Ask most people if they have rats in their house and they'll say no, but ask them if they've ever checked their attic and they'll typically have the same response. People who haven't investigated their attics for rodents are often in for a big surprise. Seemingly empty attics often have rodents within them.
It's quite common for mice and rat colonies to thrive in attics long before a homeowner ever becomes aware of them. Likewise, when people do notice rodents in their home they'll often end up tracing the point of entry back to their attic, but why is this such a common phenomenon? How are rodents getting into your attic in the first place?
Rodents in Their Natural Habitat
One of the first things to keep in mind is that any individual rat or mouse is ultimately guided by its instincts. There's a lot of different rodents out there. And each species has a unique approach to survival in the wild. One rat species is especially fond of high places.
The black rat's (Rattus rattus) nickname is "roof rat". And as the name suggests, black rats are very fond of heights. A black rat is an exceptional climber. In nature, it can rapidly move around from limb to limb on any given tree. This talent has given it a huge advantage in human habitats. A black rat can easily make its way from a tree to a roof.
Once the rat has made it to your roof then it's clear what his next step is going to be. A rat can easily sniff out a wide variety of different foods. A rat will often notice all of the great scents coming from your kitchen. Not to mention the fact that he might notice the warmth coming from your home. A rat loves cozy, warm, places almost as much as he loves a good meal. And the prospect of getting both will often lure a rat into some impressive feats of breaking and entering.
Small Rodents and Smaller Points of Entry
This is the point where you might start to insist that there's no way a rat could find his way into your home. There's one objection that most people have right from the start. What if your roof doesn't have any obvious points of entry? Even chimneys don't really seem to provide an easy transition between roof and attic, but this line of thinking is a little too centered around a human's point of view. Humans usually assume that any animal needs the same type of entry points that we would. But a rat and a human have very different relationships with the world around them.
Humans essentially need a hole about our own size if we're going to get into a building. For example, a door offers a fairly good approximation of an average person's size, but a rat is quite different. An individual rat might be able to comfortably navigate holes as small as a quarter. Not to mention that rodents are quite happy to work on enlarging any opening. A rat or mouse's teeth can easily nibble away at most materials. If a rodent notices a tiny opening that suggests food and warmth he'll happily gnaw away at it until he can get in. This all means that you might have a point of entry in your roof and not even be aware of it.
In fact, you could have dozens of possible entry points for a determined rodent and you'd never be the wiser without actually investigating the issue. Some areas of your roof could even have holes that won't let rain or snow into the attic but will serve as a gateway for wildlife. These types of holes are especially difficult to notice. Or, rather, they're difficult for humans to notice. A rat scuttling from tree to tree will often see those openings quite easily.
What Happens When a Rat Makes His Way Into the Attic?
You might think that a rat won't do much harm if he never ventures out of the attic. However, rodents are often extremely destructive elements within people's homes. Keep in mind how easily they're able to enlarge holes to get entry into your attic. They can gnaw their way through almost any material inside your attic as well. A rat can make short work of anything it finds in there. And this is especially worrisome given that most people store important, but rarely accessed, items in their attics. An attic is often home to irreplaceable photographs, family documents, and keepsakes. And these items are often the most easily destroyed by a rat or mouse who finds its way into your attic. As if that's not enough a rodent can also gnaw into insulation, pipes, and wiring.
The threat posed by rodents goes far beyond just their teeth. Rats in attic spaces also produce a lot of waste. The typical rat will leave about forty to fifty fecal drops in its environment per day. And a rat in a totally safe environment with no predators can live over 1,400 days. That means one rat can create over 70,000 fecal drops in its lifetime. Now imagine what would happen if it wasn't one rat, but a breeding pair, that made their way into your attic. A rat litter can consist of up to 12 pups. And those new rats don't have any concerns about mating with each other. A few rats can easily grow into hundreds. It's easy to see how this could get out of control fairly quickly.
As rats become more used to the attic they'll typically venture out into the house as a whole. And this is the point where most people discover the problem. But they usually don't know that the rodent infestation is coming from an established colony in their attic. It's natural to assume that any rat you've seen is new to your home. People just guess that a rat or mouse made its way into their home through the garage, an open door, window, or similar entry point. But in reality, it's quite common for rodents to start in the attic and grow outward into the rest of the home.
How To Handle Rodents in the Attic
Thankfully you can take care of a rodent problem in your attic before it has a chance to grow out of control. One of the first points to keep in mind is that you need to keep new rodents from making their way into your attic. It's generally a good idea to carefully look over your attic's walls and ceiling. You'll want to try and find any holes that rodents could use as an entry point. You'll also want to make sure all of these holes are taken care of before proceeding.
The next step is to set up traps. Thankfully, many modern traps are both humane and quite easy to work with. The best traps essentially automate the process while ensuring the rodents aren't suffering. However, there's one important point to keep in mind when taking care of a rodent problem.
A few rats can multiply at a shockingly fast pace. One pregnant female can turn into dozens or even hundreds before you know it. That's why it's important to move as quickly as possible once you notice rodents in your attic. You need to start sealing up entry points and setting up traps in order to prevent things from growing at an unacceptable pace.