It can be difficult to know what animal is moving around inside your walls, floors, roof, or loft. You might not know what it is, but you usually know when something is there that shouldn’t be there!
If you suspect you have rats at home, there are some simple ways to find out…
The easiest way to tell if you have rats in your house is to listen for rustling sounds at night, all year round. Look for black rat droppings with pointed ends, and dirty, oily marks along walls where rats walk. Rats will eat your food and chew holes in your walls, ceilings, or pipes.
It’s better to know early on if you have rats so you can sort out the problem quickly before it gets out of control. Rats can cause serious damage to a home and cost a lot of money to get rid of professionally. Below are 9 simple signs to look for if you want to find out if there are rats living in your house.
You hear scratching, rustling, or squeaking sounds
One of the first ways to tell if you have rats in your house is through sound. These are the sounds of rats moving around, chewing on things, and talking to each other.
If you hear scurrying, scratching, or rustling sounds in your ceiling, under your floors, or in the walls, there’s a good chance you have rats. You might even hear them moving around in your kitchen cupboards or anywhere there’s food.
In the following video, you can hear rats moving around behind the walls. You might have to turn up the volume to hear everything.
Rats are rodents, which means their front teeth never stop growing. If they’re in your house, rats have to nibble on hard materials, like walls, concrete, or pipes, to keep their teeth short. If they don’t, their teeth get too long and the rat dies. This means that you might hear gnawing, grinding, or chomping sounds as the rats chew on your house or whatever else they can find.
Rats mostly communicate with each other by releasing chemicals called pheromones and making ultrasonic sounds that we can’t hear. But rats also squeak and hiss, especially when they’re angry or feeling threatened. You might be able to hear these noises at night or if you are disturbing the rat’s nest.
You see rats
If you see a rat in your house or yard, dead or alive, then you know that you have rats in the area. Rats breed quickly and live in large families, so if there’s one rat there’s usually more.
Here are some of the easiest ways to tell if you are looking at a rat:
- Rats have small, round, hair-free ears
- A rat’s eyes may be black, red, or pink. Rats have poor eyesight and are most likely to be seen scampering along walls that they use as a guide
- Rats have four front teeth that never stop growing. There are two at the top and two at the bottom of the mouth
- A rat can have fur with shades of black, brown, gray, or white in it
- Rats have no hair on their toes
- Rats have a tube-shaped body that they like to keep close to the ground
- A rat’s tail looks smooth but there are fine hairs on it if you look really closely. Rats drag this tail along the ground as they move around
You find rat droppings
Rats eat a lot and pretty much any meal goes. They’re omnivores, which means they eat plants and meats in the wild. But they’re also opportunistic feeders, so they’ll eat whatever meal comes their way including garbage, pet food, and nuts.
All this food needs to get processed and dumped as rat poop.
Rats release droppings as they walk so you’ll find droppings along their paths, especially between their nest and any food sources like the garbage can. When first dropped, rat poop is shiny, moist, and very dark black. If you find these types of droppings, you have an active rat infestation.
Over time, as rat droppings dry out, they turn a lighter black and may eventually start crumbling into dust. If you see only crumbly gray-black droppings then you know rats were there, but they might have passed through, moved away, or died.
One of the tell-tale signs of rat droppings are the pointy ends. Rat droppings vary in size – the bigger the rat, the bigger the droppings. No matter the size, most are pill-shaped with pinched, pointed tips.
You discover nests in dark places
Rats sleep in and keep their babies in nests that they build. If you have rats in your house, there will be a nest somewhere too. Rats shred and use whatever is close by to build their nest, including insulation, wood shavings, leaves, clothes, papers, and newspapers.
Rats build a nest where it’s warm and dark, and they hide it where they won’t easily be found by humans or pets. This is what makes walls, ceilings, attics and even basements so attractive to rats. But if given a chance, rats will also build nests in drawers, cupboards, cabinets, or any hidden area of your home.
Rats also build their nest close to food because nobody wants to walk far when they’re hungry.
You see holes chewed in your house or food wrappers
Rats must chew to get to food and to keep their front teeth short, and one of their favorite teeth shorteners is wood and other building materials. A fairly reliable sign that you have rats in your house is if you find chew or gnaw marks in your walls, window frames, doors, ledges, molding, pipes, skirting boards, or electrical wires.
Darker bite marks are a sign that the holes are old, and the rats might no longer be active. If there are many holes and the holes are light or some are lighter than others, you still have rats living there.
The bigger the rat, the bigger the holes and the more damage they will cause to your house.
Rats have long, strong claws, which they use to dig burrows and to quickly and easily climb up things. If you’re looking for signs of rats, you might also see scratch marks where rats have been digging or climbing.
Rats also love it when food is easy to get to, and that includes the food in your kitchen and pantry. If you find food boxes or bags that have been chewed along the edges, bread that has some bites taken out of it, or bags of grains, pasta and the like that have been chewed open and eaten, you could have rats.
You notice the opening to the nest area is very small
Rats can squeeze through very small holes – even adult rats. Most rats can fit through a hole that’s less than an inch wide (20 mm) because of their tube-like body shape that’s much smaller than it looks under all that fur.
Other rodents, like squirrels, need a bigger hole if they want to get in and out of your house. Click here to find out how to tell the difference between rats and squirrels.
A rat uses its whiskers to feel if a hole is big enough for it to fit through. To do this, the rat puts its nose in the hole and feels the perimeter with its whiskers. If it will fit, the rat uses its flexibility and strong legs to push and squeeze itself through.
If the hole is too small to fit through and there’s no immediate threat, the rat can just gnaw on it to make the hole bigger. But rats don’t only get into your house through holes like these, so a small hole in a wall is not a definite sign that you do or don’t have rats.
Rats can also get in and out of your house in the following ways:
- Rats are burrowers and can dig underground. If there’s a way in through your foundation, they might find it. Rats can also chew through soft concrete, so old, crumbly concrete won’t stop them
- Rats can enter through small gaps between pipes and walls, such as by your bathroom cabinet’s plumbing
- Rats look for holes in vents to gain access to your home
- Rats are strong swimmers, and they can paddle their way into your house in pipes, arriving through floor drains or even the toilet
This video explains how a rat could end up in your toilet (it’s easier for them than you think!)
You see tracks and greasy wall marks
If you suspect that rats are active in a certain area of your home, take a flashlight or this UV black light from Amazon. Shine the light at an angle to where you think the rats are moving around. If you have rats, you’ll see urine spots, droppings, greasy wall trails, and rat tracks.
Let me explain the rat trails and tracks because I haven’t done that yet.
Rats have blurry eyesight, so they have to use their sense of smell, touch and hearing to find their way around.
When rats move from one place to the next, they tend to stay in dark areas and close to walls. They use the walls as guidance and as protection from predators. Over time, rats leave a dirty, greasy film along walls where their fur touches the walls and corners.
If you see dirty marks along the bottom of your walls, you probably have rats.
To be very sure, look for rat tracks. Rats tend to take the same path as it becomes familiar to them, especially between their nest and the food they eat. Rats will urinate and leave droppings along these paths, which you’ll be able to see with a flash light in dark areas (droppings) or a UV light (urine).
Sprinkle flour along the path, and leave it there for a few days. If rats are walking there, you’ll soon see rat tracks in the flour.
Rats have four toes on their front paws and five toes on their back paws. They often leave a tail trail between the paw prints because they drag their tail on the ground when they walk.
You smell ammonia
We know that rats have poor eyesight and use smell to communicate. Well, one of these “smells” is urine, which is used to mark a rat’s best routes.
As a rat walks along, it urinates to leave behind a scent. When the rat wants to follow the same path later, perhaps to its nest or back to the food source, it smells the urine and follows the scent as a guide.
But rats need no excuse to urinate. They also pee on food to claim it as their own and around their nesting area to show other rats they’re the boss.
Over time, all this rat urine builds up. First your cat or dog might smell it and follow it curiously, trying to get to the nest.
Then you will start smelling it too: You’ll notice the smell of ammonia, but you won’t be able to see anything there unless you shine a UV black light on the area at an angle.
You see signs of rats all year round and hear them at night
Taking note of when you hear rats is very important when identifying them in your home.
Rats are nocturnal, which means they sleep all day and move around at night. If you hear noises at night after sunset and these noises stop at dawn, there’s a good chance you have rats.
Rats are active throughout the year and don’t hibernate, so you will hear rats and notice many of the other signs of rats from January to December.
If rats have built their nest in your house, they like it there and will give birth to rat babies all year too. This means that the infestation will keep on growing as rats can have hundreds of babies each year.
Other rodents, like squirrels, are active during the day, often hibernate and become quiet in the colder months, and only have babies twice a year – once in spring and once in summer.
How to get rid of rats in your house
Getting rid of a rat infestation in your home can be a challenge, especially if there are a lot of active rats scurrying around.
If you think you have only a few rats and things are still manageable, you can try the following DIY products from Amazon to fix your rat problem:
- Try these humane rat bait pellets to kill rats without any pain. It’s also ecofriendly and safe to use around people and animals. As with all rat baits, it will take a few (up to four) days to see any results.
- Another gentle option is this catch-and-release cage trap, which will catch the rat so you can let it go somewhere far from your house.
- If you want to quickly kill any rats you catch, try putting these indoor rat zappers along the rat trails. The zapper kills rats with a 2-minute shock, but will also kill anything else that gets trapped inside it. Just be warned that the trap can’t get wet and that rats don’t always die with this method, so you might have live rats to take care of.
- There are also these rat traps that work without bait, killing rats without making a gory mess. They are reusable, so they’re cost-effective too.
- Or try this complete lockable bait station that safely keeps rat poison away from children and animals. You can mount the stations on walls or anywhere you like, but you’ll need to buy indoor or outdoor bait to use inside the stations.
If your rat infestation is bad, it’s best to call a pest control expert to handle the problem for you and to close off all rat entry points to your home – so they don’t come back.