Rats Rule: But It Doesn’t Need to be That Way


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Oh rats! They’re everywhere. Local media in many large cities are now reporting on a rodent explosion. How bad is the problem? Increasingly rats are finding their way inside homes, brazen enough to forage during the day and large enough to even outweigh a small cat. So, who wins the cat and mouse games?

Solutions to the rat problem do exists. However, solutions both cost some money and will necessitate a change in culture. Realistically, a goal to eradicate all Norway rats (sometimes dubbed brown rats or city rats) isn’t possible.  Experts today suggest there likely are as many rats on the planet as there are people. The mission should be to control their numbers.

Talking to rat experts over the years, I’ve learned a lot about the topic. At one time convincing Chicago Aldermen that while picking up dog feces is the responsible and right think for dog owners to do; the truth is that according one study starving rats often choose to practice infanticide rather than to eat what comes out of the back end of dogs. Rats dining on dog poop is an urban myth.

5 Steps to Control Rat Numbers

Follow the following steps and the rat population is controlled, although never completely eliminated.

  1. Trash: Alleys, walkways and streets where businesses (of course, especially restaurants) and residents have garbage overflowing with food items allow rats easy pickings. Rats can eat just about anything, but human food obtained by simply dumpster diving is perfect. In many cities trash cans on the streets have no covers, and may be overfilled so they’re incredibly accessible to rats – especially overnight when no people are around. Trash cans need to be closed with metal lids. Rats’ sense of smell is excellent, and plastic covers are only an obstacle to be chewed through.
  2. People in urban areas commonly toss the part of the taco or pizza they don’t want on to the sidewalk. Years ago, the Federal Government began a Keep America Beautiful campaign, but that notion has seemed to fade away in many major metro areas. If they’re hungry enough, rats will even chew on the container the food came in. Impoverished areas are often most associated with rats only because of excess trash.
  3. Rate Holes: Certainly getting rats at where they live makes sense. Pouring dry ice into entrances and exits can be helpful. The Tree House Humane Society in Chicago began a successful Cats at Work Program. The idea is to take outdoor community cats who have lived their entire lives outdoors, and relocate them where the community and public officials suggest the rats are at their worst. Immediately when cats move in; rats move out (and a percent of rats may become fricassee for hungry cats). Dispersal of rats also disrupts their lives, and finding a new home may not be easy. Pouring concrete down rat holes may be successful, though concrete is not inexpensive and depending on the location, rats may still be able to dig out. In New York City, a contingent of Rat Terriers (mixed with other terriers) efficiently deal with rats in Central Park.
  4. New York City is successfully dealing with the rat problem because they not only have an entire department devoted to the rodent outbreak but also a “rat czar,” named Kathleen Corradi. She has instantly become about as well known to the public as the Mayor Eric Adams. New York even has a rat migration zone portal online.
  5. Teach residents how to eliminate rats on their own properties. For example, bird feeders are great for supporting birds but rats can also dine on bird seed. Some bird feeders, however, are “rat proof.” Objects like empty tires can serve as a home for rats. One issue in the U.S. is one that Europe has dealt with for centuries, aging buildings. As the buildings age, there are increased nooks and crevices which rats can easily squeeze into. The allure is warmth and also large numbers equates with more rats on the move seeking a safe home to shelter and to reproduce.

What About Rodenticide?

I have left off rodenticide unintentionally. Rodenticide has been used for many decades now, and while this method will kill individual rats. However, here’s how smart rats are: When a dead rat is discovered, others will smell what killed their buddy and not make the same mistake. Besides, the poisons are sometimes eaten by pets, and even children. The poison can also get into the water table. Besides, if rodenticides fully worked, I wouldn’t writing this story – there would be no need.

If cities would only invest in rat-proof trash cans, and people didn’t routinely toss their leftovers on the street – that alone would make an impact.

Rats Transmit Disease: More than You May Have Thought

If you think they’re cute, consider that rats are likely the most common carrier of leptospirosis in the U.S., a bacterial infection which can make unvaccinated dogs ill or even cause death. Infected rats urinate in anything from a lake to a puddle, and an infection can occur when an unvaccinated dog walks into it and later licks a paw or takes a drink from the tainted water. If the dog has an accident and it’s wiped up without hand-washing after or a toddler happens to touch, then the disease is spread to humans. Of course, vaccinating dogs prevents this. But leptospirosis isn’t the only culprit potentially spread by city rats:

  1. Hantavirus: Hantaviruses are transmitted through contact with rat droppings, urine, or saliva. Infection can lead to Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS), a severe respiratory illness.
  2. Salmonellosis: Rats can carry Salmonella bacteria, which can contaminate food or surfaces through their feces and urine. Ingesting contaminated food or touching contaminated surfaces and then your mouth can lead to a Salmonella infection, causing symptoms like diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps.
  3. Rat-Bite Fever: This bacterial infection is transmitted to humans through rat bites, scratches, or contact with rat saliva, not that this happens every day. Symptoms include fever, muscle pain, and joint pain.
  4. Plague: While rare, rats can serve as hosts for fleas that carry the bacterium Yersinia pestis, responsible for causing the bubonic, septicemic, or pneumonic forms of plague in humans.
  5. Tularemia: Rats can also carry the bacterium Francisella tularensis, which can cause tularemia in humans through contact with contaminated animals, water, or soil. Tularemia has various forms, with symptoms like skin ulcers, swollen lymph nodes, and respiratory problems.
  6. Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis (LCM): This virus can be transmitted to humans through contact with rat urine, droppings, or saliva. It can cause flu-like symptoms but can be more severe in individuals with weakened immune systems.
  7. Rat Tapeworm (Hymenolepis nana): Humans can become infected with rat tapeworms by ingesting food or water contaminated with rat feces containing tapeworm eggs. Symptoms may include abdominal discomfort and digestive issues.
  8. Rickettsial Diseases: Some rats species can carry ticks that transmit rickettsial diseases, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and typhus, to humans. These diseases can cause various symptoms, including fever, rash, and flu-like symptoms.
  9. Eosinophilic Meningitis: This rare condition can be caused by the rat lungworm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis). Humans can become infected by consuming contaminated food or water. It can lead to headaches, stiff neck, and neurological problems.