While Ratatouille might have been a runaway blockbuster film, no one wants rats in the house - or mice or squirrels or any other unwelcome rodent guests. Stopping the problem before it starts is your best line of defense.
How do you keep rodents out of your space? Skip the trip to the animal shelter for a stray cat. Prevention starts at home - and in your yard.
First thing's first: Seal all your garbage in metal, closed trash cans. Then, get rid of anything in your yard that gives a rodent a place to stay. “You want to make sure that your property and yard and fence line is free of debris and clutter,” says Mark 'Shep' Sheperdigian, vice president of technical services for Rose Pest Solutions in Troy, MI, which includes keeping your landscaping minimal. While ground cover can be attractive, it also provides shelter to rodents and their families.
Make sure your semi-outdoor storage areas, like garages and sheds, aren't potential homes for rodents, either. “A cluttered garage can hold a large number of rodents,” says Sheperdigian. “If you have a garage that has 20 years of yard sale stuff in it, maybe you should have that yard sale.” Not only will keeping this clutter bring rodents closer to your home, but the rodents will most likely chew through and leave excrement on the stuff you're storing anyway.
If you're keeping a garden, or really like that ground cover, consider adding one of the next generation of decoys to your garden decorations. Think beyond the plastic owl from the hardware store. “Pests don't even pay it any mind because they realize that it can't move - let alone hurt them,” says Mona Zemesky, marketing manager of Bird-X Inc. in Chicago. Instead, she recommends the Prowler Owl, which is life-size and made of lightweight Tyvek material, so it moves and floats in the breeze. “If you hang it from a tree, it takes the motion of the wind and looks alive,” she says. You can also try Irri-Tape. To your neighbors, this two-inch wide holographic strip will look like a pretty ribbon direction. To a rodent, though, it looks like the sheen of a snake or the eyes of an owl, which will scare off the rodent.
No matter how clean you keep your yard, any open space is going to invite critters, and they'll try to get to the warmth and food in your home. Cover any crack and hole in your house down to the smallest of gaps.
“The only thing that limits them from fishing through a crack is the size of their skulls,” says Sheperdigian. For rats, that's the size of a quarter. For mice, that's the size of a dime. Pay special attention to gaps and holes around pipes. Leaks can widen any holes and create entranceways.
The best material you can use to cover and fill in those holes is copper wool, because rodents will chew through foams and caulks, and steel wool rusts too quickly. You can also use an aluminum window screen or hardware cloth.
But don't jam up every hole in your house or your home won't be able to breathe, which means using those aluminum window screens over openings like windows, door sweeps, vents, and chimneys.
Another option worth considering is sonic and ultrasonic repellants; however, pest control pros disagree on their effectiveness. Some swear by these plug-in boxes; Bird-X reports that these repellants are their second biggest sellers after Irri-Tape. Other professionals call them junk. The theory behind sonic and ultrasonic repellants is that they emit sounds that humans can't hear but pests can, which is why they keep out. If you're going to give it a go, try a professional machine, which runs about $95, over the $3 version at the hardware store. The professional-grade machines, which are available commercially, can cover up to 4,000 feet. Plug it in your basement, which is where rats and mice are most likely to be found.
Also, make sure you're not leaving out any food, and that food in your kitchen is kept above counter level and sealed up tight. Don't forget pet food, either. If Fido isn't hungry for dinner, don't leave his food out overnight in the bowl. Rodents are nighttime creatures, and any dog or cat food that is left out will look like a buffet to a mouse or rat.
Don't feel like you've failed if you find those telltale rat or mouse droppings. Rodents are remarkable at getting into things they shouldn't. If you're not sure what to do to get them out of your house - or aren't willing to deal with the kill vs. trap-and-release dilemma-don't hesitate to call a professional. The longer the rodents are in your house, the more droppings - which could carry disease-they'll leave, and the more damage they'll likely do.