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Guide to Rat Infestations

The words ‘rat infestation’ are enough to send homeowners shivering in terror, but don’t worry, there are ways in which you can get rid of a rat infestation humanely. Read our guide for more information on rats, how to identify possible rat infestations, the risks of infestation and the best ways to get rid of rats in the house.

At present there is an estimated 15-80 million rats across the country and that number is set to grow as rats are becoming increasingly immune to poisons and expanding into new niches. If this isn’t terrifying enough, the increase in rat populations also means an increase in rat home invasions and rat related household damage.

About rats

The most common rat in the UK is the Norway rat, Rattus norvegicus, also known as the brown rat or the sewer rat. This rat usually is about 25cm long from nose to tail and weighs around 350g, but researchers and pest control agencies are finding that they are getting bigger and heavier.

At present there are an estimated 15 – 80 million rats across the country and that number is set to grow as rats are becoming increasingly immune to poisons and expanding into new niches. If this isn’t bad enough, the increase in rat populations also means an increase in residential rat infestations and rat-related household damage.

Every year rats cause an estimated £11 billion worth of damage to crops alone, and while the damage to households might not be as significant, it is definitely far more than homeowners would like to contend with.

Risks of rats

The Norway rat lives in burrows and it will dig through almost anything, including wire mesh and mortar. In addition to the damage caused to private homes and public businesses, these burrows can also affect sewage lines. Rats also love to chew on wires which can lead to increases in fire risk and power outages.

Rats are very territorial and will defend their territory if provoked. While rat bites and attacks are relatively rare, there are still a number of people who are bitten each year, usually children or the elderly. Aside from the danger of infection, rat bites can lead to diseases such as rat bite fever, salmonellosis, leptospirosis and murine typhus. While these diseases are rarely life threatening, any rat bite should be treated by medical professionals immediately.

Identifying a rat infestation

One of the scariest things about rats is how easily they can come to live in your house without you noticing. This is because most rats are nocturnal and will only venture out into open spaces while feeding, and it is because of this that most rat infestations are unnoticed until it is too late to prevent them. Vigilance and diligence when it comes to cleaning are your best friends when it comes to identifying a rat infestation.

Signs of rats in your house

The most common signs that your home has become host to these furry invaders are:

  • Rat droppings. Rat droppings resemble large black grains of rice. Your average rat will expel approx 40 of these droppings a night and will usually favour specific areas to drop them, resulting in a rat midden in your home which can become a breeding ground for disease. In many cases these middens will be in close proximity to food or rubbish areas.
  • Noises. If your home is plagued by a rat infestation there is a good chance that you will hear them running through the walls, in the loft or across the roof. Aside from the sound of little feet scampering, you can also hear the rats grinding and chattering with their teeth.
  • Bite marks. Rats love to chew and gnaw on many things, from your priceless coffee table to electrical wires and plastic bins. Rats are agile and can climb up virtually anything and press themselves flat enough to squeeze through tiny spaces, meaning that often the initial signs of chewing will be in places that may be hard for you to inspect frequently, such as dark corners of the attic or roof or underneath decking and floorboards. They don’t just chew up your home, however. Watch out for damage to food, animal feed or fruit and veg growing in the garden.
  • Burrows and nests. While the presence of burrows and nests might be an obvious sign of rats in your house, they can be difficult to find. Rats love warm, dark place such as in walls, underneath floorboards and in the attic. If you have a garden shed where you store feed, seeds or compost, this can quickly become a prime location for rats. Any raised platforms are a rat’s delight as they are ideal for burrowing under. They also live outside in wood piles, thick bushes and hedges, and especially in areas filled with rubbish.
  • Smell and stains. Because rats mark their territory with urine, this can be prime indicator of an infestation. They also leave smudge marks against walls. Rats often will follow the same routes frequently due to poor eyesight, resulting in the dirt and grease from their fur and bodies being rubbed off against on the skirting boards.

How to get rid of rats

When it comes to getting rid of rats, the best protection is prevention. Rats are attracted to human areas because of the amount of food that is left lying around or poorly disposed of. If rats discover a place where they can get a steady supply of food there is little reason for them to ever leave.

The first step to making your home unfriendly to rats is thus to ensure that rubbish bins are secure and that food scraps are disposed of properly. If you feed your pet outside, avoid leaving excess pet food lying around once they have eaten. Pet food canisters should also be secure.

Best ways to trap or otherwise get rid of rats

Once rats have settled in your house they can be tricky to dislodge. While there are a wide variety of rat poisons and traps available they are not always 100% effective in getting rid of rats, which is why your best bet is to call in a pest control professional. Not only do they have the knowledge and the right equipment to quickly trace, trap and remove rats, but they can also do so humanely. Also, pest control services are covered by some home emergency insurance policies, so check yours to make sure you are protected.

Here are some tips if you are going to give the DIY rat removal route a shot first:

Rat poison: The most common rat poisons exploit a rat’s inability to regurgitate food and contain an anti-coagulant combined with an appetiser. However, of the way in which rat poison works, in many cases rats return to their burrow to die and it can be difficult to find and remove their bodies.

Rat traps: There are a wide variety of lethal and non-lethal rat traps available. A rat trap can be either single or multi-use. If you are squeamish about rats and dead things then a lethal trap might not be the best option for you; however if you opt for a non-lethal trap you should never release the rat back into an urban area, as this will not solve anything. Rats are considered invaders in the UK and have no fixed part in our eco-system, so humanely exterminating them is beneficial. Please contact your local council for more information about how to get rid of dead rats or for recommendations about where to release them once caught.

Rats and insurance

A final thing to worry about when it comes to rats is their effect on your insurance. Some insurance policies may cover damage caused by pets (for example, if your dog eats your couch or your cat knocks over your mother’s antique tea set), but may not cover damage by s vermin or wild animals. Always read the fine print regarding pest control before purchasing home emergency insurance.