Unwelcomed as they may be, having a rat invasion in your home is not an uncommon occurrence. In fact, some statistics suggest that one third of the US homeowners have at some point faced had to deal with rats in their home. Unfortunately, evicting rats from your home is not a walk in the park.

The main reasons why it is so hard to trap rats is that most homeowners are not aware of the specie of rats they are dealing with, are unaware of the different types of rat traps available, and don’t take into consideration the rodents’ cautious natures or their reproductive cycles.

Here is a rundown of some of the most commonly made mistakes while trapping rats and some tips on how to avoid them in order to help you trap rats much more effectively.

[1] Know The Rodents You Are Dealing With

There are three main types of rodents- rats, mice, and squirrels. While squirrels are easily distinguishable thanks to their color and bushy tails, most people are often confused between rats and mice. It is important to be able to distinguish between these two as the choice of traps you need to use depends greatly on the type of rodent you are dealing with.

When it comes to trapping rats, the first and most obvious reason why it is so hard to trap rats is that they are considerably larger in size compared to mice. Usually, when homeowners realize they are dealing with a rodent infestation, their first thought is of mice and of using standard snap traps that are widely available. However, rats are much larger in size. And even though, they can still squeeze through a hole as tiny as the size of a quarter, their larger bodies require larger and stronger traps.

Of course, for someone who hasn’t dealt with rodents or has extensive knowledge about them, it is next to impossible for them to know whether they are dealing with rats or mice. However, there are some ways in which you can tell the two apart. The most obvious difference is its size. A rat typically ranges between 7 to 10 inches, while a mouse is less than 5 inches long. Take this size range into account while setting up traps especially cage or live traps.

But the first question we ask potential customers when they call is “When are you hearing noises in your attic?” A pretty solid general rule is that rats and mice are active at night and squirrels are active during the day, including early morning.

When we tell people they have rats, they often reply “Oh no, these were mice because the ones we saw were little”.

To which we reply, “That’s because they are baby rats”. It is funny how people seem to not believe that rats can be smaller when they are younger; of course, I have no doubt some people just rather want to believe they have squirrels or mice rather than rats!

Region Matters

You may be able to tell what you are dealing with just by where you live. For example, many areas in the Northern United States, outside of large cities almost always have mice rather than rats. However, when you move closer to the cities, Norway rats are more common. And if you move south to warmer climates such as where I am in the Tampa Bay Area of Florida, we almost exclusively deal with roof rats.

[2] Different Species Of Rats Have Different Dietary Preferences

Even after you have successfully distinguished between mice and rats, there is still the question of the particular specie of rat that you are dealing with. This question is important because different species of rats have different dietary preferences. And since most rat traps use food as bait to lure rats, it is extremely important to choose the right food as bait.

A piece of stinky cheese or a bit of peanut butter are the two most common choices, but there is no guarantee that they will work every time and for every specie of rats. But save the cheese for the cartoons. While it may work, it dries up way too fast. We often find dried cheese on traps when taking over jobs from homeowners. Choose a suitable diet for the rat traps depending upon the particular specie of rats in your home. Black rats are herbivores in nature and eat mostly plant-based foods. So, using cheese is as a bait is counterproductive. Brown rats, on the other hand, have a much more diverse diet.

Generally, peanut butter will almost always work for all rats, mice and squirrels.

Of course, most people aren’t usually aware of the specie of rat they are dealing with, so it is impossible for them to customize the choice of bait accordingly. However, there is an easy and effective way to deal with the situation. Set up multiple traps in high rat activity areas and use different types of baits. After a few days, check to see which type of bait attracted the rats the most and use that bait for resetting the traps.

As an additional precaution and to increase your chances of success, it is important to ensure the use of gloves while setting the rat traps and adding bait on them. This is because rats have a very strong sense of smell and they will be less likely to approach the bait if they can sense that you have recently handled the bait or the trap.

And finally, while adding bait on the rat traps, make sure that it is fixed properly. The bait should be properly latched on to the trap and should be centered on the trigger area. This way, you won’t have to worry about the rats managing to steal the bait without getting caught in the trap.

Young Rat
A young rat.

[3] Rats Are Quite Clever and Careful Creatures

Rats, by nature, are highly cautious and skeptical about changes in their environment. So, don’t expect any rats to immediately walk straight into the traps you have set up for them. Instead, the rats will prefer to avoid the traps for a few days until they have grown familiar with it. Naturally, this can cause a lot of frustration for homeowners who want to be free of the rats in their home, but patience is key when trying to trap rats. Moreover, rats aren’t very bold creatures. You will rarely find a rat racing out into the open. Instead, they prefer to stay close to the walls or in enclosed spaces. Finally, since rats are such clever and cautious creatures, you can expect them to be wary of a certain trap if they see one of their kind trapped in it.

Fortunately, you can use these characteristics of rats to your advantage. By placing the rat traps right next to the walls and in enclosed spaces, you can increase the likelihood of a rat crossing over it and being trapped. Additionally, since rats like enclosed spaces, they might be more inclined to enter cage traps or live rat traps.

To improve your chances of success significantly, place unset rat traps along a rat’s preferred walkways for a few days. Once the rats are comfortable with the trap’s presence, set them up and wait for them to work. Once you have a rat or more trapped, be sure to dispose off the rat as soon as possible and clean it up properly before resetting it to avoid lowering the chances of other rats falling for that trap.

[4] Rats Are Discreet Travelers

As mentioned above, rats are cautious and shy creatures. They prefer to stay in enclosed and dark places. You will find them scurrying along walls or fences, but never out in the open. They can also squeeze in through small cracks and holes that are less than half their size! More often than not, a rat’s preferred walkways and hideouts are hard to reach for humans and even harder to set traps in. For example, places like false ceilings, attics, and other nooks and crannies in the house will be the favorite hideouts of rats.

To counter this problem, your best bet is to position the traps as best as possible in places with a high rat activity while using appropriate bait to lure out the rodents and then hope for the best.

Common house mouse

[5] Reproduce Extremely Fast

Probably the largest hurdle in your rat trapping endeavors is the reproductive cycle of these pesky rodents. They have a ridiculously short reproductive cycle of just 21 days. In other words, you can expect the number of rats in your house to increase at an alarmingly high rate.  This means that, more often than not, the rats will reproduce a lot faster than you can get rid of them. So, unless drastic measures are taken to tackle the infestation, the problem will get out of hand in no time at all.

To counter this problem, it is important to deal with the rat infestation as early as possible. Set up traps or consider other rat trapping techniques as soon as you first see signs of the presence of rats. Additionally, when setting up traps, it is always a better idea to set up more traps than you think are necessary. Chances are there are quite a few more rats than you expect.

Q & A

Q. Can I handle this myself?

A. Sometimes. First, can you handle the “gross factor” of dealing with dead rats? Second, it is necessary to find all openings and sometimes this means climbing up on the roof. This can be dangerous and is not for everyone.

Q. Is it expensive to hire a professional?

A. It depends. The least expensive way is to just throw out the poison. This works but it may also result in rats dying in the attic and walls and smelling really bad!

Hiring a pro to find and seal all the openings as well as trap all the rats can be quite a bit more. In my area of Central Florida, an average price with a one year warranty is about $1000.

Dusty Showers has been in the urban nuisance wildlife and pest control field since 1993. Taught by Garon Fyffe, a pioneer in humane nuisance wildlife management, Dusty has a passion for finding humane solutions to human & wildlife conflicts. Dusty was the only individual invited by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission in the lat 1990's to help write legislation for legal protection of Florida bats. With an instinct for solving wildlife, Dusty found pest control to be an easy "add-on interest". Dusty started his first business "Animal Instincts Wildlife & Pest Management" in the Tampa Bay, Florida area in 1995. Eventually selling Animal Instincts in 2002, Dusty went on to start Creepy Creatures Termite and Pest Control in 2009, which he still owns and operates today in Palm Harbor, Florida.