Published on 12/30/14

Take steps to keep mice and rats from coming indoors for the winter

By Sharon Dowdy

As the seasons shift and people spend more time indoors, so do rodents. A University of Georgia wildlife specialist says, with a little forethought, you can rid your home of those uninvited winter guests.

The first step is to make sure your intruders are rodents. Michael Mengak, a specialist with the UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, says watch for these signs.

Droppings - Mouse droppings are the size of rice grains. Rat droppings are the size of raisins.

Tracks - Scatter baking flour or powder on the floor along walls or attic or basement. Put a cracker with peanut butter in the center of the path. Check for tracks the next day.

Burrows - Outdoors, look in weedy places around plants, under boards and doghouses and near garbage cans.

Gnawings - A little hole with chewed edges is a sure sign.

Nests - They are often found in boxes, drawers, toolboxes, basements and attics.

Odor - A musty, urine-like odor often indicates mice are present, not rats.

Listen - Scratching in the walls or attics at night can be a sign of mice.

If you determine you do have rodents, the next step is to get rid of them. Act fast, though.

“One pair of breeding mice can potentially lead to millions more in a year,” Mengak said. “Although they don’t actually reproduce this quickly in nature, mice can breed at 30-day intervals, beginning when female mice are only two months old. So you must keep working to get rid of them.”

Mengak recommends using traps, not poison baits. “Poisons are more dangerous to children and pets, and poisoned rodents don’t die immediately,” he said. “Instead, they usually crawl into an inaccessible space in a wall or behind appliances, die and create an awful smell.”

Place traps in rooms, attics, basements and garages. Put them along walls, in cupboards, in drawers or on countertops.

Mice don’t venture out into a room or open space.Well-fed mice may live for weeks in one corner of a room or attic. Don’t expect it to travel more than 10 feet to find a trap.

Rat traps are larger. Place them where children and pets are not likely to trigger them. A dozen rat traps should work for one home. Mengak says rats are smarter and harder to catch than mice.

Set rat traps with the bait holder across its path at a right angle to the wall. The best baits are peanut butter, bacon, cooked chicken or anything with a strong odor, he said. Using two traps back-to-back with one facing in each direction is effective.

Snap traps are easy to set and inexpensive. Multi-catch traps work fine but are more expensive. Sticky traps are good for mice but will likely not hold a large rat.

Set traps for a few weeks to make sure you get all rodents.

Poison baits should only be used outside the home and away from pets and children. First, make a bait box. Get a sturdy wood, metal or cardboard container. For rats, cut 3-inch diameter holes in opposite sides of the container at ground level. Cut smaller holes for mice.

Fill a smaller container with a pound of poison bait and put it inside the bait box. Add bait each day to keep it full. Don’t let the rodents empty the bait container. They must feed each day, or they will not die, Mengak said.

Don’t leave bait out longer than four weeks. Unattended bait will spoil, mold or cause a poisoning accident. If after a few weeks rats and mice are no longer feeding at the bait station, remove unused bait and save it in clean, tightly sealed, labeled containers. Always use disposable gloves to handle the bait or dead rodents.

Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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