Wild vs. Domesticated
Basic Care
Lost & Found
Fostering Young
Wild Rats
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DON'T PANIC! Really, wild rats aren't that bad. I love the pet variety but I was horrified about the notion of wild rats - after all, they're grimy evil-eyed monsters that stalk you with their jaws gaping wide open whilst dribbling their frothy saliva all over the place. Of course I was doubly afraid because they not only reside in places I don't see but also carry diseases that would immediately and directly affect my pet population (indeed, most pet rat lovers are also afraid of their pets' wild cousins)!

Now that I've experienced the wild ones first-hand however, I can confidently assure you that my horror was just a notion (very little grounding in reality). Thank you media for, once again, scaring the crud out of me for no apparent reason.

Anyway, we're not geese! We are capable of thought and thus should be able to slip away from the propaganda long enough to see the truth in any situation...despite what the general populace may like to believe. Here's my take on the truth about wild rats (and thus why it's OK to take a little time to think about how you'll remove any uninvited guests in your home):

  • Diseases: All animals, all creatures, spread diseases. If you have an outdoor cat or outdoor dog, you've already sampled the wild rat diseases in your area (and everything else in your immediate area as well). Our concern as humans is that these diseases are different than what our bodies are accustomed to and, as humans, we are always fearful of the unknown. Of course the unknown is present in our everyday lives - knowing that there is an unknown and dwelling on it is what becomes horrifying. If there is a disease to be spread in your area, chances are, it's not just the rats that are carrying it, which means panicking about the resourceful rodents in your neighborhood is pretty silly all things considered (driving is still considerably more deadly).

    But what if the rats in your home are carrying something? Well, it's important to remember that in order to catch a disease there must be contact* (this means, very close proximity, and, generally, transmission via open wound) and there must be quantity* (this means, 40-some rats sitting around you in a circle all breathing on you at once (hint: this is never going to happen)). You can read this great info here about what diseases and parasites selected studied populations were carrying at a given point in time and then take that info and do the math:

    One rat (and probably even 10 rats) isn't going to sneeze strongly enough to get you sick*. A rat isn't going to bite you unless he feels threatened (don't make a rat or any wild animal feel threatened!) particularly if other safe, non-confrontative food is available. So if you maintain distance (i.e. if you don't have 200 wild rats living in your bedroom which I'd find hard to believe), even if they are carrying something, probability alone says you won't be catching it.

    So, again, DON'T PANIC! Just don't lick your countertops*!

    • Bleach: It's a great thing. It kills 99.99% of all household (and other) bacteria. And it's cheap.

  • Destruction of food: If you've got rats in your house, here's a tip that will save you a lot of money (and sanity) - before preparing for their capture, pack up your undamaged food in plastic boxes (so they can't smell the food there) and LEAVE the food that they have already destroyed so they don't seek more to damage!!! Rats aren't stupid. They want what's easy to acquire. So just leave 'their' food out for them while you go about finding out where they're coming in from and put it somewhere out of your way so they stop crudding up your countertops. It'll save you a lot of anguish in the long-run.

  • Destruction of property: If a rat got into your home, they didn't do the destroying (but once in, they may do some modifying). Somewhere you had a hole or a large enough indoor-outdoor pipe, or enough wood decay, or an ineffective trap door on your dryer vent, etc that gave them the opportunity to gain entrance. They poked their head in one day, found food, found a cluttered house, found water...found comfort...and moved in.

    In other words, if you've got rats in your house, you invited them in, albeit unknowingly, so while preparing for their capture, grab a box, cut 2 holes in it, and start saving your newspapers in that box. Put the box along a wall somewhere by the food they've already destroyed and remove anything else you may have in their area that may resemble nesting material (other paper products, clothes, etc).

  • Their large size: A wild rat has a lifespan of about 8 months - everything wants them dead - they are prey animals! Your average fast and healthy 8 month old rat is about 350 grams - that's less than 1 lb! So how do they look so big and scary?

      Well, one: Our perception. They're fast. What we see is a dark streak that our mind later puts together as being a rat, probably because we saw 'the tail.'

      Two: Fear. A chihuahua growls to appear scary to those who do not know his tactics because he's small and he doesn't want to be picked on (we know the tactics and therefore would classify a chihuaha as 'cute and harmless'). A rat fluffs his fur and chatters his teeth to appear scary to those who do not know his tactics because he's small, he's prey, and he doesn't want to die just yet (we do not know the tactics of a rat and therefore classify the rat as 'ugly and harmful').

  • Their hostile nature: After seeing all of the advertisements, this will surely come as a surprise, but you will never see a rat stand up to you, you will never see a rat come after you, you will never ever see a rat flying down at you for an attack, because....

      You are a predator!!!

    Really, you are very scary to a rat. Their natural response is to run away from you, not to run toward you. If a rat is running toward you, he either feels cornered or he's very afraid and consequently very confused and consequently behaving very foolishly, so foolishly in fact, that if you weren't a slow human being but rather a cat, he would be no more. So if you do see a rat come toward you, just step aside and you will find that he will find his way around you.

    But NEVER, EVER, corner a rat (or any wild animal)*. By cornering a wild animal, you are making them feel threatened. When they feel threatened, they have two options: To run away, or, if that's not possible, to get out via any means possible. So, if you don't want to be bit, don't corner any wild animal, even if he looks sick and unresponsive.

Or, if you simply don't like reason, try this: There is no money to be made in humanity! Pest control is a booming industry ($300-million annually) and they are taking advantage of you! They can't make money by saying that rats and moles and chipmunks and bunnies and squirrels just exist and that what nature provides in terms of resources keeps them where they are, perpetuates the well-being of their species, etc. They must convince you that there is a threat involved and that you are defenseless and incapable of resolving the problem yourself by using a bit of brain-power and self-inspection tactics. Why else would you be willing to put down a large sum of money for their removal? Do you call pest control for sparrows and pigeons? Probably not. But I bet with enough advertising they could convince you that those little flying tidbits of nature need to go too!

By the way, if you don't see where I'm getting at, yet, the idea is this:

    They're in your home already, accept it.

    Their behaviors and their size are not going to change now that they know that you know that they're there.

    If they're carrying disease you've already got it because you didn't discover their presence 4 seconds after their arrival (they've been there for longer than you've been aware of their presence which means your feeling of horror lies in your awareness).

    Therefore, nothing is going to change between today and tomorrow.

    And that means you have time.

    So, what you are doing is:

      1. Cleaning up your immediate area (bleach) so you can avoid feeling creepy (don't eat ze raisins!).*

      2. Preventing them from destroying more food.

      3. Containing them to one area of your home (this makes it easier to clean up and this also makes it easier to trap them!) by

      4. Providing them with disposable items to destroy (which keeps them from destroying that which you don't want destroyed).

Trapping options:

As prey animals, rats tend to fill voids by making more rats, and like most species on the earth (with the exception of humans, it seems), if resources are dim, less rats are made, and if resources are booming, more rats are made. What this means is that, however you go about trapping them, if you don't remove the resources (and block the holes) at the same time, the rat supply will never end... and you'll lose your marbles.

So the first thing you should do, which is quite hard to do when you're human, is to accept that the problem indeed starts with you: They are there because food is available (put your trash in garbage cans, don't store dog/cat food in a garage that you leave open for significant amounts of time, don't feed birds and squirrels so close to your house, don't feed other wild animals by an old wood porch by your house, etc, etc). They are there because cozy shelter is available. They are there because water is nearby.

Or, think of it this way: When you get married, buy a house, decide to have kids, etc, you choose a neighborhood that has the best schools and resources that fit into your budget while also providing a safe environment for your family, and for your children to grow up in. Rats are the same: they make the same choices based on the same reasoning. So you have to make the place uninviting to them otherwise all of your trapping efforts will be nothing more than wasted time.

Keeping the above in mind, it is no easier, nor is it any cheaper, to kill than to trap and relocate:

    Option 1: Humane traps

    The best option, humane traps are generally wire mesh boxes with a small tray inside that, once triggered, will cause the door (or doors) to close. Being trapped in a small confined area is horrifying to any wild animal but in the grand scheme of things, this is the best option out there. These traps run about $10 (check ebay: search for 'humane trap rat'!) to $25 and in most instances you can also rent or borrow them from your local humane society. In general, one trap will do (2 if you're overzealous) and you can use the same trap over and over and over again (and re-use is actually beneficial, more below).

    Option 2: Snap traps
    If you must kill them, a good option is the standard snap trap. Be sure that they're current and that the spring is strong. One trap is about $2 but you'll need many. Most will likely remain untouched and, apparently, pheromones are released when one dies so hoping for reuse is generally a lost cause as the next rat to cross the trap will likely avoid it. Of course once you see what a dead rat looks like when in a snap trap, you'll probably not care to reuse the trap anyway (it's pretty gross).

      In order for snap traps to work, the food source must be eliminated, the entry ways must be blocked with steel or copper wool, and, generally, you'll only manage to capture, optimistically speaking, ½ to ¾ of the population. But, for whatever reason, if you must kill the rats, snap traps are the kindest means of doing so: Death is quick and relatively painless. Just be prepared with a rock to smash the skull of any rat that did not get trapped correctly (he's still moving) so he does not need to endure any more pain than necessary.

      Remember: Rats are like us and they think and feel, they have relationships and families, they communicate. So if you must kill, be kind by being quick.

      Snap traps are also useful because you (hopefully) know where you left them which means you won't have to worry about the stench of decay lingering in those hard-to-reach places (like in between walls).

    Option 3: Bait
    A bad option (but better than option 4), poison bait can be used to kill rats. For around $50 you can get 3 lbs of bait. It is a lousy way to go, though: It causes stomach upset, rats who ingest poison bait drag themselves around more slowly and with a drunken gait, and ultimately, after a good amount of time, they essentially rupture inside (bleed internally), dragging what's left of them to some nook somewhere to die in peace.

      And again, In order for bait to work, the food source must be eliminated, the entry ways must be blocked with steel or copper wool, and, generally, you'll only manage to capture, optimistically speaking, ½ of the population because how rats go about trying new foods is a good portion of the reason why they are not only still with us today, but with us in great numbers: they learn, through smell, what is safe and what is not and if their brother dies, they know what killed him.

      This option, then, becomes considerably more costly as you must acquire multiple flavors and you must acquire the non-poisoned versions of the bait in order to make them all trust the poisoned version of the bait for later consumption (which means more rats because there's more accessible food which means more corpses on your walls (yay! ←sarcasm)).

        Problem 1: Other animals also have access to the bait. You can kill a lot more than rats with it including birds, chipmunks, squirrels, eagles, hawks (the eagles and hawks eat the rats), dogs and cats (the rats are now more easily caught and consumed), etc. You will find that those who market and sell bait argue the safety of it, but it is poison and it is not safe.

        Problem 2: People and pets get hurt. While the rats are wandering around in their drunken stupor, they're a lot easier to grab. An unsuspecting child may grab the rat (or an unsuspecting pet) and receive a nasty bite because, although the rat is drunk, he's still fearful!

        Problem 3: You have no control over where the rat decides to die. He'll likely crawl between your walls and you will start to smell a very bad smell. The other rats in your home, who now know that the bait is not safe to eat and are avoiding it, will move the corpses around to get them out of their way and so this utterly repulsive smell will travel. If it's cold where you are, the smell will likely linger a very long time. If it's hot where you are, the strong smell will become stronger as the body melts and turns from a veritable fly hatching ground into ooze.


    Option 4: Glue traps
    The worst option. I would personally like to stick the inventor and every person who has used one or who desires to use one onto a glue trap. It's funny, to me, that every rat pesticide advert has a horrifying, angry, grimy rat pictured on the label, except for the glue traps that seem to depict a somewhat cute rat holding his paw up to show that he's sticky and having a good time at that.


        Problem 1: Other animals also have access to the glue trap.

        Problem 2a: Whatever gets trapped on a glue trap doesn't always stay stuck there. Yes, if by some chance or magic, the rat (or whatever) manages to hop down on it on all fours, you've got a pretty good chance that he's not going to go anywhere, but he'll try and what you'll find are bloody chunks of fur and flesh scattered across the gluey board with one angry and very hungry body also stuck to the board.

        Problem 2b: Whatever gets trapped on a glue trap doesn't always stay stuck there. What will likely happen is that your rat(s) will get 1, 2, or 3 limbs stuck on the board enabling him to wander off with the board to a location where he can then safely attempt to extract himself from the board. Wild animals are more than willing to chew off appendages, and are more than willing to tear skin, tendon, muscle, and bone to get out of a terrifying situation. So assuming you find the board, you'll find a foot or a tail and some patches of fur, and maybe even a bloody mess, and later you will start to smell bad smells because that rat had little chance of survival after that feat and he died in between your walls somewhere.

      Glue traps appear convenient, easy to use, and safe (in that non-toxic sort of way) but you are basically starving a living being, one much like yourself, to death, forcing him to make decisions he would otherwise prefer not to make (to live and be crippled or to die of starvation), and, turning the whole world (and everything in it) into a gluey mess (glue melts!) Not to mention, the 'simplicity' of the trap means taking the trap and its still very-much-alive capture and disposing of it which, beyond the cruelty of it, is asking for trouble because you've got a terrified trapped victim who will bite you fervently if you dare get close to him. How much sense does that make?


What you need to know to take care of you:

    I do not take this topic lightly. I do not feel that wild rats deserve to live because I have pet rats. I can not argue with those whose fears are so crippling that they feel there is no way out but to kill every living being in their vicinity.

    I have done a lot of research on the topic, however, and I do believe that media plays a large role in keeping us afraid, and I do believe that every animal has a right to live regardless of what that animal looks like, does, etc. because I believe that we are all one and the same - one or more genetic mutations off from another species - but still the same.

    Keeping that in mind, I also am quite aware that our genetic similarities are what enables certain bacteria, viruses, and parasites to be shared across species and that our close proximity to every other kind of living being is essentially a threat. But it is a small threat, all things considered, assuming we all use a bit of common sense.

    Common sense isn't common, however, until we all know about it, so here's what you need to keep in mind to keep you well:

      Rats do carry a number of organisms, some of which are transmissible to us and/or our pets. These bacteria, viruses, and parasites are shed via urine, shed via aerosol, can be found in their feces, can be found in their saliva, and can be found in their blood. Our concern is how their fluids and leavings come into contact with us in such a way that they can make us ill.

    1. Infection via injury: Direct contact such as that from a bite wound or scratch from an infected animal can make us sick. It is unlikely that any person will be scratched by a wild rat as we are predators and they will not simply frolic on our beings just for the grins of it. Rat bites, though more possible, are also unlikely if we move and breathe because, again, we are predators and they're not going to hop up on a living, moving, breathing predator for the sake of a small snack - animals of prey would rather go hungry for a few moments longer than risk instant death! Generally any rat bites originate from a fearful rat: A rat becomes afraid if he is cornered.

    • Don't corner a rat with your being!

    Interestingly, I found that most reported injury-related transmissions of rat-borne diseases come from 'walking bare-foot through an alley.' Rats didn't bite or scratch these people, but rather, because the rats urinate in the alley, and because other sharp objects exist in the alley, these people ended up stepping on a sharp object bringing the bacteria into their bodies through that open wound.

    • If you have rats in your home, be conscious about any open wounds you may have and what surfaces they touch.

    Of course, if you've found a sick rat, don't pick him up straight away. Rather, find a pair of thick, washable gardening gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, and a box, and then fetch the sick animal. To pick him up, grab from above and scruff the skin on the back of his neck and lift him into the box. By grabbing him on the back of his neck, you are basically eliminating any chance of him turning around to bite you and assuming you're not going to walk a mile with him in that position, it won't hurt the rat either (their mothers toted them around this way for 3 weeks of their lives). You have gloves on, of course, should he try to bite you and to protect your hands should you have any small cuts you're unaware of. The long-sleeved shirt is on to protect you from any possible scratching.

    • Think before grabbing a wild animal, even if he's not responsive. Thick gloves and a long-sleeved shirt may save you from any accidental scratches or bites.

    If you've found a dead rat, don't pick him up with your bare hands either. Find an old newspaper and place the newspaper over the body and grab the paper. Take the paper and the rat and put it in a bag, close it, and dispose of it. Why? Should you have any open wounds on your hands, and since you don't know how long the animal has been dead, it's best to avoid any possible fluid contact (decay is an interesting thing - trust me).

    • Use a sheet of newspaper to pick up corpses.

    2. Infection via ingestion: Don't eat ze raisins.

    • Beware little shrivelled black pellets: Don't consume them.

    Seriously, if you've seen signs of a rodent infestation in your home, be cautious of what you consume. You will have found that rats don't travel very far once they've become comfortable so you needn't be wary of items in every room of your home. They've found a good place for a nest and that they've found a secure food source. Unfortunately a good amount of our foodstuffs comes wrapped in paper, foil, and plastic and these are all surfaces that will either absorb or retain any urine or feces left behind.

    • If you've found an area where you suspect rats have been, don't lick your fingers until you've washed them.

    So, if you've found any food products in your home that have little nibble marks, put that in a 'rat box' of goods not to be consumed by the humans (or pets) in your household. And when you're done placing all that into the rat box (save this stuff until you've capture them and have secured your home from re-entrance!), wash your hands with soap and hot water!

    3. Infection via aerosol: One of the scariest things are those things we can't see. If we have a cut, we may have forgotten about it, but we know it's there. The invisible stuff flying around in the air we breathe, to me, is just a smidge more horrifying...because I can't see it!

    But it's really not that bad (we breathe every day and we're still ticking) - it's a quantity thing and it's an aeration thing. So you needn't be concerned with rats breathing on you, but you do want to be wary of confined spaces.

    Rats are community dwellers. They prefer to live in smaller, tighter, more confined areas that aren't very well lit. These areas are generally not overly aerated either. Where they travel (to acquire food and water) is a bit more open. They'll travel along walls and dart from secure area to secure area, but their markings and leavings from point A to point B aren't much of a concern (assuming you don't lick the floor boards and assuming you don't consume the raisins). What is a concern are their actual homes.

    Let's say they take up residence in your cabinets. You don't want to head in there with a feather duster and knock the peed and pooped on dust and mire out all over the place. You also don't want to just crawl in the cabinet face-first. In those areas you'll have a high concentration of urine and thus a potential high-concentration of virus or bacteria.

    Use a mirror if you want to see inside one of those areas to see what you're dealing with then buy a face mask (use something that effectively covers your mouth and nose) for the cleaning part. Take a spritzer bottle filled with one part cold water to 20 parts bleach, grab a roll of paper towels, wet a paper towel, and rest it on each affected section. With a plastic bag in hand, scoop out the dirt.

    • Avoid scattering rat-home remnants and when cleaning more confined areas, cover your face and nose!

    You'll also want to be cautious of attic space - you don't want to head in there with a whisk broom and knock everything around. Rather, once again, grab a face mask, close the attic door (if it opens into your house) open a window (all if there are more than one), and let the room air out for a day or so. Then, prepare a bucket of bleach water, and carefully mop from affected area toward the window. The quantity in a confined area is problematic however dissipated to the outdoors is not.

    And....be cautious of the contents of boxes. A lot of times rats will set up shop in one box in your attic, garage, or shed. They'll shred materials (paper, fabric) and over time these materials will dissintegrate and become more dusty. If you find a suspect box, take it outside, put on your mask, and then open the box. You can then flip the box over, clean off individual items, and place them in another box to return to storage.

And now you know what the risks are and how to avoid the potential problems. Informed people who use precautionary measures don't get sick. Those who are unaware, however, may.

Why are they here and what do they want?: Well, rats want what we want! They won't be finding employment or sending their kids off to school, but they want good, easily acquired food and a safe water source, they want a safe place in which to raise their family, and they don't want to feel threatened or scared. If you know and understand their needs (which you do already because you certainly know and understand your own needs), it'll be easier to make your home less inviting!

The general gist is that the rats found a way in, something about your home they found inviting enough to set up residence there, and the food is good and safe and plentiful so they found absolutely no reason to leave!

    Food: Rats have a pretty good sense of smell. They also will try everything usually at least once. And they'll consume only small portions of the unknown to determine whether or not it is safe. They also have no problem accessing hard to reach areas however they will choose a quiet secure area over a busy one. What this means is...

      They can smell through carboard but not through an unopened potato chip bag. They can smell fairly fragrant foods through plastic wrapping, but they won't know about the food in a plastic storage box.

      They will 'destroy' many things if they're not familiar with those things because they're testing their options. Food damage will be scattered and varied. But if a certain item didn't make them feel unwell, they'll return for the rest.

      Hiding food up on the top shelf won't keep them away from it.

      And stashing food in cabinets may make the food even more inviting and is not generally a good means of protecting your food supply.

    Save yourself sanity and money by collecting tainted food items and putting them along the floorboard out of the way in an accessible (for them) box while securing your food items in plastic containers until you have managed to capture the whole lot of them.

    Shelter: Rats will make homes of quiet cluttered areas and the more clutter, the happier they are because, generally, clutter doesn't move. They also prefer to have their homes near a food source because it's no fun having to hop a mile to get to the nearest grocery store.

      So, generally, they'll know where your kitchen is (or your couch if you tend to leave food sitting around) and their home will be somewhere quite near to that resource.

      Similarly rats like garages and sheds. People store pet food and bird food in their garage and they store livestock feed and bird food in sheds. Overall, people don't do much moving around in garages and sheds and, overall, most garages and sheds contain a lot of clutter.

      Attics are nice as well if the entrance point is directly in that area for many rats and mice are quite able to get around by climbing nearby trees. In those cases, the food source may not be in your home but it is most certainly still nearby.

    Save yourself sanity and money by avoiding total disruption of their home until you've located and secured all entry points and are prepared to trap and capture them. It won't take them much time to find new living quarters and you'll have twice the clean-up and twice the damage to contend with.

    Water: Rats don't need running water and, because many foods provide a source of water, they are generally quite content with what is offered via a dripping faucet, a drain, a leaking pipe, the moisture that collects between the walls, window sills, etc, or they may simply go outside every now and again for a drink from a puddle. It does not take rats long at all to find a resource and to reuse that resource. And for wherever they return, there is a path - something you need to know as it will help you to capture them.

    If you're unsure about where they're going for their water, you can always set up a small dish nearish to your discarded food bin (and newspaper box if you created one).

How to keep rats out of your home: The short and sweet answer is patch the holes and keep your immediate area clean and uninviting.

Rats, again, because they are animals of prey, are very cautious. If there is only one hole leading from outside to inside, unless they are running from something and take the wrong path (which would be into your house), it will take them a fairly long time to get up the nerve to set all four feet on the ground on the other side of that hole. Rats prefer to know that there is more than one way out and they prefer to know that none of their pathways are true dead-ends. Dead-ends mean death and death isn't one of their primary goals.

  • More than likely, there will be more than one access point between their home inside your home and the outdoors.

Similarly, rats aren't going to stand outside your house, hold their nose up in the air, smell the apple pie that mom's baking, and start devising a way into the house for that pie. It smells good, surely, but this rat already has a list of food locations, some better and some worse, and keeping himself out in the open, exposed for all predators to see, while attempting to chew his way through a wall or panel for a taste of what he smells just isn't going to happen because the energy required and the risk apparent are simply too great.

  • Clutter is secure and inviting.

But if the structure of your home is already compromised, or if the perimeter of your home is cluttered, it becomes much easier for a rat to gain access. And small holes and structural weaknesses, especially those in the shadow of darkness provided by unkempt bushes, garbage, yard junk, etc, are especially inviting.

Rats won't create a hole through brick or plastic or metal, and even wood is a bit of a time-consuming challenge, but if given a good starting point, a decent sized hole through brick or plastic or metal or already rotted and thus compromised wood, they will surely check it out for that location may provide just a bit more security than their current location, the nearby water source may just be that much safer, and the food may be just as, if not moreso, plentiful and easily acquired.

  • Rats won't generally create holes but they may expand them if the benefits of their newfound home outweigh the ensuing challenges.

If the new location, your home, provides a benefit, they'll move in, find those other access points, and make it an especially safe place to live and raise a family.

Of course, it's after all this that you see them, so you need to then carefully assess the periphery of your house looking for small gaps in the brick, window ledges, basement trap doors, under the deck, by all ground entry-way doors and windows and whatever, gaps in your garage seal (and inside the garage, the door into your home), etc and fill each hole with copper or steal wool. Once you have done so, there should be absolutely no way for the existing rats to leave and, also, absolutely no way for other rats to come in.

  • To make your home uninviting to rats, you must secure all entrances and exits and keep clutter and garbage at a good distance from your home.

Garages are the ideal entry point and the only thing they miss is a big floor mat with "Welcome" written in rat. If you must keep a garage cluttered, keep the door closed. This will keep the rats out!

  • Keep your doors closed!

How to humanely trap rats:

This is the easy part. Once you've got all entrance holes blocked off, you need only deal with the population currently in your home and while you need a little bit of patience to start the trapping cycle, once started, it all happens very quickly.

The first thing you want to do is think about their paths. Regardless of the organization of the contents and rooms in your home, there are certainties:

    1. In the general process of travelling, they will walk along walls and floorboards. Only when spooked will they be daring and take off in the middle of a room.
    2. You can expect that part of their travels involve both places below your line of vision (the floor) and above your line of vision. Rats are very agile and, to an untrained eye, appear as if they can "fly" from one spot to the next.
You'll want to keep that in mind when setting your traps.

Obviously you don't want to have to deal with trying to find a way of suspending a big bulky trap on window and door ledges and that's fine because you can actually place your trap in a fairly visible (for you) location along the edge of the wall and have very good luck trapping them. The important qualifications are that

  • the length of the trap is flush against a wall (as close as it can be without disabling the trap)
  • the trap is placed in a oft-traversed (by them) area.
If you find that spot, you can trap a half dozen of them in a matter of a couple of days. Here's why:
    Rats are creatures of habit. One of the reasons why you don't want to mess with their chosen area until everything else is in order (holes are blocked) is because you don't want them to break that habit and create a new one. You want to break that habit in your own time!

    • Placing a humane trap along a frequented path will, more often than not, cause them to blindly run right into that trap.

    In fact, more often than not, you don't even have to worry about baiting the trap (though it may help - peanut butter on the tray in the back, of nothing else, serves to distract them for a second or two) because they've stopped paying attention to where they are going - the path has become that familiar!

    Sometimes the rat will be more wary, however, or maybe you guessed wrong on the actual location of their path. I'd give it 2-3 days. If you haven't spotted a captive at that point, I would try another along-the-wall location.

    If you do capture one, however, you're in luck! Open the trap door and let the rat walk into a temporary containment area (you can whip up a quick and dirty cage with some rabbit wire) and then, without washing the trap (or touching the bottom edge by the door) place the trap exactly where it was previously. That rat, unbeknownst to you, marked that ledge going in and all other rats travelling that path won't even question the legitimacy of that new object - they'll just walk right in.

    The more that walk in, the more that bottom edge is marked and the more the bottom edge is marked, the more "known" and accepted the object is to them. And if you're diligent about removing the captives and putting the trap back, you'll catch a good number of them fairly quickly... because your "bait" is then the urine trail going from the floor into the trap.

    It's beautiful, really!

How, when, and where to relocate rats:

The bulk of the "How, when, and where" really depends on how much more madness you can take. Ideally you want to trap all of the rats in your home at once and release them as a large group in order to increase their chances of survival. The reaility, of course, is that you've spent a good amount of time finding those holes and you're so close to reaching the end of the saga that your feelings of haste have increased ten-fold.

So, I'll give you the "ideal" and you can work it out from there:

    1. When Part I: Rats are crepuscular. As such, they should be released as late in the evening as possible, or as early in the early morning as possible, where "as early in the early morning as possible" is the better of the two options (should you be torn about going to bed late or having to endure an early morning).

    A rat's vision is poor but his day vision is doubly so, so to give them a fair chance, at the very least, they should be released when it is still somewhat dark out.

    Similarly, early morning is preferred over late evening because they do the bulk of their busy work at midnight. You won't be releasing a hungry rat at the crack of dawn and will increase their chances of survival but limiting their immediate needs to finding shelter.

    2. When Part II: Rats are warm-blooded mammals. The outside temperature should be no cooler than 40°F (4°C). It should be neither raining or snowing, the ground shouldn't be sopping wet, and you shouldn't be expecting rain or snow for at least 24 hours (48 if you're really good about it - but you might find yourself huddled up with them for the winter as I've frequently found myself for such courtesies...and that does get annoying).

    The reasoning behind this isn't as face value as it might seem. Yes, cold is indeed cold, but the real reason is that rats form their colonies under ground and if they can't dig through frozen or sopping wet soil, they will be exposed to the cold temperatures and without shelter for a prolonged period of time, decreasing their chance of survival. The cold in itself will naturally take the weaker and older but nature is fair and, weather permitting (ground permitting), the fittest will survive.

    And before heading out, you'll want to acclimate them to the outdoors. The day before their release, start moving them closer to the outside, either closer to an open window or closer to a door. If it's winter, make sure there's a lot of mud and paper, etc in your contained environment so they can huddle up and keep warm. If it's summer, make sure there's shade so they can keep out of the sun. This will help them make the transition from the temperature controlled environment of your home to the erratic temperature of the outdoors with greater ease.

    3. Where part I: Far away from your home! (I suspect you were eagerly waiting for me to get to this!) You want a place at least a mile from your home, you want a place that is relatively uninhabited. You want a place that has some source of water (creek, river, sewer drain, etc...or if it rains all the time where you are, anywhere). You want some place that has some source of food (anything but a desert, really). And if you're scratching your head trying to figure out where such a rat haven would be in your part of the world, think of your local park, forest, or wilderness preserve.

    And if you're really feeling nice, leave some of your biodegradables with them (paper products, branches, cotton, last-night's leftovers). It'll help them get on their way.

    4. Where part II: By a large rock, by a tree or shrub. To get an idea of where rats live, see this page. All homesteads start with a platform (thus the rock). They will stand on the rock and dig beneath the rock to begin the creation of their tunnels. If rocks are hard to come by, a tree stump may be your answer as they can start from there too. A shrub will provide them protection - it will give them some place to run to and hide when you release them. If the rock or tree stump is close to the shrub, you may have saved them precious time. Of course if the tree stump seems to be inhabited, you may want to try to find another.
    5. How part I: One of the hardest parts of relocation is dealing with the screams as one drives the rats from their previous home (yours) to their new home (out where they belong). There's just something about the combination of being in a car, the sound(s) of the journey, and the fright that the rats feel being trapped in such unfamiliar surroundings that causes them to yelp up a storm (and you'd be surprised how loud they can be!). A cover (an old dark sheet or towel - something you won't mind having redesigned the rat way) will help quiet them for the journey. This will help protect both your sanity and theirs, hopefully making the journey that much less stressful for everyone.
    6. How part II: Open the "cage" door (wherever you've been keeping them) and wait. You'll probably find yourself wondering how it is that someone ever got the idea that rats are smart as quite often you find yourself begging them to leave. Of course you should take that moment to say your goodbyes as once they figure it out, they're gone in a flash!
In memory of Stella, who, for a short while, lost her groove.

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