There are rats in the kitchen, what am I gonna do?
July 3, 2008 8:53 AM   Subscribe

Several questions about rat infestations, including this one: If I use poison on the giant rats who are suddenly infesting my house, what are the chances of a poisoned rat deciding to die where my dogs can get it and then, if they do get it, will they die too?

I have a sudden and horrible rat infestation in my house. I've read all the other AskMe rat threads and, based on their advice, I purchased and used a RatZapper. So far I have killed three giant, huge, enormous rats in my kitchen - we're talking like 8" to 10" long here and that's not counting the tails. I got two with a black plastic snap trap and one with the Zapper. I don't know where they're coming from although I suspect from somewhere under the refrigerator. It's been two or three days since the last rat died and I haven't seen any evidence of more rats in the kitchen since.

Question 1: Is it possible the rats are gone?
Question 2: How can I tell?
Question 3: How can I figure out where they're coming from?
Question 4: Any other trap recommendations?

I called my landlord, who said he was going out of town and, "yeah, whatever, I'll leave a package of rat poison in your mailbox, you had better put it in the basement crawl space, that's the thing to do." I have two dogs, a Springer Spaniel and a collie mix, both about 50 pounds and I've been afraid to use poison for fear that they would get into it. (They are big friendly floppy worthless wusses who are apparently afraid of the rats and they have been absolutely no help whatsoever in the continuing rodent crisis, by the way.) The dogs can't get into the basement BUT the locked door to the basement is located in the fenced part of my yard where they have free all day access.

Question 4: If I put rat poison in the basement, where will the rats go to die? Out in the yard?
Question 5: What if my dogs find and play with (I doubt they would eat it) a poisoned rat?

Any and all further information on getting rid of rats is very welcome. I don't know where they came from and I don't know why they suddenly appeared - I've lived in this house for over a year and never had a problem before.
posted by mygothlaundry to Pets & Animals (13 answers total)
Response by poster: Oh I'm in Asheville, NC, in case it makes a difference.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:54 AM on July 3, 2008

IMO, your landlord's an idiot.

The poisoned rat(s) may die in the walls or crawlspaces. The smell? You don't want to know.

If your dogs eat the poisoned rat (or god forbid the poison itself), the same thing will happen to them as will happen to a wild animal that finds the poisoned rat - should it be considerate enough to crawl outside your house to die - they will get sick, and may die. The Parks Service here in SF used poison to kill rats in GG Park; the rats died, or staggered around sick, and were eaten by things like red-shouldered hawks, which then also keeled over and died.

You need to find the place(s) where the rats are getting in, and block them up. The holes can be surprisingly small. They may be inside cupboards or closets.

Call rodent control companies and get someone to come out and assess your situation. If their first (or only) suggestion is "poison!", call someone else. It's not worth the risk to your dogs or other non-rat animals.

Good luck.
posted by rtha at 9:05 AM on July 3, 2008

Q4b: My experience is that most critters find a dark nook to die in. Counter-question: what does a rotting 10-inch rat smell like?
Also: death by poison can alter normal behavior. So it's hard to predict where they will end up.

Q5: While some poisons are subject to biodegredation, others are not, and are therefore active in the corpse.


Q4a: 'Dirty Jobs' had an exterminator who did things the natural way. He used large snap traps. Of importance: he placed them along routes the rats where likely to run. My impression was that traps placed in the open were useless, and that the rats tended to run along vertical elements they could feel with their whiskers (walls and beams).
posted by dragonsi55 at 9:08 AM on July 3, 2008

The poisoned rat(s) may die in the walls or crawlspaces. The smell? You don't want to know.

But I'll tell you anyway! We had rats at my old office and, against the advice of our exterminator, poisoned them. One too many of them had pulled a Virginia Woolf in the toilet for my co-workers to be patient about letting the traps work. So, the poison worked wonderfully, apparently about the time I went on vacation. I was out of the office during what was apparently the worst of it, but when I came back, every window in the building was wide open, when previously we'd kept everything hermetically sealed. The stench lasted for about a week. At the end of that week, our office was infested by flies.

It seems the rats, if poisoned, basically have two places to die: either someplace your dogs will find them and possibly get poisoned themselves; or someplace you won't be able to get to. Neither option seems very good to me, although at least the stench and flies would be temporary.
posted by LionIndex at 9:25 AM on July 3, 2008

Keep some vitamin K handy for dogs, just in case. Rat poisons (all I know of) work by thinning blood and causing them to bleed to death internally. Vitamin K counteracts the thinning agent directly, and while a rat-sized dose probably would make a 50 pound dog only feel very bad, it's best to keep some nearby.
posted by cmiller at 9:31 AM on July 3, 2008

Best answer: my experience with rats in normal sized homes that aren't surrounded by a bunch of brush, marsh, or wooded area is that if you have a sudden infestation, then once you've killed off 3-4 in the space of a few weeks, you won't see much of rats for quite a while. If the rats have been there a while, there will have to be more killing. If you live near rat habitat, then reinforcements will arrive quickly.

In any case, clear vegetation and debris from around your house. Look for possible points of entry and block them steel wool followed by some spray foam is pretty easy and is hard for rats to chew through. If you find rat waste in the basement, attic, or under a porch, clean it out (gloves and a mask are probably a good idea).

Good luck.
posted by Good Brain at 9:34 AM on July 3, 2008

We had rats in our house (attic and crawl space). The exterminator placed six traps, caught 4 rats. He then sealed up all the holes (mostly in the venting to the crawl space) and put the traps out again, in case sealing things up trapped any rats inside. He caught one more. It is possible that you just had three rats but you will need to seal off the access routes they were using or you will get more.
posted by metahawk at 9:37 AM on July 3, 2008

1. Stop the pest from gaining entrance to your building
2. Don't believe pest control technicians when they say "the rats will go out seeking water and die."
3. Weatherproof bait blocks (bluish=green with multiple facets) there is usually a very low incidence of secondary poisioning.
4. Keep Vitamin K (potassium I think) around JIC.
5. Get a cat.
posted by winks007 at 10:56 AM on July 3, 2008

Best answer: I have had rats (gives me the willies just thinking about it). I knew we had rats when I woke up in the morning and the cantelope on the counter had a rat sized hold gnawed into it. I knew I had I had to do something when I was watching TV one night, and out of the corner of my eye I could see a rat on the kitchen counter.

So here's what I did. I have a dog and a cat who would likely eat rats if found as well.

1) Hired a pest inspector, he told us what trees to trim, what holes in the house (attic, crawlspaces, and in the house) to patch. He also told us to buy gutter covers so rats couldn't run up the gutters onto the roof.

2) Snap traps - the large ones.

After we did everything the pest inspector told us, and then started setting out snap traps. Initially we set out glue traps as well, but experience showed us that "our" rats were too large to be caught in the glue traps.

We set out snap traps baited with peanut butter, mainly along the edge of the walls, rats run along the walls. We caught 2-3 rats a day for about 10 days (yes altogether between 20 and 30 rats). We crated the dog and cat every night and then in the morning, I removed the snap traps (and dead rats) and let the dog and cat out.

After 10 days, the rats suddenly stopped. I kept laying out the snap-traps for another week or two, but I've never caught another one, and I've not seen a rat. The best way to tell if you have rats isn't to see rats, but to see rat spoor, it has a distinctive odor.
posted by patrickje at 11:58 AM on July 3, 2008

Can you borrow some earth dogs?
Big friendly floppy worthless wusses are just the type to get into poison if its around. Don't risk it, please!
posted by Lesser Shrew at 2:38 PM on July 3, 2008

The blood-thinning effects of rat poison kills rats quite efficiently because rats can't vomit. Once they eat the poison, it's in there.

Dogs are pretty good at puking.

I do not suggest that delicious poisony rats are a good dietary supplement for dogs, of course, but using some of the precautionary techniques above could mitigate any risk.
posted by Sallyfur at 4:37 AM on July 9, 2008

Response by poster: Okay, for posterity, this is how it played out:

1. I called in 2 of my toughest friends. They pulled the refrigerator and the stove away from the wall and discovered that the rats were getting in via a large hole under the stove. Then they went into the basement (which is really just a crawl space) and found that the rats were getting to the hole via the top of the furnace, conveniently located just below the stove.

2. They went and bought 10 or 12 more rat traps. They put three traps around the hole under the stove so that it was virtually impossible for a rat to get through the hole without getting snapped. They put three behind the refrigerator. I already had a couple on the kitchen counters; they left those.

3. They put two traps and poison on top of the furnace and more poison around the basement. We secured the basement so that there was no way the dogs could get in. I was freaked out enough by the sight of the hole to be okay with the poison.

4. They put four or so traps in the garage.

5. It is now July 25 and all that happened on July 4. Three weeks and there has not been a single sign of another rat since the last one died in the Rat Zapper on July 1. No dead rats, no footprints in the dust in the basement, no noise, no nothing. Apparently there were only three (knock on wood!) and they're gone.

6. Therefore, I closed up the hole by stuffing it with steel wool and then screwing a piece of sheet metal to the floor. The oven now sits on sheet metal.

7. I got a cat. Okay, she's still smaller than a rat, but whatever.

8. My landlord refused to replace the stove.

and 9. I'm planning to move just as soon as I possibly can.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:50 AM on July 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Thank you for the update! I'm glad it's all worked out.
posted by rtha at 12:05 PM on July 25, 2008

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