Humane Rodent Control

Rats and mice can often come into conflict with humans. If they enter our homes or business premises they can pose a serious risk to health and cause significant damage. In some countries rats or mice may even threaten the security of the food supply.  Sadly, this means it may be necessary to use lethal control methods to deal effectively with rodent infestations. At UFAW we are often asked for advice on the most humane way to deal with rats and mice. This guidance is distilled from the scientific literature and consultations with experts to provide you with our advice on how to tackle rat and mouse problems as humanely as possible.

What steps should I take if I think I have rats or mice in my property?

There are three steps you should take if you have a rodent problem.

1.       Identify the species which is causing the problem
2.       Control the rodents
3.       Prevent the problem re-occuring

Even if you do not have a current rodent problem it is a good idea to follow the advice in step 3 to prevent future problems.

1.       Identify which species is the source of the problem. It is important to know if you are dealing with rats, mice or another species. The steps you take to deal with the problem will depend on which species is present as it may be against the law to use some methods where certain species are present.

2.       Choose the most humane approach to control the animals in your property.

For rats and mice, if lethal control is necessary we recommend the following approach:

The most humane approaches for rats and mice are snap traps (sometimes called break-back traps) and live capture in a humane trap followed by rapid humane killing of the animal. Some snap traps are much more efficient than others. Poor quality traps are much more likely to injure animals rather than killing them instantly. It can be difficult to identify good quality traps, see our advice on selecting snap traps here. Although some people may want to release trapped rodents it is likely that this is not a humane approach.

Rodenticides (poisons such as anticoagulants and cholecalciferol) designed to kill rodents can be effective, but they kill the animals slowly, over days, and cause significant suffering in the process. They are dangerous to other animals and should be used with great care if you have pets which may ingest them or eat poisoned rats or mice[. There are various legal restrictions surrounding rodenticide use and, for this reason, UFAW strongly advises non-professionals not to use rodenticides.

Glue traps (sticky boards which trap rodents) cause very significant suffering over a long period of time. We consider the suffering caused by these devices to be unacceptable. The English, Welsh and Scottish authorities are all considering bans or significant restrictions on their use. Glue traps are already banned or restricted in several countries including New Zealand, Ireland and India. They also pose a danger to other animals. Glue traps should never be used outdoors or in a space where other people or animals have access. You may commit an offence if you do not dispose of glue boards responsibly so that they cannot become accessible to animals again.

A dead rat on a glue trap’ and add in brackets ‘(source: © Tzuhsun Hsu CC2.0 via Flickr)’.

UFAW strongly recommends that members of the public do not use rodenticides or glue traps to control rodents. Both these methods will inevitably cause very significant suffering.

If you set any kind of trap for rodents, you must check it as regularly as possible and at the very least every 12 hours. You must be willing and prepared to kill trapped rodents humanely. Failing to check a trap and allowing an animal to suffer whilst trapped could constitute a criminal offence in the UK.

If you are unsure about any of the steps above, we strongly suggest you find a properly trained and qualified professional pest controller to help you . Failure to treat rodents humanely once you have caught them may constitute a criminal offence in the UK. This can mean being prepared to kill trapped animals using a blow to the head. Other methods such as drowning would be considered to be a cause of unnecessary suffering and potentially an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. If you are not prepared and adequately skilled to deal humanely with a captured rodent, you should entrust the responsibility to a professional.

Discuss the issue with the pest controller and ask them to try the more humane approaches to rodent control before resorting to rodenticides or glue traps. A good pest controller should be able to explain the methods to you and help you choose the most humane one. If they are not able or prepared to do this, find one who is.

3. Rodent-proof your property. Make sure you remove any sources of food and any routes for rodents to get into your property (if you don’t do this they will return even if you kill the animals currently infesting your property). Mice can squeeze through a tiny hole the diameter of a pencil just 6mm!

What about catching and releasing rodents?

You may be able to catch rats or mice uninjured in a humane trap. For those who care about rodent welfare the instinct is often to want to release the animals unharmed.  However, if you release them nearby they are likely to return to your property unless you can completely proof it against them. They may also return to nearby properties. Your neighbours may be less inclined to control their infestation using a humane method. You can also release the animals a significant distance from your property so that they are unlikely to find their way back. If you do this, sadly, most ecologists say that they are unlikely to survive in their new environment. In both cases the animals are likely to suffer significantly, potentially more than would occur if they are killed using the more humane lethal measures. For these reasons UFAW cannot recommend this method as a humane alternative to killing them, as appealing as it may seem at first.

Our detailed guidance on the following pages provides more information on the welfare impacts of various rodent control methods as well as advice on the use of the most humane methods and how to prevent future problems.

Last updated January 2022. Written by Dr Sandra Baker (University of Oxford) and Dr Huw Golledge (UFAW). With thanks to Chris Cagienard/BPCA Vice President (Pest Solutions).

Links:

Detailed advice on humane control of rodents

Advice on the control of moles