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January 2008
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Rats in the home and garden

Rats are a significant risk to humans, especially to the elderly, young and weak. They can carry dangerous diseases, and wild rats do not make any kind of good pets. Rats also carry fleas, mites and ticks and can cause acute allergic reactions.
Any rat problem inside the home must be treated urgently. Rats in the garden and other external areas can also be high risk, particularly in areas used by children or pets. It is important to get rid of rats in the garden to reduce the risk of them trying to enter the home. You need to prevent rats from entering both the garden and home to prevent them making either area as a base. Just fighting them in the garden or home is not enough.
Gardeners wage an ongoing battle with animals that eat their plants. Using poisons is dangerous; they pose a dire threat to children and to pets. What’s more, they are only marginally effective. Using a trap to capture or kill an animal may be illegal in many areas.

Signs of rat infestation:
* Urine dribbles left in high traffic areas, usually near walls and other objects. The residues will glow under a black light.
* Dirty ‘rub’ marks along the sides of vertical surfaces that they often run along.
* Gnawing damage and debris, especially around food stores.
* Entry-holes gnawed into walls.
* Scratching noises in walls or under the floor as rats scurry around.
* Distinctive smell – rats leave an ammonia-like smell that will be particularly strong in enclosed areas such as under cupboards.
* Nests – rats build nests in warm, hidden places using shredded material such as newspaper and fabrics. Nests will often contain young rats.
* Burrows – In gardens, rats will dig burrows especially in compost heaps or under sheds. They will also build nests under garden decking.

Never use rodent poison in homes with small children. You might be able to reduce a mouse population by eliminating their food supply or at least their access to it. Put pet food and bird seed in metal or glass containers with tight-fitting lids. Keep garbage in containers with tight-fitting lids. Don’t feed birds in summer when birds have many other food sources and the seed can attract ro-dents. Keep outdoor areas clean and free of garbage. Keep grassy or weedy areas mowed to minimize potential nesting sites.
Rats are very talented at getting into human structures. Norway rats can come up from sewer lines and actually swim up and out of toilets and drains. Roof rats have been known to run along electrical lines and onto roofs where they find entrance into the house and take up residence in attics. Both are good climbers, burrowers, and can gnaw through almost anything. When rat-proofing your home you must be thorough and block all such entry mechanisms.

For a garden, use the following measures:
* Birdhouses and seed should be on poles and in trays rats can’t get.
* Plant bushes so they will stay at least 3 feet from your house.
* Do not compost any animal products (fish, meat, chicken, cheese, butter). Keep lids tight.
* Do not leave your pet food outside. If your pet doesn’t eat it, the rats will.
* Roof rats get into your house from tree branches that hang over the roof. Keep trees cut back and cover any openings in the eves.

Now if you have rats, then some mechanisms for getting rid of them:
* Barn owls are extremely efficient at getting rid of rats. Consider erecting a nesting box to attract some onto your property.
* Use traps. The best trap is the large, simple, cheap wooden “snap trap.” They are sold in hardware stores.
* If you have a mouse problem that you do not wish to deal with yourself, contact the environmental health department of your local council or call in a pest control company.
* Lay glue boards in pathways that rodents travel as an alternative trap.
* Use a natural rodent poison as a last resort. Look for brands of rodent bait made with vitamin D3. Rats and mice eating a small amount of this vitamin suffer heart failure within days. There is no chance of secondary poisoning of your pets even if they find and eat the dead rodents.
* The use of anticoagulant rodenticides is the most efficient and cost effective control technique currently available. These rodenticides are based on a number of compounds. However, adequate care needs to be taken while using them.

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