Rat populations, specifically Norway and Roof rats, are on the rise all over the United States, particularly in urban areas. Known as carriers of disease, these creatures are drawn to areas of dense human population where they can easily find food and places to establish nests.
While historically associated with the spread of bubonic plague, rats do not themselves transmit the frightening disease. The creatures are instead the means by which the fleas that carry the plague pathogen are exposed to humans.
Rats do spread other diseases which put human health and safety at risk. These include leptospirosis (which damages liver and kidneys) spread by their urine; Lymphocytic choriomeningitis (viral illness that can have long term physical effects) transmitted through both rat saliva and urine; and rat bite fever. Most of these diseases and illnesses are also transmittable through rat feces.
The very idea of a rat infestation is the stuff of nightmares for most of the general public and the first impulse is to kill the rats or find someone who will. The pest control industry is seeing rapid job growth due to the increase in rat infestations nationwide.
There are humane and inhumane methods for rat control. Humane techniques may or may not result in the death of the animal; inhumane means end inevitably in death, usually prolonged and painful.
Humane Rat Control Methods
Animal rights advocates recommend attempting to live in harmony with rat species whenever possible. This is accomplished by rat-proofing a property to make it less attractive to rodents on the theory that prevention of a problem is always the cheapest and most effective way of dealing with it.
When animals must be removed from an already infested property animal rights activists suggest the use of non-lethal traps. These traps capture the animals alive and unharmed and must be immediately followed by the release of the rats outdoors. Release does not mean dumping the rats miles away from point of capture but rather within 100 yards of the original location. Rats released farther away than this are more likely to die or be killed due to their unfamiliarity with their surroundings.
Live capture traps must be checked frequently—as often as hourly—to protect the rats from injury, dehydration and starvation. Release should also occur as quickly as possible to avoid stressing the animals to the point of injury and death.
DOING IT Humanely and Permanently
When there is no alternative to a rat infestation other than extermination, there are means and methods that are considered more humane; dispatching the animal quickly and as painlessly as possible. Most of these involve direct contact with the animal and involve dispatching rats one at a time.Many people find it difficult to regard rats and mice as anything other than dangerous pests that should be killed without conscience and which are unworthy of any kind of compassion.
• Asphyxiation: Euthanasia using carbon dioxide (CO2) is the only method approved by the American Veterinary Association for home use. Vinegar and baking soda when mixed together produce C023 gas. When combined in the proper amounts these common household ingredients produce C02 levels that will first anesthetize then kill the rodent. In addition to the vinegar and baking soda, an airtight container must be secured to contain the carbon dioxide gas and animal.
• Cats are natural predators of rodents; rat terriers were specifically bred over centuries to catch and kill rats. How humane this method can be is a point of debate, but it has the advantage of being the most natural way to totally get rid of these rodents.
• Snap trap rat traps: This is the old tried and true mechanical mousetrap technology, only with a larger trap to accommodate the species’ larger size. If properly loaded and set the spring action of the trap kills instantaneously.
• Electrocution traps: are fairly new inventions marketed as a “green” alternative to the use of rat poison. These devices lure the animal into a containment chamber and automatically administer a lethal electric shock.
• Cervical dislocation involves physically restraining the rat belly down on a hard surface. A quick, decisive yank on the tail that results in the sound of ripping or popping should result in a quick death. This is not a method for the squeamish and if not performed correctly can result in great suffering for the animal.
Even these so called humane methods of rat extermination have significant drawbacks. Cervical dislocation requires having first mastered the technique so that death is instantaneous and involves direct contact with the rat; asphyxiation requires getting the ratios of vinegar to baking soda exactly right and snap traps may result in the animal being caught by paw or tail rather than killed outright resulting in great suffering.
Non-Humane Rat Control Methods
These include:There are any number of methods for killing rats which are not only inhumane; most are downright violent and some are illegal.
• Blunt-force trauma: this method of dispatching a rat is considered the least humane and is prohibited by law in many jurisdictions. Blunt force trauma can be administered by picking a rat up by the tail and bashing its head against a wall, placing the rat in a sack and striking with a mallet or hammer. Usually the animal is not killed with the first blow and must be repeatedly struck.
• Shooting with a projectile: While this might seem more humane than blunt force this method depends on hitting the rat in the brain stem on the first shot using a BB or air gun, or using guns that fire bullets. There will be blood and tissue splatter which can spread disease; suffering will be extreme if the first shot is not a kill shot. There is always the possibility of missing the target entirely and endangering others with a stray shot or ricochet.
• Freezing rats alive: placing a rat in a container and putting it in the freezer may seem more humane than shooting or beating it to death, but it is not a quick and painless death for the animal.
• Sticky glue traps are trays or boards which have been sprayed with industrial strength adhesives. These devices capture rats and mice when the creatures walk into or across them. Death takes days and is usually the result of a combination of dehydration, starvation, exhaustion and stress. Struggling may result in tissue tearing and other trauma. These types of traps are cheap, but can also trap beloved pets and beneficial animals and insects.
• Drowning: Again, less violent and seemingly more painless than other methods, but still inhumane due to the time it takes a rat to drown (which can be several minutes).
• Rat Poison: although still used by many consumers and pest control companies, rat poison does not provide a quick or painless death. Whether anti-coagulant based or chemical, poisons can take up to a week to actually kill the animal during which time they will suffer horrendously.
Rat poisons and sticky glue traps are currently still legal means of extermination in most areas, but the use of other inhumane methods of killing rats can and does result in legal fines and jail time in many jurisdictions.
Best Way to Get Rid of THESE CRITTERS according to…
Animal rights advocates such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) advocate means and methods which do not involve death. Killing rats according to these animal activists only removes the problem temporarily—get rid of one and another will inevitably and quickly take its place.
First and foremost, these groups stress the importance of controlling the problem before it begins by reducing the attractiveness of a location to rats. Making a house impervious to rats is the single most important action that a property owner can take to prevent rat infestations.
Suggested actions to take to rat-proof a structure include:
• Keeping living areas clean and free of easily accessible food and water sources. This means cleaning up food spills as they occur; storing food items in gnaw proof containers; keeping food preparation areas diligently free of grease and food debris; repairing leaks in water pipes and fixtures immediately on discovery and avoiding areas of standing water as much as possible in and around the house.
• Sealing off rat points of entry in buildings and homes. Rats are opportunistic and ingenious; they take advantages of cracks and crevices as small as a quarter to gain access to structures. Roof rats have also been observed using phone lines to gain entry via small openings in house eaves. Basements with wooden floors and openings in building foundations are other points of vulnerability.
• Do not feed pets outdoors or have food dishes permanently positioned outside the house. If there is no alternative to outside feeding, pick up dishes and food debris promptly and thoroughly after pets have finished eating. When storing pet (or human) food in sheds, garages or basements sturdy plastic, glass and metal containers must be used.
• Do not maintain a birdfeeder near the house. The spillage from bird feeders is a huge attractant to rats. Either feed birds only in times of severe weather when they cannot forage for themselves or station feeders away from house, garage and other outbuildings.
• Keep grass cut and bushes at least 18 inches away from the outside of the house. This exposes points of available entry and makes it more difficult for rats to roam about unobserved. This action will also reveal burrows and nests near the house and should help with removing rats in backyards. Rats like most wild creatures avoid high exposure areas.
• Keep woodpiles away from the sides of homes and garages. Wood stacked against the side of a structure can allow rats to burrow into structures unseen or hide existing points of entry. This will pre-emptively eliminate the possibility of rats in walls by cutting off a prime avenue of access.
Ideally, these simple, effective measures result in natural population control by denying rats sustenance and shelter. Rats can and do live in areas of high human population density undetected and without creating significant public health hazards when these methods are assiduously employed.