Top Tips for Keeping Wild Rodents Out of Your Home
The first of a series about living in harmony with your local wildlife.
By Liz Stelow, D.V.M.
As I write this, there is a little mouse running around our garage. I saw it a few minutes ago as I tossed a few containers into our recycling bin.
So now I’m pondering how to proceed. Maybe you’re wondering, “What’s to ponder? Grab the traps and get them set up, already!” But, between the guilt about the outcome and having to deal with a “used” trap, I’m not much of a mouse trap person (except humane traps, of course).
Fortunately, a little advance planning goes a long way in avoiding my situation. The wild rodents that most commonly enter peoples’ homes are mice, rats, and squirrels. They’re seeking the same thing you are: food and a nice place to raise a family. They typically come in through holes in the outside of the building, and often take up residence in the quiet of attics, basements, and garages – although mice have been found living in kitchen cabinets, too. If you live in an apartment building, they can move from apartment to apartment through the common duct work and shared walls.
Keeping these animals out of your home requires a threefold plan: Protect the exterior structure; remove attractive habitats immediately outside the house; and reduce access to food in the house.
If you live in an apartment, you’ll want to focus on interior walls and proper food storage.
Checking the outside
Mice are the smallest of the rodents that can invite themselves into your home. They can crawl through a hole roughly the size of a dime, so, for the first task, attention to detail is crucial. On a nice day with good ambient light, scan the exterior walls of your home, from the foundation to the roof. Note any and all breaches, including vents. Pay special attention to areas near tree branches and wood piles or obscured by plants or other structures.
Next, go into your attic, basement, and garage. Look carefully for any areas where daylight can be seen and add these to your list.
Now, carefully examine any places you have noted and take action to seal any holes you find. Don’t forget to weather-strip any large gaps under exterior doors. If you think you have a current rodent problem, use “exit-only” covers for the first few weeks before sealing the holes permanently. A good example is a large piece of wire mesh that can easily be pushed out from the inside of the house but not lifted from the outside. That way, any current guests will have an opportunity to leave before you seal things up.
Removing attractive habitats
Now, you want to make the area around your house less attractive to rodents. The kinds of things you want to eliminate are tree branches or vines that reach the eaves, a wood pile next to an exterior wall, and ivy or other dense ground cover next to the house. In short, if you think a small animal might use it as a hiding place or means of access to your house, remove it.
Stop being a catering service
Finally, reduce the amount of accessible food. Try to keep everything but canned goods in the kitchen and pantry, where you’re more likely to know if you have a rodent problem.
Avoid leaving dog or cat food in bowls, either indoors or out, as it’s a big draw for mice and rats.
Don’t use your basement or garage to store produce, cereals or other grains, or bags of pet food (except in heavy plastic airtight containers sold specifically for pet food storage).
And if your recycling bins are kept in the house or garage (like mine are), always wash food containers before recycling them.
What did I miss?
So, I must have overlooked something in our house – after all, I have a mouse in my garage.
It turns out, there’s a one-inch gap we never sealed under the side garage door, and we haven’t been diligent about washing out food containers before recycling them. Guess I’d better get to work.
Liz Stelow is a veterinarian living in Davis, California. She is also a busy mom and the author of a pet health blog at PetDoctorMom.com.