When faced with a rat or mouse problem that needs to be dealt with, many people resort to poisoning the rodents. This solution appeals to people because there is no need to check traps or do much work once the bait stations are placed, especially when an exterminator is hired to maintain them. However, poison is neither humane nor an effective long-term solution. Read on for 10 reasons why you should seek other methods of rodent control instead.
1. A young child could put the bait in his or her mouth. If you have young children who might be prone to putting things they find in their mouths, do not use rat poison. Oftentimes the bait is colored bright blue or green, which could attract a curious child who crawls or walks near the bait station. (Call Poison Control if any person has ingested rat poison or another pesticide.)
2. You could accidentally poison a pet. While the black plastic bait stations maintained by exterminators are made to keep out cats and dogs, rodenticide products that you can buy yourself are not always pet-resistant. Even with pet-resistant bait stations, a cat or dog could come upon spilled bait and ingest it out of curiosity. In addition, some baits can cause secondary poisoning- if a pet eats a poisoned rodent, that animal could be poisoned also.
3. You could be harming natural predators of rodents. Secondary poisoning can affect not only domestic animals but also wildlife like coyotes, owls, hawks, and bobcats. Many people enjoy seeing native animals such as these, and in addition, having them around can reduce the rodent population.
4. Poison causes a slow and painful death for the rodent. If you have ever noticed a rat or mouse moving slowly or erratically in broad daylight, it is likely that it has been poisoned. A poisoned rat can take days, even weeks, to die. Meanwhile, they may suffer from convulsions, internal bleeding, and open sores. Snap traps and electric "zapper" devices usually kill rodents instantly, which is much more humane.
5. Dead rodents in your house will smell awful. Animals, including rodents, can sense when they are about to die and will find dark, quiet spaces to spend their last hours away from predators. In a residential setting, this could include your car, your attic, underneath your hot tub, or inside your walls, among other places. You won't find the dead rodents until they start to decompose and smell- and even then you might not be able to easily remove them without cutting a hole in a wall or prying up a floorboard.
6. Dead rodents left to decompose can be a health hazard. In addition to causing a stench, dead rodents (like any other dead animal) can harbor maggots and harmful bacteria. Many people poison rodents because they are concerned about an infestation being a health hazard. This is a valid concern, but dead rats decomposing in your house can also be a problem. There are better control methods that don't cause this to happen.
7. Rodents won't always eat the poison. Many times, a rodent problem is caused by a source of food that has not been rodent-proofed, such as a feeder in a chicken coop or a bowl of cat food in the house. In some cases, there is so much food already available that rodents will ignore the bait. Rats and mice are naturally cautious and just because they find the bait does not mean they will eat it.
8. You will never be able to kill all the rodents. No matter how many times you replenish the bait, there will still be rodents. Many of the original rodents may die, but the ones that survive will have offspring to replace them. Unless you address the underlying issue, such as a gap where rodents are getting into a building, you will not solve the problem.
9. Replenishing the bait can get expensive. Exterminators and poison manufacturers make money off of the people who keep buying poison in hopes of solving their rodent problems. They don't want you to know that it doesn't work that way. Poison may seem cheap at first compared to other services such as exclusion, but it's expensive in the long run because you have to buy so much.
10. There are better solutions to a rodent problem. No method of lethal control will be a permanent fix. Instead, it's best to start by identifying why the rodents are there and making the habitat undesirable for them. For example, a man finds that rats are coming to his garage to feed on the birdseed and pet food that he is storing there. He should first put these attractants in secure containers or bins, and then work on closing off holes where the rats are getting into the garage. Snap traps or electric "zappers" can then be used to kill the rats that remain in the garage, or live traps can be used to relocate them outside. This way, the root cause of the problem is addressed and the rats are eradicated without poison. Always try to identify the cause of a rodent problem, remove attractants, and exclude rodents from the area if possible. Attractants can include improperly stored food, woodpiles that provide shelter, fallen fruit, or other sources of food, water, or cover. For rodent problems inside structures, 1/4 inch hardware cloth can be used to seal off gaps that rodents may be getting through (rodents can get through a hole the size of your thumb).
Image credit: Dead rat- Bart Everson, attribution required.