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

  1. Would you mind listing the first things you tried so I can eliminate them myself- I read someone used peppermint oil
    It seems like just one is under my deck

  2. Bay leaves have prevented mice in my cupboards and now hopefully in my car.
    They are not messy. Just crumble them up and sprinkle anywhere you have a problem.
    Am going to also try peppermint oil in a spray bottle as prevention.
    We have an older home and I just can’t conceive of successfully plugging every hole.

    • Ash works best. for every 5 squared meters you need a backet of ash. Rats are allergic to ash. and they leave place.

    • Same problem with the older home, I haven’t called pest control because I know they are going to tell me to patch up the hundreds of microscopic holes I can’t even see….what to do?

  3. When my family moved in my mom’s her house had a few rats so I thought. One night I was in the garage that we made are kids hang out and I was eating french fries, I herd a thumping sound and my eyes widened as at least forty rats came out to great me. What was odd is they were cute, fawn colored with huge bat like ears.
    I asked my mom if she new about her stampede of rats , yep she did. This sounds odd but as we put huge snap traps out I keep a plate of gerbil food in garage and this kept them out of the house.
    My husband killed hundreds. I hate the fact we had to kill them but are safety is more important. Glue traps are not humane at all poison is an absolute no, no, if you don’t have pets your neighbors might and the poison doesn’t always work fast.
    If you live on farm or ranch some humane society’s will have Farrell cats to adopt that have been fixed with all there shots. But I’m an animal lover,, but there’s no nice way to rid rats. Sorry. Blame the people who brought them here on boats.

  4. The only humane way to get rid of rodents is not to allow them in. The comment list is TL, DL so I’ll tell you what: if they have already taken over, you will have to access how much you want to spend. You need to seal everything. Ideally, with mesh wire (thread must be fine enough for them not to come through) below the new plaster. Possible entrances such as holes around pipes need to be sealed in metal mesh too. Some people say steel wool is effective, but you know. You want wire in the sinks, same as the ones you use to not let salad down the drain. You don’t want them in food, so you can’t keep stuff in plastic or paper packaging. Get containers that they can’t chew through. Ideally, using glass or metal the job would be better. What you want is to lock them outside. If this is too costly in comparison to moving, then well, it’s up to you to make the quotes.
    Also you probably know this, but while doing the house work, do not sweep or vacuum rodent mess. The germs in their droplets and urine become airborne and that’s how you get sick. Wear a mask and wet everything with a solution of bleach before mopping.

    I killed my share of rodents, both in college and in traps. Nowadays all I can do is apologize to the little guys. That’s my nest. They don’t have any business in it.

  5. It was probably not possible in your situation, but in places like barns and stables I always think that the best and most humane way to deal with rats is with terrier dogs. The dog is only doing what it would do naturally in the wild, the kill is usually clean and quick unlike some cats who can play with their pray for hours, the rat doesn’t go through the stress of being trapped.

    The worse way although in certain situations it can be needed is poison. It’s a slow and lingering death, it’s unnatural, and the carcass of the rat can be eaten by other pets/wild animals poisoning them too.

  6. I’m dealing with rats right now. The key to ridding yourself of them is
    1. finding how they’re getting in and sealing the holes with steel. Yep, steel. They’ll chew through pretty much everything else, even concrete.
    2. find their paths..I did this by putting flour all over the place, the next day I could see where they were traveling most frequently.
    3. Lots of traps. 1 or 2 isn’t going to cut it, buy a dozen of them! The wooden snap traps are the best. And just add a dab of peanut butter on the trigger

    Humane traps would work too but you have to seal the entrances and buy a lot of those cage type traps..

  7. That’s two minutes of my life I’ll never get back.

    Get a cat! Get a Jack Russell. Get an air rifle.

    Definitely: Do not reproduce.

  8. 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!

  9. Unfortunately there is no humane way of dealing with rats & mice infestation, just get poison and get the job done, or hire a professional to deal with them, or stick with the humane way and you might even get sick for dealing with the rats directly.

  10. Poison is NO solution when you have other animals around that could also be poisoned. The only effective way to get rid of rodents is to get some cats. You need to visit a shelter and get some adult cats to live in your clinic full-time. They will take care of the problem for you. I had mice come into my house yesterday and my cat killed a few and the others packed up and left. The only effective way to deal with rodents is cats as they are their natural predators.

  11. I grew up on a farm-ette and whenever we suspected a rat was getting into pony food, my brother would do a peanut butter/trash can trick my Grandpop taught him. He’d set up a large, empty plastic garbage can, with a way for the rats to get up to the edge at the top. Then he’d put a little board precariously placed/attached on the rim. At the end of the little board/boards he’d smear peanut butter, which the rats love. When little ratty goes to the end of the board to eat the peanut butter, his weight causes the board to tip and dump him into the trash can. If you get a big enough/slippery enough can, they can’t crawl up the sides. I’ve seen the rats caught this way, and you can just take the trash can out somewhere and let the rats free. I don’t know how realistic this is for a large infestation, but my brother has caught many a stray rat this way.

  12. I have two wooden pole barns and a shed. No way to seal entrances to prohibit rats from entering. If I catch and release, I can’t possibly catch them all. I have horses, an assorted flock of chickens and ducks and turkeys, dogs and cats. Poison is out. Glue traps are terrible. I have no desire to kill these guys inhumanely. Any ideas on how to deter them from setting up house would be great. We keep our food in metal bins. I will start feeding the chickens only enough they can eat or tossing the leftovers onto the manure pile where the birds will still eat it but the horses hopefully won’t. But I need the rats currently living there to vacate the place. Before the hurricane, I was moving pallets and there were multiple rat families that I simply let run off, because I wasn’t about to stop hurricane prep to try to relocate various newborns whose mothers had temporarily darted away while I was there. That would have been cruel anyways, for the ones too young to fend for themselves.
    I would love to hear what’s worked for others when it’s come to open barn type situations.

    • That’s really tricky. You’d think the cats and dogs would take care of the problem, but rats are resourceful. I don’t know how feasible it would be, but have you considered those sonic repellers? You would probably need battery-operated ones, if the barn has no electricity, and you might have to persevere for months and take into account if your other animals will be affected by the sound (probably not, most don’t affect cats, dogs etc but definitely check). The only other thing would be sprinkling a repellent like peppermint oil around everywhere, but that could also be unfeasible if it’s a big barn with lots of areas to cover not just the perimeter.

      If you do want them to vacate the premises, consider what is nearby that they can vacate to. No matter how inhospitable you make it, if there is no where else for the rats to go they’ll have no choice but to stay put. Maybe sacrifice some other shed/building that you don’t use or don’t mind having rats in and make that seem a better option for them than your barns?

  13. I have come to believe in the humane catching prowess of “plank traps”, and none of the other methods. You can watch two youtube videos I made detailing the long road I took to come to this belief:

    …in short, none of the live-catch traps work for very long, if at all, at least against clever urban/semi-urban populations. A have-a-hart seems to be the best, but after the first rat is caught the others won’t go near it. Sometimes young rats go in out of naiveté, but if you have a serious infestation, those traps aren’t going to solve it.

    The genius of the plank trap is that the rats don’t ever see it as a trap. This is true for roof rats, at least; norway/gray rats may be different in this regard, I’m not sure, but I’d bet it works as well for them. Rats feel nervous about going inside something (see videos), and safer if they are climbing over it. With a plank trap, once they fall in there is no fear pheromone left on the plank itself to deter the next rat (just the odor of previous rats and food, which are attractive!) The container they fall in to is easy to clean now and then, if fear pheromones build up in it. I didn’t even bother.

    The plank traps available for sale on e.g. eBay are often advertised as being appropriate for rats, but are clearly far too small. I can’t imagine one that works for mice also working for rats: the difference in size and related calibration of the magnet strength is too great. I looked far and wide and found nothing appropriately-sized for rats.

    I made my own: they are relatively simple to build. I no longer fear the next time we have an infestation. It’s the first trap style I’ve used that just works, and it catches rats relatively quickly (which is important, given their breeding cycle!)

    The only tricky part is what to drop them in to. If you have the space, just use a tall, smooth-walled container about 40 inches deep (if it’s not metal, make sure it’s plenty thick and tough, as rats can chew through just about everything). A tall metal wastebasket might be ideal, if there are no internal seams the rat can climb. You might want some padding at the bottom to break the fall. If you don’t have the space (e.g. in a crawl space or tight attic) you’ll have to build something more involved like I did in the second video. Make sure you leave some warm bedding material in whatever container, as they can chill to death amazingly easily.

    And you just have to put in the time to seal every entrance/exit. It may sound impossible, but it’s not, and it’s worth it in both the short- and long-terms. Sometimes they aren’t actually nesting where you are seeing them, but coming in from the outside at night to look for food or new nest sites, so sealing the holes can solve a large part of the problem itself. Once you have the tools and supplies together it goes pretty quickly. Wood will not keep them out of a hole they have already been using. Use hardware cloth and screws.

    Understand that they are incredibly bait shy: once you have left bait around (not in traps) and they’ve started taking it, start using it in traps, and don’t change baits later.

    Don’t leave rats in traps where other rats can see/hear them a second longer than you can help doing so.

  14. i dont know how long ago this post was written bu t am replying in 2018 with an old farmhouse mouse situation. As per other contributors i have have had pet mice and rats so do not fear them but the laise faire approach is not working this winter as they are doing more damage- to clothing, furniture (an entire sofa has been “moused”) wooden door frames etc- i wanted to give them chance to leave in the spring like normal but i moved the fridge freezer and found a brood of 50 plus residing- who of course all scattered to all corners of my home.
    Ive wire wooled every hole. I shamefully know i have locked mice in the walls and ceiling- but researched and researched prior to and could not find a way to block holes without doing so. I put poison in the roof space- better that than dying of starvation surely, and i can not live trap there as i can not get into the roof space.
    I live trapped my bedroom- i think he is living in the mattress (i can feel it crawling about beneath me) this doesnt offend me, i have had pets but if i can not sleep due to the disturbance then the goal posts change!!! My bin trap (i think this is like the plank trap previously mentioned- an enticing way in but high slippery walls prevent escape) and live trap are catching 4 mice per day. However today my lights stopped working. What was a humane, “get them out gently” approach, may now become something more lethal as i (and my landlord) will not want to see this property go up in smoke due to mice chewing wires (at the risk of the lives of my other animals living here). I am heartened to hear others are going through the problem like me- its not just a “kill kill kill ” mentality, we really feel guilt at killing someone to enjoy our life- but we all reach a limit where “living alongside” no longer works, and as a veggie i dont wish to kill anyone but the risk the mice might cause my pet animals barn to burn down suddenly changes where my loyalties lie 🙁

  15. Just like that, rodents would not have a place for me and completely hate those animals. Some people might feel bad when it comes to applying some mechanisms to kill them but that is the only option left for me. I don’t know but can’t stand their presence.

  16. Rats have become a disgusting story in our house. The nightmares alone of living with rodents is traumatizing and can even make one lose some sleep at night. I am looking for a better way to eliminate them if possible.

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