New York City’s rodent problem is as old as the city itself. With few natural predators, warm buildings, and plenty of bagel crumbs, New York City is home to one of the largest populations of rodents in the United States.
In fact, a 2014 study estimated there were 2 million rats living in NYC, which is approximately one rat for every four people!
Occasionally, a clumsy rat is caught on video dragging a pizza slice down subway steps, giving everyone a good laugh. But make no mistake—rats and mice are dangerous pests with real consequences. Mice and rats are known to steal food, damage buildings, start fires, and spread disease.
Here’s what you need to know about dealing with mice and rats in New York City including facts, prevention, control, and extermination.
MMPC Rodent Guide:
Facts about Mice and Rats
Mice and rats are both members of the order Rodentia, mammals with a pair of large incisors in both the upper and lower jaw.
These incisors grow their whole lives, requiring constant gnawing to keep them at a manageable length.
- Both mice and rats are omnivorous and are well adapted to living off trash and food waste in the city.
- Both mice and rats are year-round problems for residents of NYC.
- Infestations tend spike in the fall as they seek warmth indoors.
- Both reproduce rapidly, damage property, and carry diseases that are dangerous to humans.
Mice (House Mouse)
If you have a mouse infestation, the most likely cause of your grouse is the house mouse (Mus musculus).
These mice have grayish-brown fur with gray-colored tails. They’re usually around 5–8 inches long, measured from the nose to the tip of the tail.
- Mice are a very curious species and aren’t afraid of new things in their environment, which makes them easier to trap (compared to rats).
- They are skilled at swimming, climbing, and jumping.
- A female mouse can breed 60 babies a year, each of which is able to reproduce in under 6 weeks.
- The average lifespan of a mouse is 5 to 12 months.
Rats (Norway Rat)
If you live in NYC, you’ll most likely encounter Rattus norvegicus, also known as the “Norway rat”, “brown rat”, “street rat”, or “sewer rat”.
Norway rats have blunt snouts, shaggy dark coats, small pink ears, and a long pink tail. They typically measure between 10–20 inches long and weigh about 11 ounces, and prefer to live close to the ground in underground burrows.
The reason Norway rats dominate the Big Apple is that they killed or out-competed every other species in the city; yes, these rats are large, aggressive, and smart!
- Rats are a cautious and social species.
- They follow established routes between food and their burrow. Anything new in their path scares them until they know it is not a threat, making them harder to trap.
- When a new food source is found, rats will make low-status rats eat it first and wait to see if they get sick before trying it themselves.
- Like mice, rats are also excellent swimmers and fast breeders.
- A female Norway rat can have 6 litters of up to a dozen pups every year, each of which can reproduce themselves within 2–4 months.
Problems Caused by Mice and Rats
The presence of rodents in your home or building can lead to dangerous and serious problems for two main reasons: damage and disease.
Despite their small size, rodents can create significant and potentially costly damage in a variety of ways:
- Burrowing rats create holes under gardens, sheds, and basements.
- Both mice and rats chew holes in walls, creating access paths between their homes and food source.
- They can chew through soft concrete, wood, drywall, gas lines, rubber, plastic, insulation, sheetrock, and even aluminum!
- The need to gnaw constantly means they may even make furniture their chew toy.
- They can also steal strips of clothing for their nests.
- The EPA estimates that 25% of all fires of “unknown causes” are due to rodents chewing on electrical wires.
Damage can also include pilfering and contaminating food. In addition to eating from your community garden, mice and rats will happily help themselves to the rice in your cupboard or any improperly stored food in a restaurant.
According to the CDC, rats and mice are known to spread over 35 types of diseases. For example:
- Both mice and rats can transmit leptospirosis, salmonella, and rat-bite fever.
- The Norway rat is known to transmit many diseases, including hemorrhagic fever, typhus, and bubonic plague.
- The house mouse can transmit lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM).
- Deer mice, white-footed mice, and roof rats can carry hantavirus, which has a fatality rate of 38%. House mice and Norway rats are not known to give people hantavirus.
Contamination of food is just one way that rodents spread diseases. Other less common means include bites, fleas, ticks, urine, and droppings.
When dealing with rodent problems—rats in particular—you should ALWAYS take precautions to protect yourself from the diseases they carry.
Unless you’re a professional, we do NOT recommend attempting to handle a live rat yourself.
- DO NOT attempt to sweep up, stir up, or otherwise disturb rat droppings or nesting materials.
- When dealing with rat droppings, urine, or nesting material, open a window let the area ventilate for 30 minutes.
- Wear latex, vinyl, or rubber gloves.
- Spray the rat materials with a mixture of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water and let them stand for ten minutes.
- Pick them up with a paper towel and seal them in a plastic bag before disposing of them.
- Disinfect the entire area (including countertops), steam clean fabric rugs/furniture, and wash all linens in the area.
Signs of Mice and Rats
You definitely don’t want mice or rats in your home or building, but sometimes it’s hard to know if they’re there.
Rodents are experts at hiding and reproduce quickly, so most people don’t know they have a rodent problem until the infestation is already severe.
If you notice any of these signs, consider calling a pest control professional for an inspection:
- Look for droppings that resemble small, dark pellets. The number and appearance of droppings can tell you how many rodents are active, as well as their species. House mice droppings are shaped like pointed rods, while Norway rats droppings are shaped like capsules.
- Look for damaged food containers or boxes in your pantry or cabinets
- Listen for scratching or gnawing sounds in the wall, roof, or floor—especially at night
- Look for structural damage caused by such gnawing, such as rodent holes in your wall along the baseboard (especially out of direct view such as near pipes or under furniture). Also, check outside your building and in the basement for burrows or access points.
- Look for runways, which are discolored, greasy trails created along the ground or floor when rats tread the same path again and again.
- Look for nests. Mice are especially known for nesting near their food, so look for a collection of paper scraps, droppings, hair, and crumbs behind a cabinet or bookcase.
- Rodents also mark their territory with urine, so mysterious liquids or stains in the corner of the room may also be an indication it’s time to take action. This can also cause an ammonia smell indicative of rats or a musty odor indicative of mice.
What Attracts Rodents?
You might be asking yourself, “what might be attracting rodents to my property?” Mice and rats are always looking for sources of food and water, as well as access to shelter, warmth, and safety.
Food and Water
This isn’t just about obvious lapses like leaving food out on the counter or letting a leaky faucet drip. The most common suspect of a rodent infestation is sanitation practices.
The trash bags you leave on the curb overnight are a welcome sign to any rodents in the area. Odors from garbage, especially food waste, spread in a large radius around your building, attracting rodents living or wandering nearby. With their powerful sense of smell, mice and rats will travel as far as 100 to 300 feet away to forage for food.
Indoors, pet food is another big culprit. House mice can get all the nutrition they need from leftover kibble in a pet bowl left out overnight—fats, proteins, carbohydrates, and water. Even dry dog food contains about 10% water, which is more than enough to satisfy a mouse’s daily hydration needs.
Of course, if you also happen to leave crumbs on the kitchen floor or improperly stored food in the cupboard, that’s all the more reason for them to stay.
Shelter, Warmth, and Safety
Mice and rat infestations usually peak in the fall. As the weather outside grows colder, rodents tend seek warmth and shelter inside of homes and building.
If you have a lot of clutter on your property (or even just a lot of nooks and crannies), this makes it even more inviting to these pests.
Autumn isn’t the only time to keep an eye out, though. Rodents are a year-round problem in NYC.
Outdoor rodent populations tend to spike in the spring, during mating season. During those warm weather months, you may see them outside in broad daylight more, but at night they’ll still look for unsuspecting buildings to make their nests.
How to Prevent Mice and Rats
You can prevent an infestation by reversing the causes above. Using the Integrated Pest Management approach, here are four things to fix: access to the building, access to food, access to water, and access to places rodents can hide.
Reduce Access to Food and Water
- One of the main sources of food for rats is trash. Make sure your trash is stored in sturdy containers with a tight-fitting lid.
- Bring trash to the curb only on the day of pick-up so as to not leave it out overnight.
- Clean pet bowls every day before dusk, and never leave pet food out overnight.
- Don’t keep bags of rice, beans, flour, chips in their original paper or plastic bags. Instead, transfer them to sturdy containers with tight-fitting lids.
- Sweep up any crumbs or spilled food. It may not seem like much to you, but it’s a feast for a mouse.
- As for water, don’t keep standing water in your sink (i.e dirty dishes) or tub.
- Fix leaks and dripping faucets immediately.
Eliminate Entry Points and Hiding Spots
- Let’s begin outside. Trim vegetation so it is not directly against the building to avoid giving rodents cover. There should be a six-inch clutter and vegetation-free track around the base of your home.
- Close burrows in the ground by tamping down the soil with a shovel, and close burrows in outer walls by sealing them with cement.
- Both indoors and out, you’ll want to install pipe collars wherever pipes meet the wall.
- You’ll also want to install door sweeps under doors, grates over drains, and screens over vents.
- Seal holes and crevices in the wall or floor. Mice can collapse their skeletons to squeeze through holes 1/4 inch wide. Rats can squeeze through holes 1/2 inch wide. They’ll find a way unless you remain vigilant.
- Also, if you keep your home free of clutter, pests will have fewer places to hide. This includes a caution against having overly cluttered storage areas such as the basement or attic.
Solutions to Get Rid of Mice and Rats
The preventative measures we discussed above will lower the chance of an infestation from happening.
But if you already have mice or rats infesting your property, here are commercially-available solutions to help exterminate or control the problem.
We cover several rodent control options below, but we always recommend consulting a professional first. If you try to do it yourself, you may risk giving the rodents time to multiply.
- Glue Traps – There are essentially flat pads with glue on them to be placed along rodent runways. Mice (and sometimes rats) run over them and get stuck. These traps do not kill the rodents immediately. Instead, they typically die of starvation or injuries when they try to free themselves. Glue traps are considered to be not humane.
- Snap Traps – When used correctly, these baited traps come down on the rodent’s neck to kill it on the spot. However, you will need to use different strategies (as well as different sized traps) for rats and mice. For mice, bait the trap and place it in a new area every few days. Curious mice will want to investigate the new item in their environment. For rats though, you’ll want to place the trap without setting it in the same place for a few days so that the cautious rats can get used to it. Then, bait and set the trap once they are comfortable. Peanut butter is a very effective bait for both rats and mice.
- Electric Traps – These deliver a fatal electric shock when a rodent enters the trap. Like snap traps, you will want to leave one in the same place for several days while turned off in order for rats to feel safe around it. You’ll need different-sized traps for rats and mice.
- Poison Bait Stations – These are plastic contraptions that let mice and rats get at poisoned bait. Once again, you’ll need to use different strategies for rats and mice. Rats require slow-acting poisons; since they are so cautious, slow-acting poisons let them think the bait is safe so the entire colony will eventually eat it. Make sure you follow all EPA and manufacturer guidelines when using poison bait. A risk of using poison is that the rodent might die inside the walls, creating an awful smell. A slightly more worrisome risk is that pets can eat rodents who have been poisoned and become poisoned themselves.
(Note on all traps: Please follow the CDC’s guidelines when disposing of dead rodents.)
- Live Traps – If you prefer not to kill your unwelcome guests, live traps can be the way to go. There are varied contraptions that come in multiple styles, but they all attempt to cage your rodent safely for later release. Take note that it is illegal to release animals you catch on your property into public parks, and releasing them too close to your home risks reinfestation. Please contact your local animal control. These traps should be checked regularly (PETA says hourly).
- Cats – A common misconception is that getting a cat will solve your rodent problems. Whether cats really constitute sustainable rodent control is debatable at best. A Fordham University study found that cats had no significant impact on a rat population; the researchers believe rats are just too tough for cats to bother with when the cats have access to easier food.
- Professional Pest Control – Of course, the easiest way to get rid of mice and rats is to hire a reputable pest control professional like MMPC in NYC. Our trained rodent experts can help you accurately determine the scope of your rodent problem and recommend the optimal solutions based on your building and infestation.
Mice and rats are rapidly reproducing, disease-carrying, building-destroying nuisances. Faithfulness to the principles of integrated pest management—namely reducing access to shelter, food, and water—can help prevent an infestation.
About MMPC: NYC’s Top-Rated Rodent Control Experts
If you suspect or discover rodent problems in your building, we encourage you to consider hiring a professional pest control company like MMPC.
With over 25 years of experience, we are the #1 highest-rated pest service in New York City and the Tri-State Area, providing reliable and eco-friendly pest solutions.
Rodent Proofing and Exclusion Services
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In addition to mice and rat extermination services, we can also help you with customized pest-proofing and exclusion services to stop rodents from entering your home or building in the first place.
MMPC’s Rodent Proofing Teams will inspect, treat and seal openings around utility lines and service conduits (including water pipes, electric wires, air conditioning units, drain pipes, and vents). We also check for broken windows and unscreened vents.
Our Rodent Proofing Team is available for on-site inspections or other treatment needs weekdays from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Contact us to schedule an appointment today!