It’s a chilling thought: Every year, mice and rats invade about 21 million U.S. homes.1 If you’ve ever heard the telltale scratching of rodents in your attic or garage, you know that it can be a very unsettling experience. It’s understandable that your first instinct may be to do whatever it takes to kill the beasts and get them out of your home as soon as possible.
But before you stock up on rat poison and glue traps, ask yourself a few questions. Why are the rats in your home in the first place? Are there better, more humane ways to take care of the problem? And, speaking of which, do rats even deserve humane treatment?
In this e-book, we’re going to take a closer look at the often misunderstood rat, its relationship with humans, and the arguments for the humane killing of these creatures.
In fact, you may be surprised to learn just how smart rats can be.2 One study found that they outperform humans in certain cognitive tests,3 which is why they are so often used in cognitive experiments. It’s also why, in a rodent invasion, they can be so difficult to kill. Clever rats are inherently suspicious of anything new, so when a trap appears in their environment, they know to avoid it—at least for a while.
In addition to intelligence, rats also have a range of emotions and skills, just like any other mammal. Rodent experts confirm that rats are “as smart and affectionate as dogs,” can understand basic human words, and even love to snuggle.4 In fact, a study by the University of Chicago showed rats to be highly empathetic, with the rodents opting to rescue a cagemate for no reward rather than retrieve a piece of chocolate—a rat’s favorite treat—from a separate cage.5 “The fact that the rat does that is really amazing,” said Peggy Mason, the neurobiologist who spearheaded the study.
"Clever rats are inherently suspicious of anything new, so when a trap appears in their environment, they know to avoid it—at least for a while."
A similar study by the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Lisbon showed that rats are incredibly moral creatures that exhibit “prosocial” behavior.6 In the study, a rat “helper” and rat “partner” completed a maze together and at the end, the “helper” had the opportunity to receive a food pellet only for himself or to receive a food pellet for himself and his partner.
In the study, the “helper” opted for food for both himself and his partner 70 percent of the time and only one of the 15 rats made selfish choices.
Rats, much like humans, also love a good laugh. A study by Germany’s Humboldt University that was published in Science showed that rats tickled on the back, stomach, and tail responded with high-pitched laughter when they were in a good mood. Additionally, the rats in the study exhibited the “joy jump,” which is when the front and back legs move in tandem when tickled.7 “They were so excited,” said Humboldt Neurobiologist Shimpei Ishiyama. “They were jumping around and they chased my hand. Pretty much like human kids, giggling and chasing around.”
Note: Wild rats can bite and scratch humans and should never be approached.
A New Way of Thinking About Rats
As you can see, rats are much smarter and more complex than most people give them credit for, so they deserve the kindness and consideration you’d give to any creature.8
Of course, this begs the question: How should you resolve a rat problem in your home, now that you know a bit more about the animals? First, it’s important to recognize that humans are the reason rats enter a home. Rats will appear nearly anywhere that humans provide a steady supply of water, food, and shelter. We are the ones who roll out the welcome mat.
Second, recognize that rats survive in our dirt and disease. They only endanger us when they pass our own bacteria and viruses back to us. Yet we’re so disgusted by these creatures that we’re willing to torture them to death with poison and inhumane rat traps the moment they step inside our homes.
Rest assured, you don’t have to eradicate rats through painful, torturous methods. Humane rat traps exist for this very reason: to recognize that rats are intelligent living creatures that deserve respect. And although we may not be able to coexist with them in our homes, rats still deserve a humane death that is quick and without pain.
Exploring Different Types of Rats
Many homeowners are surprised to learn that there are more than 50 different subspecies of rats, each with its own characteristics and traits. If you experience an occasional rat sighting in or near your home, you’re most likely dealing with one of the following four types: ship rats, marsh rice rats, Norway rats, or woodrats.
Here we explore a bit about the most common types of rats to help you better understand these surprisingly complex animals.
Ship rat (aka black rat or roof rat)
Ship rats are usually about 5 to 7 inches long, with a tail that measures up to 8 inches. They can weigh up to half a pound. Despite being known as black rats, they can also be medium or light brown in color and have a lighter underside. Their fur is usually scraggly.
Ship rats got their name because they arrived on trade ships in the U.K. during Roman times from India. Ship rats are found on all continents but are most common in coastal areas and tropical climates. However, they can also adapt to more extreme cold.
Ship rats are omnivores, so they eat a wide variety of foods, including seeds, fruit, stems, leaves, insects, and small animals such as birds. They’re especially drawn to food left out for dogs and cats.
Ship rats and their parasites are known to carry a variety of serious diseases, including the bubonic plague (via the rat flea), typhus, Weil’s disease, toxoplasmosis, and trichinosis.
Marsh rice rat
Marsh rice rats are medium-sized, with a total length of up to 12 inches. Although their coloring can vary depending on their location, many look a lot like ship rats and Norway rats. However, marsh rice rats have greater differences in color between their bodies, heads, and stomachs. The upper body is usually gray to grayish brown, with the head a bit lighter, and the underbelly and feet are often off-white. They have small cheek pouches, and their ears have a patch of light hair in front of them.
Marsh rats are true to their name, appearing most frequently in wet, marshy areas such as the Florida Keys and the Gulf Coast. Their natural habitats range from the eastern United States to Texas and into South America.
The marsh rice rat is omnivorous, eating equal parts plant and animal matter. They love green vegetation, fungus, rice, and marsh grasses, as well as insects, snails, fish, and even fiddler crabs.
Marsh rice rats are the primary host for the Bayou virus, which is the second-most common agent of hantavirus infections in the U.S.9 They also may carry Lyme disease and a bacteria called Bartonella, which can cause several diseases in humans.
Norway rat (aka brown rat)
Norway rats are larger than most other types of rats, ranging anywhere from 15 to 20 inches total, including the tail. They can weigh twice as much as a black rat and many more times than a house mouse. They have coarse, brown or dark gray fur, and their underside is lighter gray or brown.
Although Norway rats originated in Europe, they have spread across the globe. They are very adaptable to different climates because they construct their nests in below-ground burrows or at ground level. They are very good swimmers, so you might even spot them near waterways and pools. They are found throughout the United States, particularly in the Northeast, Midwest, and Southwest, especially in urban areas with multiple food sources.
Norway rats are also omnivorous and will eat nearly anything they can get their paws on. This includes small birds, eggs, all types of plants and small invertebrates.
This species is known for being a carrier of the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, a disease that results in muscle pain, fever, and headaches in humans. In fact, the parasite has a long history with the Norway rat. Interestingly, research indicates that the parasite evolved to make an infected rat less fearful of cats, making it more susceptible to predation and increasing the likelihood of transmission.10
Woodrat (aka packrat)
Often compared to deer mice, harvest mice, and grasshopper mice Woodrats actually have a distinctively rat-like appearance, with a long tail, large ears and big black eyes. Their size varies depending on their location. For example, bushy-tailed woodrats in desert areas are known to be much larger than their counterparts in mountainous areas.
Woodrats are only found in North America, but they thrive in nearly every climate that the continent has to offer. Bushy- tailed woodrats are common in western North America, ranging from arctic Canada to the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico. In the Eastern part of the U.S., other woodrat species live in the mountains, above the timberline and even in cliffs.
Woodrats are omnivorous, so they enjoy everything: seeds, nuts, leaves, berries, twigs, insects, birds, small mammals, and more.
Woodrats have been found to carry a variety of diseases that are harmful to humans, including Arenavirus, hantavirus, typhoid, trichinosis, and the bubonic plague. They can also carry dangerous bacteria such as salmonella and parasites.
Why Is the Rat Problem Serious?
Now that you have a better understanding of the nature of rats and their intelligence and personalities, you might be wondering whether having rats around is really all that bad. How serious is it when you spot a rat or two—or more—around your home?
In short, it’s pretty serious. And even if you see just one or two rats, it’s a situation you need to resolve sooner rather than later. Why? There are several reasons a rat problem of any size is something to take seriously:
Rats reproduce rapidly, which is why you should act quickly as soon as you spot one or two rodents around your property. Not only will your fast action help to eradicate the rats in your own home; it will also help contain the broader rat population, which is getting out of hand.
In 2000 alone, urban rats caused $19 billion worth of economic damage by eating away at buildings and other infrastructure.11 For individual homeowners, damage to a house’s electrical wiring, exterior siding, interior walls, and other materials can significantly impact your investment and cost thousands of dollars to rectify.
And the problem is getting worse. Researchers have found that two rats in an ideal environment can turn into a mind-boggling 482 million rats in just three years.12 In cities around the globe, residents are dealing with rat infestations that are worse than ever. Urban rat populations in the U.S. are exploding, and it’s no surprise that residents are on high alert. USA Today reported that, in 2016, calls to a pest control service increased 67 percent in Boston, 129 percent in New York City, and an incredible 174 percent in San Francisco.13 In the Washington D.C., area, growing human populations and warmer winters have led to a recent 65 percent increase in rodent sightings.14
As noted above, different species of rats carry different diseases, many of which are extremely dangerous to humans and our pets. Rats are excellent carriers of bacteria and viruses, and they often carry fleas and other parasites that can be dangerous to humans. Rats can be carriers of:
To add insult to injury, rats also can cause severe allergic reactions in people who are exposed to their dander, droppings, and hair.
Humane Killing Methods Versus Other Techniques
Now that we’ve explored the seriousness of the rat problem, you’re probably wondering how to best eradicate rats from your property.15 There are a variety of methods for killing rats, some of which have been on the market for decades. However, when these products were being designed, the primary focus was on killing the creatures, with no regard for how gruesome or drawn-out the death might be.
Today, most consumers are much more aware of the need for humane treatment of all animals—even rats. As a society, we’ve become much more concerned with how our actions impact creatures of all sizes; just look at the growing demand for free-range eggs and the dwindling sales of fur.
It’s entirely understandable if you want to clear your home of a rat problem. But what if you want to do it without torturing defenseless animals?
To help you hone in on the best rat trap products for your needs, we’ll examine some traditional killing methods and see how they compare to traps that are specifically designed to be humane.
Many people think immediately of snap traps when they hear the words “rodent control.” However, these spring-loaded traps are not designed to be humane. Unfortunately, they don’t always kill the rat right away; it’s surprisingly easy for a rat to get caught in the trap and be injured. The result is a long and painful death from injuries or from dehydration or starvation.
Glue traps are crueler than snap traps because they are actually designed to lead to an inhumane death. With a glue trap, the rat is meant to walk across the sticky surface, get stuck and slowly die of starvation or dehydration. Sometimes rats struggle and get their faces stuck to the trap, causing them to suffocate. To make matters worse, glue traps can be dangerous to small children and pets.
Rat poison is just as bad as glue traps because it’s also designed to cause a slow, painful death. Plus, setting out rat poison can endanger your family members and pets and may end up harming other wildlife.
Electronic Rat “Zappers”
Another popular option is rat zappers, which are small traps that use bait to attract a rat and then kill it using a high-voltage, battery-powered shock. These traps are marketed as humane, and it can be easy to believe that is true. A rat zapper seems to provide a cleaner, less “messy” death than snap traps, glue traps, or poison. After a rat is killed, you simply pick up the trap and empty it outside or into the trash.
Unfortunately, rat zappers don’t always work as intended. Many consumers find that their zapper didn’t effectively electrocute the animal, leaving the poor rodent to suffer needlessly. In some cases, the rats are electrocuted for minutes at a time without dying.
Just imagine the pain of thousands of volts of electricity running through such a tiny animal for several excruciating minutes. Clearly, just like snap traps, glue traps, and poison, rat zappers aren’t providing the humane death their marketing claims.
"Another popular option is rat zappers, which are small traps that use bait to attract a rat and then kill it using a high-voltage, battery-powered shock."
A Certified Humane Solution
Although the traditional methods for eradicating rats can’t provide a humane death, new innovations in rat traps have led to a solution that is certified humane.
The Goodnature® A24 Rat and Mouse Trap instantly kills each rodent without toxins or electricity, providing a humane death without needless suffering. The trap uses a CO2-powered shot to automatically strike the rat’s head as soon as it approaches the lure, killing it without delay and without the risk of accidental injury. In fact, the rat doesn’t even know what hit it.
The A24 can be used inside or outside, providing an effective solution to existing rodent problems, and helping you prevent future infestations. Each CO2 canister enables the trap to automatically kill up to 24 rodents, without the need for you to reset the trap. And the specially formulated lures last six months and only require monthly checking. The traps can be used for years at a time, which means you can rest assured knowing that you are humanely preventing rodent problems without wasting unnecessary time or money.
As anyone who has experienced a rodent problem knows, dealing with rats in or around your home can be stressful. But just because rats are a nuisance doesn’t mean that they deserve cruel treatment. The more we have come to understand about animal intelligence, emotion, and personality, the more we have come to realize that every creature should be treated humanely—even when we are trying to resolve or prevent an infestation.
That is why humane rat traps are becoming increasingly embraced by homeowners like you. By providing rodents with a swift death, you will ensure that rats don’t needlessly suffer and that your family and household are free from these unwanted guests.