How long do rats live? It’s a common question, and an important one if you have rats living and breeding in or near your home. Rats are known to be unsanitary and carry diseases (bubonic plague, anyone?), and they can cause extensive property damage if they’re allowed to build nests and breed in places they shouldn’t. Rats in the wild are prey to snakes, coyotes, owls and other animals, so they often live for less than a year, but rats living in more protected indoor areas can live for two to three years. If their breeding is unchecked, they can produce thousands of babies over the course of their lifetimes.
Homeowners across the southern states have reported a recent uptick in rat activity in many residential neighborhoods, which makes it all the more important to understand rats and their habits, so you can protect your home from these dangerous pests. Read on for answers to some common questions about rats, their living and mating habits and how to get rid of them when they’ve invaded your home or property.
What Attracts Rats To Your House?
Understanding what attracts rats can help you learn how to keep rats away from your home. Rats are attracted to the same things that draw most animals to people’s property and into their homes: the promise of easy access to food, water and shelter, so they can live and breed in comfort. Thus, when considering what attracts rats to your house, you should think about preventing these critters from accessing those basic elements that might make them want to move in, build a nest and raise a family.
Rats normally make their homes outside, in trees, fields, overgrown shrubbery, burrows in the ground and other natural spaces. When fall arrives and it starts getting cold outside, their self-preservation instincts kick in, pushing them to seek warm shelter someplace that is protected from the elements. Coupled with the fact that more and more natural areas that have long been home to many wildlife species are being eaten up by residential and commercial construction, this means that rats may seek shelter in your home or garage, especially if doing so means they can also have access to a steady food and water supply.
So what do rats like to eat? The answer is unfortunately broad—rats will really eat almost anything and everything. Anything humans and their pets enjoy eating makes a great meal for a rat, too. Rats will also happily dine on garbage, animal droppings, birds and their eggs, and even other rats (yuck!). These rodents typically forage for food after the sun goes down, which is why you might find them in or around your garbage cans at night but see no sign of a rat during the day.
Just because you don’t see signs of rats in the daytime, of course, doesn’t mean they aren’t present in or around your home. Here are some common, telltale signs that rats are nesting and breeding within your home or somewhere on your property:
- Chew marks on wood, wires, cardboard boxes and other items. Rats can use their long, sharp front teeth to gnaw through many items in and around a home, including the wood that comprises the frame of a house or garage. When rats chew through electrical wiring, you could be at an increased risk of an electrical fire.
- Small, elongated black pellets, which are rat feces or droppings. These unwelcome deposits can often be found in pantries or cabinets where food is stored (both human and pet food), or near water sources such as in under-sink cabinets or near pet water bowls. Rat droppings can also often be found in out-of-the-way places such as on top of rafters or beams, or inside chewed cardboard boxes in a garage or storage space.
- Noises coming from within the walls or other interior spaces. When you have rats or other rodents living in your walls, ceiling or attic, you might hear occasional noises such as squeaks, or scurrying or rustling sounds.
- Rub marks and worn “runways” which can look like paths through grass, along the foundation or along an interior or exterior wall that rats habitually run along as they travel between their nests and sources of food or water. These rodents’ bodies leave greasy track marks along any wall they habitually travel past as they go about their daily business.
- Rat nests built in dark, secluded areas of the attic or garage, including inside the interior or exterior walls of your home, or in sheltered, overgrown areas of your yard.
What Does A Rat Nest Look Like?
Rats prefer to build their nests in places that offer protection from natural predators as well as from the elements, such as rain, cold air or snow. Outside in nature, likely spots for rats to build nests include overgrown bushes and wood piles, which provide great camouflage for the burrows some types of rats dig in the ground. These burrows have main entrances as well as back exits that can be shielded from view by the underbrush. The exterior hole of an in-ground rat burrow is a few inches in diameter, with hard-packed dirt walls that lead into a larger, similarly hard-packed den underground. Outdoor rats also build above-ground nests in trees.
Indoors, rats tend to build their nests in attics, in the beams of a garage, or inside interior or exterior walls. They might also build nests inside hollow ceiling spaces, unused ductwork or cabinetry, or anyplace else that offers privacy, warmth and protection. Since rats need water daily, any nest they build, indoors or outdoors, will have easy access to a water source.
Wherever a rat builds its nest, the inside of the nest will look like a ball or pile of shredded paper or fabric. Rats use all kinds of materials, including cotton and other textiles along with paper and cardboard, that they shred to make their nests warm and comfortable.
How Often Do Rats Reproduce?
Rats are incredibly prolific. A female rat has about 15 “windows” per year during which she is able to breed, and within each window, she can mate many, many times. Most female rats are capable of producing about six litters a year, with each litter producing anywhere from 10 to 15 young. Thus, if a female rat lives for two to three years, she might produce hundreds or even thousands of babies during her lifetime, if her breeding is not checked or prevented.
This is yet another reason why it is so important to keep rat populations under control. When left unchecked, they can grow exponentially larger very, very quickly.
How To Get Rats Out Of Your House
Keeping rodents out of your home can seem difficult. If you have rats living in your house, it’s very important to get rid of them as quickly and safely as possible, and then to take follow-up steps to prevent them from returning. Rats are known to spread diseases including salmonella, typhus and bubonic plague; these diseases can spread in a variety of ways, including through rat droppings and via their nests. Rats can also indirectly cause house fires by gnawing through electrical wiring and can cause other structural damage to homes and garages. These are just a few of the many reasons to keep rats well away from areas where people live.
The following measures can be effective in getting rid of rats and preventing them from invading or infesting a home:
- Clear overgrown brush, vines and tree limbs from your yard, and keep the grass mowed close to the ground. This will help eliminate areas of shelter that rats might otherwise use to build their burrows. Keeping trees trimmed back from utility lines that lead to your home will also keep rats from traveling along these lines to your house.
- Remove any access to food sources. This might mean securing garbage cans, switching from plastic garbage cans to metal ones, placing pet food in locked, airtight bins and keeping human food inside containers that rats can’t chew through. If you have a compost pile or bin, this will also need to be secured so that rats can’t access it for food. Keep your yard clear of dog and cat droppings, as these can also provide a source of food for rats.
- Remove access to water by fixing leaky faucets and otherwise covering or eliminating places where water can flow or collect.
- Seal up any cracks or holes in your foundation or other areas of your home—anyplace rats might be able to use as an entryway into a den inside the walls or roof, or under your home if you have pier-and-beam construction. Especially attractive holes might be located near water sources like your clothes washer or a water pipe or hose.
- Set out bait or traps, such as traditional snap traps or trapping boxes, to catch and/or kill rats as they search for food. Traps are preferred by many homeowners since they don’t involve toxic chemicals, and they allow the homeowner to move or dispose of the rat. (When poison is used, the rat can crawl off to die, making it difficult to find and dispose of the body.) Be especially careful with to use rat poison on your own, also called rodenticide; these poisons can even be dangerous for both humans and pets as well as non-pest animals that aren’t the bait’s target.
ABC Can Rid Your Home Of Rodents
If you have a rat problem that proves beyond your scope to manage on your own, call a trusted pest professional as soon as possible. The longer you wait to effectively address a rat infestation, the more their population will grow, and the more structural damage the rats will be able to do to your home and property — damage that can be very expensive to fix. The experienced pest control specialists at ABC Home & Commercial Services can come to assess the rat nest and level of infestation, make recommendations about how to eradicate the unwanted rodents and give you a free quote and estimated timeline for the job, so you and your loved ones can live in a safe, rat-free environment as soon as possible.