Often we get asked by people or businesses what are the alternatives to poisons? First, it really needs to be emphasized that there seem to be no scientific studies that show rodenticides like SGARs are at all effective at meaningfully reducing rodents, particularly in ex-urban/suburban towns like Arlington. So giving up rat poisons shouldn’t require the need for an alternative since they don’t work well and may actually even be a contributing factor to rodent infestations (for more info about how this on our Frequently Asked Questions page). But if you are not comfortable giving up poisons without an alternative plan lined up or if you already do not use poisons and are in need options, the good news is that there are many poison-free alternatives to rodenticides.
The most important way to reduce rats and keep them off your property and out of your home is to focus on improving trash management. This means removing access to food and water sources, as well as exercising exclusion (in other words, finding whatever points of entry a rodent may have into your home and blocking it off).
Even simple steps can go a huge way:
- Removing bird feeders (especially during the warmer weather seasons and overnight between dusk and dawn). If you have spotted rodents in your yard or on your property and you have bird feeders, it is recommended to remove the feeders entirely for at least 2-3 weeks and to make sure all seed on the ground is picked up and disposed. Wait until you have no more rodent sightings for awhile before you re-install the feeders. You may want to consider removing your feeders permanently, or at least between the months of April through October, when rodents are more active and have more young and when songbirds have an abundance of natural foods. There is some research indicating birdfeeders may actually be harmful to some songbird species and one reason for their decline. In fact, birdfeeders may be a direct contributing factor to increasing rat populations (and rats can also predate on songbird nestlings). One study out of Oregon showed that households with birdfeeders had more than double the rate of rodents on their property than those without feeders. If you do keep a birdfeeder, consider a rodent-proof model made of glass or metal, and clean up spilled seed regularly (packed seed less prone to spillage may also be better than loose seed). As an alternative to birdfeeders, consider planting native plants or keeping potted plants in your yard during the warmer weather months to attract beautiful birds to your property without the risk of getting uninvited rodent guests as well. More info on this here.
- Getting rat resistant compost bins (and if possible, keeping compost bins indoors and even refrigerated until pick up/drop off times).
- Getting rat resistant (or metal) trash receptacles
- Only taking out trash the morning of pick-up, or at the least, the night before pick-up. A trash compactor and only cleaning out the refrigerator the night before trash pick up can help reduce the need to take the trash out long before the pick up date.
- Making sure not to feed pets outdoors
- Picking up pet waste immediately
- Clearing outdoor structures of ivy and dropped fruits or berries from trees or bushes
- Rinsing recyclables well before bringing them outside.
The City of Somerville experienced a 60% reduction in rat sightings after they distributed rat-resistant trash-toters to every resident household and required businesses and large residential properties to license their dumpsters and receive annual inspections.
Some properties and businesses have had some successes by increasing trash pick-up from once to twice weekly, while some parks and recreational areas in other towns and cities have gotten rid of their trash receptacles completely and adopted a carry-in/carry-out policy for trash. Talking to your neighbors or engaging your Chambers of Commerce, neighborhood or local businesses associations, landlord, or property manager on adopting similar measures can help spread the word and move these methods into the mainstream.
For times when trash management and exclusion are still not cutting it, old-fashioned trapping–whether snap traps (which need to be in bait boxes to prevent injury to non-target animals and children), electronic traps, CO2 traps, or even humane traps like Have-A-Heart (if the goal is to remove the rodents from your home without killing them) are the best alternatives.
Emerging alternative baits like Rat X can fatally dehydrate rodents without poisoning them and do not work up the food chain or cause secondary poisoning in wildlife.
Likewise, Contrapest is a bait that significantly reduces the fertility of rats and mice. It has been shown in pilot studies around the Boston metro area to be successful in decreasing overall rat populations at their test sites. Similar to Rat X, Contrapest does not work its way up the food chain or have secondary effects on wildlife.
However, people should be cautious when leaving out bait–any bait intended for rodents–for extended periods of time–as this can actually attract rodents to an area or make an existing rodent problem worse. This is one reason why the pervasive use of rodenticide baits in our town and wider metro area has corresponded with an explosion of the rat population.
Baits act as a lure. By leaving out a perpetual food source–even a poisoned one–it is going to draw in rodents. And over time, rodents learn to avoid the bait or associate it with harm (rats are highly intelligent and can actually learn lessons based on the experiences of their family members). They then concentrate on finding other food sources–such as those found in your yard or home. In the case of anticoagulant rodenticides, studies show rats and mice can build resistance to them in a relatively quick amount of time due to how fast and how much they breed.
Please read this page by Humane Wildlife Control, winner of the 2020 IPM Achievement Award by the California’s EPA and the Department of Pesticide Regulations. The page explains how baiting with rodenticides is counter-productive to reducing rodents.
According to Humane Wildlife Control: “Poison bait stations are as much an attractant as any other food source – it’s just food to them – poisonous food.”
Raptors are the Solution has a comprehensive guide to alternatives with specific products and companies highlighted.
There has been a lot of interest in recent years in the practice of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). It’s important to understand that IPM doesn’t mean poison-free. IPM usually means poisons–including AR poisons–are applied “judiciously” as a potential tool in the toolbox. Yet many pest professionals interpret that much more liberally than others and also still use SGARs as a first line method. This is why it is critical even if you are contracting with a pest control professional who claims to use IPM or to be certified in IPM practices (they may even call themselves “IPM professionals”) to stress that you do not want to have any rodenticides, particularly anticoagulant rodenticides, applied on your property. Otherwise, it is likely they will use poisons such as SGARs unless you are assertive on that point.
Similarly, while pest companies may employ terms like “green,” “sustainable,” “humane,” or even “organic” or “eco-friendly” when marketing their products or services, or may even contain these words in their titles or business names–it’s important to remember there is no legal criteria associated with their use. Many places that claim to be “green” still use poisons, including SGARs. It is up to the customer to double check what their pest control companies are using. Ask for the specific bait name and ask if there is an EPA registration code for it. If so, say you’d like to read the information sheet for it.
At one point Save Arlington Wildlife was looking into offering a list of pest control professionals that are poison-free or at least specialize in poison-free alternatives. However, it seems virtually all pest control companies use poisons and sadly, we have had reports from people who thought they were getting poison-free services from pest control companies with relatively environmentally-friendly reputations, just to realize they actually harbored SGARs on their property. So at this time we are recommending people exercise caution and make sure to ask questions of any pest control professional they hire. Make sure you clarify that it is important that rodenticides, or AR poisons, not be used around your home or business.
As an alternative to pest control professionals, you can contract or hire a Problem Animal Control (PAC) agent, who is licensed by the state of Massachusetts to handle trapping and exclusion of wildlife (including rodents).
Some PAC agents may also be licensed pest control professionals, so make sure you clarify that you are only looking for PAC services and are not interested in pest control services that use rodenticides. You can find a list of PAC agents in Massachusetts here.