DIY Rat Patrol

Domesticated rats make great pets. A day is enough to earn the loyalty and affection of a rat. They bond very quickly with a friendly human. They are trainable and can learn to respond to their name. Rats, unlike most other rodent pets, are gentle and friendly when being held by people they know. However, if someone they do not know startles them, rats will bite out of fear. When new people come over, the rats in my house take an interest. They seem to find our natural habits as entertaining as we find theirs.

Despite this, people have always been scared when wild rats take up residence in human dwellings. Here’s some tips for dealing humanely and respectfully with rat infestations in your home.

The best way to handle a rat infestation is to prevent access to the inside of your building. It is a mistake to try to close up every hole in the outside of your building, since the idea is not to trap the rats in the walls. You want to focus on the inside of the building. Move all your furniture away from the exterior walls and look for holes near the floor. Cover any holes you see, even small holes, with 1/8 inch or 1/4 inch wire mesh. Wood is okay if you have to use it, but remember that rats enjoy chewing on wood. Then, look at your ceilings, especially closets. Close up any access from the roof.

Clean the entire kitchen of any debris especially behind the stove and refrigerator, which are places where rats like to nest. When you look for holes in the kitchen, try not to worry about the interior walls between the rooms of the building. Again, your objective is to avoid trapping the rats in the walls to starve.

Normally rats have a territory where they move around, hugging the walls, looking for holes to enter and search out food sources. Once they go over the same route a couple of times, that path gets saturated with their scent and becomes a “rat run.” Different rats follow these rat runs in their busy search for food and shelter.

Another important step to take is clearing away any vegetation or debris that has accumulated against the outside of the building. If rats have to be out in the open to inspect your building, they are more likely to give up and move on.

People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) suggests the following on their website : “If the rats are in a place that cannot be ‘rodent-proofed,’ such as a car engine, you can prepare a deterrent. Rats and other small animals cannot tolerate the scent or taste of pepper. Make a mixture of salad oil, horseradish, garlic, and plenty of cayenne pepper. Let this mixture sit for four days, strain it into a spray bottle, and spray it under the car’s hood. This is completely safe for engine interiors, and it won’t harm curious animals. Mothballs and peppermint oil-soaked cotton balls are also great rodent repellents and can be tucked into an engine to prevent rodents from chewing on electrical wires.”

There’s one house I’ve been to where wild rats try to come in when the front door is open. I can’t think of any perfect way to stop the rats entering through an open door. However, keeping the floor and the ground outside the door cleaned of rat scent (which just attracts more rats), and then spraying the salad dressing on the door step may deter the little guys. This strategy, if successful, would wear off quickly so repeating frequently would be important.

I’ve seen rats get inadvertently trapped in apartments after the holes are all closed. Then, it is necessary to trap them. I noticed that a garbage can, emptied except for a little water, when pushed up against the kitchen counter would succeed in trapping a rat looking around for leftovers. To make it more irresistible to rats, try putting some peanut butter or oatmeal at the bottom of the can, to make it fragrant.

The trapped rats will be panicked and noisy but it may actually be less harmful to their psyche than the humane traps sold at hardware stores. If this works for you and you catch a rat, you’ll get to see first hand how high a rat can jump from a stationary position. It really is amazing. PETA’s website suggests a 50-gallon drum and building a ramp out of bricks or other stuff from the ground up to the edge of the drum. Never try to handle a caught rat unless you are wearing really thick protective clothing.

When relocating a rat, chose a place where there is no rat control program in place. Here in Berkeley, the Marina would likely be a good place since there is a good number of small animals there. Food is plentiful all year round. If you can’t think of a safe outdoor place to release your new little buddy, drop him/her off at your local humane society or SPCA. Only use these organizations as a last resort, since many probably have no way to relocate the little creatures.

Glue traps can be a hassle for even the most heartless human. An acquaintance of mine once complained of the noise a rat made when caught in a glue trap. She described the animal squeaking and crying loudly for two consecutive nights, disturbing her sleep. I asked her “did your sleep improve after the rat starved?”