There is little more unsettling than suspecting the possibility that while your family is sleeping at night, fur-covered creatures with long, naked tails are creeping around your house, feasting on the crumbs your family drops, gnawing holes into packages of cookies and cereal, and scurrying across your floors and countertops with their dirty little feet, dropping feces along the way.
Because rats are nocturnal, it can take a while to discover that you are sharing your home with some sly and shifty uninvited guests—guests that are making themselves all too comfortable in your home and intend to stay. In fact, by the time you begin to see or hear signs of rats in your home, it’s a good indication that they’ve been there long enough to have multiplied to the point of being less able to hide the signs of their presence.
So what are some early signs that your home could also be housing creatures that once helped to spread the black death?
Rats are more likely to invade your home when the weather turns cold. Just as the birds begin their flight to the south, fall and winter weather brings small creatures into places where they can stay warm. While rats can invade your home at any time of the year, new infestations are more likely to occur during the cold weather months.
It’s rare to actually spot a rat in your home during daylight, but it is possible to pick up on some early warning signs that you are not the only one who finds your home warm and inviting. Finding pieces of fluff or fuzz on the floor beneath or around vents is often a sign that rats may have taken refuge in your home. You may also find crumbled pieces of wallboard, or you may see tears or chew marks in your ductwork. Any shredded paper or cushion stuffing could also indicate nest-building activity.
Your pets can also alert you to the beginnings of a rat infestation. Dogs and cats can typically hear and smell rodents before humans can detect any signs. You may see your dog or cat looking suddenly alert, or pawing at spaces between appliances in your kitchen or under low pieces of furniture. Dogs may bark and appear suddenly attentive at seemingly random times because they are hearing movements in the walls of your home or from behind cabinets and appliances.
Once a rat colony is more firmly established, you might be able to pick up on some more pervasive indications for yourself. Droppings are often the first sign of rats that a homeowner will spot Rat droppings are slightly larger than a grain of rice and similar in shape. They are dark brown in color and tapered on the end. A single rat can leave up to 40 droppings per night.
Scratching noises in your walls or ceilings at night are another sign that rats are busy making themselves at home in your walls or attic. You may also hear the pitter-patter of their tiny feet as they move around.
Rub marks may be spotted along baseboards and furniture. Rats have poor eyesight, so they leave trails for themselves by rubbing their greasy fur along baseboards and furniture to leave trails that they and the rest of their colony can later follow. If you are noticing dirty, greasy streaks along baseboards or low on your furnishings, it’s a good indication that rats are marking what they believe to be a safe trail inside your house.
Packages that have been chewed open are a sure sign that you have uninvited roommates helping themselves to your family’s food. Rats may chew open the bottom corners of cereal, cookie, or cracker boxes, and may also chew their way into dog or cat food bags. Unlike mice, rats also like meat. They have been known to chew open frozen meat packages that are left on a counter or sink to thaw.
Rats also chew on non-edible items in order to sharpen their teeth. You may find that they have chewed on wooden spoons, electrical cords, broom handles, and more.
When rat colonies grow, you may also smell them. Rat urine leaves a strong, musky odor.
You can help to minimize the risk of rats invading your home by sealing any gaps or cracks. Rats can fit through holes as small as the size of a quarter. Closing gaps with plaster, caulk, or weather stripping can help to keep them out. In a pinch, you can even fill holes and gaps with steel wool to keep rodents from coming through.
Avoid attracting rats with food by keeping food put away and in sealed containers, as well as keeping floors and countertops free of crumbs and dropped food. Keep garbage cans covered both indoors and outside.
Trim limbs, branches, and shrubs away from the outer walls of your home to prevent rats from using them to gain access. Wood piles should also be kept a distance from your home to discourage rats from nesting in them.
Once you’ve discovered there are rats living in your home, you will very likely want to waste no time getting rid of them. Not only do we find it unnerving, and gross, to have rats living in our home, rats can carry and spread disease. There are 35 illnesses known to be spread by rats that can affect people through direct contact, contact with rat urine, saliva, or feces, and through bites.
One of the most effective ways to rid your home of rats is to use an effective rat poison treatment. Because rats are savvy and sneaky, they will typically test a new food by eating only a tiny amount the first time they are exposed to it and then waiting to see the effects before eating more. For this reason, many rat poisons are formulated to take time to work. This also encourages more rats to partake of bait they would otherwise avoid if it killed immediately.
Traps are another option for killing rats and they offer more immediate results. However, using traps also means that you will have to deal with the remains.
For persistent rat infestations, homeowners should contact professional pest control services to rid their home of rats.