Few things are more unfortunate for a homeowner than finding out that a rat colony has settled in their basement, attic, garage or other similar space. To this day getting rid of rats is a very challenging, time-consuming and tricky process, despite all the advances we’ve made with rat poisons, traps, and other rat control tools. In fact, rats are getting more and more resistant to a lot of commonly used rat poison chemicals and they are also smart enough to avoid some traps and learn to avoid others, which can make it even harder to banish them from your home. However, since rats can carry various diseases and are capable of causing a lot of damage to your property, it’s important that you do everything in your power to try and get rid of them.
Therefore, in this article, we tried to cover everything that there is to know about these nasty vermin and how to exterminate them. So, by the end of it, you will hopefully have found the best way to get rid of rats for your particular situation and you’ll be well suited to execute it.
In this article:
- Signs of a rat infestation
- Rat identification
- Primary control steps – Sanitation and exclusion
- Rat control products
- Call a rat exterminator
Signs of a rat infestation
The first and most important step when dealing with rats is finding out about them soon enough. Rat’s reproduction cycle is very quick and leaving even a small rat colony alone for a while will allow it to grow exponentially. There are plenty of governmental pamphlets and guides on spotting rat activity that you can consult with, but here are the main things to keep an eye on and not ignore if you notice them:
- Droppings and urine stains – Especially around food cabinets and other rat food sources as well as pet food, rat droppings and urine stains are a clear sign that you have a vermin infestation.
- Rat tracks – Dust isn’t something we typically like, but it has its advantages – when you visit the attic, the basement, or other rarely visited areas, keep an eye on the dust on the floor. If rats have taken up shop there you might notice their rat tracks on the layer of dust on the floor.
- Burrows in the ground – If you are wondering where do rats live typically, a lot of terrestrial rats (e.g, Norway rats, also called brown rats) tend to create burrows in the ground. If you have noticed some smooth, 2- to 4-inch holes in your yard or garden, by the sides of your house or the sidewalk, don’t ignore them. While rat burrows are not very large (typically 3 feet or less), they can accommodate multiple rats.
- Nests or nest materials – Another typical living situation for rats, specifically arboreal breeds (such as roof rats) is nests. These rat species build their nests in trees, roof beams, attics, garages, or basements, or even in cabinets or hollow walls. Sometimes you can simply see their nests, which resemble bird nests, and other times you might notice nesting materials scattered on the ground – cloth, shredded paper and/or cardboard, insulation, fur/hair, straw, etc.
- Scratching noises – Hearing scratching noises, particularly during the small hours of the night, is a very easy way to identify a rat or mouse problem as they are nocturnal animals.
- Bite or scratch marks – Rats’ teeth keep growing throughout their lives so they are forced to constantly bite and chew on things even when they are not eating them. This means that if you notice some small bite marks on cables, cardboard boxes, the lower parts of cabinets, support beams, etc., this can be a clear indication of rat presence. This should also answer the question “Do rats bite?” – they do. If a rat is cornered or brave enough it may very well bite you, your kids or your pets, so it’s better to find the bite marks on your chair before you find bite marks on a pet.
- Strong scents from rat urine – Like any other mammal, rats urinate. If you have a few rats that have just settled in your garage you might not sense their urine immediately, but as their numbers grow and they keep urinating, you’ll be sure to notice their foul stench.
- Presence of living and dead rats – Rats are nocturnal animals so at first, you’ll mostly be able to notice them at night. However, in bigger colonies, some rats (typically those of low social standing) go out during the day as well.
- The sudden presence of other pests – Rats don’t just carry diseases, but other pests as well. It’s very common for ticks and fleas on rats to enter our homes together with the unwanted rodents. If you suddenly find your home infested with unexpected insect pests, this might be an indication of a rodent presence as well.
- Grease tracks – Rats travel along walls, rubbing their greasy fur on the paint job as they go. If you see oily streaks low on your walls, you probably have rats.
Simply finding out that you have rats is only the first step in figuring out how to get rid of rats in house situations. The next thing to do is try and identify what type of rat you are dealing with. The two most widespread types of rats in residential areas are Norway rats and roof rats. We will cover the differences between these two rat species, but let’s also take a quick look at their behavioral similarities:
- As very cautious creatures, rats tend to follow the same pathways every night and explore new grounds and locations only if necessary.
- Both rat types are nocturnal and go out mostly during the night.
- Both roof rats and Norway rats have poor eyesight so they tend to get close to everything they wish to inspect.
- Rats are fearful animals and will avoid new objects dropped in their environment (such as traps and baits) for a while before they dare approach them. So, when figuring out how to trap a rat or how to set up rat poison blocks or rat poison pellets, it pays to first set inactive traps and non-poisonous baits to make the rodents trust them.
- Both Norway rats and roof rats carry a lot of diseases that can affect us or our pets. You can find detailed information about them on the site of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) as well as from other health-related organizations, but here are some of the main offenders: hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, Lassa fever, rat bite fever, salmonellosis, leptospirosis, plague, and others.
- What’s more, both roof rats and Norway rats are capable of inflicting large amounts of property damage. Roof rats tend to dwell in our attics, roofs and walls where they can significantly damage and undermine the very foundations of our attics and houses with their chewing. Norway rats, on the other hand, prefer crawl spaces, basements, garages and warehouses, as well as yards and gardens. There they can inflict similar types of property and structural damage, as well as consume our storage food or garden vegetables.
Norway rat vs Roof rat
For this comparison between Norway and Roof rats, we’ve used various sources such as the ICWDM (Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management), but there are other good and comprehensive databases out there as well.
- Scientific name: Rattus norvegicus
- Common names: Brown rat, house rat, barn rat, gray rat, common rat, street rat, sewer rat, Hanover rat, Norwegian rat, water rat, wharf rat
- Size (body type): stocky; 5.9 – 11.0 inches or 15 – 28 cm, not including the tail
- Weight: 7-18 ounces (200-500 g)
- Fur color: Light to dark brown, brownish or reddish gray with pale gray underside; some darker individuals occur as well
- Tail: 4.3 inches or 11 cm; dark above, light below
- Head shape: Blunt muzzle
- Nose shape: Blunt and wide
- Ear size, shape: Small ears
- Droppings: Soft, ¾ inch or 2 cm long and ¼ inch or 0.6 cm wide
- Eating habits: As omnivores, Norway rats eat anything and prefer a balanced diet of cereal grains, fish, meat, nuts and fruits (if they can, they will intentionally eat a bit of everything). If a solid piece of food is too large, they will bring it to their burrows.
- Living areas (basement, attics, walls, etc.): Crawl spaces, basements, garages, warehouses, silos, burrows alongside building walls, beneath garden paths and sidewalks, in gardens, beneath woodpiles; sewers, creeks/creek banks; docks
- Nests: Burrows underground or in building foundations, with tunnels (typically one entrance and two escape tunnels) leading to central nest, often lined with shredded cloth or paper
- Typical behavior (digging, swimming, climbing, etc.): Norway rats are excellent climbers, but they don’t climb too much unless they have a reason to. They are great swimmers and may make their way into your home through the sewage system. They are also great diggers and burrowers.
- Geographical locations: Norway rats live on all continents except Antarctica and are not found on most island groups.
- Babies per litter: 6 – 12 baby rats per litter, 4 – 6 litters per year, depending on the climate and the environment
- Scientific name: Rattus rattus
- Common names: Black rat (subspecies R. rattus rattus), ship rat, Alexandrine rat (subspecies R. rattus alexandrinus), fruit rat (subspecies R. rattus frugivorus), tree rat
- Size (body type): slender; 5.0 – 7.2 inches or 12.75 – 18.25 cm, not including the tail
- Weight: 5 – 12 ounces (140 – 340 g)
- Fur color: Dark grey-black
- Tail: 4.3 inches or 11 cm; dark color
- Head shape: Pointed muzzle
- Nose shape: Pointed and narrow
- Ear size, shape: Big ears
- Droppings: Soft, about half the size of the droppings of Norway rats
- Eating habits: They eat during the night. When food is too large to eat quickly and they feel exposed, they often carry it to a safe place to eat but will eat small food samples where they find them. They also store some solid foods for later consumption. They are omnivores and eat anything but prefer grain foods, nuts and fruits (especially citrus and avocado), and other high protein foods.
- Living areas (basement, attics, walls, etc.): Attics, roofs, hollow walls, trees, vines, and shrubs, empty and deserted cabinets
- Nests: Individual bird-like nests
- Typical behavior (digging, swimming, climbing, etc.): Roof rats are great climbers and prefer to dwell high above the ground. If there are enough food sources in the attic, roof rats will avoid going to the lower levels of the house. They will even travel from house to house on utility wires or fences rather than descending towards the ground. They are fearful of Norway rats and will avoid being seen.
- Geographical locations: Like the Norway rat, roof rats are present in all continents except Antarctica. They prefer warmer climates than Norway rats, however, so they are less common in cold areas. In the US, for example, they are found in the south (North Carolina to Texas) and some west coast states.
- Babies per litter: 5 – 8 baby rats per litter, 3 -6 litters per year, depending on the climate and the environment
How to distinguish young rats from mice
A common mistake people make is to think they have a mouse problem when they see a young rat wandering around. This is an unfortunate mistake to make as mice and rats require different types of traps and tools to get rid of. To make the rat vs mouse distinction, here are some pointers:
- Rats are larger, even young rats,
- Rats have blunt muzzles, while mouse muzzles are pointed,
- Rats have thicker tails,
- Mice have larger ears relative to their body size,
- Mice have lighter coloring and even lighter undersides,
- Mice have longer tails compared to their bodies.
We’ve examined the other differences between mice and rats in a separate article, but these are the main physical signs that you should look at first.
How to precisely identify where rats are present using biomarkers
Non-toxic biomarkers are a relatively new tool in the rat control industry. They are non-poisonous baits that you can set up in your home or property as you would a normal poisonous bait. When consumed, these biomarkers dye the rodents’ excrement pink or cause it to glow under black light. This makes it easy to both determine whether you have rodent activity on your property, as well as where exactly that activity is – where are their nests, which are their preferred runways, and so on.
The benefit to using biomarkers over regular poison baits is that the former present no danger for your kids and pets or non-target animals such as birds while also giving you more information. Once you’ve determined that you have a rat problem and you know where you should set up your traps or poisonous baits, the non-toxic biomarkers’ job is done.
Primary control steps – Sanitation and exclusion
Sanitation and exclusion are the first, the most important, and the most ignored steps in keeping rats away. Rats don’t come into our homes and properties just to bother us, they come for the food, water, and shelter our homes provide. If you keep your property well-sanitized and sealed off you will both dissuade rats from trying to get in, as well as make it much harder for them to do so.
Sanitation and exclusion are also great to do in conjunction with rat traps, rat baits, and other rat control tools – they are not just prevention measures.
If you want to make it more likely that the rats will fall for your bait traps or poisoned baits, making sure that there are no other food sources for them is vital.
Sanitation – keep everything clean in and around the house
In house sanitation – get rid of what attracts rats:
- Keep all food, including pet food, in sealed containers (preferably metal or hard plastic) and away from any possible rat route.
- Clean up all food leftovers, food crumbs, and so on. Don’t just throw out food leftovers in the trash, but seal them off first.
- Only use garbage cans with tightly fitting lids and empty them often.
- Don’t leave open water sources. A rat diet doesn’t just include food – rats need to drink water every day so make sure to deny them all possible water sources. Don’t leave pet water bowls in places that rats might reach them, don’t leave barrels, pots or buckets with water laying around, make sure that there are no leaking pipes, including in the basement, the garage or the crawl spaces, etc.
- If you don’t want to have rats in attic or roof spaces, don’t leave things there that might attract them. This doesn’t mean that you should leave your attic 100% empty, but that any and all food supplies, as well as paper, cardboard, wood, and so on items should be well sealed off and protected.
- Get rid of unsanitary smells, particularly rat smells once you’ve dealt with a former rat problem. Rats are attracted to places that smell of rats, so if you still have rat urine smells from formerly having rats in the walls, make sure to deal with it as soon as possible.
In yard sanitation – the yard is the middle ground between your home and the outside world, so you should make it as unwelcoming for rats as possible. Finding ways to get rid of rats outside is the easiest way to make sure they never get inside.
- Don’t leave any trash or other debris in the yard.
- Pick up pet feces and fallen fruit from your yard.
- While you have rats, don’t feed birds.
- Keep your trash bins far away from the house.
- Turn your compost regularly. Better yet, use a rodent-proof composting bin.
- Remove all wood, brick, stone, metal, or other piles from against your house. If you can, remove them from your yard. If you can’t, keep them at least a foot off the ground using racks.
- Don’t let piles of cut grass or tree trimmings sit in your yard.
- Properly maintain your shed, garage or warehouse.
- Don’t leave any open water sources such as water barrels, pet water bowls, bird baths, and so on. Don’t let water pool on patios or in gutters. During an infestation, stop watering your lawn.
- Trim or remove all vegetation, bushes, tree branches, and so on from your home’s immediate surroundings. Roof rats often enter our homes by jumping from trees onto our roofs, and Norway rats hide in low vegetation as they make their way to our homes.
Exclusion – block entrances into the house
Even though rats are much larger than mice and most other pests, they can fit through surprisingly small openings – often as small as just half an inch. Not to mention that they often also widen even smaller openings themselves by chewing them open. You’ll have to find and seal off these openings. Fine wire screen (no more than 1/4-inch), copper mesh, steel wool, sheet metal, sealant, concrete, or hardware cloth will work. Caulk, plastic sheeting, and wood won’t work. So, where do rats come from and which parts of your home or property can make a good entrance into your home for a rat?
- Seal off any cracks and openings in the foundation or crawl space of your home. If rats are burrowing into the foundation, fill holes with concrete.
- Block the gaps beneath or around your doors (including garage doors). Adding a metal kickplate to the bottom ensures that rats can’t chew through the doors.
- Seal off any cracks and nooks beneath or around your windows.
- Block all gaps and cracks on your roof and around your attic windows or openings.
- Update and secure your pipe, sewage, and drainage systems.
- Wherever pipes or lines enter your home, be sure to seal the holes they pass through.
- Cover the hole around your chimney with screening.
- Secure your AC systems using screens.
Rat control products
To get to the meat of things, let’s go over how to kill rats or how to catch a rat in the most effective and efficient ways possible. There are lots of rat control products on the market, but the best methods can be summarized in two categories – rat traps and rat poisons, with rat traps having both lethal and live variants. There are, of course, other tools that you can use such as ultrasonic or natural rat repellents, but they are generally regarded as less effective and should be used only as complementary tools and not as the main, long-term rat control methods.
Rat traps come in a lot of different types – the classical snap traps, glue or sticky rat traps, electric rat zapper traps, live and humane rat traps such as cage traps or various bucket rat trap models, and others.
Whether you are looking for the best rat killer trap or for a more humane option, traps can be tricky things to use overall. Their main advantages over rat poisons is that with rat poisons, the rats tend to die in difficult-to-access locations. Furthermore, poison carries a greater risk of harming children, pets, or other non-target animals. With rat traps, the first problem is eliminated as the rats remain contained – whether dead or alive – in the traps themselves and are therefore easy to locate and dispose of. It also cuts down on non-target death or injury.
On the other hand, there is a problem with how to set a rat trap. This is easier said than done as there are a lot of specifics on how to properly set up a rat trap – where to place it, what bait to use, what size should it be, how often to check up on it and to relocate it, how to clean it and maintain it, and so on. Additionally, finding rat traps that work can also be a challenge, since there are a lot of flimsy or low-quality rat traps on the market. We do have multiple lists and articles here that might help you find the best rat trap for your situation as this is vital for your chances of easily dealing with your rodent problem.
There is also the question of where you should place your traps and how many of them you should use. Ideally, a rat trap should be placed on the direct path between the rats’ nest and their food source. For roof rats, those paths are usually on high places such as roof beams, the edges of the attic walls, on openings in the walls, and so on. With Norway rats, the better places are low to the ground, underneath sinks and other furniture, in the corners and edges of rooms, and so on.
As far as quantity goes, the general rule is – the more the better, but you can’t just throw 100 traps in a basement. So try to figure out approximately how many rats you’re dealing with, as well as how many locations you’ll want to set up traps in – count all the holes in walls, the suitable locations around edges, on beams or below sinks and furniture, and so on. Place traps at 10- to 20-foot intervals.
It’s typically a good idea to use two or more different trap types because the rats might learn to avoid some traps.
If you are wondering about the best rat bait, both Norway and roof rats are omnivores so they’ll eat anything, be it cereal, nuts, fruits or meat. Still, the best bait for rat trap use is typically high protein, smelly things such as peanut butter or sardines.
Once you’ve caught a rat in a trap, it’s time to dispose of it. For live rats, the best option is to humanely kill them. While you can carry them in their trap somewhere away from your home (and from other people’s homes) and release them, they are not a native species and can harm natural environments. It’s also likely that they will die anyway once they’ve been removed from their home range. Dead rats can be thrown away easily – wearing gloves, seal them in a plastic bag and dump them in an outdoor garbage bin. It’s also a good idea for the bin to be far from your home (which it should be anyway for sanitation). Remember to properly clean the lethal rat traps after a successful kill as the smell of dead rats might deter others from approaching the trap. When you’ve finished disposing of the dead rat and cleaning the trap, throw away your gloves and thoroughly wash your hands.
These are probably the most classic and well-known rat trap devices out there. One of the best lethal indoor and best outdoor rat trap type there is, modern snap traps utilize much stronger springs and jaws and larger triggers. Snap traps, when well-made and of a high enough quality, are considered some of the more humane kill traps out there because they kill quickly and with no unnecessary pain or suffering.
Of course, even the best snap trap doesn’t have a 100% success rate as sometimes the rodent is too fast or pushes the trap before reaching for the bait and only gets hurt instead of killed. Add to that the fact that smaller snap traps can’t kill larger rats but might only hurt them, and it becomes evident why it’s important to choose the right snap trap for the job.
Pros of snap traps:
- They are lethal traps so disposing of the dead rodent is easy.
- They are relatively humane as they don’t cause unnecessary suffering as they kill their prey.
Cons of snap traps:
- When they are too small or have a poor design, they are almost entirely ineffective.
- They are tricky to set up because they can be too sensitive and trigger by accident, as well as hurt you as you set them up.
- They might hurt your pets or kids if they are placed within their reach.
- Clean-up is a pain (many animals empty their bladder when they die and the jaws of some snap traps break the skin, leading to a bloody mess).
All in all, snap traps are a good tool for rodent control, but they do require their share of knowledge and care.
As you bait and fasten a snap trap, make sure that it’s neither too sensitive nor to insensitive – the latter will allow rats to steal baits without triggering the trap while the former will trigger the trap too easily before the rodents are even in place to be killed.
Also, make sure to follow the safety instructions of the specific model you’ve purchased to make sure that you don’t hurt yourself.
Electric rat traps or rat zappers
If you’re looking for what kills rats instantly, rat zappers are not exactly that. They tend to be advertised as instant lethal rat traps, but even the most powerful electric rat trap typically needs at least a couple of seconds to finish off the unfortunate rodent. That’s because a rat zapper is essentially a rat bait box that hits the rodents inside of it with about 7000 volts of electricity once the bait plate has been triggered. The voltage is typically enough to kill a large rodent but if the power of the zap is a little lower than advertised, the trap may take several seconds to kill the rat. This can lead to a longer kill time, which means more suffering for the rat. The best way to prevent a low voltage problem is to keep batteries fresh or purchase a trap you can plug into a wall outlet.
Still, if the electric rat trap you’ve bought is of truly good quality, it will do its job fairly quickly and cleanly.
Pros of rat zappers:
- They are lethal traps so disposing of the killed rodent is easy.
- As they kill with electricity, there’s no blood or entrails left in the trap after a kill.
- If properly set up and maintained, they kill quickly and humanely.
Cons of rat zappers:
- They don’t always work as advertised and can take a long time to slowly fry the rodent.
- Cleaning a rat zapper can be time-consuming despite the lack of blood – an electrocuted rodent leaves skin, hair, and urine behind.
- Small pets may get inside of a rat zapper and kids or larger pets might decide to reach inside, receiving a dangerous shock.
- Since they are electric, they are not for outdoor use.
Simply put, rat zappers are an effective alternative to other kill traps, but they still have their drawbacks. Make sure that you set them up in locations where wildlife, pets, or kids can’t reach and make sure that you clean them after each use.
Rat glue traps
These devices are among the most controversial rat control devices out there. They are inconsistently effective and inhumane. Rat glue traps are essentially just flat boards with a strong adhesive and a bait on them. When the rodent attempts to take the bait, they get stuck on the glue and once there they usually die a slow death from cardiac arrest, hypothermia, dehydration, or ripping up their own bodies trying to get away. Rats will chew their own legs off to be free of a glue board. If they’re lucky, a human comes along and dispatches them swiftly. However, if glue traps become dirty or wet, the adhesive becomes weakened. Furthermore, other non-target animals could become stuck to it, including birds, pets, and children. It won’t be fun or easy for you or your pet as you try to pry a glue board off its paw or tail.
Glue traps can be effective tools for rat control when the adhesive is powerful enough and they are kept clean and out of reach of kids and pets, but they are not recommended.
Pros of glue traps:
- They lead to rat death.
- They are easy to set up.
Cons of glue traps:
- Rat glue traps are risky for wildlife, pets, and kids if they are placed within their reach.
- They are a quite cruel way to get rid of rats, especially if you don’t kill the trapped rat immediately after it has become stuck to the glue trap.
Live (humane) rat traps
Live rat traps come in a few different models – cage rat traps, and bucket rat traps are the most common. Their key benefit is that they neither kill nor torture the captured animals in any way. Instead, they give you the option to choose what to do with them once you find them – you can either kill the rats yourself in a quick and humane manner or you can set them free somewhere far enough into the wilderness. But remember, releasing rats into the wild can be bad for the ecosystem and the rats themselves. A displaced rat is usually a dead rat.
Pros of live rat traps:
- They don’t kill or maim their victims.
- They give you the freedom to choose what to do with your captives.
- They are great for repeated use as they don’t break too easily, and they don’t get covered with blood and entrails every day.
- They don’t pose any significant danger for your kids or pets.
Cons of live rat traps:
- Some need to be reset and rebaited.
- Once you capture a rodent, you still need to either kill it yourself or invest time in driving it away from your property.
- Relocating rats is bad for the environment and usually ends up in the rat’s death anyway.
As with any other rat trap, live traps are effective only when placed and used correctly. It’s smart to first place them inactive for a couple of days so that the rats can get used to them. It’s also important to check up on them regularly so that you can act fast once you’ve captured a rodent.
Rat poisons (rodenticides)
If you don’t feel like using rat traps, if you haven’t had success with them, if you haven’t located the rat’s pathways and good rat trap locations, or if you just want to use rat poison and rat traps together, then finding the best rat poison products is a good idea.
Rodenticides come in several different types with some key differences:
- Anticoagulants and non-anticoagulants are the main distinctions between rat poisons you’ll stumble upon. Anticoagulants work on the principle of regular human blood-thinning medicine only in a much more concentrated dose. They drastically deplete an enzyme that produces vitamin K. Vitamin K is required for blood to clot. Naturally, its depletion in the body leads to a dangerous blood thinning effect which in turn leads to internal bleeding and eventual death. Anticoagulants are among the more popular rat poisons for residential use because they are among the strongest rat poison products, as well as because their effects in humans and pets are reversible by administration of vitamin K1 and/or a blood transfusion. Non-anticoagulants work differently. For example, phosphide rat poisons use zinc phosphide that becomes phosphine gas in the rodent’s stomach, killing it rather quickly. They have pros and cons for residential use – on the pro side, should a pet eat a dead rat the pet won’t get poisoned; however, direct ingestion of the poison from the package is much more dangerous because there is no antidote. Another type of non-anticoagulant rat poison is cholecalciferol, which works by drastically increasing the amount of vitamin D in the rodent’s body, which leads to calcification of the internal organs and death.
- Another type of difference you might encounter is the differentiation between first and second generation anticoagulants. First generation anticoagulants are older anticoagulants that require multiple doses to be lethal. Some, including wafarin, are used for human blood-thinning medicine. Warfarin was first used in the 1950s, but many rats have become resistant to it. The second generation of anticoagulants in rat poison are much stronger compounds such as brodifacoum, bromadiolone, and others that are effective after a single dose. Second-generation anticoagulants are not available to homeowners. The EPA only allows their use by professional pest control companies.
Rat poisons also come in a lot of different physical forms – pellets, blocks, meal, paste, liquid, and others. Each type is more suitable for different situations and containers. For example, pellets are typically preferred for outdoor use while meal baits are typically chosen for indoor use.
Rodenticides can be used both in conjunction with rat traps and on their own. They don’t work well with rat deterrent products, however, unless you’re using the latter to deter the rodents to the former in a large property.
Just like rat traps, rat poison baits are best used in or close to the pathways of the rodents. For roof rats, this means high in the attic, on roof support beams, on the holes and exits from the attic or walls, etc. For Norway rats, the most suitable locations are near the exits of their burrows, underneath sinks and other furniture, by the edges of walls, and so on.
Types of active ingredients used in rat poisons
We explained the basic differences and distinctions between the most popular rodenticide types, but let’s also take a more detailed look at the different active ingredients that they contain.
Anticoagulant rat baits:
- Chlorophacinone is a first generation anticoagulant and metabolic inhibitor that carries a significant risk of secondary poisoning (if a predator such as a pet dog or cat eats a poisoned rat).
- Diphacinone is also a first generation anticoagulant that carries a high risk for pets and humans, including a high secondary poisoning risk.
- Warfarin is one of the safest for pets and humans and therefore has been one of the most popular rat poisons. It is, however, a first generation anticoagulant that requires multiple doses to be effective and some rats have developed resistance to it.
- Brodifacoum is a second-generation anticoagulant. It is highly toxic and poses a significant secondary poisoning risk for both mammals and birds due to its strength.
- Bromadiolone is also a second-generation anticoagulant. It works after single dose ingestion and is highly toxic to other mammals, but poses only moderate secondary poisoning risk.
- Difethialone is another second-generation anticoagulant that is highly toxic and presents a high risk of secondary poisoning in birds and a moderate risk in mammals.
- Difenacoum belongs to the second generation of anticoagulants. It presents both primary and secondary poisoning risk to birds and mammals.
Non-anticoagulant rat baits:
- Bromethalin is a non-anticoagulant. It’s a neurotoxin that damages the central nervous system of rodents and other mammals. It can work after single or multiple doses and poses a relatively low risk of secondary poisoning in birds and mammals. It is toxic to dogs, cats, and people if ingested.
- Cholecalciferol is also known as vitamin D3 or colecalciferol. In high doses, it causes hypercalcemia and calcification of various internal organs which leads to death. It requires multiple doses and while it’s less risky to pets and other mammals than some other poisons detailed here, it’s best for direct contact to be avoided. It can sicken dogs, cats, and people, though it poses a low risk of secondary poisoning in both birds and mammals.
- Zinc phosphide is another non-anticoagulant rodenticide and it works by creating toxic phosphine gas in the rodents’ stomachs, which kills them. It poses a medium risk for homes with pets as consuming the dead rats won’t poison your pets, but direct consumption of the rodenticide can be very dangerous.
Rat bait stations
Rat bait stations are one way to deliver rat poison to your unwanted rodent guests. The benefit of using bait stations is that you have a portable device in which to place the rat poison instead of putting it on the ground. Another benefit is that they offer a bit of protection for wildlife, pets, and kids.
Aside from their size and model differences, rat bait stations come in two general types – ready-to-use (disposable) bait stations and refillable bait stations.
- Ready-to-use bait stations are typically smaller and come with their own bait. They are meant to be thrown away after use. They are better suited for novice rat hunters and for lighter rat problems.
- Refillable bait stations are for those with experience or who are facing more significant rodent problems. Such bait stations can be refilled, typically with a specific shape or type of poison.
Rat bait stations are best used in the same locations and manners as rat traps. For roof rats, this means in high places such as roof beams, attics, high shelves, and cabinets, etc. For Norway rats bait stations are best used in low, hidden, and dark places that they are likely to frequent such as below sinks and furniture, by the edges of rooms, on the direct pathways between the rats’ burrows and their food sources, and so on.
The number of bait stations you should use depends entirely on the number of rats you’re dealing with as well as the number of locations you intend to target. As far as safety tips are concerned, as long as you avoid direct contact with the rat poison and you place the bait stations in places that are unreachable by wildlife, pets, and kids, everything should be fine.
Safety concerns of using rat poisons (for humans, pets, and other animals)
One of the main drawbacks of rat poisons is that they are dangerous for use in households with pets or kids. Many are also hazardous for wildlife when used outdoors.
The most important safety advice for using rat baits and rat bait stations is to find the right locations for them – somewhere that neither kids, pets, nor wildlife will reach them.
Aside from the importance of the location, another important tip is to take precautions. Read the label. Gloves, masks, and other protective equipment are always recommended, including for rodenticides that are not harmful upon skin contact.
You should always have antidotes on hand in case of accidental poisoning (e.g., vitamin K when using anticoagulants). This way, when you notice any rat poison symptoms in yourself, a child, or a pet, you can immediately administer the antidote and go to an emergency medical specialist for a check-up. Some poisons don't have antidotes, so make sure to have the number of poison control saved in your phone or easily accessible near your phone.
Disposing of unused rat poison can also be tricky as it is considered an environmental risk and shouldn’t be freely tossed in the garbage. There are 4 main things to consider when you want to get rid of some unused rat poison:
- Can you give it to your neighbors or friends? Why throw something away when someone else might want to use it?
- Is recycling on the table? Contact your local waste companies to ask whether they can recycle rat poison and they will advise you on how to package it and get it to them.
- Consider incineration. Some countries and states allow for the incineration of hazardous materials. Again – contact your local waste company and inquire about the option of incinerating rat poison.
- Trash disposal. If you are going to have to throw your unused rat poison in the garbage, call your local waste company for information on how to package it and when their collection times are so that you can give them the poison directly.
These same points also apply for disposable bait stations.
Can you use rat traps together with rat poison baits for better control results?
We touched on that, but let’s give a clear answer here as well – rat traps and rat poison baits can be used together and in cases of large infestations. Though poison baits are often not recommended for homeowners, when they are, it’s often a good idea to use them in conjunction with other methods. One of the disadvantages of rat traps is that they can’t catch the rats that are inside the nests or burrows (rat babies, for example) while rats often bring rat baits in their nests, thus reaching more rodents at once. Another benefit of using rat baits and rat traps at the same time is that it’s harder for the rodents to learn what they have to avoid and sooner or later they fall for one or the other.
Things that don’t work for long-term rat control
As we said above, there are lots of other products and tools that can be used for rat control in addition to rat traps and rat poison baits. The problem with these tools is not that they can’t work, but that they don’t offer as high overall effectiveness.
Many of them, particularly when they are well-made, can be used as a complementary tool to rat traps and rat poisons, but on their own, especially for more extreme situations or for long-term control and prevention, they are not recommended.
While rats don’t like new things in their environment, including sounds, they adapt relatively quickly. A constant, ultrasonic noise will just become normal to them after a while. Furthermore, sound is not enough for them to leave a safe shelter with plenty of food and water.
Natural repellents such as peppermint oil, other essential oils, etc.
Such natural repellents are proven to be unpleasant to most rats and rodents and therefore do have a mild repelling effect on them. However, no matter how concentrated they are, they will almost never stop a desperate, starving or freezing rat from entering your home.
Pets and other predators
Predators, such as cats and dogs, aren’t very effective for rat population control. Some pets aren’t interested in chasing down rats and they usually can’t keep up with a growing rat population. Rats can hide in their burrows or inside walls where pets can’t get to them. Pets can even make rodent control more difficult because pet food attracts rats and if you have pets, you must be more careful with poison baits.
Call a rat exterminator
We hate it when it comes to this, but sometimes we just need to call a rat exterminator. Some homeowners refuse to do this at all, sometimes out of sheer pride or in an effort to save money. Their arguments typically are that rat exterminators usually use the same products that you can purchase and use yourself. However, professionals can purchase poisons that homeowners can’t (e.g, second-generation anticoagulants). Furthermore, exterminators have specialized knowledge and years of experience.
We’d typically recommend calling an exterminator if you are new to dealing with rats, if the rat infestation is particularly big and nasty, or if the rat nests are in exceptionally hard-to-access locations (such as your home’s walls). Another good reason to call an exterminator is if you’ve already killed a large number of rats using rat poison but they’ve started dying in unreachable locations and are drenching your home with the smell of dead rats.
Getting rid of rats is a tiresome, annoying, and often expensive and dangerous exercise. That’s why good sanitation, prevention, and exclusion are so vital and why we recommend starting with them.
If those fail, rat traps and rat poison baits are your second line of defense. You may use some auxiliary products together with them as long as they don’t counteract their effectiveness, but rat traps and rat baits should be your main tool for dealing with a rat infestation.
Properly identifying the type of rodent you’re dealing with, where their nests or burrows are, as well as where their food and sources are, is a great step to figuring out where you should place the rat traps or rat baits. From there, you should be well-suited to deal with the problem.