How to Get Rid of Rats Outside: 10 Effective Ways

Last Modified on February 28, 2024 by Zachary Smith

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You’ve worked hard to curate a beautiful, welcoming outdoor space. The last thing you want is to share it with rats.

Unfortunately, rats are very common outdoor pests. They can also be destructive and dangerous, gnawing plants, trees, and buildings and introducing diseases that can affect you and your pets.

Fortunately, you don’t have to live with rats forever.

At Smith’s Pest Management, we help people get rid of rats in their outdoor spaces every day, so we understand what it takes to eliminate even severe outdoor rat infestations.

In this blog, we’re sharing our top tips for getting rid of rats outside and restoring your peaceful outdoor haven.

Why Do I Have Rats Outside in My Yard?

why do i have rats in my yard

The following things will draw rats to your yard:

1. Food

Rats are omnivores, and they eat a wide variety of food.

Outside, they love to dine on birdseed, pet food, fruits and veggies from the garden, trash, compost, and even small animals, like birds and lizards. They’re particularly fond of snails, which is why we recommend investing in a professional snail treatment for your yard if you want to get rid of rats.

2. Shelter

Rats need shelter to live, breed, and raise their babies.

Outdoors, they seek shelter in woodpiles, debris piles, tall weeds and grasses, and landscaping elements, like rock piles and masonry walls.

3. Water

While rats need water to survive, they can go for a month or more without drinking water since they get most of their water through the foods they consume.

When they do need to drink water, rats will make do with a sip from a birdbath, leaky outdoor spigot, or pet bowl.

What are the Signs of Rats in Your Yard?

Signs of Rats in Your Yard

Need help to determine if you have rats in your yard? Look for the following signs:

  • Rat droppings. Rat droppings are usually shiny, black, and ½” – ¾” long. You’ll likely notice them anywhere rats have been congregating, such as near nests or feeding sites or along outdoor travel routes.
  • Rat tracks. If you have dust or soft, moist, or wet soil in your yard, you may be able to see rat tracks. Rats have five toes on their hind feet and four on their front. Hindfoot tracks measure between ¾”-1”. Rats may also leave tail drag marks between their foot tracks.
  • Gnaw damage. Gnaw damage on parts of buildings is a common sign of rat infestation. Rats are known for gnawing large, ragged holes that can be up to 2” or more in diameter. These holes may appear on wooden structures like exterior doors or the corners of sheds, garages, and compost bins.
  • Burrows and nests. Rats build ground and wall burrows near sidewalks, curbs, and brick foundation walls. You may also notice rat nests constructed in woodpiles, sheds, and other sheltered outdoor areas.
  • Runways. Rat runways are smooth, well-packed, and vegetation-free. They may also have a strong, musty scent since rats tend to mark them with urine.
  • Grease marks. Rats have oily coats and are known to leave grease marks along the sides of structures like foundations and exterior walls.
  • Live or dead rodent sightings. Finally, keep your eyes out for live or dead rodents, which are a sure sign of a larger rat infestation.

How To Get Rid Of Rats Outside Your Home: A Step by Step Guide

how to get rid of rats in the yard

Infestations of outdoor rats can destroy your lawn and garden. Even worse, they may move inside your home if the infestation becomes back enough (check out our guide on how to get rid of rats in your house).

With that in mind, it’s important to act quickly to get rid of outdoor rat infestations.

Here are the approaches we recommend:

1. Seal Outdoor Entry Points

To get rid of rats outside, identify possible harborage and nest sites and seal them to minimize rat hiding areas around your property.

Here’s what we recommend:

  • Fill small holes in with steel wool. Caulk the edges of the steel wool to keep it in place, or use spray foam to secure the entire space.
  • Use lath screen or metal, cement, hardware cloth, or metal sheets to patch large holes in outdoor sheds or greenhouses. These materials are ideal because they’re weather-resistant, and rats can’t chew through them. Cut these materials to size to fit the area around pipes and utility lines.
  • Fix gaps in your trailer skirting and seal all outbuildings and garages to prevent rats from entering.
  • Install flashing around the foundation of your home.
  • Repair existing rat damage and reinforce undamaged vents with copper wire or stainless steel mesh with a hole diameter of 1mm, which rats can’t chew through.
  • Deter rodents from climbing pipes outside buildings by adding metal pipe guards (made of 26-gauge sheet metal) to the pipes.
  • If you have patches of empty dirt in your gardens or in planters or tree beds, fit them with a layer of steel screen or mesh to prevent rats from burrowing into the soil.

Is your outdoor rat infestation severe? Your best bet is to call a professional pest management company for help. A professional pest management team will be able to take an aggressive approach to treat your rat infestation and prevent illness, damage, and subsequent pest problems.

If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area or you live along the Central Coast, contact Smith’s Pest Management for more help: (408) 871-6988.

2. Remove Nesting Sites and Debris Piles

Deter rats from your property by removing outdoor nesting sites and debris piles.

  • Clean up all the garbage and clutter around the outside of your house.
  • Seal trash in thick plastic or metal garbage cans with tight-fitting lids.
  • Get rid of abandoned vehicles on or around your property, or move them at least 100 feet from your home.
  • Move woodpiles and wood sheds at least 100 feet from the home, and restack all wood on risers so it’s at least one foot off the ground.
  • If you must keep old equipment or construction materials outdoors, store them at least 18” off the ground and 12” away from walls and fences.
  • Clean up and remove brush, weeds, organic matter, and debris piles on your property.
  • Seal and secure all outdoor structures, including sheds, greenhouses, and barns.
  • Mow your lawn regularly and keep tall ornamental grasses and shrubs trimmed.
  • Cut trees back so their limbs are at least 3 feet from your roof line.

3. Remove Food Sources

Clean up rats’ favorite food, including dropped fruits, vegetables in the garden, nuts, and acorns, and get rid of snails.

The latter is critical because rats love to eat snails and quickly infest areas where snails are prevalent.

Here are a few additional tips to remove rat food sources:

  • Store pet and bird food in chew-proof, airtight containers, and promptly clean up food spills from barbecuing or outdoor dining.
  • Keep any outside grills or cooking areas clean, and promptly clean up grease and dropped food.
  • Pick up fallen fruits and vegetables promptly.
  • If you compost, keep bins tightly sealed and place them at least 100 feet from your house.
  • Keep all bird feeders away from your house. Place them on poles and equip them with squirrel guards to make it harder for squirrels and other rodents to access them.
  • If you have a garden or fruit trees in your yard, pick up all produce promptly.

4. Use Dry Ice

One effective way to get rid of rats outdoors without poison is to use dry ice. Dry ice produces carbon dioxide, which anesthetizes and kills rats.

For best results, place the dry ice at the entrance to rat burrows. Be sure to use gloves and other protective gear since dry ice can damage the skin.

5. Set Traps

outside rat trap

Traps are one of the most effective ways to get rid of rats fast. For best results, consider using snap traps, which are some of the best rat traps, providing an effective way to kill rats instantly.

To prevent other animals from getting into the traps, place them inside a box or under a milk crate. Bait the traps with peanut butter, which is cheap and attractive to rats.

When you set the trap, be sure to place it near areas you’ve found droppings or seen rat activity.

6. Use Baits & Poisons

If traps are proving insufficient, you can leverage baits and poisons instead.

Most modern rat baits and poisons are anticoagulants.

When rats consume them, they reduce the blood’s ability to clot, killing the rodents within 4-6 days.

To make these baits as effective as possible, most are single-dose anticoagulant formulas, meaning rats only need to consume the poison once to ingest a lethal dose.

If you visit your local home goods or hardware store, you’ll find single-dose anticoagulant baits in various formulas – some come in nuggets, while others are blocks or bars. The baits are scented or flavored to make them appealing to rats.

7. Use Fumigants

Fumigants are poisonous gasses that can be used to control rodents. Popular options include aluminum phosphide, carbon dioxide, and gas cartridges, which kill rodents quickly.

Most modern fumigants are made with aluminum phosphide and formulated as tablets that can be placed in rodent burrows, where they release gas slowly.

Gas cartridges and smoke bombs are other popular fumigants, although they’re most effective against small rat infestations, as they become too labor-intensive to be ideal for larger infestations.

Like rodenticides, fumigants are carefully controlled in many places, and these formulas may be illegal for non-professionals to obtain.

Warning: Aluminum phosphide is incredibly dangerous and deadly to handle. While it can be an effective pest control method, it’s fatal if used or placed incorrectly. With this in mind, use extreme caution with the product and follow all label directions carefully.

8. Try Repellents

Repellents can be effective ways to deter rats from entering an area. Today, you can buy pre-made rat repellents at your local hardware or home goods store.

Since rats have a strong sense of smell, most of these repellents contain essential oils that rats find unpleasant.

Rats detest new things and will leave an area if you bother them enough or make it uncomfortable for them to stay there.

We recommend spraying repellents near any access points you’ve repaired and in old rat nesting zones for the best results.

9. File an Official Complaint With Your Local Health Department

You can contact your county’s health department if you see rats around your lawn or garden.

While many people see rats as nothing more than a nuisance, they can also spread disease and destroy property.

Because of this, rat infestations represent a real public health emergency – one that the local health department will want to know about.

To report a rat infestation, search for your county health department online and file a report through their website, if possible.

Once you file an official complaint, an inspector from your local Department of Public Health will assess the severity of the problem, and determine next steps.

10. Contact A Professional Pest Management Company

Pest control services are effective inside the home but can also help you manage rat populations outside the home.

Smith’s Pest Management uses eco-friendly methods to control outdoor rat populations, including trapping and deterrents.

Contact our team today to learn how we can help you keep rats away.

How to Get Rid of Rats in Your Car

how to get rid of rats in your car

If you have rats outside your home, it’s possible that they’ll eventually get into your car. And for good reason: rats love the secluded, warm shelter cars and their engines offer.

Once they’re inside your car or its engine, rats will chew your car’s wires, build nests near critical components, and leave feces and urine behind, causing $1,000-$3,000 of damage in just a few nights.

Fortunately, you can get rid of rats in your car and keep them out in the future. The best way to control rats in your car is to keep your vehicle in the garage or use a car cover that has a weighted lip to keep it flush with the ground.

Here are a few additional tips to keep rats out of your car:

  • Keep a fluorescent light running all night long underneath the hood.
  • Keep the hood open.
  • Use store-bought repellents under and around the car.
  • Set traps around the car each night if rats are a common problem in your area.
  • Keep your car’s ducts and cable conduits in good repair, and have any potential access points into your car’s cabin patched or sealed by your mechanic.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Try These Unproven Methods

Natural predators (cats, dogs, owls)

Some people think natural predators like cats, dogs, and owls will eliminate rats.

And while it’s true that these animals may pick off some of the rats on your property (owls, for example, can eat dozens of rats or mice in a single night), they won’t be effective at long-term population reduction, and they definitely aren’t enough to eliminate a severe infestation.

Plus, rodents can carry diseases, and rats have razor-sharp teeth that can cause serious injury to a domestic cat or dog.

With that in mind, encouraging your pet to face off against a rat just isn’t a good idea.

Ultrasonic machines

It’s a common myth that ultrasonic-repellent devices will eliminate rats.

Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that these machines work, and there’s a good reason:

Rats are intelligent, savvy creatures and experts at adapting to their environments.

Even if an annoying noise startles them at first, they’ll quickly get used to any ultrasonic machines you place.

When they do, they’ll return to breeding, nesting, and eating as usual.

❌ Electromagnetic devices

Much like ultrasonic machines, electromagnetic devices don’t discourage rats in the long term.

Rats will quickly get used to the presence of the machine and will just learn to avoid it rather than being deterred by it.

Important Rat Control Safety Tips

1. Follow label directions for all baits and poisons

Always keep rat bait in a fully enclosed bait station where kids, pets, and other animals can’t reach it.

Label the bait station clearly, and check it often to ensure it has not been tampered with.

2. Keep kids and pets away

After you’ve treated an area, you should always keep kids and pets out of the space until the bait or poison is secured in a tamper-proof box or placed in concealed or elevated areas inaccessible to kids and pets.

If you’re setting traps, always use traps that don’t pose a risk to kids, pets, or non-target wildlife.

3. Obey local laws

Because there are so many caveats to using baits and poisons, you’ll also need to read and understand state and local laws. Rodenticides were just outlawed in California, for example.

Note: Baits and poisons should only be used outside the home, as they are potent chemicals that can be dangerous. If you place poison inside the house, rats can spread it around, making your home hazardous for all human and animal inhabitants. Additionally, rats may die in hard-to-reach areas after consuming the poison, which makes cleanup difficult.

4. Wear PPE

You should always wear gloves, long sleeves, and long pants when setting rat baits or poisons.

You may also consider wearing a mask if you’re working where rats have been nesting, urinating, or defecating.

5. Dispose of Dead Rodents Safely

When you find dead rodents outside, you must recover and remove them properly. Here’s what we recommend:

  • Never touch dead rodents with your bare hands. Wear plastic gloves and use a shovel, two sticks, long tongs, or a gloved hand inserted into a plastic bag to pick up dead rodents.
  • Double-bag all dead rodents. When you find a dead rat, place it into a plastic bag, secure the bag, place it in another bag, and dispose of it in the trash.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly. After handling a dead rat, wash your hands thoroughly and monitor your health over the coming days for symptoms of illness, such as fever.

Are Rats Taking Over Your San Francisco Bay Area Yard or Garden? We’re Here To Help!

Stop sharing your yard with rats! At Smith’s Pest Management, we help residential and commercial customers throughout Northern California manage and control their rat populations.

Our rodenticide-free rat exclusion program helps keep you and your family safe and allows you to reclaim your lawn or garden quickly and completely.

Smith’s Pest Management also works with commercial facilities to eradicate rats in an eco-conscious way.

Ready to learn more about our rat control services or request a quote? Contact us today: (408) 471-6988

Author Bio: Zach Smith

Landscape Pro Turned Gopher Pro: Owner, Zach Smith, graduate of Cal Poly’s Horticulture program worked nine years as a landscape professional- dealing with gophers, moles, and ground squirrels and was quickly recruited by other local gardeners. Fast forward to the past 15+ years, where Zach and his team trap and remove burrowing pests from residential, municipal and commercial properties throughout the San Francisco Bay area, from Marin to Monterey.