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Top Tips for Managing Rats, a Common Marin Pest

Tracey Liao Van Hooser | Published on 8/25/2021

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By: Tracey Liao Van Hooser   |   August 26, 2021

Rats are one of the most common pests in Marin. They can be anywhere: your yard, garage, maybe even in your home or car. YardSmartMarin is here to answer all of your questions about rats!
I’ve never seen a rat. Could I still have a rat problem?
Maybe. You might not see them because they are most active at night, but you may see tell-tale signs such as:
●  Trails of comma-shaped droppings
●  Chewed electrical wires
●  Holes in food packaging
●  Birdseed disappearing overnight
●  Fruits and vegetables disappearing from the garden

Are rats really so bad?
Yes! Rats are an unwanted pest because they can transmit disease. By gnawing through doors, walls, insulation and wires, they can cause damage to your home or car—they can even undermine your foundation. In addition, rats can damage your ornamental plants and eat your garden crops.
Oh no! Help me get rid of the rats!
First, let’s talk about what NOT to do.
Never use rodenticide (rat poison)! Some are brightly colored and contain tasty flavorings, which may attract young children, pets and wildlife, putting them at risk of accidental poisoning. Also, once the rat eats the poison, anything that eats it will also ingest the poison. This creates a secondary risk to pets and wildlife. WildCare reports that 76% of raptors and other rodent-consuming wildlife brought into their facility have tested positive for secondary rodenticide poisoning, which causes a slow and painful death.

There are some eco-friendlier baits but the rats won’t die unless the bait is their only source of food. Since rats eat so many things, these baits are rarely your most effective option.
Trust me — you won’t be happy if a rat dies in your walls. The smell is awful.
Never use glue traps! Children, pets, songbirds and other wildlife can get stuck to the incredibly sticky surfaces. Besides, if you find a live rat caught in the glue trap, you will have to kill it. And if you don’t check the trap regularly, a trapped rat may be left to slowly starve to death, or gravely injure themselves in an attempt to get free. Glue traps are cruel so please avoid them!
OK, so what’s the right way to get rid of rats?
Snap traps are an effective and humane way to kill rats and other rodents. This video recommends a good rat trap and provides suggestions for how to avoid injuring birds, children or pets when using traps. Set multiple traps, choose the right bait, and learn the importance of their placement. This new trap is expensive but the bait lasts up to six months and it automatically re-sets itself so you don’t have to keep checking it.
If you have burrowing rats, carbon monoxide is another option.
Raptors are great natural rodent control! Encourage owls to live nearby by hosting an owl nesting box on your property.
If you already have rats nesting in your car, this video explains how to clean out the engine and then add peppermint oil to prevent reinfestation. (Although there are no studies to prove the efficacy of the essential oil, many people find it works. Reapply if the scent begins to fade.)
Learn all about “Keeping Rats & Mice Out!” This webinar and Q&A was produced by YardSmartMarin, Our Water Our World, and UC Marin Master Gardeners.
And remember: if you have a rat problem, chances are your neighbors do too! A coordinated approach to rat management will be most successful. Contact YardSmartMarin if you’d like us to present information to your HOA or other neighborhood organization.

Whew! The rats are gone. How can I keep it that way?
Don’t leave pet food and water outside; they attract rats.
Think twice before having a bird feeder, as fallen seeds attract rats. You can welcome just as many birds by planting the right trees and plants!
Remove ivy and other dense ground covers which provide shelter to rats.
Prune tree branches so they do not overhang your roof. Check out this video for other common access points around your home, so you can do a preventative review.
Cold weather causes rats to seek someplace warm to nest. This can include your car, where they can cause thousands of dollars of damage. If you park outside, avoid areas where rats may be living and close the AC vents to prevent access to the interior of your car. Regularly check your engine for signs of rats.

Tracey Liao Van Hooser is the Program Manager for YardSmartMarin, a nonprofit organization that empowers people to reduce or eliminate pesticide use through awareness and education about safer, effective alternatives. For more information visit
Visit YardSmartMarin for safe and effective solutions to all of your pest problems including rodents, weeds, bugs, and plant diseases. Learn more about why it’s so important to protect your kids, pets, wildlife, and the environment from pesticides. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram and email us anytime:

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