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What to do About Dirty Rats

What to do About Dirty Rats

Q. Pat in Upper Marlboro Maryland (in the greater Washington DC area) writes: "Can you please tell me what you would consider the most effective and safe household rat poison? I saw a product online, but it was restricted "for use in and around agricultural buildings only." Thanks."

A. Well, thank you Pat; I often forget that many people don't realize how dangerous some over-the-counter products can be. After all, you buy it off the shelf and then assume that there's no need to read the warnings or directions, because it's so obviously safe!

Here's the deal: you go into a big box store and say you have weed problems; they'll almost certainly sell you a chemical herbicide like Round Up, whose parent company Monsanto is currently paying out hundreds of millions of dollars in claims to people who used the product and then developed specific types of cancers. If you say you have insect problems they'll likely sell you a chemical insecticide like Sevin {Spell out}, which will make problems worse by killing all the beneficial life in your garden; and maybe shortening your life as well (as will actual shortening, but that's a tale for another time).

If however, you complain of mouse problems you may be offered old fashioned snap traps, which are highly effective. You might even be offered the relatively new electronic mouse traps that use bait to lure mice inside a small box that electrocutes them. These devices also contain a light that comes on to signal a catch, allowing you to open a door and drop the former mouse into the trash without touching it.

But if you say 'rat', its dollars to donuts they'll say 'poison'. We'll get to the non-toxic alternatives in a moment, but first, why you should just say 'no' to rat poison.

Rats are very suspicious of new food sources (perhaps because they lack the ability to regurgitate) and so much of the poison is ignored, leading to its possible consumption by cats, dogs, children and raptors like hawks and owls. (Raptors and foxes are prime consumers of rats, so if you kill even one of them, your vermin problems will probably increase.)

In farm settings, the poison is often scattered on the ground, leading to the potential poisonings just described. In addition, rain washes the poison into the groundwater, where it can now wreak havoc on frogs, toads, salamanders; and you if you're using well water.

But the number one reason to not use poison is rats in the walls. Yes, the telltale scratching sound of a rat running around in your walls is enough to give anyone the willies. But rat poisons are relatively slow acting, allowing the poisoned creature time to maybe 'escape' outside the house (where the carcass will almost certainly be eaten by a raptor or household pet). Much worse is when the rat heads back to its nest inside your walls. The stench of the slowly decaying animal is unbearable.

So: what are your intelligent options?

Snap traps labelled for rats (essentially mouse traps on steroids) are large enough to do the job. Bait them with peanut butter, be careful setting the trap as the snap would be painful if you set it off on yourself, and position it where you see ratty activity. If it snaps but you got no rat, nail the trap to a decent size piece of wood and repeat. The added stability of the wood will help prevent another failure.

Rats are very intelligent. If they avoid your traps, wash the traps well or start with new ones that won't have your scent on it. Wear gloves when you position them, add some bait but don't set the traps. Allow the vermin to come and go without danger; and then, when you know they're 'taking the bait', set the traps. I realize many people are squeamish about dispatching the dead vermin. If that's the case recruit a helper. Or wear gloves or plastic bags over your hands. Or just use a couple plastic bags to dispatch the rat, trap and all.

Electronic mouse traps come in a larger size to catch rats as well. No muss, no fuss, no touching. 'Hav-a-hart' and similar 'live catch traps' can also be highly effective. The creature goes inside and triggers the mechanism that drops the door without harming it. If it's a bird, kitty kat, or other non-offensive creature, you can release it. If it's a rat, drop the entire device into deep water and come back 15 minutes later. (If it's a possum, release it; they eat rats.)

Whatever you do, never release rats or mice back into the wild. These creatures are disease-carrying age-old enemies of humans and would love a second opportunity to harm you.

And finally, I have to give a shout out to a website called "automatic trap dot com". I found them while researching this piece and the informative sections are first class; and they market a device that looks like something Wily Coyote would buy from the Acme Road Runner Destruction Company. It lures in rats and then beans them for good with a pressurized co2 rat thumper. No "beep beep!"

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