How to manage home pests

Vermin in homes can contribute to allergies, contaminate food and can even harbor diseases that affect both people and domestic animals. Pexels

Dear Aggie: I found mouse poop behind my refrigerator. What do I do?

Fun Fact: 43% of all mammal species are rodents. Though very few of these enter our homes, the ones that do can cause problems.

Rodents can chew wood framing, wiring and plastic waterlines. They can disturb insulation. Vermin can contribute to allergies, contaminate food and can even harbor diseases that affect both people and domestic animals. Their droppings, urine, and even carcasses can directly or indirectly transmit pathogens. For this reason, consider wearing proper personal protective equipment such as gloves, a mask, and eye protection when treating a rodent infestation. Afterwards, wash any contaminated clothing and cleaning tools.

Whether you live in a rural or urban setting, start with a thorough inspection to identify where rodents are entering your building and where they are going. Check inside, outside, and around the structure. Look both low and high. Look under or inside furniture and appliances. Look for droppings, sebum trails (a dark oily stain), nests, gaps/entry points and gnaw marks. Take note of the size of gaps, size of droppings, and gnaw mark grooves. These will help you identify the species (rats, mice or, less commonly, voles), which becomes important when determining how best to bait and trap them.

During your inspection, it is important to determine not only where are they coming from, but why are they coming in? Rodents need food, water and shelter. These become scarce outdoors in the winter months, but are readily available in homes, barns, garages and animal enclosures. You want to eliminate entry points as well as sources of food and water.

Store dry goods, animal feed, compost, and garbage in rodent proof containers. Clean surfaces to remove any food scraps, crumbs, or grease. Remove hiding spots by getting rid of clutter. Fix leaky pipes and remove standing water to eliminate sources of water. Keep in mind that mice can squeeze under gaps as small as ¼-inch (the width of a No. 2 pencil) and through holes as small as 3/8-inch (the size of a dime). Look for and seal all gaps, holes, and other entry points where pests may enter your structure. While small gaps can be sealed with caulk, larger gaps might require installation of woven wire mesh.

Once you have removed these attractive sources and entry points from your home, you can focus on pest removal. Snap traps and bucket traps (essentially a lid on a bucket with a baited trap door) are two effective options. Knowing whether you have rats or mice will guide you to the proper size of trap and even the type of bait to be used. Peanut butter works for many species.

Herbivorous mice might be attracted to oatmeal or even pieces of string (for their nests). Omnivorous rats might be attracted to dried fruit, gumdrops, or pieces of hot dog. Because rodents will avoid new food sources, leave traps unset for a few days to allow the larger population to become accustomed to that food. Once one or two animals take the bait unharmed, others will be more likely to take bait on set traps. Space multiple snap traps five to ten feet apart at a right angle to walls along their travel pathways.

While rodenticides are an option, extreme care must be taken as they pose a deadly hazard to pets, other wildlife (e.g. when baiting in a barn), and could result in rodents dying within walls. Glue traps are generally ineffective for all but immature rodents. Finally, there is no evidence that ultra-sonic devices have any effect whatsoever on rodents.

For more detailed information on rodent management, visit Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Integrated Pest Management site at or give our office a call at 315-788-8450.

Written by John Buneta, Cornell Cooperative Extension FarmOps coordinator.

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