contaminated by rodent urine and feces, direct contact with rodents and their droppings, and less frequently, bites.
This severe respiratory disease mimics the symptoms of the flu, such as fever, cough, headache, lethargy, and muscle pain in early stages. In late stages, patients experience shortness of breath as the lungs fill with fluid.
HPS can be fatal and has a 38% mortality rate. According to the CDC, “rodent infestation in and around the home remains the primary risk for hantavirus exposure.” And even healthy adults are at risk. There is no vaccine or cure for HPS and patients are intubated and given oxygen to help them through respiratory distress while their bodies fight the infection. The sooner patients get help, the better the outcomes.
Because early stages of HPS mimic the flu, it’s important to tell your doctor of any rodent exposure that would be suggestive of HPS so they can make an accurate diagnosis.
Rats spread the infamous Bubonic Plague pandemic, the Black Death that wiped out a third of Europe’s population during the Late Middle Ages. You might think the plague died out in medieval times, but it is still very much around and still being spread by rats. Luckily, we now have antibiotic treatments for plague.
People become infected with the bacterium, Yersinia pestis, after being bitten by fleas from an infected rat. There are three different types of plague infections, bubonic plague, septicemic plague, and pneumonic plague, each with their own set of symptoms.
Bubonic plague symptoms include fever, headache, chills, weakness and swelling of lymph nodes. Treatment includes a course of antibiotics.
Septicemic plague symptoms include fever, chills, extreme weakness, abdominal pain, shock, and possible bleeding into the other skin and organs. Skin and other tissues may blacken and die. Septicemic plague can also turn into bubonic plague.
Pneumonic plague symptoms include, fever, headache, weakness, and pneumonia with shortness of breath, chest pain, cough and may be accompanied by bloody or watery mucous. Pneumonia can cause respiratory failure and shock and pneumonic plague is the most serious form of the disease.
It can also be spread from person to person and is thought to be spread by inhaling infectious droplets or develop from untreated bubonic or septicemic plague. While this form is not directly spread by rats and their fleas, you may be at risk for pneumonic plague as a secondary infection.
Plague is a serious disease, but the sooner it is treated, the better the health outcomes. Treatment includes a course of antibiotics.
In addition to their potential to spread disease and make you sick, these rodents will sink their teeth in just about any material present in your house. They constantly gnaw on wood and plastic, resulting in damaged walls, furniture and floorboards. They’ll make their nests in just about anything, including your furniture, boxes of stored memorabilia and clothing, and your walls and cupboards. They can also damage wiring and insulation.
How do I know if I have Rats?
Recognizing a rat infestation can be difficult if you’re not familiar with the signs. Rats are sly and you may not even know you have a rat problem until it’s out of hand. Here are some signs to look out for:
Rat droppings. These are dark brown in color and are the same shape as a grain of rice. They are also rather pungent. You might find them in the garage or attic, or under your stove or counters.
Scratching noises. Rats are natural climbers so it is not unusual to hear scratching noises, especially at night when they are at their most active.
Rub marks. The grease on rats’ bodies can smudge on furniture and other surfaces.
Footprints. Rats may scamper through dusty surfaces, or over left out food, like butter, leaving tiny footprints in their wake.
Tampered food packaging. Rats can gnaw through plastic and cardboard, common food packaging materials. If you find a hole in your cereal box, a rat has probably gotten its teeth on it. Any food that has come into contact with rats must be disposed of for health reasons.
You’ve seen a rat. Coming face to face with a live rat is almost a sure sign of an infestation, and where there’s one, there’s more.
Rat Control Products
If you prefer to get rid of rats yourself instead of calling an exterminator, there are several products you can use at home. These range from rat traps to repellents, though not all of them are foolproof. Here are some recommended products that have proven effective against rats:
Victor Metal Pedal Rat Trap
If you are looking for an old-fashioned rat trap that works, try the Victor Metal Pedal Rat Trap. This wood-based wire snap trap offers you a hassle-free solution to your rat problem. Users raved that the product is effective and easy to use. In fact, a few customers found that these traps also work with squirrels (if you are having squirrel troubles).
On the negative side, the Victor Metal Pedal Rat Trap does not seem to work effectively with larger rats. The trap itself is designed to kill rats quickly, but a few customers found that big rats were only injured. Of course, the traps still caught the larger rats, but prying them free and dealing the final blow yourself is not something everybody wants to do.
A common concern among reviewers involves the type of bait used. Some baits lured rats immediately, while others did not even get a second glance. In general, ham and raw bacon work best. Keeping your bait fresh and resetting traps daily can also help boost your chances of success.
HARCCI Humane Rat Trap
Marketed as the “best rat trap on the market,” the HARCCI boasts an incredible design that guarantees triumph. The trigger is extremely sensitive, so not even rats with the lightest feet can escape its clutches. The interlocking teeth are quick and pack a powerful snap that kills quickly and humanely.
In addition to its efficacy, the HARCCI rat trap is also weatherproof and it’s plastic design means it won’t rust — you can stock up without worrying about it falling apart later. Operation is straightforward, making it one of the more user-friendly traps we’ve found. The bait cup can also be detached, which means you don’t have to worry about accidentally getting your fingers caught.
Unlike traditional wood traps, the HARCCI can also kill large rats. Users found it to be exceptionally effective, with some believing they work better than wood traps because rats are not familiar with the appearance. The design also allows users to get rid of trapped dead rats without ever coming into direct contact with them.
Some reviewers did find that the traps can be triggered falsely. And other users weren’t as successful catching gophers and chipmunks with this trap, which is supposed to be as effective for those types of rodents as well.
Kensizer Humane Live Animal Trap
If you want to take care of your rat problem without violence, then the Kensizer Humane Live Animal Trap is for you. The Kensizer trap guarantees no harm will befall the rodents it captures with its highly sensitive trigger mechanism. It is made from non-toxic materials, which means it is safe for humans and pets alike. Despite being lightweight, this trap is both durable and sturdy.
A majority of reviewers found the Kensizer trap to be extremely effective and easy to use. It works well with rats and mice, as well as chipmunks, squirrels, and other rodents. Many called it the best humane rat trap they could find.
On the flip side, some users reported that larger rats and chipmunks were able to gnaw through the mesh wires and escape. The trap also has a handful of sharp corners which can potentially kill trapped animals.
Ebung Electric Rodent Zapper
As far a rat traps go, none are as technologically advanced as the Ebung Electric Rodent Zapper. This innovative trap features a built-in wireless circuit sensor that can detect rats that enter. A 7000-V electric shock is then delivered, killing the rat instantly.
The Ebung Electric Rodent Zapper has also been praised for ease of use. It can run on either A/C power or 4 D batteries. The product already comes with an adapter, so you can simply plug and play. An indicator light turns on and a loud beep signals when a rat has taken the bait.
On the downside, some customers have reported defective units. Others were able to use it a few times before it broke down. The zapper is also not recommended to be used outdoors since it involves electricity. So if you have an outdoor rat problem, you may be better off taking a different approach.
Tomcat Bait Chunx
If you are looking for rat poison, we like the Tomcat Bait Chunx. With bromethalin as its active ingredient, this brand of rodent bait kills all kinds of pests. Bromethalin, a non-coagulant potent toxicant, has been proven to control rat infestations. Rats die about two days after ingesting a lethal dose.
Most reviewers hailed the product a lifesaver, being the only thing that resolved their rat infestation after wood traps and glue traps had failed them. Granted, it is not an instant solution, requiring some time for the rats to die off, but customers found the Tomcat Bait Chunx to be an effective answer to their problems.
Some reviewers weren’t as impressed though and thought the product was a waste of money since the rats in their homes failed to take the bait. Others have seen rats eat the poison but remain alive even after several days, so making sure they eat enough for a fatal dose can be a problem.
Redtop Rodent Bait Station
The problem with rat poison is the danger it poses to children and pets. Leaving it out in the open allows just about anyone — or anything — to consume it. This is where the Redtop Rodent Bait Station comes in.
With its double key system, the Redtop Rodent Bait Station is secure and tamper-resistant. Its design makes it ideal for both indoor and outdoor trapping. Customers have found it to be durable and user-friendly in addition to being an effective solution to their rat problem. Reviewers have experienced more success with this particular bait station compared to other brands.
However, the vertical rods that come with the Redtop Rodent Bait Station have been criticized as being too long. When in use, the station cannot be fully closed. Some customers have found the hole to be too small for larger rats, which means it only targets smaller animals. The bait station also does not seem to be squirrel-resistant, and there have been reports of squirrels gnawing through the material.
MDXconcepts Rodent Spray
If you want a truly hassle-free method, the MDXconcepts Rodent Spray helps you get rid of your rat problem with just a pull of the trigger. Most people are against repellents because they can be harmful to the environment, children, and pets. However, this particular spray is made from 100% organic and natural ingredients and is eco-friendly. It is also safe for children and pets.
A majority of reviewers have praised the MDXconcepts Rodent Spray for working exactly as advertised. Spraying it either indoors or outdoors has returned impressive results, with rodents disappearing from the house as if by magic. And, unlike some repellents, the smell is not at all unpleasant or pungent. Additionally, the spray does not work exclusively on rats. Fruit flies equally despise the scent.
A handful of users have found the product to be ineffective and some customers also disliked the way it smelled and believed it attracted other pests like ants.
Neatmaster Ultrasonic Pest Repeller
Some people have no problem killing rats with poison or traps, while others prefer a hands-free way of dealing with their pest problem. If you belong to the latter, then the Neatmaster Ultrasonic Pest Repeller is your best bet. Using ultrasonic, electromagnetic and bionic waves, this pest control device drives away rats, spiders, roaches, ants, and more. It even works on snakes.
The Neatmaster Ultrasonic Pest Repeller is incredibly easy to use. Simply plug it into the outlet, choose the appropriate setting, and leave it to do its work. There are three settings: Green is for minor infestations (bionic waves); purple is for average infestations (electromagnetic waves); and red is for severe infestations (ultrasonic waves). With a range of 800 to 1,200 square feet, it covers a fairly large area.
Another benefit of the Neatmaster Ultrasonic Pest Repeller is that it is completely safe for children and pets. It is free from toxic materials, making it eco-friendly as well. Moreover, the waves have no effect on humans or household pets.
Customers found the device to be highly effective in dealing with various pest problems and they had no trouble figuring out the controls. However, some reviewers concluded that this pest repeller does not work on all roaches and ants. Additionally, bionic, electromagnetic, and ultrasonic waves cannot travel through walls. This means you may need to purchase more than one, depending on how many rooms you want to target.
Homemade Rat Traps
While it is more convenient to buy ready-made products, you can also make your own. DIY rat traps tend to be significantly cheaper, often costing only a few bucks to create. Here are two we recommend:
- Cardboard or plastic tray.
- Glue or adhesive.
Using a cardboard or plastic tray, liberally apply glue or special adhesive on one side. Place bait (peanut butter and ham work great) on the tray with the sticky side up and wait for rats to go after it. They’ll get stuck to the tray and you can then dispose of them.
While this sticky trap is cheap and easy to make, it has received criticism for being inhumane. If you’re not prepared to kill the rats as soon as they’re stuck, you’ll have to wait for them to die of stress, exhaustion, dehydration, or suffocation. It can take anywhere from 3 to 24 hours for this to happen.
Bucket Rat Trap
- 5-gallon bucket.
- Tin can.
- Metal or wooden dowel.
- Plank of scrap wood.
- Peanut butter as bait.
First, drill two holes on opposite sides at the lip of the bucket. Then, drill a hole straight through the tin can from top to bottom. Insert the dowel through the bucket and the can so that the can is suspended in the middle of the bucket. If you do not have a wooden or metal dowel lying around, you can use a spare wire hanger.
Secure the plank of wood against the bucket, acting as a ramp for the rats to climb on and then paint some peanut butter onto the can to lure rats there. They will fall into the bucket as the can spins under their weight. If you want to drown the captured rats, fill the bucket with water. If not, leave it empty.
The best part about this bucket rat trap is that you do not need to reset the trap after each rat falls in the bucket. If the rats in your house are particularly large, a 5-gallon bucket may not work. Opt for an oil drum instead.
5 Tips For a Rat-Free Home
The best way to keep your home rat-free is to prevent them from entering your home in the first place. Here are some tips for a rat-free household:
1. Learn to Identify the Rats in your Area
Knowing the kind of rats that live in your area can help you identify a problem before it gets out of hand and determine your approach to keeping them out of your house.
Norway rats, also known as brown rats, eat just about anything so you’ll want to focus on keeping food out of reach. They can be found all over the U.S. and are the most common kind of household rats.
Roof rats, prefer to move around in higher places, so you should pay special attention to high places. These rats are usually found in tropical climates and coastal areas, seeking shelter in your home during the colder months.
Woodrats are more prevalent in Western America. They are adaptable creatures, so changing up your strategy is key when targeting these vermin.
2. Keep Food out of Reach
Rats will enter your home in search of food, so making food unavailable is the best way to prevent an infestation. That means keeping food locked away is a must. Waste receptacles must also be covered to prevent rats from scavenging for food scraps.
Keep food and drinks put away and clean up food messes as soon as they happen. Make sure all of your food items are packaged in tightly sealed containers. Cereal boxes and ramen packages are not safe from rats, so it may be a good idea to store them in hard plastic containers. And even a little bit of food left out can attract rats — they don’t require much and will eat what they can find.
If you have pets, do not leave food in their bowls. If your cat or dog does not want to eat their food, cover their bowls, and keep them where rats cannot reach them. And store pet food in containers made of hard materials like plastic or metal, rather than the paper bag it’s sold in. Not only will your pet food stay fresh longer, but rats, and other pests, will have a more difficult time getting into it.
3. Remove Clutter
Rats are good at sneaking around and many people fail to notice rat infestations until it is much too late. Rats will use just about any object larger than them to their advantage, concealing themselves from your view. To reduce their hiding places, you must maintain a neat household. This means removing any unnecessary clutter inside and outside your home.
Removing clutter also leaves rats fewer places to nest unnoticed. And if you’re consistently moving around your home cleaning, you’re more likely to notice intruders.
4. Cover All Possible Entryways
Rats may be bigger than mice, but that does not mean they cannot fit through small holes. In fact, rats can squeeze through holes the size of a quarter. This is why it is critical that you seal any cracks, gaps, holes, and openings that you may find in and around your house.
5. Get Professional Help
If you’re not sure how best to protect your home from rats, contact a pest control expert for their opinion. Exterminators have years of experience and can have an encyclopedia of knowledge under their belt. They can give your home a full inspection and make recommendations or point out existing issues. They’ll likely charge a fee for their services, but sometimes you just need a professional.
Rats are one of the most hated household pests in the world. They chew through your house and possessions, contaminate food and water, and spread disease. Preventing rats can be time-consuming and getting rid of a full-on infestation can be tricky and expensive. But with the right knowledge and the proper product, it certainly isn’t impossible.