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The brown rat is also known as the Norway rat is the most common rat and the one you are most likely to find scurrying around your house or garden. Like mice, rats are ‘commensally’ rodents, which mean they ‘share man’s table’ – a good explanation, as rats thrive in human environments.

As well as causing extensive damage to building infrastructure and contaminating food from urine and feces, rats carry a terrifying number of diseases, including Lyme disease, Weil’s disease, toxoplasmosis, salmonellosis, Q fever, and amoebic dysentery.

Numbers of brown rats are on the rise, particularly in the inner cities, as littering, fly-tipping and fortnightly bin collections provide rats with superior access to food waste. Moreover, with an increasing number of local authorities now charging for rodent control services, members of the public are more likely to try to tackle rat problems themselves, usually by putting down over-the-counter rat poisons or setting traps.

Many don’t realize, however, that the first thing they should do is deal with the source of the rat problem by making sure that food and excess are properly cleared away, and that waste bins are rat proof. Young rats can squeeze through holes as small as 1 cm in breadth, so any potential entry points should also be sealed.

Rats are neophobic, which means they are very wary of new things, so it may take some time for them to investigate traps or eat poisoned bait. Getting rid of rats takes patience. There are a variety of traps on the market, ranging from the traditional snap trap, which kills the rat quickly, to humane traps that catch the rat alive.

Humane traps do not harm the animal, but you are left with the problem of what to do with the rat once it has been caught. If you are unable to kill it gently, you will need to release it at least 2 miles from the human habitat. It is illegal to drown a trapped rat or treat it cruelly.

Traps need to be positioned in areas of rat activity, preferably between the food source and nest. Fluorescent tracking dust, flour or talc can be scattered over areas of alleged rat activity, to confirm feeding routes. It is a good idea to point the traps without setting them so that the rats become used to them. After a few days, the traps can be set.

Although poisons like rodenticides can be effective in getting rid of rats infestation, they can take a long time to work, and there is always the risk of the rat dying in a hard to find the place, such as under the floorboards. A decomposing rat is not satisfying to live with! Poisons also present a hazard to children, household pets and non-target wildlife in such circumstances it is advised to get help from pest control specialists to control the rat infestation.

Once the infestation has been dealt with, householders need to make certain their home remains rat-free, by continuing to block entry points, keeping the place clean and tidy, storing food properly and removing food waste. Rats are attracted to compost bins and wild-bird feeding stations, so these need to be checked regularly and rat proofed too, if possible.

Removing food sources, and sealing all possible entry points, is the best way to get rid of rats permanently from buildings.

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