The most Expensive House Guests: Rats and Mice


When someone mentions the word mouse, the characters Mickey, Minnie and Jerry come to mind – the entertaining cartoons that filled your childhood with fun and laughter. But, did you know having these small rodents, along with rats as lodgers wouldn’t be all fun and games?

Rats and mice cause damage

Not only will they will they cost a lot of Rands in terms of repairs to the damage they create in your home, but they can also cause serious health risks.

Rodent Damage: the destruction rats and mice leave behind

The main sign that you might have a rodent problem, whether it be rats or mice, is the damage that they leave behind. This usually consists of them gnawing on anything they can sink their teeth into.

Do Mice Chew Wires?

Yes – unfortunately! And so do rats. But why?

Rats and mice chew through wires that can pose fire hazards!

Well, that’s a good question. It’s not because they have a taste for rubber and/or plastic and metal, but rather to stop their incisors from overgrowing. Unlike us humans, rodents’ teeth never stop growing. Rats and mice need to continually gnaw on objects to wear down their teeth and keeps them at a suitable length.

Did you know rats and mice spend a fifth of their lifetime grooming themselves?

What Can Rats Chew Through?

Countless things!

Due to the structure of a rat’s jaw, they can gnaw and chew their way through almost everything very efficiently and forcefully.

Rats can chew through anything - from plastic, to metal and wood!Rats are known to gnaw through wooden structures such as door frames, skirting boards and wooden beams. Not only do they do this to prevent their incisors from overgrowing, but also to reach uncharted areas which are either a likely nesting area or an area that harbours food.

Even though rats and mice, are very limber and can squeeze through minuscule gaps, from time to time, they will come across spaces that not even they can fit through. In cases like these, rodents use their versatile teeth to gnaw through the fixture to make the crack big enough to squeeze through… talk about persistence, right?

Whether it’s your HDMI cable to your TV at home or the ethernet cables running to your servers in your office, rats and mice will chew and gnaw at anything.

The biggest risk that comes from this dreadful habit is the potential fire hazard it causes. Exposed wires is never a good thing, especially in areas where water is used such as the kitchen and bathroom. Water and electricity is never a good combination!

Except for the damage caused to wires, they can also lead to electrical shortcuts, resulting in blackouts and other electronic related problems.

Pipes made from PVC such as drain pipes and indoor plumbing are also at risk from rodents chewing at their infrastructure.

There has been some cases in which rodents have even been able to chew their way through lead pipes and even concrete!

Cars are warm, cosy and protected from outdoor elements, providing rodents with ideal shelter. Except for the increase in faeces, rodents will also cause damage to your car, which is a playground for rat teeth maintenance – just think of all those wires, plastic, and upholstery for them to gnaw at to keep their teeth in check!

If your car is parked in your garage, this is not your only worry since rodents can also gain easy access to the holy grail of all rodent feeding areas – your home!

Repairing the damage caused by rodents to one of these items is a big financial burden, especially if it has gone unnoticed for a long period of time.

See tips on how to prevent rats and mice>

Rodent Borne Diseases

Except for the financial damage rats and mice can cause to your home, these pests can also pose serious health risks. Over the last 10 centuries more lives have been taken as a result of rodent borne diseases than that of all the wars ever fought.

Rodents carry harmful dieases

Diseases that Rats Carry

It is estimated that rodents carry around 40 diseases which are harmful to humans.

The most common diseases which rats are known to carry are:

  • Murine Typhus
  • The Bubonic Plague
  • Salmonellosis
  • Leptospirosis
  • Trichinellosis
  • Rat-bite fever

In their book Parasites of Wild Brown Rats, Webster and MacDonald discuss how they found that brown rats in the UK were infected with 13 different endoparasitic organisms and zoonotic agents, with some rats having up to 9 infections simultaneously!

As if these diseases aren’t enough to cause sleepless nights, rats are also known to carry fleas, lice and mites. The black plague started through the fleas using black rats as a host, rather than the rats themselves!

Diseases that Mice carry

Just like rats, mice are also known to carry and spread range of different diseases. These can include:

  • Murine Typhus
  • Rickettsial Pox
  • Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis
  • Lyme Disease
  • Hanta Virus
  • Food poisoning organisms like E Coli etc

How Can I Catch a Disease From Rodents?

As previously discussed, both rats and mice are host to a whole range of different pathogens and viruses that can be very detrimental to us. But how can you catch one of these diseases from a rodent?

There are various different ways in which you can catch the diseases discussed above from rodents. These are as follows:

1. Rodent Droppings

Mouse and rat droppings are the main instigator to spreading rodent borne diseases. Compared to us humans, rodents aren’t exactly potty trained. They have a ghastly habit of leaving their droppings anywhere they please, and in particular kitchen cupboards, pantries, and anywhere else which could be a food haven for rodents.

Rats leave their droppings everywhere!The problem with rodent droppings is that they play host to a range of dangerous diseases. Think of rodent droppings as a giant disease sponge, waiting to find a host to latch on to.

Under no circumstances should you handle any rat or mouses droppings you find without taking the correct preventive measures. If you however have to handle rodent droppings, then you should be extra careful; always wear a tightly fitted OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) approved respirator with functioning cartridges as well as rubber gloves. Once this has taken place, ensure that gloves are disposed of away from your home, ideally in an outside bin.

You should NOT try to vacuum or sweep the soiled area as this can help disperse the viruses into the air, causing a huge health threat to your entire family.

2. Rodent Urine

Just like their droppings, rodents urinate everywhere! And will often go out of their way to urinate in certain areas.

But why do rats and mice urinate everywhere?

  • To identify one another – a new smell of urine could mean a new rodent has entered the area
  • Signal if a female is ready to mate – Female rodents will release a specific scent in their urine when they are ready to breed.

Rodent fact – When rats and mice urinate on the same area multiple times the build up of wee and dirt creates small urine pillars which look a lot like stalagmites, although not as big. If you have spotted this in your home then you definitely have a rodent problem.

Although there is some reasoning behind rats and mice urinating everywhere, the side effect is, just like rodent droppings, it is one of the main instigators of spreading harmful diseases, especially leptospirosis and lymphocytic choriomeningitis. Both these diseases can be caught through direct contact with mice or rat urine or by inhaling dust which has been contaminated by rodent urine. Do not, under any circumstances touch rodent urine unless you are wearing the proper protection. In circumstances like this, it’s best to leave it to the professionals.

Rats and mice urinate everywhere

3. Touching a Dead Rodent

You can also contract one of the diseases that rats and mice carry by coming into contact with one that is deceased.

If you have noticed a dead rat or mouse in your home, the safest option is to contact a pest control professional to get it removed. Touching a dead rat or mouse will not only allow for the fleas (who have been known to be the causes of the black plague) and lice attach themselves to a new host, namely YOU!

Aside from this, a dead rodent is like a giant petri dish for all the harmful and deadly pathogens and viruses mentioned in this blog that could make you seriously ill!

If you have to dispose of a dead rodent, then you should follow these safety precautions:

  • Wear rubber gloves – this keeps your hands clean and stops the potential viruses from spreading. NEVER touch a dead rodent with your bear hands!
  • Wear old clothes – for the same reasons as above. Once the task is complete dispose of these clothes.
  • Wear a tight fitting HEPA mask – this will protect you from inhaling any of the harmful bacteria floating around in the air.
  • Use disinfectant – spray the dead rodent, and the area around it with disinfectant before and after the mouse or rat removal. This will help kill off any germs before you touch it.

4. Rodent Bites and Scratches

Being bitten by a rodent can also lead to contracting harmful diseases. The deadly diseases which they are known to carry can be found within their saliva which gets transmitted through a rat or mouse bite. There is also a specific disease called ‘rat bite fever’.

Rat Bite Treatment

If you have been bitten by a rat, or mouse, follow these steps to treat the bite:

  1. Control any bleeding by applying pressure to the wound, or running the area under a cold tap until the bleeding has subsided.
  2. Once the bleeding has been controlled, ensure that you clean the bite (and inside the wound) thoroughly with soap and warm water. To prevent any irritation, be sure to rise all the soap off.
  3. Cover the wound with a dry, clean dressing. You may want to apply antibiotic or antiseptic ointment to the area beforehand.

It is advised that you visit your GP as you might have had one of the diseases mentioned above transmitted to you, and / or the bite might be quite deep in which case stitches will be needed.

Rat Bite Fever

Rat bite fever is an acute illness caused by the bacteria transmitted by rat urine and being bitten by a rat, and it is rather terrible.

There are two different types of rat bite fever you can catch. These are:

  1. Streptobacillary rat bite fever
  2. Spirillary rat bite fever

Each type have their own symptoms, but there are some crossovers.

Streptobacillary Rat Bite Fever

This is commonly found in the United States of America. The symptoms differ with each person. However, the most common symptoms include:

  • Inflammation around the open sore
  • A rash around the area that appears red or purple in colour
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Swollen joints
  • Skin irritations like ulcers and inflammation of hands and feet.

It has been noted that the symptoms will come and go over the course of a few months. If you have been bitten by a rodent and experience any of these symptoms then it is important that you contact a doctor straight away.

Spirillary Rat Bite Fever

Compared to streptobacillary rat bite fever, spirillary rat bite fever generally appears in Africa as well as other parts of the world. The symptoms of spirillary rat bite fever include issues with lymph nodes. If you have contracted this disease, your lymph nodes will often swell or inflame as a reaction. The most common areas with this swelling takes place are the neck, groin and underarm.

These symptoms normally appear within two to ten days of contracting the disease. Like streptobacillary rat bite fever, spirillary usually starts with a fever and then progresses to a rash that appears on the hands and feet, and then all over the body.

How to Treat Rat Bite Fever

Fortunately, rat bite fever can be treated with a dose of penicillin.

Keep Mice and Rats out!

Meet the #RodentRebelsTo keep rats and mice out of your home, follow some practical prevention tips!

See our previous blogs on DIY rat and mouse control and how to get rid of rats and mice in your home.

Want to know more about rats and mice? Then follow the #RodentRebels on their latest adventures.

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