by Linda Brink
[The opinions expressed in these essays do not necessarily reflect the position of ARAUNY.]
I have great respect for the intelligence of rats. As with most animal/human conflicts, understanding the animal with our supposedly superior intelligence is key to compassionate resolution of the troubling issues. That, and patience. Here are the three key survival necessities for rats people need to understand when attempting to move them out: rats seek food, shelter for protection and reproduction nesting, and a basically predator-free environment. These things are what they look for in establishing a colony. And availability of these necessities is what will keep them always coming back.
So, keeping this in mind, one can then launch the counter attack if rats are suddenly discovered moving in. It’s true about trapping rats–forget it, they are so clever and careful that for every one you remove in a Have-A-Heart or any type of trap, a dozen will be born and then that dozen will reproduce dozens more in a month, etc. etc. So, first of all, remove every semblance of food available to the rats by putting everything edible in metal cans (they will chew through plastic, as rats can chew through just about anything but metal). If you don’t remove the food source, you will not permanently resolve the rat problem. Then, if you know where the rats are nesting, put things like powdered red pepper and ammonia in and around the holes, and spray citronella—like citronella horse spray (Bronco, etc.). Rats always have at least two tunnels leading into their nesting area as to not be trapped inside—an entrance and exit–so you must detect these openings and pollute them. Metal flashing around the base of sheds/coops will keep rats out, but make it high enough to discourage them chewing around the flashing to get inside. They will be determined, especially if there is a good food source, so it’s absolutely key to remove the food source. in the case of chickens, who need food available, to close the birds up at dusk in a rat proofed coop to keep the rats out. Also, remove sources of bedding as much as is possible if the infestation is in the home or garage—rags, cloth, paper towels—they use all of this to line their nests and passageways (which are underground and in the walls and ceiling of susceptible buildings).
Next, you can do things like shine or leave on lights in the area they are infesting, all night (easy to do if it’s your garage or attic), as rats greatly prefer darkness. You can play music in the area to make them hesitant of leaving the nest—they don’t like this either. If you have a dog or cat, constantly walk or put them into the infested area, inside and out—this, plus no food, will strongly encourage the rats to move on. The scent and continual presence of a predator is a big deterrent to rats, especially if you remove all food and are launching other offensives.
Inside your house, be very careful during this time to keep all food in protective containers or wrapping so it will not be scented. Hungry rats can get into a home via a very small entry by chewing a wider hole and they can chew into cupboards in a way that is effortless. If you have a compost pile, get rid of this—they attract rats and encourage nesting in the area. In a barn, you can spray citronella spray around and in rat holes—it lingers a bit and they hate it. Combined with other preventative measures such as no grain loose and a barn cat or two, etc., they rather quickly move on. But again, the core of any rat infestation prevention program must be an elimination of the food source.
Your neighbors have every reason to be upset if they learn rats are colonizing in your home, shed, garage, chicken coop, etc., as eventually they will also infest their residence. Truly, you cannot imagine the incredible damage these very intelligent survivors can inflict on human dwellings—it can be surreal. Horrific. Our neighbor almost moved out of her old wood sided house after an infestation—rat excrement everywhere, new holes everywhere, every day. From what seemed one pair, the problem exponentially exploded into something ghoulish. Rat confrontations in the kitchen, rats squeaking in the walls and ceiling. She finally adopted five cats and kept all food in metal chests and the refrigerator—in a weeks time, the rats had melted back into the woods. Prior to the cats, this woman had tried everything, but started her effort way too late out of kindness. With rats, you cannot delay. You must act as soon as you possibly can to discourage them setting up nest areas or endure the nightmare that will surely follow when a colony develops. And ultimately, if you get frantic and turn to poison (desperate people do desperate things), you will still fail. Rats will die, but what initially attracted the rats will continue to attract them, and soon all the rats will avoid the poisoned bait. Truly, poison should not ever be an option, as its anguishing effects are exponential, and take many more lives than those of the rats—and all die in agony. There are intelligent and compassionate methods of giving rats every reason to move on, and every reason to not return: no available food, no dark, closed quiet place to nest, the presence of aggressive natural predators—the sum of this equation is no rat infestation. But act quickly. Especially in the fall, with winter coming on, rats become very reluctant to abandon a comfortable setup and start over.
Bottom line: understanding the wants and needs of any intelligent, hardy survivor is the key to successfully, and compassionately, deterring and permanently eliminating an infestation.
Linda Brink, Director of Sunnyskies Bird and Animal Sanctuary, Warwick, NY