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Unlike other seasonal animals, such as bats, rats will breed all year round, and this means that any rat you see on your property or in your home is likely to be a) part of a much bigger group of rats and b) probably on its way back to a nest of rats.
Where you see one rat, you will almost certainly find others, and lots of babies too.
Rats in the attic aren't uncommon, especially when it starts to get cold outside. Your home, particularly the attic space, is nice and warm and it also offers protection against snow or rain, as well as predators. Most rats need a space less than 3/8 inch to get inside, and whatever they can't fit through immediately, they will chew until the space is large enough to let them pass. That's why keeping an eye on your property is a very good idea, and this means having inspections done (either by yourself or a professional) is smart.
If you think you have rats in the attic, or a nest of rats in the attic, you must first work out which approach you want to take. Do you want to hire someone to get rid of them for you, or would you rather tackle this problem yourself?
If you want to hire someone, the next appropriate step is to grab your phone. Many rat removal experts are available for same-day appointments, which means the rats could actually be out of your home and gone for good in a couple of hours or days.
If you want to do this job yourself, you're going to need to educate yourself.
The best way to get rid of rats, including a nest of rats in the attic, is to use snap traps. Trap-and-release approaches require driving at least five miles from your home with the rat that you then want to set free, and most of them will still find a way back home. Those that don't will probably die anyway. It's rare for relocated single rats to survive for very long after release.
Poison doesn't work for rats for a number of reasons. Rats are now showing high immunity to rodenticides. The poison could accidentally kill a pet or other local wild animals. High immunity leads to high concentrations of rat poison in rats when they die, and these rat carcasses are being eaten by wildlife which then are poisoned too. In most cases, the rats don't die. When they do, they die in your home and you then need to figure out where they are.
Repellents and deterrents have been proven time and time again to not work on any wild animal control issue, including rats and mice. Some of the devices and products are actually pretty expensive for something that doesn't work. (That money would have been better spent on snap traps or hiring a removal expert.)
If you've made the sensible choice to go with snap traps, you'll need to figure out where to put them. There's very little point in placing a trap where rats don't naturally run, because they won't always go out of their way to visit a trap just because they can smell food. You must remember that there is already food aplenty in your home. It doesn't need to put its life on the line for a bit of peanut butter when it knows there is a big bowl of dry dog food just waiting to be devoured.
It doesn't really matter what bait you use in your rat traps, as long as you check the traps regularly and move them if they don't appear to be working. There are steps you can take if you seem to find yourself up against a rat that is smart to how traps work. It's a long patience, but it does work.
When you catch a rat, dispose of it properly. Burying it in the garden doesn't work because a cat will simply dig it right back up again. Burning the carcass is a great idea, but make sure that anyone close to the fire (and what comes from the fire) is wearing a breathing mask to avoid the rare instance of inhaling a potential disease spore.
To make sure that you get rid of all rats, you'll need to use multiple snap traps. You will also need to make sure that you're checking them, emptying them, and re-setting them as quickly as you need to. Yes, this will likely involve multiple trips into the attic.
At the same time, you will need to start sealing up the holes that are letting the rodents in. These holes can be tiny - 3/8 inch and potentially smaller than that - and rats chew what they can't already fit through. This puts you at an immediate disadvantage - you might not spot each and every hole, and you may not be aware of damaged or vulnerable/weak spots that might become animal entrances in the future.
Holes will need to be sealed during a mixture of hardwearing and durable, rat-proof materials. Expanding foam can be used, but only with wire wool or similar. There needs to be a metal-based material in with your softer ones, otherwise the rat will simply chew right through it. If they can sense a channel of airflow, they will work hard to chew through and investigate further. That's how they find their way into your home.
Once you are sure that all rats have been killed using the traps, including baby rats, and that all holes have been effectively sealed, you are free to cleanup the waste and remove any material that the rats may have contaminated. This may involve disposing of prized possessions, sadly, and can also involve the entire attic insulation being replaced.
Any shred of urine or feces left behind will send out pheromones that attract the same and other rats right back to that spot. There is also the potential that disease could still be present long after the animals themselves have been forced out.
Go back to the Rat Removal page, or learn tips to do it yourself with my How to Get Rid of Rats guide.