How to Get Rid of Mice
A Matter That Shouldn't Be Taken Lightly
Rodents are the vectors of a number of serious diseases, and their presence in your house should be taken very seriously.
Less serious, but still a consideration, is the fact that mice getting into your house can bring their fleas with them, and fleas are vectors for tapeworms. I've known people who were stunned because they had fleas in their house but didn't own pets.
We owned a feed and grain store and, of course, sold tons of rodent control products. But, for the most part, they weren’t being used in barns or farm settings. These products were being used in suburban residential and commercial settings.
It had nothing to do with sanitation or the way people maintained their property. Rodents seeking safety, shelter and food can squeeze through spaces just large enough for their heads.
That makes almost any interior setting desirable. And, there are exterior settings that are desirable, as well.
Rodents Present Potentially Serious Health Issues
Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that is spread via the urine and other bodily fluids, except the saliva, of rodents and, subsequently, other infected animals that pick it up from contaminated soil or water (where it can survive for weeks to months).
In humans it enters the body through cuts and scratches, and through the mucus membranes of the eyes, nose and mouth. It sometimes causes no symptoms, but usually causes a variety of nasty symptoms that, unfortunately, can be mistaken for other diseases. Untreated, it can lead to meningitis or liver or kidney failure.
Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, or HPS, is a severe and sometimes fatal respiratory disease that is spread through contact with the hantavirus, which is spread via the urine, feces and saliva of rodents.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the disease is mainly transmitted to people when they breathe in air contaminated with the virus.
These are important considerations in a mouse infestation because their urine and droppings are everywhere. Let me tell you a true story.
A guy I know, who works for a pest control company, was called into a small office because some of the office personnel saw a mouse. He inspected the premises, pointed out droppings in a few locations, and gave the owner an estimate that made his jaw drop.
The pest control guy said, “Excuse me a minute, I have to go out to my truck. I’ll be right in.” He came back with his black light and asked one of the staff to flick off the office lights. Urine phosphoresces under a black light and will reveal the areas you must treat with bleach or a household disinfectant.
When he turned his black light on, little iridescent spots glowed all over the office…on top of the coffeemaker, on every keyboard, even on the sweater of a lady who usually left it draped over the back of her chair when she went home. He got the job for his company.
If you have a mouse problem, you must get a black light. They’re cheap and available at pet supply stores, hardware stores, and online. You must keep checking and treating, even when it seems that you might have the mouse problem beaten.
For Little Guys, They Sure Do A Lot Of Damage
In addition to the health aspects of a rodent infestation, let’s look at some of the physical damage they can do. They can chew through most building materials and love to chew and strip the insulation from wires of any kind. They use it for nesting material. Electrical cords, the tangle of wires connecting your computer to all of its component parts, and ignition wires are common targets.
A lot of folks who have little-used vehicles on their property, i.e. campers, motor homes, vehicles being restored, etc. commonly report rodent damage to ignition wires which, for certain vehicles, can be a costly proposition
As you might imagine, we had an ongoing rodent eradication program at our store, but that didn’t immunize us from problems. When I lost the audio on my computer, I contacted our IT department, named Eric, who shares my DNA.
He was a systems analyst at one company for 25 years and is presently a senior software engineer at another, so he knows a little more than I do about computers. I guess he initially thought it was an ID-10-T problem (remove the hyphens), because he suggested I check the speaker wire to make sure it was connected to the tower.
I traced the wire through the ball of spaghetti to the tower. Along the way, I discovered many chewed spots and, finally, the severed speaker wire. Damned mice. They also later disabled one of our point-of-sale terminals. New wires and greater diligence solved the problems. Their gnawing can also damage surfaces throughout the building.
They must gnaw on hard surfaces to file down those two big incisors, which continually grow. If they don't maintain those incisors in this manner, they become overgrown and misshapen, affecting their ability to eat.
Tools To Deal With A Rodent Problem
Most of them don’t work. At best, their efficacy is inconsistent.
Otherwise there wouldn’t be the need for traps, poisons or exterminators. Ditto for electronic repellent devices; although I have had a couple of people report that they worked for them. Call me cynical.
The old fashioned snap traps sometimes work, sometimes they don’t. Anecdotal evidence that some rodents are able to get the bait without setting off the trap is common. Although they’re reusable, some people consider them to be disposable because of having to deal with removing a dead mouse from the trap. The key here is “a” dead mouse.
You trap them one at a time and it’s like shoveling sand against the tide because of their prolific reproductive imperative. Most mice are fertile from 4 weeks of age through the rest of their lives. Wild mice living in your house can live up to 5 years.
Females deliver a litter of up to 24 pups and can get pregnant again within 28 hours of giving birth. Gestation averages 3 weeks, and they breed year round. Those little “pinkies” born on Memorial Day are themselves fertile by the 4th of July. Now you can see why trapping them one at a time is pretty much a lost cause.
My favorite trap is the Tin Cat, and variations thereof. It’s basically a metal box with a one-way opening at one, or both, ends. They hold up to three dozen mice.
You put some bait in there to attract the varmints. Some people get exotic with cheese and crackers or peanut butter and crackers.
The best is simple bird seed. Mice will chew through a plastic barrel to get at bird seed. The problem is; what do you do with three dozen live mice you captured in a little tin box?
Releasing them lets them live to come back another day, but more importantly, produce thousands of others just like them in just a few months. Some people use poison as bait and end up with a little tin box full of dead or dying mice.
There are electronic traps, too, that electrocute them. And there are disposable capsule style traps that kill and neatly contain them. You throw them away, trap and all. Again, both types kill one at a time and, as with the snap traps, you’ll never win.
Now you’re talking. But there are obvious concerns in households that have children and/or pets. In two decades of selling the stuff, and a lot of it, I might add, I never did hear of a child or pet being harmed. But, I’m sure if you talk to pediatricians and veterinarians they could tell you something different.
I did have one customer whose 100 pound dog took a bite of one of the anti-coagulant bars. The vet said the dog consumed far less than a lethal dose but gave him some vitamin K as a precaution, and the dog showed no ill effects.
The use of rodenticides in the U.S. is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has taken steps to regulate their residential use and to reduce their danger to children, pets and wildlife.
There are nine rodenticides that the EPA targeted in 2007: brodifacoum, bromadiolone, difethiolone, chlorophacinone, diphacinone, warfarin, bromethalin, zinc phosphide and cholecalciferol. The three that are underlined have been classified as restricted use products.
In cases where any of the nine are sold for use by consumers, they must be sold only in refillable tamper-resistant bait stations with solid bait blocks being the only permissible bait form.
You used to be able to buy the anticoagulants in pellets, solid chunks, and one-pound blocks. You still can, but only in large quantities.
The one pound blocks, for instance, now are sold in cases of 12. That’s generally more than most households need at one time, and ties up more money than most consumers are willing to put out.
There are also liquid rodenticides, which is what we used. Being a feed and grain store, there was a readily available food supply, but not much to drink. We were glad to oblige.
I don’t know how the “they go out looking for water” story started. Probably some shop keeper told that to a customer concerned about the mice dying in the house and stinking up the joint.
Not once did I ever have a customer come back and say, “The stuff worked great, but boy did they smell!” Whether you use an anticoagulant or a neurotoxin, you’ll find dead ones, but not necessarily near water.
Often when animals that are low on the food chain are sick, they feel more vulnerable and become more secretive. As they sought seclusion, perhaps their absence forced an explanation from someone who didn’t know what else to say. Stories then can take on a life of their own.
If you see a mouse in the house, just remember a few things:
- You don’t have “a" mouse. You have a bunch of them.
- They can make you pretty sick.
- Unless you can locate and shore up all points of entry, which is unlikely, you’ll never permanently be rid of the problem.
- You may be mouse-free for a while, but eventually others will find access points and suddenly you’re in the extermination business again. You should always be on the lookout for signs of their presence.
Also, if you have pets, be diligent about disposing of dead mice since your pets can become victims of rebound toxicity, what it's called when they get poisoned by consuming a poisoned mouse.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Rodents
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: Controlling Rodents and Regulating Rodenticides
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Bob Bamberg