Keeping rodents from cozying up in your home this winter

Tis the season to watch out for pests. As temperatures drop during winter months, critters try to make their ways indoors. Rats and mice can infest attics, basements, pantries and improperly stored holiday decorations. If homeowners suspect they're housing unwelcome guests, a pest management professional can address the problem early and effectively. There are several common perpetrators residents should be aware of during this time of year.

House mice
These mice are among the most troublesome rodents in the U.S., according to the University of California's (UC) Integrated Pest Management program (IPM). House mice are about 5 to 7 inches in length and have relatively large ears. These critters are most active at night when they search for food. While they can be found outdoors, house mice enter homes by sneaking through seemingly tiny cracks and crevices in external walls and foundations.

Common signs of house mouse infestations include droppings, gnaw marks and tracks. In addition, they carry a noticeable musky odor, according to the IPM. These mice build nests of shredded paper and other fibrous materials in areas like attic corners.

In addition to bringing fleas, gnats, ticks and lice into the home, the house mice can endanger children, who are susceptible to allergies caused by urine droplets, states the National Pest Management Association (NPMA).

Because house mice can fit through holes the size of a nickel, homeowners should seal all holes that have a diameter larger than a pencil, NPMA recommends. Outdoor drains and gutters should also be thoroughly inspected.

Roof rats
As their name implies, these rodents have a tendency to occupy upper parts of structures. They can enter attics through nearby trees and phone lines, according to the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management. They can also be found under and around homes, sheds and other structures. Like house mice, these rats can squeeze through very small holes.

Roof rats can cause extensive damage to wiring, insulation and yards. They're about 6 to 8 inches in length and can be a mix of brown, black, gray and white. They feed off of a variety of fruits and nuts primarily, but they've been known to eat meat products like pet food. It's therefore extremely important for residents to store food in sealed containers and to avoid feeding pets outdoors and leaving food out.

Because these pests tend to live high up in structures, their droppings, urine and nests aren't usually noticeable. Homeowners can look for smudge parks along ceiling beams because roof rats often come into contact with oil and dirt when they travel through aerial passages, the Internet Center states. Another sign of an infestation is sounds in the attic at night.

Roof rats have been associated with a variety of diseases like food poisoning, rat-bite fever, typhus and more. In addition to sealing up holes, homeowners should remove sources of moisture throughout their property to avoid attracting these pests, NPMA suggests. It's also a good idea to keep yards clear of brush and any fruit that falls from trees. In addition, homeowners should cut back and tree limbs and shrubs that are near the house.

Norway rats
Norway rats are very similar in many ways to their roof-dwelling cousins. These brownish, reddish or gray pests are omnivorous and live in and around structures and woodpiles. They can can cause severe damage to foundation, slabs, electrical wires, water pipes and insulation by gnawing and burrowing, according to the Internet Center.

When Norway rats enter a home, they can attack food storage containers and infest dry goods and pet food. They're also known to transmit serious diseases.

If homeowners spot fluorescent dry or wet urine, burrows in walls, along fences and next to buildings, they should contact an exterminator promptly to have their infestation eliminated.


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