Rat shed, help!
April 23, 2019 7:02 AM   Subscribe

I live in a 100 year old house with a weird little shed attached to the back. It has rats living in it and a few rats are in the walls of my house. I want them out.

The back of my house has a small shanty made of vinyl siding and drywall. It was built without a foundation and its purpose is to connect the back door of the kitchen with the exterior steps to the basement, so one can go down to the basement without having to go outside (Canada's cold!).

On the side of the shanty is a small insulated shed about the size of a doghouse, with its own tiny shingle roof. It was made in the 1970s by the previous owners. It's accessed from inside the house by a small sliding cupboard door, and the interior is finished with drywall and vinyl flooring. It's extremely weather-worn and gross on the outside, but clean and dry inside. It's about 4 feet square, and we store tools in it.

We have no rats or mice inside the liveable part of the house (thank god). But something was running around in the ceiling (between the ground floor and second storey) so I called a pest-control company. They said we have rats outside, and that rats are likely what's making noise in the ceiling.

Rats have definitely chewed into the little shed from outside - we can see some rat droppings and chewed insulation - and they're probably living between the walls of the shed. Also there are signs of a few rats at the front of the house, under the porch, which is shared with a negligent neighbour. There's some crumbling brickwork under the porch that needs to be addressed but it's a shared wall so I'm dreading bringing it up.

I don't know whether the ceiling rats are getting in through the porch or the shed. The pest guys checked the perimeter, roof, and all the vents, and those are the only two places they identified as entry points. Unfortunately those two spots are right where the two households must store our garbage bins, so there's always a food source.

The pest guy said we should put one-way doors on the entry points of the mini-shed, and use wire mesh around all the edges to keep the rats from chewing new entries, then bait the rats outside with poison. Their charge for this was $800! This is too much since the mini-shed is gross anyway- we'd be happy to tear it off and rebuild it.

My fear is that in doing so, we'll trap rats inside the walls, and they'll... do something bad? Chew themselves into the house? Die in the walls and stink? Would there be a way for us to leave a little exit for any wall-rats, and put a one-way rat door just on that exit?

Can you talk me through what to do? I'm grossed out. Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
As you say trapping them in is not advisable.

This is the most efficient (and humane solution) I've ever seen to this sort of problem.

Not sure though if a service like this is commercially available in your area.

posted by jacobean at 7:29 AM on April 23, 2019

We had rats a couple years ago, they were living in the rafters in the attic. Before trying anything more extreme, the first step, is to search for all available food sources, both inside and outside your house. Everywhere. Rats need to have a close food source, if they don't, they will move along. It could be a bag of bird seed, a compost pile, food items you might have stored. In our case, it turned out to be a little bit of rice that my partner was tossing out of his office window. Once that food source went away, the rats moved on within weeks.

Oh, yes, a bird feeder, if you have one of those, you will want to get rid of that. They were also eating the seeds the birds dropped onto the ground. You may also want to talk to neighbors about potential food sources they have.

The thing to keep in mind, is that if you just get rid of the rats without addressing their food source, new ones will come back.
posted by nanook at 7:52 AM on April 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

Agreed about the food sources, and do take down the shed entirely if that's a viable option - the uproar will help make them want to go elsewhere. We had to be absolutely brutal with food sources - *everything* went into Sterilite/Rubbermaid/IRIS bins, including the dogs' food and all obtainable pantry food, we shut down the birdfeeders. They were entering the house from one hole around back but spending a lot of time in the garage, where we removed anything they'd want to nest in and turned lights on 24/7 and rearranged things every couple of days. We gave them a good bit of warning that way, but it wasn't enough to run all of them off.

So eventually we had to put out poison, the crappy kind that's your only option without a professional license, and...I will pay the pro, next time, if I ever had to do it again. (Not the $800, just whatever it costs to come put a couple bait boxes in the attic and one near their entrance. We got the steel wool stuffing stuff for $20 from Amazon to deal with the two entrances we could find, it came with gloves even.)

Because, um, wow it was bad. We had blind sick rats staggering out into the open right in front of the dogs, my husband and I were making full rounds of the house under all the furniture and inside cabinets/closets with flashlights and grabbers and the dogs' poop-scooper bucket to retrieve any victims four times a day plus every time we heard a noise, I was digging through the hedges outside trying to find them before the dogs/predators did. It was NOT GOOD and we had no idea there were SO MANY and it was a harrowing 72 hours or so (but it was done at that point, I saw a single one the next night trying to find an alternate route back inside and I haven't even seen one run along the back fence since).

We only smelled the couple who died inside the house that we missed on our reconnaissance rounds; there must have been a fair number that expired in the attic/walls and we didn't smell them. (I'd actually prefer taking that risk/making those rounds to having poisoned rats all going outside.)
posted by Lyn Never at 9:21 AM on April 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

jacobean's video link is blocked here ("Video unavailable: This video contains content from CBS, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds.") but the title is "Jack Russels Hunting Rats" which tells me that while it's an excellent eco-friendly approach it's not a route I can use.
posted by anadem at 9:22 AM on April 23, 2019

I would not allow my dogs or cats to hunt rats of mice if I suspected that there was poison involved. They can get secondary poisoning from eating the poisoned pests. Even if you are not poisoning, your neighbors may be.
posted by blnkfrnk at 10:15 AM on April 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I would not encourage any kind of hunting. However, I have some limited anecdata that things that smell like dog or cat urine may serve some deterrent function. This is obviously generally easier to do with cat litter than getting a dog to pee on something portable and transporting it to the desired location.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:40 AM on April 23, 2019

You can buy fox urine at the hardware store. I believe it’s synthetic. We use this at the entry to the garage to keep out the mice.
posted by mochapickle at 11:42 AM on April 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

I would follow their directions except for the part about poison. It sounds like eliminating their food source (garbage) is impossible, but it would still be worth it to make sure they have no other sources of food. I have used rat traps with success to catch and kill some rats. We used peanut butter and raisins to bait them, then threw away the trap with the rat corpse. Be careful when setting them--they're strong enough to break a finger. (fun)

Rats have bad vision, so they stick to routes they know and keep close to walls. So put your traps along walls. Sometimes you can even see greasy streaks along the wall where the rats have been rubbing up against it when they use that route. (Gross I know.)

Steel wool also works well for plugging up holes.
posted by purple_bird at 11:44 AM on April 23, 2019

If you live in an area with a municipal pest control department, you could try giving them a call both for advice and to see if they will come out and set traps or bait without charge.

I had a birdfeeder to entertain my indoor cats, and along with loads of birds and squirrels we got rats, lots of them. I freaked and called my city pest control department, which doesn't usually respond to residential complaints, but somehow made an exception - maybe because I was so freaked out. These were outside rats, and they were burrowing nests in my back yard, which is about 200 square feet, and has a U shaped planting area along the party walls. They baited the nests, and the rat population decreased rapidly, but it wasn't totally gone. I called again a couple of weeks later and they returned to finish the job. No birdfeeder and no rats since.

All this to say that if you give your local government a call, there may be some assistance available, even if it isn't a big-city pest response.
posted by citygirl at 2:35 PM on April 23, 2019

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