As is true of any other type of pest invasion it is important for the individual homeowner to recognize the telltale signs of a rat infestation, whether planning on dealing with the problem himself or calling in professional exterminators.
Rat Infestation Signs: Droppings
One of the first indicators of the presence of rats is their droppings. A rat infestation in house can be determined or eliminated by a careful examination in dark corners and along baseboards for rat feces.
Rat droppings can be anywhere between a half inch to three quarter inches in size (contrasted against the rice grain sized feces of the house mouse) depending on which species is involved. The black rat’s fecal pellets are roughly a half inch long; those of the brown rat are larger commensurate with their greater size, each pellet can be ¾ of an inch long.
When fresh, rat feces of both species have a slight sheen and dark color. Also depending on the species of rats involved, droppings may be found singly or in groupings. As droppings age, they turn grey in color and have a crumbly consistency.
Other indications of the presence of rats are urine trails or puddles and “grease” stains on walls and baseboards. These stains are caused by the natural oils and dirt on the rats’ fur rubbing off on surfaces they travel on or through, small barely distinguishable stains are likely caused by mice, rats leave larger stains on these surfaces.
Rats are the poster children for incontinence; they dribble urine with almost every step they take and pass feces with a similar abandon. Rat urine leaves a musty scent, most noticeable in small enclosed spaces.
Evidence of gnawing
Rats are inveterate nibblers who can bite through all but metal, glass and thick plastic containers. Even if droppings are not readily apparent, if chew marks are found on food boxes or sacks, a rat or mouse infestation is all but a certainty. Dry pet food bags or boxes should be inspected as well; rats are particularly drawn to “meaty” smells characteristic of both cat and dog chow.Good starting points in a survey for signs of rat infestation are the areas involved in food storage and preparation. Rats exploit human populations for ready food and water sources, the pantry or kitchen is a magnet for rat activity. Droppings and grease stains may be visible in kitchen cabinets and drawers; but food containers should also be inspected for signs of gnawing.
Rats have been known to gnaw into non-food items such as soap. If an item has a smell attractive to the rodents, they will nibble away on it.
Another kitchen location for rat sign is under the sink. If plumbing is at all leaky, the opportunistic rodents will avail themselves of the ready water supply. They have also been known to chew through plastic water pipes. This extends to other plumbing, including the bathroom and laundry rooms. Carefully inspect the areas around any pipes or faucets for droppings urine, grease marks and signs of chewing.
Rats have incisors that never stop growing; they gnaw on non-edible materials to wear the teeth down. Wood is a favorite target of rat gnawing. Sometimes teeth marks are readily apparent on exposed wooden surfaces; the newer areas will be light in color, revealing the untreated wood beneath the surface. As these marks age they darken, so that new markings can be readily distinguished from old. Even when obvious gnaw marks are not visible, sawdust and small chunks of wood near baseboards may indicate the presence of a rat colony.
Rat signs: Sound
Another, often overlooked sign of a rat infestation is sound. Rats are nocturnal animals that tend to be the busiest while humans are asleep. Nevertheless, the alert homeowner will be able to hear squeaks, scratching, rustling and scampering sounds as the rats travel about in search of food and build their nests. Listening for these sounds just before bedtime can help to verify a rat problem.
Rats nest in warm, dry, out of the way places including boxes, inside cabinets, behind dressers (and in drawers, especially those not often accessed), even the casings of computer towers. They will also climb up into the insides of furniture to nest in the stuffing.
Rats also take advantage of the warmth found near refrigerators, stoves and dishwashers, hiding behind or even inside of their housings.
Rats prefer soft, warm and fuzzy nesting materials, which they transport to the nest site and stuff into their chosen space. Nesting materials include grasses, fabric, furniture stuffing, quilt batting, absorbent cotton, shredded paper and twigs. Inspect stored fabrics for chew holes, quilt and cotton batting for any sign of urine and droppings, whenever possible store such inviting nesting materials in durable plastic storage containers that can be sealed airtight.
Pay Attention to Your Pets
The presence of rats can generate greater excitability among household pets. If your dog or cat spends time listening intently or pawing at baseboards and walls, it is highly likely that they are responding to the activity of rats within the structures. They also respond to the odor of unseen rodents, although they may alert to old rat smells as well as more recent ones.
In dusty areas, rat paw prints may be visible along baseboards and walls. Where dust is not allowed to accumulate, one can test for the presence of mice and rats by sprinkling talcum powder next to baseboards, leaving it for a few days. If rats or mice are traveling along these paths, the talcum will bear evidence of their habitual traffic.
Incidentally, inspection for rat infestation signs should not be limited to interior spaces alone. Food gardens or nearby agricultural fields are strong rat attractions. Plants and their fruits should be inspected for signs of chewing, and the surrounding soil checked for evidence of rat droppings. Outside structures used for grain storage should be regularly inspected for evidence of rats as well.
Rat Infestation Risks
Rats present health risks other than direct transmission of diseases. Their urine and fecal pellets can contaminate food and water supplies rendering them inedible and undrinkable. Rats also have mites and fleas that can readily jump to domesticated pets, and in some cases, onto people.Rats are perceived in most of the world as dirty animals that spread disease to humans and domesticated animals. It is true that a number of serious diseases and illnesses are transmissible from rodent to human or pets. Companion animals can fall victim to some of these diseases, other maladies use cats and dogs as vectors to spread to humans.
However, the risks of rat infestation are not just to health alone. The tendency of rats (and mice) to chew on electrical wiring is claimed to be a common cause of structural fires. Rats are not inconsiderable sources of structural damage.
Rats not only gnaw to wear down their incisors, they will also chew through walls and other impediments to reach food, or to create a more direct route to a water or food source. They may also chew into structures to expand or create nesting sites. Rats can cause substantial damage to walls, baseboards, roof rafters, subflooring, ceilings and support beams, especially when a large colony of rats is responsible for the infestation.
What to Do In Case of a Rat Infestation
Let’s say you’ve done your due diligence and have determined that your home or business has been infested by rats. What do you do?
The first thing NOT to do is panic.
The first thing to do is determine whether or not it is necessary to hire a professional to deal with the problem or fight it yourself. This decision is not always a simple one; the size of the infestation is a consideration. If the rat population invading your structure is small, do-it-yourself efforts may be successful both in terms of cost and efficacy.
If the infestation is severe or you simply don’t feel you can cope with the elimination of the rats, you should consider enlisting the services of a professional rat control company. Money spent on experts can often turn out to be more cost effective in terms of greater efficiency and reduced costs of traps, poisons and cages. In individual stress alone it may well be worth it to leave dealing with the infestation in the hands of qualified technicians.
Exterminators can also often help home and business owners rat proof their buildings after the infestation has been dealt with. They frequently also provide ongoing monitoring against future invasions.
There are other considerations which impact the decision of hiring rat control specialists or going the DIY route. You must determine if you are willing to solve your rat problem via toxic, inhumane efforts, or if you prefer humane, environmentally friendly and pet safe alternatives.
Rat poisons are not only considered inhumane due to the length of time it takes rat poison to effect a kill; they present significant risks to the health of pets, wildlife and young children via secondary poisoning.
The U.S. Government has recently limited access to certain types of rat poisons and has banned others outright. Consumers are no longer allowed to buy certain rodenticides, and regulations have been implemented that limit the types and designs of rat traps that can be used by the public. Poisonous baits must now be housed in tamper proof bait stations that limit the access of wildlife, pets and children to the rat poisons contained within.
Poisons can also leach into soil and water putting other animals and humans at risk. Also, rats dying of poisoning often retreat to their nests, which means that dead rodents will decompose in areas inaccessible to humans. This can lead to long lasting, very unpleasant odors within a home or business.
Thanks to the societal “Green Revolution” many rat control specialists are now turning to extermination and control methods which are considered more environmentally friendly, humane as well as less toxic to non-target animals. Careful research into the types of exterminators found in your area, and the methods employed is vital.
Rat Infestation Solution?
Rats breed and colony size increases when the supply of food and water is steady and abundant in quantity. In order to prevent future infestations follow these guidelines:In terms of rat control an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. After an infestation has been dealt with—or better yet, before it establishes itself– the key to a permanent solution to rat infestations is to make a property less attractive to rats. This requires a certain amount of effort and dedication to ongoing maintenance on the part of the property owner but the labor expended is well worth it.
• Rat proof your house by closing off areas of easy access, including small gaps in foundations, roofs and rafter areas. Cover up ventilation openings with rat proof, high strength mesh. Fix or block other non-essential openings in walls, roofs and foundations.
• Remove or trim back shrubs and plants that hug the sides of buildings. Rats, depending on the species use these as either a ladder to climb up into a structure or camouflage for burrowing near or into a home or business. Keep lawns closely mowed within 18 inches of the outside walls of structures. Remove woodpiles and debris from yards or move them farther from existing buildings.
• Either police your bird feeder and diligently clean up any spillage or locate the feeders away from the house. Seed spillage from feeders is one of the prime attractants for rodents.
• Do not feed pets outside of the house, or if you must, monitor the feedings personally and remove any leftover food from the exterior feeding area. Rats love to pillage pet food dishes and water bowls which can also attract other animals like opossums that are also capable of spreading disease to humans.
• Do not store pet food in sheds or garages unless you are able to do so in containers that a rat cannot chew through. This means metal, glass, ceramic or heavy duty plastic containers with airtight seals only.
• Keep indoor areas clean and free of food and water sources. Clean up food spills immediately and thoroughly. Store food items in chew-proof containers. Keep food preparation areas free of grease; use weak water and bleach solution to sanitize countertops and other areas where food is handled or sits for even small periods of time.
• Repair leaky pipes and faucets immediately, avoid areas of standing water inside and adjacent to the house.
• Keep homes free of clutter, especially of materials attractive to nest building females. Dispose of paper refuse; keep garbage bins/containers clean and tightly closed between trash pick-ups.
Eliminating the avenues of access for rats forces them to rely on other sources of sustenance and water. Populations will self-control according to natural food sources in the wild. In lean times, rat populations will not increase but decrease; starvation is a natural population control. Females will not breed readily where the amount of available food is unstable or scarce.
With just a little effort, as wells as small investments of time and attention rat infestations can be eliminated in your home.