Rat droppings are a key sign of a rat infestation; the mess and debris they leave in their wake is unmistakable. In addition to scattered nesting materials; debris from chewing, feeding and gnawing; rodents excrete urine and feces every few steps they take along their habitual paths of travel. The size of a rat infestation can be easily determined by the amount of droppings found in the affected structure.
How to Identify Rat droppings
Rat droppings are easily differentiated from mouse droppings by their size. Mouse feces are black and small, no bigger than a grain of rice. Rat feces are much larger, depending on the species of rat involved.
• Rate/ Quantity: 40 to 50 pellets daily
• Rat dropping size: ¾ inch long
• Shape: Larger, rectangular with blunt ends
• Found in small groups
• Rate/ Quantity: 40 to 50 pellets daily
• Rat dropping size: ½ inch long
• Shape: Larger, curved, sausage shaped with pointed ends
• Found scattered
Rat poop is pellet shaped, when fresh it is dark and soft with a glistening/wet surface appearance. Rat feces harden and lose the dark color after a couple of days, taking on a dull grey appearance and crumbly dusty texture.
An internet image search for rat droppings will yield many good images of rat feces for purposes of comparison. Using a rat droppings picture as a guide will enable homeowners to identify the species responsible for an infestation. It can also be useful when contracting with a rodent control service. Identifying the species involved will also help with post extermination rat proofing of the structure involved. Brown rats are terrestrial, preferring low, damp areas; black rats are expert climbers and often invade the roofs, rafters and attics of structures.
The Realities of Disease transmission
By now everyone on the internet has seen or heard of the email recounting the sad tragedy of a “friend of a friend” who died after being exposed to 1) Rat urine or 2) rat droppings that were somehow contaminating the tops of soda pop cans. The victims were reported to have contracted their fatal illness by drinking soda straight from the can without thoroughly cleaning the can tops.
This hysteria inducing electronic transmission relates a cautionary tale that almost seems reasonable. Most sodas and other packaged food and drink items are stored in warehouses the email contends; and rat urine is deposited by the resident creatures as they scamper along the exposed tops of cans. Rat excrement, the email went on, is often reduced to dust particles in such environments, and disease bacteria in the feces also settles on the cans.
The tragic result? Death of either a male warehouse worker in Maui Hawaii or a female attending a party in Texas with as virus similar to the dreaded Hantavirus.
The email went on to suggest that everyone wash the top of their soda cans with soap and water before opening them to drink; and to be equally as cautious of cereals and other packaged foods that have been stored in warehouses.
According to Snopes.com, the famed internet site where urban legends and e-mail myths are debunked (or in some rare cases, proved); there is no record of any such deaths in either state (or any other for that matter). Further there are no documented cases of rat or mice feces found on soda cans being associated with any illness let alone a fatality or two.
To be sure, rats (and mice) can carry the organism which causes Hantavirus (a deadly respiratory syndrome that can be fatal), and inhalation of the virus from the dust of rodent droppings is considered to be a prime disease vector. However, the rat or mouse in question must first be diseased itself; there is nothing inherently toxic or harmful to a healthy animal’s waste of either sort under normal circumstances.
Aside from other errors in the narrative, in the US soda cans are not stacked with their tops exposed in warehouses. Flats of (four) six packs are usually individually shrink wrapped in plastic (to stabilize handling) and bound to their transport pallets with plastic sheeting. Multi-can packs of 12 or 24 cans are contained within cardboard boxes and secured by plastic sheeting for shipment. The greatest risk of contamination by bacteria or viruses actually comes from human stockers who fill grocery store shelves or soda vending machines and who never wash their hands.
Almost any product shipped in the U.S must be secured against shifting in transit (hence the plastic binding) so cereal boxes and other packaged foods are equally as safe from contamination. Also of note, most food items aren’t warehoused for very long (overnight to a few days is common), the idea being to get the product to market as quick (and as fresh) as possible.
Urban legends are meant to cause fear and panic; their originators find it amusing to track the panicked propagation of their handiwork across the internet. Unfortunately the World Wide Web has turned into as large a source of misinformation as it is for reliable information.
Exposure to Rat Droppings: How Much Risk Is There?
Rats, mice and other rodents (in fact other invertebrate animals) can and do carry disease, that is an incontrovertible fact. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the U.S. has identified a dozen or more illnesses and diseases in which the rat droppings, urine or direct contact (i.e. bites) with the rat itself figure. Most (including the oft-cited and greatly feared bubonic plague) are treatable with modern antibiotics provided they have not been allowed to progress too far before medical intervention is sought.
The Hanta virus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) has a respectable death rate among those infected, with 30 percent mortality officially documented by the CDC in 2012. It must be noted however that since 1993 only 21 people in the United States have been documented as dying from the virus. The CDC does not consider the disease a widespread public safety hazard, a pandemic is unlikely due to the North American variant of HPS not being transmitted by person to person contact.
Of course all of this does not mean that precautions should not be taken against exposure during rat droppings clean-up, Short of laboratory testing of rat feces, the rat may be long gone by the time droppings removal takes place with no way to visually assess the state of its health.
Hantavirus disease clusters tend to follow certain weather patterns which cause overpopulation of rodents in an affected area; most often field or deer mice. Overcrowding and its inherent conditions cause the rates of disease development and transmission to rise—in any animal or human population.
Virtually all the deaths attributed to Hanta virus involved unprotected activity (cleaning up or clearing out debris) in dusty rural structures or low traffic attic spaces in more urban settings. A simple surgical face mask and a few precautions might well have spared the documented victims their fate.
How to safely remove rat droppings
Implementing a few common sense steps in rat droppings removal will more than adequately protect consumers from risk of infection.
How to clean rat droppings:
• Ventilate enclosed, dusty places for at least a half hour before attempting to clear or clean.
• Thoroughly wet down the area to be cleaned with a liquid disinfectant before beginning rat dropping clean-up by pouring (not spraying) the liquid onto affected surfaces. A solution of one part bleach to ten parts water is as an effective a disinfectant as prepackaged solutions.
• Do not sweep or use a vacuum as both stir up dust. Instead wipe up rat poop, nesting materials and other related debris with a paper towel and place it immediately inside a plastic bag.
• Wear breathing protection in the form of a filter mask and be sure to use rubber gloves. Disinfect the rubber gloves before removing them after finishing clean up.
• Double bag any rodent waste, bury or burn it if at all possible; follow procedures set by the public health district in your area.
• Thoroughly disinfect all surfaces in an affected room, not just where droppings and urine stains have been found. Include countertops, tables, floors, carpeting, cabinets and drawers.
• Launder bedding and clothing in hot water and detergent. Use chlorine bleach or the color safe equivalent in the load.
No one is arguing that rats are benevolent creatures we should welcome into our homes, but widespread instinctive panic about their presence in our general environment should be tempered with the realities of the dangers that rat droppings present to public health. Good sanitation, adequately rat proofing the home and exercising caution in droppings removal when found will protect most of us from any risks to our health.