How I lost my battle to remove rats humanely and became a rodent murderess

Guest post by Victoria Brooke Rodrigues
Rat-Catching Greetings from Hamelin (c.1930)

After a year-long battle to humanely remove rodents, I both feel like an expert and a complete failure in regards to humane rodent removal.

I worked for a veterinary hospital, and despite boarding all manner of rodent-killing animals, rats took up residence in the back end of the hospital, including the kennel and storage rooms. It was rat paradise: the kenneled dogs tipped their bowls several times a day, dropping food and water into grates and hard-to-reach areas, and the rats ate like furry kings. The store room held at least 500 square feet of high-end and prescription pet food and treats. Were there an award for the healthiest rat infestation, we’d have won.

A veterinary clinic is full of people who don’t want to kill animals, and good animal stewards that we were, we set out to catch and release the rats.

Our live traps caught a few, but for every rat we caught, a dozen more were breeding and ripping open $50 bags of food formulated for cats in renal failure. In a matter of weeks we went from seeing one or two rats to walking into a store room swarming with bodies. We knew we had to step up our game.

Even in the face of peppermint and other smelly fogs, rats comforted themselves by opening a box of Greenies and breeding some more.

We bought a beeping device that was supposed to make rats want to give up certified-organic cat treats for a quieter home. The key words there are “supposed to.” We moved on to oils and other smell-based products; we even walked our in-house cat through the storage room, hoping his smell would scare the rats from the store room. Even in the face of peppermint and other smelly fogs, rats comforted themselves by opening a box of Greenies and breeding some more.

When I say we tried everything, I mean everything; every day someone in the office had a new trick to try but nothing worked. When we came in to find a post-operation dog caught a rat, it was clear that our clinic couldn’t keep dealing with the rats humanely. They had to go.

We ended up using snap traps. It sucked. We hated it. Written words don’t do that phrase justice — we fucking hated it. We checked the traps every few minutes with a needle ready for euthanasia, because it was the last tool we could use to cause the rats as little pain as possible. I still feel ill when I think of finding a rat in a trap. I had rats as pets in high school and I wasn’t going to try to emotionally divide these animals; the difference between these rats and mine was simply circumstance.

But we couldn’t assure our clients their animals were safe and healthy in our care if rats overtook the clinic every time the lights went out. With the use of the snap traps, the population was in sharp decline by the time I left to have a baby.

So here we are: after battling rats for a year, I still don’t know how to get rid of them humanely. The best thing I can suggest is to protect your place before you have a problem: filling in holes under your building and in walls is a good place to start.

I’ve developed a real obsession with avoiding rodent problems, for obvious reasons. I will always keep a live trap in my house with all manner of bells inside, just inside the crawl space under my bed. My hope is that I would catch any stray rodent before it sets up shop and creates a full blown infestation, and I would be able to hear it down there so I could release it in the woods. But it feels like a shot in the dark, and I am constantly worrying over finding “evidence.”

Which brings me back to the beginning: if you’ve got a way to get rid of a couple hundred rodents humanely, I’m all ears… as is a little animal clinic in the Deep South.

Comments on How I lost my battle to remove rats humanely and became a rodent murderess

    • Have you ever considered sealing off the entry points so the rats do not gain access to the building, it doesn’t matter how many you trap or kill, new rats will simply take up residence in the old colony’s space, remember, a rat’s natural habitat is in and around human habitation!

      The best way to do this is to hire/consult with a wildlife specialist who knows all the common entry points that rats use, also rats can squeeze through a quarter-sized hole as their rib cages are hinged for this very purpose.

      And if they’re coming in from the piping then you will have to have the wildlife specialist talk with the building manager…Which will be the hardest obstacle of all as most are too steeped in conventional wisdom to ever consider this method let alone accept is as a viable solution.

      Hope this helps!

  1. When my husband and I lived in Shanghai we had a very similar problem. We lived in an old house, and when the wind blew outside, you could feel it inside, so we knew there were places that rodents could squeeze in. In fact our neighbors had told us (after we moved in, unfortunately) that that apartment had always had rats, as long as they remembered. It got so bad that I stopped sleeping well because I could hear the rat party going on outside my door, and I refused to go into the kitchen (a shame, as I dearly love to cook and I completely stopped for almost 6 months).

    We tried every trick anyone could throw at us, just like you. We had our friends from overseas bring us one of those beeping things too – no luck there. I couldn’t even figure out why they were coming in! I had thrown out all food, it was completely temperate out, and even kept the dog food outside.

    In the end, we started using those glue traps, as opposed to the snap traps. I will say I was very squeamish about loosing the rats from the traps, but they did work for us.

    In the end, we moved when our contract was up and never looked back. I completely agree that prevention is key here.

    • Please, anyone else reading this, don’t use glue traps! They are even worse than the snap traps. At least the snap traps are likely to kill quickly (though not always, and the more often they’re checked the better as at least you can put a wounded animal out of their misery). Glue traps leave an animal glued and helpless and struggling desperately to free themselves until they die of dehydration, if they haven’t already tried to gnaw off a limb to escape 🙁

  2. A friend of mine had a major mice problem (far worse than I’ve ever had). They had professionals coming over to get rid of the mice, but nothing (poison, mainly) worked. They kept coming back. In the end they got a cat. The cat caught two mice, and after that, they haven’t seen or heard any mice. The cat lives with them in their house and is present there all the time. I don’t know if you would consider getting a cat humanely (at least it is a natural means), but it can work!

    • We had a barn growing up. Where there is grain for horses there are rats. We not only got a barn cat we made it known to our neighbors that we would “adopt” every single non-venemous snake they found. Between the black rat snakes and the cat the rodent problem was taken care of. The cat even made a dent in the gopher population.

      But snakes and grizzled barn cats running loose are probably not the right response for a vet clinic. Realistically snaptraps are probably the most humane of the effective options. (Even more so when quickly followed by a vet tech with a syringe.) Unfortunately with as smart as rats are they can figure out a HavaHeart trap pretty quickly

      • I also had horses growing up. The barn where we boarded our horses let the neighbors know they’d be willing to take in unwanted cats. Then people started leaving cats on their doorstep. They ended up with over 30 barn cats. But at least they didn’t have many problems with vermin.

        Having watched a few cats catch mice, I think glue traps and snap traps are probably more humane than cats. The cats would play with their prey for HOURS before finally killing it.

      • Cats are your best bet. Even if they don’t nessasrly catch and eat the rats, the cat smell is a deterant. Of course, you may have some logistics to deal with because of the dogs. The cat smell does drive some dogs crazy. So a combination of non poisonus snakes and cats would probably work best. There are services that rent these kinds of animals.

    • This was our, accidental, solution. It may not be humane, but at least it falls with in the natural order. I moved in to the downstairs apartment of our old duplex with my three (indoor/outdoor) cats. We knew there was a rodent problem in the basement, but my dad hadn’t gotten around to calling an exterminator yet. For the first month or so I tended to walk out the door to find mouse parts on the doorstep (my cats had figured out that leaving the whole body was pointless because I didn’t use it – so instead of leaving the whole thing as “tribute” they would eat most of it and leave me just enough to know they were thinking of me). Slowly, the number of mice on the doorstep started to dwindle. One day, there was a dead rat left triumphantly on the patio and the rodent problem was quite thoroughly solved.

    • If one is allergic to cats or just not a cat person(I am allergic, and grew up having dogs, so cats confuse me at times) I would suggest dachshund (aka weiner dogs.) We’ve always had a dachshund in our house and they are excellent micers, along with getting rid of gophers etc. on property. Hunting rodents and grond dwelling creatures (from mice to badgers!)is actually what they were bred for, way back in the day.

  3. Cats are the only non-snap trap I’ve ever had work either. It’s still killing, but feels a little more fair. Plus it tends to only take a couple kitty victories before the rodents move out, whereas when I lived in a no-pets rental, it seemed like every single rat had to be trapped. Horrible, horrible, horrible.

  4. Just before I was born, rats took over my dad’s house. He couldn’t seem to do anything to make them leave, so when my aunt’s farm cat had kittens, he took one home and raised it. Pete, who lived to be 15, killed enough rats that they moved on, and they never had that problem again!

  5. Unfortunately, you were left with a tough decision and you guys did your absolute best. Kudos to you!

    My parents had a mouse problem, but three cats later and it seems to be solved. In fact, the outdoor/indoor cat is so bored she’s tried bringing rodents -into- the house when we weren’t be attentive. 😛 The baby bunny was probably the cutest attempt, scared as the poor guy was!

    It might be expensive, but could you purchase steel or other metal closets/storage type things to put food and medicines in? Even if you could rent them until the rats moved on, it might be worth the cost. And train the dogs to be more neat, jeez! (Just kidding, haha)

  6. Argh, we’re dealing with that RIGHT NOW. We dumbly kept our giant box of bird seed in the garage and it attracted rats. We bought a live trap to catch them, but it hasn’t worked. I really wanted to get them out before we moved (we’re renting) so the new renter wouldn’t poison them but so far no dice. I also kept rats in high school and hate the thought of killing them.

    If you’re going to kill them, though, I believe snap traps are the most humane way. Poison is awful. Rats can’t vomit so even if they know they’ve been poisoned there’s nothing there can do about it.

    Glue traps seem humane, but only if you get to the animal in time. My mom once put out glue traps for mice and by the time she checked it the poor mouse that was caught had died of dehydration and was probably terrified the whole time. Snap traps, at least, are quick.

    • I have to warn that snap traps are only quick if the animal gets trapped the right way. We found many caught by a leg or back end, which is why we carried euthanasia with us when we checked on the traps. 🙁

        • The most humane answer is a mallet or shoe and a lot of courage.

          (When I worked in a lab, the animal people told us that the most humane way to kill a lab mouse or rat is to pick it up by its tale and thwack its head on the counter as hard as you can. Euthanized mice and rats have much higher levels of stress hormones in their brains than thwacked mice & rats. But it takes a LOT of courage.)

          • The one time my husband’s landlord (when we lived separate) set a trap, it caught one about halfway through the body. We dropped a cinderbrick on its head to put it out of its misery. My whole body was shaking after.

          • I’ve had this problem and it was NOT pretty. In fact, I’m so ashamed that I won’t tell you how I dealt with it.

            But it gave me the heebie jeebies in the pit of my stomach and we never had a mouse problem again.

          • First, I definitely commend the author for trying all the most humane ways first! But having worked in a lab with mice before, please don’t try the above, taking their tails and hitting their heads somewhere. It’s often ineffective (mice in particular are very fast and can climb their own tails), and the skin of the tail is not well attached, and in some cases you can end up skinning the tail and injuring the mouse very badly, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. For mice, if you can’t euthanize with drugs, hold the mouse by the tail, put it on a flat surface like the ground, and firmly press the flat handle of a butter knife or pen across the back of its neck while pulling firmly and quickly on the tail. This will break the neck. It’s not as humane as euthanizing with drugs, but I imagine very few people have veterinary euthanasia at home. But at least it’s fast and painless for the poor little guys.

    • When I lived in a place w mice my roommate put out glue traps, which I was against. One day a mouse got stuck on it’s side to one. I am ashamed to say I dealt with it by leaving for work and then camping out at my boyfriends house for the next two nights.
      Poison is okay, until one dies in your walls and stinks the place up for a month. Out of those I like snap traps the best.
      I’d like to point out that the next tenant in that place got a cat, who killed two mice and then the rest disappeared. So really, cat is the best, especially if you want to trade tiny furry pests for a larger furry pet companion.

    • Glue traps are the worst, many get caught face down and drown in the glue, most starve or dehydrate, nothing like being stuck and drowning in glue for a horrible way to go!

  7. I am in the Cat camp. Every time I have ever seen droppings or “something” turning over my compost pile within a few days there is a dead creature out in my yard. I agree it’s still killing but at least it’s a little bit more nature oriented than traps or poison. I also had pet rats before.

    On a funny side note the first rat my cat ever brought home was a pathetic attempt. She was about a year old and had just started going outside. One morning on my way to the car I noticed a piece of wood flipped over by her cat door. Upon flipping the wood over with my work boot I realized it was a rat in a trap. At first I was horrified but when I told my husband we laughed till we cried and praised her for weeks on being a “mighty huntress”!

  8. Like others, I commend you for trying the humane ways first. I have only once (knock on wood) had a rodent problem, and after trying a few methods of getting rid of them, I went to glue traps. I cried every time I had to dispatch a trapped mouse (partly out of feeling like a complete and utter shit, partly out of fear of the mouse). If I ever had to do it again, in honesty, I would go the same route (I’m severely allergic to cats).

  9. Anyone know if someone makes a cat urine rat repellent? They’re deeply, deeply programmed to fear its smell — an advantage because sometimes rats can be real, real big. Farm rats were a challenge for my cats growing up. They only brought home one, ever, and he was BIG. I’m sure some of their battle scars were rat-related.

    • There are TONS of starving stray cats in my neighborhood but yet still I’ve been battling a rodent problem. Like the one lady, I started sealing all my food in plastic bins and sweeping up every crumb but as soon as I adopted this dog, I gave that up. Now I hardly cook and am disgusted in my own home just thinking about rodents in the walls even though I enjoyed many a rat as a pet. I am am an animal lover that recently moved into a garage apartment and as soon as I adopted a dog my rodent problems increased. I want to call pest control but until I patch up the thousands of tiny crevices they get in, I feel it would be pointless,…I tried a little of the mint, it seemed they didn’t like it but that didn’t seem to help enough, I want to put my dogs food up but she eats a little throughout the day and night, instead of emptying her bowl , but I know it’s a big issue, my fiancé bought EVERY MANNER OF THOSE SOUND MACHZiNES DONT WASTE YOUR MONEY THEY ARE USELESS and I’ve debated on getting the cat, but with all the strays out there, you’d think my neighborhood wouldn’t be infested…. I’m not sure if cats are the solution.

      • The rats may see your house as a sanctuary ! Check to see if your city has a rent a cat service so you can try it out. Also, some shelters offer foster situations that might be more suitable for you.

  10. We had rats in my childhood home, and I was absolutely determined that they be caught humanely, until the night I woke up with one in bed next to me.
    I believe my mother’s husband used poison to get rid of them, and it was effective.

    • eeeeeeeewwwwwww! I just got the chills! I remember one night when I heard a weird scratching noise, I jumped up, and saw a mouse fly from my pillow to the floor from the momentum. Was it licking my face? I don’t know… but… eeeeeewwwwww!!

    • Yhe best wayy to get rid of rats is to get a good tabby cat or a ginger tom. A friend of mine who keeps animals like horses, Peacocks , deer and black swans etc had problems with rats. They tried poison and traps. No luck but thanks to a ginger tom called Ale and a tabby called Misty . Both were good ratters and they drove the rats away.

  11. In my experience, cats are the best answer to a rodent problem. I don’t know if they qualify as “humane” — I think they’re more “feline” ( ha! – had to get that in ). I’ve seen my cat dispatch gophers and it’s very quick. I guess it just depends on how much your cat wants to, um, play with his food.

    The best thing about it feline rodent control is that, except for an occasional “gift”, it goes on while you’re unaware.

  12. A note on the cat solution:

    From my own personal experience with cats, I’ve noticed that cats seem to have different preferences on their prey. Some like rodents, some birds, and some bugs. We had a 20 lb Maine Coon mix that was terrified of rodents, but woe be to the bug that got near him. A tiny little girl cat that was amazing at catching birds, but didn’t care for bugs or rodents, etc.

    So if your in-house cat can’t help, maybe a different cat can. Good luck!

    • I have two cats, and we still have mice. The problem is that (a) one is fat and lazy, and (b) the one who does like catching mice doesn’t want to kill it….he just wants to play with it. So, when we’ve had mice, we usually wake up to the cat playing with the mouse in the kitchen, where be brought it after catching it in the basement.

    • I wouldn’t suggest getting a cat just to get rid of rodents, unless you are committed for life. On the issue of cats, so many are abandoned and they are actually responsible for many bird species becoming exstict. They often don’t even eat the birds they catch. So if you get a cat, please spay and neuter, keep it indoors, and keep it for the life of the cat. ( I’ve been dealing with rodents too and have considered a cat, but because they are not guaranteed to deal with the problem and otherwise I wouldn’t get one, I’ve debated on borrowing a friends cat. I only fear if someone nearby is using rat poison that the cat will accidently die too.

  13. Has anyone had any luck with dogs? We’ve never had a rat problem, but my fat, otherwise-lazy dachshund would go into Killer Mode when there was a mouse or chipmunk around.

    • Some breeds of dogs (notably terriers) were bred for vermin hunting and that drive remains very strong today. While they aren’t terriers, dachshunds were likewise bred to go down holes and bring out rats, gophers, and rabbits.

    • dogs just being around can do it sometimes. i have a 5 month old german shepherd that has scared off all the bunnies 🙁 and also all the gophers 🙂 i know he has never caught one because his outside time is strictly monitored (we have a pool and i am deathly afraid he will fall in and drown- it happened to one of my friends dogs, even though he could swim. i cry at the thought) his scent alone seems to have scared off all sorts of rodents that i used to see roaming around in the early hours of the morning.

    • I have three miniature dachshunds and they dealt rather well with our rat problem. It was really sad sometimes, but quite effective.

    • My beagle mix is a master mouser (and squirreler and birder, unfortunately). Dogs with high prey drives can be just as effective as cats, especially if, like me, you’re deathly allergic to anything feline.

    • I have a Chiwinnie ( half dasheunde half Chiwawa) and she will act like she is going to chase them but she can’t even keep up or follow their scent effectively. In fact her dog food has increased the rodent problem from small to moderate. I wouldn’t bother with most dogs.

  14. I got rid of our mouse problem with peppermint oil – I left little bowls of it around and also mixed up a spray solution and thoroughly doused the kitchen floor and all counter tops. Probably wouldn’t work in your situation but thought I’d put it out there for homies with a small infestation.

  15. I just moved into my apartment last week (after breaking a lease with my old apartment due to a huge amount of mold, mice, spiders, ants, and gnats : ( ) and before we moved in any of our furniture, I was sitting on the floor and saw a mouse crawl around in my kitchen. I froze. I didn’t have anything to crawl up on and scream like a little tiny girl! *sigh We want to get a kitty, because the thought of my daughter crawling around and eating mice poop makes me sick to my stomach!

  16. When I lived in New Mexico, we had to worry about Hanta Virus (if you’re having vermin problems, look it up, Southwestern folks!). Our cute field mouse problem quickly became war! We sprayed cayenne juice (available at hardware stores), laid out dozens of glue traps (we ended up catching a rattlesnake–oops), and regularly bleached surfaces in our living areas. We also put any “smellables”, such as comestics, food, toiletries, etc into airtight containers or the refridgerator. Mice will nibble trough almost anything, but a thick rubbermaid container seemed to do the trick.

    Also, my uncle is allergic to cats, so he found roosters helpful in ridding mice this machine shop. But then you’d have a rooster problem…

    • I HATE glue traps. They use them at school, and there’s nothing worse than coming across a mouse who is still alive and struggling on one of those things. I’ve seen them where they’ve managed to move enough that they’ve left part of their fur behind on another section of the pad.

      Makes me want to put them out of the misery quickly, (especially since the caretakers just throw them in the garbage) but I never have anything on hand that would be useful for that.

  17. My Dad was a grocer. The store was neat as a pin, but despite our best efforts, we got a rat at one point. It got into an open front cooler in the deli, and got into some cooked ham.

    Dad put a snap trap in, the single rat was killed, and we never had any more problems.

    Mice were an ongoing issue, as sometimes we’d see evidence of them on skids of product that had just arrived from the wharehouse.

    We also had a colony of rats living under our deck at home, after a composting experiment than failed. The snap traps came out, but also the warfirin, and they were soon gone.

    I guess rat poison isn’t really an option for a vet clinic though.

    I’m not really big on pesticides, but to my mind, when you’ve got rats, you can’t really mess around.

    Incidentally, those sonic devices are useless.

    • Unfortunately, the rat poison, poisons other animals above the food chain including your own which could happen long after the rat is dead. Including killing Owls, Hawks, cats, dashunds. Send Terminix packing if you care at all for animals using poison is clearly not the way to deal with it as most of these comments can attest.

      You also have to think about other animals and not just your own that may be feeding off your nice rat population as much as you may not see it, the food chain is alive and well today. Just become more aware of your surroundings and you’ll never use poison in your natural environment. Believe me, what you sow, you reap and it will come back to you one way or another. Hell, you may get MS and end up eating the rat poison on a daily basis with your rats.

  18. We are renters, with a neighbor that has over 100 birdhouses and feeders. Our landlord pays for a pest control service. It’s neat/nice to read the other more humane options and that people are using them.

  19. I had a rat problem in my house once. It was not pretty we could hear them climbing in our walls and in the ceiling. I am pretty sure the rat traps were humane for our rats at least. Their deaths were kick and brutal. But when I removed them from the trap I felt guilt for having taken their lives but thankful that they could go to a happy rat filled heaven with loads of food and more rats. Sometimes you just have no choice but to protect yourself and those in your care.

  20. A word about the snap traps: they’re spotty as hell. I worked and lived in a cabin in the mountains in North New Mexico for a little while (fun times, weird story). I and the staff set up snap traps everywhere. And every evening, we’d lock up anything remotely edible or smelly in rodent-proof containers and cabinets, then spray all of the work and eating surfaces down with bleach water. Yeah…not too natural. We weren’t taking any chances though, because we’d hear them scratching and gnawing, little nails scraping the wood after we’d gotten in bed. If I got up in the middle of the night I could see them scatter when I entered the room. About half the time, the traps would go off with no trace of rodents. Another quarter of the time they’d catch something and it’d still be alive and miserable when we woke up. In comparison, I recently housesat two cats and I never realized we had a mouse problem until they began gifting me daily rodent remains. I’m going to have to jump on the cat bandwagon here.

  21. When I was in high school my aunt and uncle had a rodent problem. They called in the exterminators and the rats left or died or both, I’m not sure.
    However, one morning, my uncle went to take the trash out and there was a large rat in the empty garbage can. My uncle, being a humane person and a fantasy enthusiast, went inside, got his sword out of his study, and stabbed the rat twice. He told me later that he was incredibly upset that he hadn’t been able to kill it in one shot because he hadn’t wanted to hurt it, but if he didn’t kill it the poison, traps, or one of their cats would have gotten at it, and all three of those have the potential to be much more painful. (I did call him Sir John the Rodent-Slayer for a while after that, though. He and I thought it was funny.)
    Having never had a rat, I don’t know what that’s like, but I can sympathize. That really had to have sucked. 🙁

  22. we have 5 cats in the house. 2 are indoor only, around 15 & 16 yrs old, and wouldn’t do much more than stare at a mouse and wonder what it was if they saw it. of the three that go outside, one i don’t think is a hunter, one definitely is and we’ve seen track birds, and the third is quite the hefty little sucker! she (Tabby) was skin and bones when we got her, and now her name is Tubby. we also no longer have an indoor rodent problem, and rarely see the field mice outside. you do the math 🙂 i don’t like the thought of any animal dying, i’ve even rescued mice from our cats (and been chastised for it!) but i prefer that nature control itself over a snap trap!

  23. I keep rats as pets and love them more than any other animal outside of dogs. They are funny, intelligent and each as individual in tastes and personality as we are… so when we found ourselves with a bit of a mouse problem, I vowed to use only humane traps and take them to a nearby wildlife park.

    This worked on/off for a while, but on a routine trip to the park, I tipped out what I assumed to be another little invader, only to discover that I’ve captured a pregnant mouse that had given birth inside the humane trap. It took me a long time to get over the half-dead newborns that came tumbling out, and the idea of a mother unable to feed her young, and the incident made me wonder what sort of trap would have been more humane.

    Glue traps, however, are vile regardless of the creature or situation.

  24. I LOVE this article. Thank you for writing it. I can completely relate. I currently have a huge Rat issue in my horse barn with which I don’t have any problem, but my boyfriend does and he says they are undermining the barn and may cause severe structural damage. My neighbors are all throwing fits too saying if they get rats at their houses I am in big trouble. My main problem is I am opening a dog boarding kennel right next to my horse barn and no one will board their dogs there with a rat problem. I have lost sleep and many tears over how to solve things. They few I have been able to live-trap have been so gentle and sweet when they come over to the side of the trap and put their paws up on the side of it to get a better look at me and what is going on. Anyway…thanks for letting me know I am not alone with my feelings of incredible dread and sadness over having to do something more drastic. I hate this whole situation. No, I fucking hate this whole situation.

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