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How to Handle a Rodent Infestation in Your Home

There is a reason why rodents have such a bad reputation, even compared to other common household pests. When rats and mice find their way into your home, they pose the threat of spreading disease and bacteria, causing structural damage to your home, and simply creating an uncomfortable place to rest and host guests.


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Rodent infestations require professional care the moment you detect you have a problem in your house. And though rodent issues are quite common—both in large country homes and high-rise apartments—exterminators have quick and time-tested methods for getting rid of your problem quickly.

So, what’s the difference between a rogue mouse in your home and a full-blown rodent infestation? We’ll help you determine the signs of a major problem, how to prevent rodents from getting into your home, and what to do if you detect an infestation.

How to Identify Rodents in Your Home

Most rodents are nocturnal, so it’s difficult to see what you’re dealing with in great detail during the day, even if one runs across your hallway or basement floor. Determining the difference between rats and mice can help both you and your exterminator judge the next steps for eliminating the rodents in your home.

Mice vs. Rats: How to Tell Them Apart

Mice and rats pose different threats to your home, especially because rats can grow significantly larger and cause greater damage to your space. Here are some quick things to look for to tell the rodents apart as well as the signs of their unique infestations.

  • Rats are generally larger than mice with long bodies
  • Mice have large ears in relation to their head size, while rat ears are smaller
  • Mice have thin, hairy tales while rats have thick hair-free tails
  • Mice and rats both range from gray to tan in color
  • Mice leave far more droppings than rats, nearly double the amount in one day
  • Mice have pointed noses and snouts while rat snouts are more squared off

Common Types of House Rats and Mice

Not all mice and rats come into homes, but just like other pests, they may find a way in if there is a chance for safer shelter or constant food supply. Depending on where you live and the environment inside your space, you’re likely to find one of the following mice or rats in your home.

Roof Rat

We’ll start with the largest rodent species you’re likely to find indoors. Roof rats may try to come inside your home when the temperature drops in the fall, but they will have a harder time than other rodents due to their size.

Appearance: Roof rats can impressively grow over one foot long, up to 16 inches in some cases. Unlike other rat species, their ears and eyes are quite large and their coloring is much darker than other North American rats.

Region: You’re most likely to find these creatures across the Pacific coast and in the eastern region of the southern and Gulf Coast states.

Behavior: Roof rats are excellent climbers and burrowers, so you may find them much higher up on structures than other rodents. The rats get their names from their ability to climb trees and enter your home through cracks in roofs and eaves.

Norway Rats

This species is adept at burrowing, especially around your cellars and home foundation. Norway rats can also cause significant damage to structures in your home and can chew through electrical wires, siding, and insulation.

Appearance: Norway rats range in color from tan to brown or even black but are generally paler than roof rats. Their bellies tend to be paler than their backs, taking on an off-white or yellow hue. They can also grow quite large, stretching up to one foot long.

Region: After spreading across the world, this invasive rat can now be found across the country, and specifically congregate around urban areas.

Behavior: Known for their ability to gnaw through things, these rats pose a specific threat to a building’s safety when burrowing for shelter and food. They can also swim, run, and jump quite well.

Deer Mice

If you live in a rural area throughout the northern half of the United States, then you’re probably quite familiar with deer mice. These very small rodents are common in prairies and other grassy areas where they can hide.

Appearance: You can determine a deer mouse by its white belly, brown or gray back, and relatively small size, which is typically only a few inches long.

Region: Deer mice are found throughout the colder, northern regions of the US. This includes New England, the Great Lakes, and the Western mountain region of the country.

Behavior: When temperatures in the north start to plummet, deer mice will likely try and seek shelter in your home, barn, or garage. Due to their small size, they are more likely to slip through cracks and vents.

Threats of Rodents in Your Living Space

Throughout history, rodents have been notorious carriers of bacteria and disease. Though many of the common illnesses carried by rodents today have vaccines or treatments, there are still plenty of reasons why you should keep them out of your common living space.

How do Rodents Spread Disease?

In addition to the rare case of receiving a rat or mouse bite, rodents spread disease by leaving feces, urine, saliva, or hair throughout your home. Handling rats dead or alive are also common ways to pick up bacteria from rodents.

Which Disease Can They Spread?

Rodents burrow for food in a wide range of dirty places, since as omnivores, they can eat a long list of things to stay alive. When they come into our homes, they carry these diseases to areas where we eat, work, and sleep.

Here are a few of the common diseases rats still spread today, according to the CDC:

  • Hantavirus
  • Hemorrhagic Fever with Renal Syndrome
  • Leptospirosis
  • Plague
  • Rat-Bite Fever
  • Salmonellosis
  • South American Arenaviruses
  • Tularemia

It’s also important to note that rodents can carry pests of their own, such as fleas and ticks. Each of these insects runs the risk of leading to their own infestation as well as carrying common diseases like Lyme Disease, typhus, and tapeworm.

Threats to Your Home

Any animal that burrows and gnaws through building materials is a threat to the safety of our homes. Rats and mice can chew through live electrical wires, potentially leading to fires or expensive damage.

Rats can also break through the siding and insulation in our attics and walls. Rodents may use insulation to build nests in your home, eventually causing permanent damage to the crucial lining of your living space.

In addition to this destruction, rats and mice end up dying in your walls or floors, leaving you with potent and unhealthy fumes in your home. Since they are so skilled at breaking into small areas of your home structure, it could be costly to remove these dead animals after they’ve worked their way into your space.

How Do Rodents Get Inside Your Home?

Rats and mice will find any opening into your warm home, even if it leads them to sealed areas like your walls and floorboards. Even holes and cracks that look too small may be tempting for rodents.

The most common ways that rodents slip into your home is through unsealed pipes, cracks, eaves, and holes throughout your home. This may include holes dug through your foundation or burrowed tunnels into your basement.

In rare cases, rodents may even find a way up through drainage and sewer lines, eventually entering your living space through the drains. They have also been known to slip through dryer vents, HVAC venting, and oven vents. Exterior doors for cellars and garages are also common culprits. Speak with an extermination specialist to discuss all the ways rodents are coming into your home specifically.

Since rodents are highly adept at burrowing, all holes and seals should be closed up with a durable material like cement. You can also purchase temporary measures such as rodent control steel wool to fill small holes and cracks in the meantime. Add a lining to the threshold of your doors leading to the outside to prevent very small mice from slipping underneath and coming into your home.

Signs of a Rodent Infestation

It may take some time to recognize that you have a rodent infestation, as they are skilled at staying hidden and finding food without appearing during the day. Keep an eye out for the most common signs of infestations, such as:

  • Sounds of scampering or scratching in your walls
  • Piles of wood chips or insulation in your attics and crawl spaces
  • Droppings or fur throughout your home
  • Odd smells coming from your walls, attic, or basement
  • Holes in your yard surrounding your home’s perimeter
  • Gnaw marks on walls, insulation, and entryways
  • Gnaw marks on electric wires
  • Unexplained electrical problems
  • Influx in other pests in your home such as fleas

Safeguarding Your Home From Rats

Your primary goal when protecting yourself against rodents is sealing off entryways and making your home an inhospitable place for them to stay. Rodents need access to a food source and they need a dark and undisturbed place to live. Here are some ways to discourage rats from sticking around if they do make it indoors.

  • Remove piles of leaves, thick brush, or dense mulch from the area surrounding your foundation. Having these piles encourage rats to hide while giving them closer access to your home. 
  • Add weather sealing to your garages, cellar, and attic entrance ways helps prevent against cracks forming during storms and other extreme weather.
  • Keep firewood piles to a minimum to keep rats and mice from hiding or building nests.
  • Invest in animal-proof garbage cans to keep the odors from attracting rodents and other wildlife.
  • Seal up all food on counters and inside pantries. Avoid leaving desserts or fruit out on counters if you’re concerned about pests in general.
  • Remove your pet food bowl at the end of mealtime.
  • Purchase an ultrasonic pest repellent that can ward off small pests and wildlife.

Common Rodent Traps and Poisons

Handling rodent control on your own can be complex and even dangerous, especially when handling harsh chemicals and poisons without professional guidance. If you do purchase a store-bought trap, you will commonly have a few options.

  • Baited Traps: Many rodent traps include poisoned baits that rats and mice will carry back to their nests. Using these traps means that the rodent will die elsewhere in your home, so it’s important to keep track of where and when this happens. Baited traps are also commonly sealed off so that other animals, such as birds, cats, or dogs, cannot access the poison by accident.
  • Sealed Traps: These traps keep mice and rats from leaving the traps after baiting them inside. Either by using poison, snap-trap, or an electrical current, the rodent dies in the trap. Then you need to dispose of the rodent from the trap itself.
  • Catch-and-Release Traps: Though these are the most humane traps for wildlife, it does require safely releasing the live rodents on your own. It is important to speak to a professional about the proper way to release rodents, both to protect yourself from harm and to keep the rodents from simply coming back.

We understand that inviting an exterminator into your home can be disruptive to your busy schedule. At Aptive, we know the importance of offering personalized rodent and pest control plans that protect your home and put you at ease.

When it comes to mice and rats, our eco-friendly process ensures that you can enjoy a pest-free home without the fear of dangerous chemicals. The Aptive Four Seasons Protection Plan also ensures that we will catch rodents throughout the year, ensuring that they are not in your home when the weather starts to drop and before they mate.

Rodents post a significant challenge for homeowners, especially when a few mice suddenly transform into an infestation. Our attentive and caring local team brings decades of expertise to ensure your home is safe and comfortable for you and your family.

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