Do cats scare away rats?
Keep Rats Out of Your Garden
Many gardeners have had at least one encounter with rats; the typical urban gardener has probably had many. There is only one species of rat in New York City—the Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus). The Norway rat is a commensal rodent, meaning it lives in close association (literally, “shares the table”) with humans. Urban gardens are particularly hospitable to rats because they provide food, water, and safety.
Rats will burrow into any available earthen space within close proximity to food but prefer fresh, fertile soil to make their nests—a garden is prime real estate to them. A rat burrow can be anywhere from one to six feet deep and will have an entrance, an exit, and maybe even an escape hole. A typical burrow will house a family of approximately eight rats. By counting the burrow holes gardeners can estimate the number of rats living in their garden.
Gardeners are usually left up to their own devices when it comes to pest control. Some people want to maintain a pesticide-free environment; others are desperate to get a bad situation under control and will try any remedy. Rats can usually be managed effectively without relying on toxic pesticides. In fact, a good rat management program focuses primarily on prevention.
Learn What Rats Need and Eliminate It
Recognizing how to make your space less hospitable can help you to devise a rodent-reducing plan. Rats must eat one to two ounces of food a day and have daily access to water. Rats will eat everything that humans eat and many things that we would never eat. They are not vegetarian; like most mammals, rats (especially reproducing females) need animal protein, fat, and carbohydrates in their diet.
Rats will eat the vegetables and fruits in a garden, but if that is truly their only food source, they will eventually move on to a site that meets their animal protein and fat needs. A compost pile with only garden scraps will not sustain a rat colony. But if table scraps including meats, grains, oils, or other fats are added into the compost pile, it will become highly attractive to them. And the warmth generated by decomposing waste creates a hospitable rat environment in cold weather. Compost areas must be monitored carefully, and if possible, kept in hard plastic or metal containers with tight-fitting lids.
Bags of trash placed near a garden offer an all-you-can-eat buffet to a colony of rats. Like compost, trash should be kept only in sturdy cans with tight-fitting lids. Gardeners should always clean up after picnics and make sure food waste is removed at night.
Food intended for pigeons, cats, dogs, chickens, or rabbits placed in or near a garden may also end up feeding rats. Animal waste such as dog feces can also provide nourishment. Some gardeners feed feral cats in the belief that they will scare away rats. The reality is that most cats are quickly overwhelmed. A healthy breeding female rat can have litters of up to 12 pups several times a year, while the average cat may only take down a rat once every couple of days. In areas where lots of rats are present, it’s best to avoid feeding other animals.
For shelter, rats seek out areas where they feel protected from predators. Dense plantings, tall weeds, and piles of lumber, rocks, or other kinds of clutter provide safe harbor to a rat. Ivy and bushes close to the ground and around buildings are particularly attractive. Rats have very poor eyesight and use their whiskers (or vibrissae) to navigate their environment; as a result, they prefer to travel along straight lines and use curbs, walls, and foundations to get around. Gardeners battling a rat infestation can cut back vegetation at least 18 inches from building walls, remove ivy or other vines from sides of buildings and nearby trees, and trim back tree branches that touch or rub against buildings. Deprived of cover, rats will be less confident traversing these exposed zones and may move on to safer places.
A gardener can figure out where rats are traveling by looking along straight lines for the greasy rub marks that rats leave behind. These rub or smudge marks contain pheromones from the rat’s skin and fur that they use to communicate with other rats. Washing the rub marks away with vinegar or biodegradable soap can help interrupt their established pathways to food sources and home. Hardware cloth (half-inch mesh) can be installed along the base of walls or fences to deter burrowing. The cloth should extend 8 to 12 inches underground. Even though rats can burrow deeper than this, many rats are deterred from spending so much energy to create a nest.
A Rat Reduction Plan
- Move compost into rodent-resistant containers with tight-fitting lids.
- Store seed and pet food in rodent-proof containers.
- Remove fallen fruit or nuts.
- Remove all fecal matter (dogs, cats, rodents, birds) and/or food waste every day.
- Eliminate standing water and improve drainage, so water doesn’t pool or settle.
- Remove clutter from storage sheds and garages.
- Cut grass or weeds and trim back plants around buildings and walls.
Monitor for Rats
The early spring prior to planting is the best time to start watching for rats. Gardeners should carefully check garden areas before planting seeds as well as later when vegetables and flowers are actively growing. Look for burrow holes, smudge marks, signs of gnawing, worn pathways, and droppings, all of which indicate an active rat infestation. Check around the garden perimeter a few times each week for any new rat activity and take steps to stop it.
In short, think like a rat. Where do I like to live? What am I eating? What pathways do I travel between my food and nest?
Know When to Call in the Pros
If things get really bad, the best thing to do is hire a pest professional. In New York, they should be certified by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Tamper-resistant bait stations with EPA-registered rodenticide bait can be installed by a professional and monitored over time. They should be checked and replenished every week or month depending on the severity of the infestation. Make sure you walk the area with your professional and discuss the treatment plan together.
Snap traps work also work very well, but they must be installed in boxes to prevent birds, dogs, cats, and even children from encountering them. They should be checked daily, emptied, and then reset.
Poison dusts to sprinkle or blow into rat burrows are illegal for gardens and must never be used—not even by a certified professional. They are not only poisonous to rats but could also be harmful to other animals and children if ingested.
Finally, beware that some commercially available devices don’t work and are essentially a waste of time and money. These include sonic devices that claim to scare away rats; there’s no scientific proof that they actually work. Nor have mothballs, pepper sprays, peppermint, or other smelly chemicals been proven to deter rats. Cat, dog, or human hair or urine sprinkled in a garden also appears to have no impact on rats. Beware of anyone claiming they have a secret weapon or chemical that will get rid of rats. There is none.
Caroline Bragdon is a Research Scientist with the New York City Department of Health’s Division of Veterinary and Pest Control Services. Ms. Bragdon has a Masters of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University and is certified by the New York State DEC in structural and rodent control. She serves as the Outreach and Education coordinator for the Bronx and Manhattan Rat Initiative and manages the NYC Rat Information Portal at www.nyc.gov/rats.
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Can cats get rid of rats and are rats afraid of them?
Most of us are terrified of rats. Just the mere mention of them is enough for some people to start running for the door. Small skittish pests, urinate everywhere there go, spreading disease and causing destruction. But what if we could turn the tables and have them running in the opposite direction instead?
It is estimated that rats are responsible for depleting our food supply, impacting our wildlife, and overrunning our cities. And with an ever-increasing number of rats becoming resistant to poison and rodenticides it is imperative that we get this epidemic under control and look for alternative solutions.
Having historically been used to eliminate rats on farms, ships, and bodegas; cats can not only offer us company and companionship but provide us with one of the most successful and humane forms of pest control. But are all cats good hunters and are rats really that easily deterred? Read on for my views on the cat versus rat debate:
Is getting a cat the best way to keep rats at bay?
Year on year rat complaints continue to rise all over the States, and it is little wonder when we conveniently provide the perfect conditions for them to live in. Small rodents can thrive in urban habitats where derelict buildings offer shelter and leftover food can be found scattered across walkways and spilling out of bins. Out in the suburbs, our stinking compost heaps and bird feed treats prove too tasty to resist and all contribute to America’s rat epidemic.
There are many methods for dealing with rat infestations – and trust me I would regularly employ them all – but if you start to simplify the situation and understand what rats like and dislike, you can understand why a more natural solution such as cats can be just as (if not more) effective.
The pro’s for keeping cats to deter rats
I will confess that I am not a cuddly, cat person. I much prefer the loyalty of dogs but over the years I have kept cats for an entirely different purpose. They can be fantastic rat catchers.
Cats in general are nocturnal, sleeping on the sofa by day and patrolling the streets at night. Agile and quick they do not rely on light in order to hunt, making them the perfect nemeses for rats who like to venture out at dusk. Some cats may eat rats (which can cause a host of issues for your pet), whilst others like toying with them or enjoy the thrill of the chase. Whether they do it for the kill or simply to show you that you’re loved, it is all part of nature’s circle of life.
Cats urinate to mark their territory, but they also spread their scent by rubbing up against things such as walls and furniture. Their scent may not be particularly strong to us, but it can be all-consuming for a rat thanks to its strong sense of smell, and that alone may be enough to send it scampering away.
The con’s for keeping cats to deter rats
Not all cats like rats. My first kitty was incredibly lazy and was in fact as petrified of rats as my wife. It is therefore important to note that if you do end up with a rat infestation and a cat that couldn’t care less, your choice of alternative pest control methods is likely to be limited. Poison may prove deadly for your standard rat but can have serious implications for your pet too. Read my blog on the harmful effects of poisons and rodenticides to find out more.
Keeping a cat does of course mean feeding and putting out pet food regularly – something which rats have a taste for. So instead of deterring them, you may find yourself encouraging pests to visit your home. Finally, rats are sneaky and will often head off down the smallest of holes. Even if your cat is keen on rats, it may not be flexible or small enough to be able to catch it!
Which cats are the best rat catchers?
Some breeds of cats have stronger, natural hunting abilities than others and are predisposed to killing pests. As mentioned earlier, we had a cat who just wasn’t bothered about pursuing rats, yet a couple of years later a stray cat we named Ted took up residence in our home. A big bruiser of a boy, he loved nothing more than spending time outdoors, finding and gifting us with small rodents.
So how can we tell if our cats are of the rat-catching breed? There are certain types of cats such as Persian, Burmese, Siamese, and of course, the popular American Shorthair, which all have long and proven histories with rat-catching. But if you don’t want to invest in a pedigree breed, then barn cats or cats that are used to spending great amounts of time out of the house are more likely to be hunters.
Whilst kittens are cute, they are not necessarily born with a hunting instinct and often need someone to show them the ropes. Look out for the following traits: –
- If a cat is aware of its surroundings, alert, and attentive then the chances are that it will have finely tuned instincts.
- Cats that like chasing a ball on a string, who enjoy tracking your fingers across the floor, and leaping after toys are much more likely to want to stalk things outdoors as well.
Even if you have a cat that isn’t showing an interest in rats, there is still hope. Just encouraging it to rub up against furniture or wander past areas where you think rats may be nesting, can be enough to scare them away.
Cats, rats and the spread of disease
In the wild, a cat would bring small animals back to feed its kittens. Domestic cats do something similar, often greeting you with dead rats to show their appreciation and to demonstrate their hunting abilities.
Small rodents carry harmful diseases, so there is a chance that these can be passed on to your pet. The most common diseases include Tapeworms, which live in the intestines of your cat, and Leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that can have serious consequences for other animals such as dogs and even humans, causing kidney disease and liver failure.
It is really important that if your cat is a hunter, you keep up to date with its vaccinations and ensure that it is wormed regularly. You should lookout for any signs that your cat could be unwell and seek veterinary advice straight away.
If your pet has brought you a trophy, you should always use gloves to dispose of it and wash your hands thoroughly afterward.
Rat poison and cats
When a rat chooses a hiding place that is just out of reach, it can often be tempting to dispose of it with poisoning. BUT, if you have a pet, you should never use rat poison or rodenticides as they are toxic and have the ability to kill cats and dogs. It is important that you recognize the common symptoms of toxicosis, such as loss of appetite, reduced physical movement, paralysis of the hind legs, muscle tremors, seizures, and depression of the central nervous system, in case your cat comes into contact with any poisonous substances.
Cats, rats, and other wildlife
There are some people out there that believe that keeping a cat in order to hunt is having a detrimental effect on our wildlife. It is true that tired migratory birds, small and slow-moving reptiles, and even insects are often considered to be easier targets for a cat in comparison to a rat. That said, not all cats want to hunt, and every animal has its place within the food chain.
I am a firm believer that we need to let nature takes its course for the benefit of our ecosystem. Check out this story about the Wolves of Yellowstone Park and the impact of introducing them back into their natural habitat.
Cats have proven to be the puurfect pest control
Chicago is known for its pizza, jazz and er…rats! Yes, that’s right, Chicago was ranked number 1 for the most rat-infested city in America. In the fight against rats and alongside rat patrol officers, The Tree House Humane Society set out to offer businesses and residents sterilized and vaccinated feral cats colonies. Taking them from life-threatening situations they managed to relocate them where their presence now helps to control the rodent population of Chicago.
Likewise, Los Angeles has undertaken a similar approach to pest control and uses a working cat program to rid the city of rats.
Wrapping up can cats get rid of rats?
It is fact that some cats will kill rats, or at worst scare them away merely by smearing their scent. Whilst letting nature take its cause is considered to be a more humane approach than using poisons and traps, you have got to be prepared to deal with the aftermath.
Cats like to flaunt their kill, so if you are squeamish about dealing with dead and partially eaten rodents, then this form of pest control is probably not for you.
Always make sure that you keep your cat’s vaccinations up to date as rats can spread disease and even fight back, so it is important to look out for signs in case your pet gets bitten or becomes unwell.
Finally, rats are cunning and although they may not be overly fond of cats, they will find ways to live side by side with them such as in confined spaces or by changing their natural behavior. For that reason, I would consider your cat a deterrent and not a cure when it comes to rat infestations.
Recommended: How to kill rats