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How To Get Rid of Norway Rats

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Default Author Icon Written by This Old House Reviews Team Updated 03/22/2024

Norway rats thrive in many places, from bustling cities to quiet suburbs and rural farms. They can make their homes wherever food and shelter are present. These rodents are easily lured by overflowing trash cans, a conditioned crawlspace, or a backyard vegetable garden. If you’re worried about a current or potential infestation, we’ll explain how to remove rats and keep them out.

What Are Norway Rats?

Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus), also known as brown rats or sewer rats, can be identified by their size and coloring. Coarse brown or gray fur covers most of their bodies. However, their tails, ears, paws, and noses are bald with lighter pink or tan coloring. They measure 13 to 18 inches long from nose to tail and weigh about a pound. They have blunt noses, small ears set close together, and tails shorter than their bodies.

Despite their name, Norway rats likely originated in Asia and can now be found worldwide. Brown rats have adapted to a variety of habitats, including sewers and buildings. They are good swimmers with a keen sense of hearing, taste, and smell.

As omnivores, Norway rats will eat a wide range of food. They can be scavengers or opportunistic predators. Those living in the wild eat plants, fish, chicks, and small animals, while those in urban areas survive mainly on discarded human food.

Most Norway rats live less than a year, but they can breed year-round. Females average four to six litters each year, with each litter having about six to 12 kits. These rats live in large groups where males are dominant and size determines hierarchy.

Signs of a Norway Rat Infestation

Norway rats are nocturnal and good at staying hidden. However, they leave the following clues of their presence behind.

Norway rat feces look like dark brown pellets about the size and shape of rice. They have blunt ends and are about 3/4 inch long.
Like most rodents, Norway rats have strong incisors that they keep trimmed by gnawing. Look for tooth marks on wooden and plastic surfaces, pipes, and wires.
Norway rats like to build burrows, so check your garden for signs of digging. You may also find rat burrows under wood piles, garbage cans, outbuildings, and doghouses. Alternatively, they may build nests at ground level in sheltered areas.
Like other rats, Norway rats have greasy bodies that leave behind stains and smudges on the surfaces they rub against. You might see greasy stains along your baseboards or worn paths through your garden where rats have been traveling.
Most of the chirping sounds made by Norway rats are inaudible to humans. However, you may hear scratching, scurrying, or squeaking sounds from inside your walls or under your floorboards, especially at night.
Norway rat footprints are about half an inch long. They have four widely spaced toes on their front paws and five on their hind paws. You might also see straight “tail drag” marks between their tracks.

You might see a rat. Remember, Norway rats are brown or gray with naked pink or tan tails. They weigh about a pound with bodies no longer than 10 inches. They are good swimmers and diggers but not good climbers. 

Norway rats are much larger than house mice and stay closer to the ground than roof rats. If you see a rat larger than two pounds, you are likely dealing with a different species, such as a muskrat.

How To Remove Norway Rats

You can get rid of rats yourself by following the steps below. However, we recommend hiring a professional exterminator to handle large or persistent infestations. Many reputable pest control companies offer rodent control services to help homeowners deal with mice or rat problems.

Step 1: Identify and Eliminate Entry Points

Inspect the exterior of your home for potential entry points. Rats can enter buildings through any opening wider than half an inch, and mice can squeeze through openings as small as a quarter of an inch. 

Look for cracks in your siding or foundation, gaps around pipes and wires, and vent openings. Plug these entry points with steel wool, caulk, or concrete. Seal any gaps around windows and doors with caulk or weatherstripping. Check for indoor entry points, too, such as the openings behind appliances or bathroom fixtures to accommodate utility lines.

Step 2: Limit Access to Food and Water

Next, make your home less welcoming by limiting access to water and food sources. Clean up spills immediately, keep your sink clear of dishes, and fix any dripping faucets or plumbing leaks. Rodent-proof your kitchen by storing food in airtight plastic containers and using trash cans with tight-fitting lids.

Rats will eat almost anything, including pet food and bird seed. Leaving cat or dog food out overnight can undo all of your rat control efforts. Keep the ground beneath bird feeders clean.

Step 3: Place Traps

Once you have eliminated entry points and food sources, you will need to trap or kill rats that have already made their way inside. Rat traps work best for smaller infestations, while large infestations may call for rodenticides.

Snap traps can be a cost-effective solution. Ensure you have enough traps to catch all of the rats quickly. Set traps along walls and in secluded places where you have seen evidence of rat activity, such as behind furniture or in dark corners. Peanut butter, oatmeal, hot dogs, and bacon can all be good rat bait. Don’t set the traps until rats have stolen the bait from the unset trap at least once.

You can also use live capture traps. Set the traps in similar places and use the same rat bait. Check traps regularly and wear gloves when releasing live rats or disposing of dead rats.
We don’t recommend using rodent bait stations in most cases. If you believe rodenticides are necessary, it’s best to hire a professional rat exterminator. Licensed pest control companies have access to a wider range of baits and the expertise to use them safely and effectively.

How To Prevent Norway Rats

Preventing Norway rats from taking up residence on your property is easier than removing them. Here are some key steps to take:

  • Address leaks or moisture issues.
  • Clean up spills promptly.
  • Declutter secluded areas (attic, closets, garage, etc.).
  • Don’t leave food scraps lying around.
  • Don’t leave pet food sitting out.
  • Keep trash cans tightly sealed.
  • Seal potential entry points.
  • Store food in airtight containers.
  • Remove any piles of debris outside.
  • Trim overgrown vegetation.

Keeping your home clean and tidy will encourage rats to look elsewhere for food and shelter. 

Our Conclusion

Norway rats can invade homes and adapt to a variety of conditions. Telltale signs of an infestation include droppings, gnaw marks, runways, and nocturnal activity.As with most pests, prevention is key. Create an unwelcoming environment for these critters by sealing entry points, keeping food and water sources inaccessible, and decluttering. Snap traps, rodent bait stations, and professional pest control services can help you tackle existing infestations.

FAQ About Norway Rats

What is the best bait for Norway rats?

The best bait for Norway rats is peanut butter, sardines packed in oil, whole nuts, or bacon squares.

What attracts Norway rats?

Food, water, shelter, and warmth attract Norway rats. Leaky faucets, pet food left outside, cluttered spaces, and overgrown vegetation can all be inviting.

Why do I have Norway rats in my yard?

You might have Norway rats in your yard due to easily accessible food sources, such as a compost pile, open garbage cans, bird feeders, or pet bowls.

What is a Norway rat known for?

Norway rats are known for their adaptability, fast breeding, and destructive nature. They are good swimmers and well-suited to living in sewers.

What is the difference between a black rat and a Norway rat?

The main difference between a black rat and a Norway rat is its body shape. Norway rats are stout with blunt snouts, small ears, and tails shorter than their bodies. Black rats are slender with pointed snouts, ears large enough to fold over their eyes, and tails longer than their bodies.

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