How to Kill Rats, Inside and Outside

Rats Circle the Globe

The brown rat (Norway rat) and black rat (roof rat) have followed Europeans in the last couple of centuries to almost every place on earth, including, of course, the Bay Area, where they are both abundant.

Rats seek food, shelter and water. Where these three things exist, you'll find rats.

Our Trouble With Rats

We had:

  • Rats in the garage, living in the washer and dryer, attracted by dog food
  • Rats in the outside barbecue, attracted by the drippings
  • Rats inside the house, attracted to food and water under the kitchen sink
  • Rats outside, attracted by birdseed in the feeders

Rat in the Barbecue - It Has to Go!

A rat in the outdoor barbecue
A rat in the outdoor barbecue

Several shaky YouTube videos show people screaming in terror when they lift the lid of a barbecue and a rat jumps out. On Steven Raichlen’s Barbecue Board, an unfortunate man tells how he lifted his barbecue lid and found “seven or eight rats of varying sizes,” plus plenty of rat turds and an overpowering smell of urine. His wife ordered him to take the new grill to the landfill. Other commenters advised him to clean and rat-proof the grill, not throw it away.

How We Got Rid of Rats

In 2011 we tried poison, traps, and a “Rat Zapper,” a battery-operated device that electrocutes rats. All have their advantages and disadvantages. We are most impressed with the Rat Zapper.

Rat Nest in the Barbecue Area

Rats brought green poison bait pellets and dog food to this nest.  Note Norway rat turds.
Rats brought green poison bait pellets and dog food to this nest. Note Norway rat turds.

Our Experience with Rat Poison

Advantages: Rat poison will definitely kill rats. Until recently, in California, you could buy rat poison in large green pellets. We tried it. Rats found the pellets very appetizing; they hauled them to their nests. As they ate the rat poison, it killed them slowly, from internal bleeding. We could tell that they were eating the poison because the poop the rats left behind turned from hard pieces to a runny green liquid.


  • Rat poop that contains poison is toxic waste that has to be carefully cleaned up.
  • Poisoned rats that are sick or weak could be eaten by cats, dogs and other creatures, who can in turn be poisoned. Small dogs especially are at risk of dying from eating poisoned rats.
  • The large green pellets looked like food, which could be tempting to little kids. A small child eating rat poison is a frightening possibility that would require a trip to the emergency room.

Actually, to deal with these latter two disadvantages, EPA banned our green pellets in June 2011. Now the only rat poisons that the general public can buy are slow-acting anticoagulants incorporated into blocks of wax or paste, packaged in disposable bait stations that are designed to keep kids and dogs from getting at the bait directly. The rat excrement will still be toxic, and a dog may still eat poisoned rats, but the slow-acting poison gives its owner a chance to diagnose the problem before the dog eats more.

Rat Poisoning Campaign Leaves a Toxic Mess

Runny rat excrement contaminated by green rat poison
Runny rat excrement contaminated by green rat poison

Our Experience With Rat Traps

Rat traps work well, inside and outside. Traditional rat traps, like in the video, are spring loaded, with a trigger you attach bait to. I baited one of these with peanut butter and set it under the kitchen sink. In the middle of the night I heard a loud “slap” sound, and knew I had caught a rat. In the morning, I went to the rat trap to see blood all over the inside of our kitchen cabinet, and in the corner, a large mutilated rat. I had to scoop the rat out with a shovel and place it in a bucket.


  • Rat traps don’t always kill. Rats can escape maimed from a rat trap and suffer. If you find the rat, then it's up to you to kill it with a shovel or by drowning. I purchased a pellet gun to shoot the injured rats instead of doing it by hand.
  • Rat traps may cause a distressing mess. A dying rat may drag the trap around, leaving a trail of blood and guts to be cleaned up.

Video: Rat Trap Demonstration (using pencils and carrots)

Our Experience with the Rat Zapper

My brother introduced me to the Rat Zapper. You put some bait in the reusable trap, and when the rat walks into the trap, electricity--8000 volts, if you believe that--from the batteries electrocutes the rat in a few seconds. Then, all you do is dump the rat out of the trap into the garbage.

My father in-law had a rat problem: rats were getting into his hot tub, and making a new nest in the cabinet of his barbecue every few days. I sent him a Rat Zapper as a gift and he reports that he killed over 50 rats with it. Presumably he replaced the batteries several times: four AA batteries are supposed to be good for 20 kills.

Biconet, which sells the Rat Zapper and other integrated pest management tools, argues that a zapper it is safer to use around children and pets than poison or traps, because its entrance is designed to admit nothing bigger than a rat, and if a dog or child did put a paw or finger inside, the electric shock should trigger a reflex causing the child or dog to pull away from the trap.

I think the Rat Zapper is the way to go. The only disadvantage is that it is not designed for use outdoors, and moisture could short it out. Nevertheless, Biconet says to cover it with a plastic bag or tarp and go ahead and use it outside.

Video: Rat Zapper Demonstration

Using Cats or Dogs to Control Rats

For outside rat problems, experts have recommended getting a cat. Cats will hunt rats, and help keep the rat population under control. Still, I wonder if cat predation might make the rat population stronger and smarter, by culling the weakest and slowest rats. And some cats won’t tangle with large Norway rats.

Dogs have been bred for hundreds of years to help humans deal with rats. They catch the rats, bite them and then shake them until they're dead. It's pretty gruesome to watch, but I could see hiring dogs to kill rats if I had a huge rat problem.

Video: Working Dogs Killing Rats

Help From the Government

Your county’s animal control center may help you exterminate rats. We live in San Mateo County on a creek that has been invaded by ivy, which rats hide in. The county has placed and maintained two large rat poison dispensaries in our backyard. We believe our neighborhood would be overflowing with the critters without the county's help.

Increasingly, government agencies are advising us to deal with pests through housekeeping and handyman ideas rather than traps and poison.

Knowing Your Rats

The Norway Rat or Brown Rat is the most successful and widespread mammal on the planet, next to humans. Norway rats tend to stay low, are good diggers and swimmers, and use basements and sewers to invade houses. They seem to be involved in these barbecue incidents (meat is one of their preferred foods); their turds are more rounded than roof-rat turds, and are visible in one of the pictures above. They are ancestors of pet rats (because 19th-century stagers of rat-and-terrier fights used to keep the prettiest rats and tame them) and of laboratory rats.

The Roof Rat or Black Rat is smaller and a good climber. Roof rats tend to stay high, nesting in trees and woodpiles, and using tree limbs and powerlines for travel. They can range 300 feet or more from the nest, living in one backyard and feeding in another. They love backyard fruits and nuts. They may invade attics.

Both kinds are clever at staying out of sight, and at avoiding new things in the environment that might be traps or hazards.

Integrated Pest Management Ideas: Creating Defensible Space

The University of California at Davis Integrated Pest Management Program, our San Mateo County pest control agency, and the Centers for Disease Control all have advice on how to close off openings that rats might use to enter a house. The idea is that, since the Bay Area outdoors, with its ivy, blackberry piles, and fruit and nut trees, is an inexhaustible source of rats, you give up on totally getting rid of the rats in their outdoor space, and you separate the human space from the rat space. If you close off all openings to the basement or crawlspace, around the pipes, and the bottom of the house, and leave none larger than a half dollar, you can theoretically keep the Norway rats out; and if you can do the same for the attic and roof area, and leave no holes bigger than a quarter or so, you can keep the roof rats out. Also, you are supposed to clear vines and shrubbery away from the bottom of the house, so rats can’t hide right next to the house; raise your woodpile up off the ground; and remove tree limbs within three feet of the house so that roof rats can’t use them to leap onto your house. Then if you keep food sources inside the house cleaned up, or secured in chew-proof containers, you can get the rats inside the house to kill themselves with the poison bait, traps, or zappers you set out. End of indoor rat problem—you hope.

Problems arise when the boundaries between the inside and the outside of the house are kind of fuzzy. We humans find it convenient to go in and out of the house with our food, and so do our pets.

Rats will get what they can from our garbage cans, compost piles, barbecues, and bird feeders. Dry dog food must seem ideal to rats; portable, storable, full of protein. In fact it makes a good bait for rat traps. If the dog food is outside, or where rats can reach it, they will get it. Access to a large supply of cat and dog food can create a horrific infestation.

Suggestions for making your barbecue a defensible rat-free space between grills include:

  • cleaning it thoroughly;
  • burning off residue;
  • closing all vents and stopping all holes with aluminum screening, aluminum duct tape, or steel wool (though one writer says a gas grill will melt steel wool);
  • covering it with a zippered cover.

Guilt Trip

Here’s a funny Environmental Protection Agency video advising you to keep your kitchen clean to avoid rats. Of course there’s more to fighting rats than dishwashing. I’m sure the rat shown capering in the dirty dishes is a pet rat, descended from Norway rats but different in behavior.

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Comments 24 comments

SteveoMc profile image

SteveoMc 5 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

OMG I would use any means possible to get rats out of my house. WE had some mice once and they lived in the ceiling of the basement rooms, I had to catch them, poison would have resulted in dead mice in the ceiling. I used mouse traps, it took a few weeks, but I got them all. I loved the zapper though, that works neat. I too used peanut butter, seems they can't resist the stuff.

dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 5 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

If I had not actually seen this work, I would not believe it. A plug-in-the-wall device that runs off rats and mice... even some bugs and ants... It does not bother/affect/effect small animals/pets... Ultrasonic rat/mouse repellents will help you get rid of rats in your home. These electronic rat repellers use ultrasonic sounds and other technologies that chase mice/rats out of your home and out of your walls. The sound and vibrations produced by the plug in rat repellents make living in your home and walls uncomfortable for the rats and chases them out.

Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States

Three things about rat poison.

(1) It used to be sold from feedstores as "Wafarin" and still may be as far as I know. It works because it makes the rat bleed to death internally. However, it's not lost on some old timers (like my husband) the irony of that -- because "coumadin" a blood thinner often prescribed for serious heart problems -- is the manufacturer name for generic "wafarain." At 68 he's convinced they are poisoning him.

(2) When my daughter was a toddler, our apartment complex had a rat problem. They put the rat poison down and for whatever reason she ate it. Spent a terrified night in the hospital after having her stomach pumped and for that reason -- my advice is if you have small children or pets -- don't go the poison route.

(3) Strange but true -- in the building my son, his wife, and two year old live in (in Hong Kong) rats are a huge problem. For about 4 months the building manager kept poisoning the rats on the common porches, everyone was upset because the dead rats decaying bodies had produced a horrible smell (or so they thought). Turned out the elderly lady above their apartment had expired and no one knew it as her corpse rotted for all those months. After the discovery, the manager posted a notice that no one is allowed to poison the rats and must only use traps -- to ensure that situation does not repeat itself.

seanorjohn profile image

seanorjohn 5 years ago

Wow pretty gruesome stuff. But rats have to be dealt with.I like the sound of the zapper. Pretty humane way to go.Strangely, I have no fear of rats but I am really scared of mice. The weird thing is I even know the origin of my phobia. I wrote a non commercial hub about it.Voted up and useful.

K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 5 years ago from Northern, California

Rodents are the bain of my existence! They scare me, and I scare them I am sure. Reducing the population in almost any way, shape, or form is just okay by me. I am not partial to the poisons however, they are just too inhumane for me. My fear with rat/mouse poison is that a rat that has eaten the stuff would be caught and consumed by a domestic animal (cat/dog) and cause the end of these fine creatures lives as well, and that is NOT a good thing. The Rat zapper you speak of, sounds perfect! Up and awesome Paul!


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

Very good tips and I also like the zapper. It is horrible to get rid of them.

Brie Hoffman profile image

Brie Hoffman 5 years ago from Manhattan

I have a rat zapper and I am so glad for it.

a rat trap 5 years ago

Electric Trap - This trap speaks for itself.

10 Homemade - This is for the guy who wants to make a better mouse / rat trap, or wants to try something different. The most common is the 5 gallon bucket and soda can with wire stretched across the top. Don't forget to place the board on the lip of the bucket (AKA plank), before you send the local mice and rat populations to their death.

a rat trap 5 years ago

. Live trap - A lot like the Ketch-All, a live trap is a lot smaller version of standard live cat and dog traps. A Fig Newton or peanut butter in the back behind the trigger plate does the trick every time.

8. Cube Tilt Trap - A cube trap is a gravity trap with a door on one end. When the mouse enters, the cube tilts causing the door to close. Peanut butter at the back of the tube works great.

a rat trap 5 years ago

Mice, rats and other rodents are unwanted guests in many households. They will eat your food and chew holes in all kinds of items. They also carry several diseases that put you and your family's health in jeopardy. Rats are one of the most diseased rodents that will inhabit a house, and eliminating the problem needs to be done quickly.

However, they are also very intelligent, and it doesn't take long for them to learn their surroundings.

Eric 5 years ago

I had one come from an open drain in my house. He crawled up the wrong tube. My black lab greeted him with a neck shake. Somehow it got away and holed itself up in a space under my sink. Ordered a bb gun online and put bbs in it, came home tonight and found it hiding in the cabinet under the sink. Sadly, I didn't pump it enough times to drop it on the spot. Now I am going to have to pull out my sink to get the dead body before they start to reek. Iknow it's dying because I heard it make noises and now they stopped. Moral of the story, if your going to do it yourself, do it in a way it dies in a easy to access spot.

Paul Edmondson profile image

Paul Edmondson 5 years ago from Burlingame, CA Author

You shot a rat in your house with a bb gun? I think the rat zapper is a better way to go.

coriwbaker 5 years ago

I am glad to see this hub, thanks for more information.

bedi 4 years ago

After removing yet another rat from a trap, I'm buying a zapper. Just broke my heart to see that the trap broke the rat's lower back. I certainly hope it went quickly.

This rodent was my fourth trap. The rodents have cost me three service trips from the washing machine guy to repair chewed water hoses. The last guy sprayed WD40 on the hoses; something rats and mice don't like. Who knew?!

Paul Edmondson profile image

Paul Edmondson 4 years ago from Burlingame, CA Author

I had to revisit this hub since I saw a rat on my deck yesterday. It was out during the day, which has me a bit concerned.

Aprilbird 4 years ago

A rat got its leg caught in my snap trap and I stomped and stood on it trying to suffocate it. Until the rat quit squeaking only then I let my foot go off of it and the rat was still able to escape. I thought my 130 pounds was enough to kill it after 2 mins. Or at least make unable to run. I should've waited longer. I didn't have anything within reach to smash it with unfortunately. Will it die later from internal bleeding? Will it come back in a few days? If anyone has an opinion I sure would like to read it.

pestcontrolproduc profile image

pestcontrolproduc 3 years ago

Could I add a word of caution about using cats to control rats inside? A cat that is confined to a closed space with even one rat, much less a pack of rats, is in danger of serious injury or death. A cat may be able to claw and kill a single rat, but it may die in a coordinated attack. And I'm not too keen on using cats anywhere there are snap traps or poisons.

Paul Edmondson profile image

Paul Edmondson 3 years ago from Burlingame, CA Author

Have you ever seen a pack of rats kill a cat? That seems wild to me.

julie 2 years ago

I keep putting poison down and the whole tray keeps going I will not return to my house as im terrified.

Paul Edmondson profile image

Paul Edmondson 2 years ago from Burlingame, CA Author

There is always the option of calling the exterminator.

julie 2 years ago

Is it expensive? And do u know why every time im putting poision down it keeps going

Paul Edmondson profile image

Paul Edmondson 2 years ago from Burlingame, CA Author

It's hard to know without seeing how you're doing it. Just be careful to keep the poison out of reach from other animals and kids.

Bethany Hannon 13 months ago

I have an immediate problem. I have a rat trapped in a rat trap - Trapper T-Rex (black plastic snap kind). But it only caught its leg and the rat is alive and jumping around. It is in an outside cupboard.

What do I do now???? How can I even get the rat out of the cupboard to kill it in another way?

Paul Edmondson profile image

Paul Edmondson 12 months ago from Burlingame, CA Author

This isn't fun, but I've seen a rat caught in a trap dropped into a pail of water and pinned down with a shovel to drown in. I've also seen a pellet gun used to shoot a rat in a trap. Another gruesome option is to use a spaid shovel and chop it's head off on the grass. Either way, you need to do something if it's alive and caught in a trap. Traps aren't great, that's why I prefer the rat zapper. It kills them pretty cleanly.

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