What are Rats?

Rats have a bad reputation - one that has been earned from helping to cause devastating plagues around the world, past and present. They are also one of the most adaptable critters in the world, with the ability to climb, jump or swim, and eat almost anything. Rats are social, destructive, nocturnal, and incredible breeders.

Rats are part of the Order Rodentia, and the family Muridae. The Order Rodentia has over 2,000 species subdivided into around 30 families. The two most common rats in Ontario, Canada are the Norway Rat (Rattus norvegicus) and Roof Rat (Rattus rattus). These rats are members of the genus (or subfamily) Rattus, which are ‘true rats’ and originated from Asia.

Roof rats are amazing climbers, frequently nesting in high places like trees, dense vegetation, attics, rafters, roofs, and upper stories of buildings. They will also nest on the ground if needed. Norway rats builds elaborate systems of tunnels and burrows at ground level, preferring damp areas, crawl spaces or building perimeters.


What do Rats Look Like?

A rat is larger than a mouse and can weigh up to 0.5 kilograms (1 pound). The Norway rat and the roof rat may appear similar, but there are differences in looks, and habits.

Norway rats are large rodents with brown or gray shaggy fur, and long tails which can grow in up to 21 cm. This rat can reach up to 40 cm in length and weigh up to 1 pound. Their tail and ears are covered with scales.

            A Norway Rat - Environmental Pest Control

Roof rats are smaller in comparison, but can grow to over 40 cm long. They have smooth, glossy black or brown fur, large ears, large eyes, and a pointy nose. Their tail is hairless, scaly, and is longer than the combined length of their head and body.

             A roof rat -Environmental Pest Control

Like all rodents, a rat's teeth continually grow through their lifetime. Rats however, do not have to gnaw insistently to help keep their teeth at a manageable length. Rats actually grind their teeth, which is called bruxing.

Both rodents can squeeze through holes as small as a quarter, thanks to their small bones and very flexible body. If a rat can get its head through a hole, crack or crevice, it can collapse its body and pull itself through the opening.


What do Rats Eat?

Rats are omnivorous foragers, and because they are highly adaptable, they can and will eat just about anything (including dead animals or tree bark) to survive. To survive, rats do require a balanced diet to meet their nutiritional needs. Human garbage is appealing to them, as it commonly provides a consistent variety of food and nutrients for them. Also important to note is that rats require standing water to survive. Similar to how they seek out a consistent source of food to frequent, they seek out a consistent source of standing water to drink.

On a daily basis, they consume one tenth of their body weight in food. Interestingly, rats cannot vomit so to prevent poisoning, they 'test' food out by taking small samples to determine if a source of food will make them sick or not. 

Norway rats favour meats, grains, fruits and nuts, and need drinking water to survive. They will eat greasy foods if available. Roof rats, huge food hoarders of food, prefer fruits. They will settle for seeds, grain or meat.


The Lifecycle of an Rat

Norway and roof rats have a 1-year life span, however rats in general, can live up to 3 to 5 years long.

Rats are known as ferocious, extraordinary breeders. They can reach sexual maturity between 8 and 12 weeks, and since rats do not hibernate during the winter, female rats can breed anytime of the year. Typically a female rat produces 5 litter per year, and each litter contain 4 to 8 pups (or baby rats).

Baby Rats Environmental Pest Control


Do Rats Bite?

Yes, rats will bite in self-defense. They have very large teeth, which continuously grow, and will puncture skin.


Are Rats a Health Concern?

Rats (alive or dead) can carry or transmit serious disease to people, pets and livestock through biting, physical contact or contamination. Rats can also bring fleas and ticks into your home, facilities or business. This makes them a serious health hazard, especially to humans. In addition to causing food poisoning, some diseases that they can transmit include:

  • Rat-Bite Fever (RBF)
  • Murine typhus
  • Leptospirosis
  • Trichinosis
  • Plague (more typical of roof rats and other rodents)


Do Rats Cause Damage?

Rats are notorious for damaging property, and their chewing poses a serious safety hazard.

Rats cause structural damage to buildings through their gnawing and burrowing underground. They cause serious damage to walls, ceilings, floors, window sills, and doors by gnawing holes through them. They cause damage by tearing up insulation in walls and attics through burrowing and nesting. They will chew through electrical wires, and can cause electrical shortages and electrical fires.


How Does a Rat Infestation Happen?

Rats enter homes, condos, apartment buildings, living complexes, schools, hotels, businesses, warehouse and other facilities in pursuit or food, shelter, and water. If they can gain entry to a structure that offers these, they will inhabit and infest.


Signs of a Rat Infestation

If you discover a single rat in your home or business, there is a strong chance that there are more, and possibly an infestation. Being nocturnal pests, rats stay hidden in their nest during the day. If nests are disturbed (often by major cleaning, repairs, renovations or construction) or if colonies get too large, rats may leave their nests during the day, exposing their presence.

Here are some signs that you have a rat infestation:

  • Sighting live rats during the day.
  • Finding a dead rat.
  • Hearing scampering or scratching noises at night.
  • Finding nests indoors.
  • Locating outdoor burrows surrounding your home or building.
  • Finding rat droppings, often around food or trash areas.
  • Discovering rub marks or grease stains (made from rats running along interior edges).
  • Finding food packages, especially cardboard packaging, that are chewed through.
  • Uncovering gnaw marks on food, food packaging (especially cardboard), or utility lines.


How to Get Rid of Rats

Rats are challenging to get rid of, because they are nocturnal, hide during the day, and breed quickly. Often by the time you find yourself face-to-face with a rat, an infestation has already become serious.

The best way to stop a rat infestation is to take the proper preventative measures before it happens. Here are some tips:

  • Keep dry foods like cereals, grains, pet food and even bird seed, in tightly sealed plastic, glass or metal containers with secure lids.
  • Regularly remove food crumbs (human and pet) from eating, food preparation, food storage and trash areas.  
  • Maintain clean and sanitized sinks and counters, and keep free of food waste.
  • Empty indoor garbage cans regularly, and store collected trash outdoors, away from entry points.
  • Use secure lids on all garbage and compost bins, both indoors and outside.
  • Keep your compost bins clear of fatty or oily food waste, eggs, or milk products.
  • Discard unused or damaged cardboard boxes or packaging, and opt for storing items in quality rubber or plastic containers with tight lids.
  • Seal up cracks and crevices around your windows, doors, eaves, chimney, and any other entry points.
  • Cover dryer vents, attic vents or soffits with fine mesh metal screening.
  • Replace broken screens over windows and vents, or install new ones.
  • Use metal weather stripping under doors, and weather strip windows.
  • Maintain lawns, trees, shrubs, bushes around your home or building.
  • Use a layer of heavy metal mesh between the soil and the bottom of the compost bin.
  • Place all woodpiles away from the house or building.
    • Raise woodpiles about 30 centimeters off the ground.
  • Fix plumbing leaks in and around your home or building.
  • Refrain from using water features and bird baths close to your home.
  • Don’t leave windows open, especially at night, without tightly fitting, hole-free screens.

Those with rat infestation issues often take a DIY pest control approach to get rid of rats. These efforts are rarely successful. Most important, because rats can transmit diseases through biting or direct contact with their feces, urine and even saliva, rats should not be handled.

Handling a rat infestation on your own can also be very challenging in shared or connected dwellings or multi-story buildings (apartment, condos, townhomes, office buildings, etc.). In these situations, rats are often able to move freely between units or homes, therefore by dealing with the situation in one isolated unit or home does not result in long-term or permanent relief. To achieve the highest success for getting rid of rats, everyone should come together and work with a licensed, experienced pest control company who can design an integrated pest management plan.

If you uncover a rat infestation do contact a licensed pest professional that is experienced with rat pest control, and effective treatments to help you get rid of rats.

Call 1 (800) 263-5055

Our Professional Team is Happy to Help!