Not only can a rat infestation cause enormous damage to your premises, but rats also spread diseases, contaminating food stuffs wherever they go. We share with you tips on what to look out for and how to get rid of rats before they become a problem.
Recently a story online reported that rats weighing up to 4kgs – and bigger than cats – are plaguing the city of Tehran. These giant rats are posing such a problem that the city is employing snipers using night vision equipped rifles to exterminate them. Whether their size is due to a genetic mutation, or whether they belong to a rare species of rat that can achieve gigantic proportions, the fact remains that they are such a menace to the local population that drastic measures have been employed.
In South Africa we have our own species of gigantic rat – the cane rat (genus Thryonomys) – which can grow up to 60 cm long, and weigh up to 10kg’s! Cane rats are mostly found along the banks of rivers and lakes. In agricultural areas they will feed on cane plantation crops, and while this makes them a significant pest for farmers, they do not pose a threat in urban areas (and so far military tactics haven’t been necessary to keep them under control!)
There are many types of rodents that are classified as pests; however the one you really don’t want to see around your house is the rat. There are 2 main species of rat; the Black rat (Rattus rattus) and the Brown rat (Rattus norvegicus). The black rat is actually relatively uncommon in South Africa and found mostly in harbours and ports. It weighs around 200g and its tail is longer than its body. The brown rat is bigger and heavier than its cousin and weighs up to 500g. Its tail is shorter than its body. This is the rat most often seen in South Africa, and the cause of millions of Rand’s worth of property damage every year. In ideal conditions, a pair of brown rats can produce as many as 2,000 offspring in a year, if left to breed unhindered.
One of the many reasons you don’t want rats hanging about on your property is that rats gnaw continuously to grind down their incisors, which grow about 11 – 14cm per year. Rats can gnaw through wood, copper, aluminum and uncured concrete, and stories of rats shutting down a business operation by chewing through wiring are actually not that uncommon. However it’s not too often you hear about a rat bringing down an entire nuclear plant, but that’s exactly what happened in March at the infamous Fukushima nuclear plant, when a rat managed to cause a power outage which took over 24 hours to restore.
Aside from the damage their gnawing causes to buildings and stock, rats may carry various diseases such as Salmonellosis (Salmonella enterocolitis), Murine Typhus (transmitted by the rat flea) and Leptospirosis or Weils disease, which is spread when infected rat urine gets into food and water sources. Rats also carry fleas, mites and ticks which can cause acute allergic reactions. You’ll know if you have a rat problem because rats not only leave behind dark, tapered droppings about 10-14mm long and a tell-tale ammonia-like smell, their coats are also very greasy and leave smear marks along walls and skirting boards.
So whilst it’s fairly unlikely that the average South African is going to come face to face with a 4kg rat, or that a rat will shut down Eskom in the near future, by following the below basic precautionary steps will help to protect your home from a rat infestation:
- The first line of defense against rats is adequate proofing of your premises. Young rats can get through holes of less than 1cm, so it is important to seal any holes and fit bristle strip around doors to keep rats away. Rats can come up from sewers through broken pipes, so it’s important to ensure that all pipe-work is also in good order.
- Rats come indoors in search of food and harborage, so it is important not to attract them with easily accessible food sources, such as food waste in kitchens and stock rooms, or with nesting materials such as discarded packing materials or old newspapers. Outdoors, ensure rubbish bags are put inside bins, and that bins have well-fitting lids.
- There is a wide range of D-I-Y rodent control products (such as rat traps and rat poison) available in stores to get rid of rats in low-risk areas. It is, however, essential to follow the instructions carefully for safe and effective use, and to ensure humane rat control. Rat traps are very powerful and should only be used in areas that children, pets and wildlife cannot reach. While D-I-Y rodent control products are a cost effective way to prevent rat problems in low-risk areas, professional pest control is required for high-risk areas, more established rat colonies or where there is a repeated rat infestation.
If you have already eliminated all potential food sources and you still have a rat problem, it’s best to call in the pest control professionals.