Home & Garden

Getting rid of pests can be challenging for homeowners

Battling rats is no one-shot deal.

“The biggest challenge for being successful is that it needs to be long-term,” said Sammy Berg, senior environmental health specialist with Thurston County Public Health and Social Services Department. “People find rodent signs, they catch one and think it’s done.”

Instead, they need to mount an ongoing search for rodent droppings and damage, and scour exterior walls for coin-sized holes that are the equivalent of rodent doors.

Here are questions and answers from experts on four-legged pests common to the South Sound.

How do you keep rodents from entering your home?

The No. 1 thing to prevent infestations is to seal gaps and holes on the exterior that are larger than 1/4 inch, says Eric Hodson, general manager of Whitworth Pest Solutions in Puyallup. Mice can enter holes as tiny as a 1/4 inch; rats can slip through 1/2-inch holes.

Hodson advises covering crawl space and attic vents with heavy-duty galvanized hardware cloth screens. Gaps around pipe entrances, cables and other foundation openings should be sealed with mortar, boards or steel wool. Entry and garage doors should have tight-fitting weather seals.

What about landscaping?

Tree branches touching roofs are highways for rats, Hodson says. Cut branches so they don’t touch the roof.

Should you hire a professional exterminator?

Health department specialists say professionals can be effective in especially bad infestations.

What are the main rats in the South Sound?

Roof rats and Norway rats, also called sewer rats. Roof rats love to climb and make nests in attics, Hodson said. Their droppings are pointy on the end. Norway rats prefer to stay low to the ground and burrow. They have larger bodies and larger droppings that are a half-inch or longer and round at the ends. Mice droppings are roughly 1/8-inch long. While either rat will eat anything, Norway rats prefer meat, protein and greasy foods. Roof rats prefer fruits and nuts.

What can you do inside the house to prevent rodents?

Keep food, including pet food, in thick plastic or metal containers with tight lids.

Clean up spilled food right away and wash dishes and cooking utensils soon after use. Always put away pet food and water bowls after use.

How do you clean up after rodents?

Don’t stir up dust by sweeping or vacuuming droppings, urine or nests; people have caught the hantavirus by inhaling dust from infected deer mice droppings. Spray urine and droppings with a disinfectant or a mixture of bleach and water and let soak 5 minutes. Use a paper towel to pick up the urine and droppings. Disinfect the entire floor, counters, cupboards, carpet and other areas where rodents may have been.

What can you do in the yard to keep from attracting rodents, raccoons and squirrels?

Never leave pet food unattended outside. Pick up dog waste immediately; rodents will eat it. Don’t leave apples or other fruit on the ground, and fence off your garden. Tightly cover garbage cans.

Stop feeding birds or clean up the seeds they don’t eat. Prevent animals from crawling up trees, especially fruit trees, by wrapping an 18-inch-tall sheet of metal into a cone shape around the tree trunk.

Should you throw away snap traps once they’ve caught a rodent?

Hodson recommends throwing away the carcass and reusing the traps. The lingering scent of the mouse or rat on the traps will make their pals more comfortable in approaching the trap.

Should you use poisoned bait?

There’s disagreement over this. Some pest control companies use special traps with poisoned bait inside that allow rats or mice to enter, eat and go outside; the traps are too small for dogs and cats to reach the poison inside. Some homeowners said they’ve used bait successfully.

However, Randy Lind, owner of Lind Pest Control & Inspection Services Inc., wrote us saying he’s also seen family pets nearly die when poison was left within their reach. And some of his toughest rodent cases have come after homeowners used bait. Despite packaging claims that the pests go outdoors to die, he wrote, “Often times rodents will die in their nesting sites within insulated attics, sub-structure crawl spaces, or wall voids, leaving the difficult task of locating and removing the carcasses. ... The odor of a dead rodent can last for a month or two or longer and can be quite unbearable. Not to mention the problem with flies and maggots that will ensue.”

If you’ve eliminated their food sources and still have raccoons and squirrels, how can you get rid of them?

It’s illegal to kill wildlife unless they’re attacking humans or domesticated animals, Bonnie Staller, customer service specialist with the state Fish and Wildlife Department, said. The department can provide the names of licensed trappers who trap and humanely euthanize nuisance wildlife for a fee.

You can catch raccoons and eastern gray squirrels in a live trap yourself, but you can only release them on your property. It’s against state law to transport wildlife, even mice or rats, without a permit. For more information, call the department at 360-249-4628 or go to wdfw.wa.gov and click on “Nuisance Wildlife – Living with Wildlife.”

What about people who can’t afford to hire a repair or pest control company to prevent vermin break-ins?

• Sometimes help is available by calling 2-1-1, an informational and referral service in the South Sound.

• Need-A-Break Services at the Tacoma Rescue Mission offers one-time assistance of free or low-cost home and vehicle repair, yard cleanup, or pest control service to low-income, elderly or disabled people in Pierce County, and sometimes in South King and Thurston counties. For information, call 253-284-4282 or go to www.needabreak.org.

Where can I get more information about rodents?

Go to the Centers for Disease Control at www.cdc.gov/rodents or the Thurston County Public Health and Social Services Department at www.co.thurston.wa.us/health. Call the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department at 253-798-6440 or the Thurston health department at 360-867-2500.

What’s the landlord’s responsibility to control pests in rentals?

State law requires apartment landlords to control pests unless the tenant is causing the problem. House landlords are only responsible for ensuring the house doesn’t have pests when the tenant moves in. If a landlord hasn’t fixed the problem after written notice from the tenant, state law allows tenants to deduct part of their rent if they perform pest control work themselves under certain conditions. For details, go to www.washingtonlawhelp.org and click on “housing.” In Tacoma, call the city’s landlord tenant coordinator at 253-591-5163.

What if a neighbor’s house is attracting rats?

If the person doesn’t have garbage service or has excessive garbage on the property, county health or solid waste departments might be able to take a complaint and notify the neighbor. In Thurston County, call 360-867-2500 and in Pierce County, call 253-798 4636.