How to Trap a Rat - Trapping Information

Remember, the first step is crucial - you must seal up the building first, so all the entry and exit holes are shut before you start trapping. To trap without doing so is pointless. Once it's all sealed, no more rats can get in, and the ones that are stuck inside with no way out become much easier to trap - instead of going outside for food, they stay in the attic and run around, and hit your traps much more easily.

I'll now discuss various trapping considerations, such as bait, location, and types of traps.


Location, location, location - it's crucial when setting rat traps. I've seen many lousy amateurs simply throw a few traps in the attic (or ceiling, kitchen, wherever) at random, in the most convenient place. That won't work! Rats are creatures of habit. They travel the same pathways over and over and over. That's why they are so good at running mazes. When you inspect the attic, you will spot the rat trails. The insulation is trampled down, there are droppings everywhere, and it's easy to see. Set the traps right on these trails, with the trip pan right on the trail. These rat trails are not in the most convenient spot, right near the attic hatch. They are often near the edges of the attic, in places you have to crawl to get to. Make sure the traps are set on a flat, firm surface. That's very important. If they are not on a good surface, they won't trigger properly. Don't set them in a way that allows the rats to trigger them from behind. Set the trap 90 degrees, perpendicular to flat edges, like beams, when possible. Lay the traps across rat paths, not in line with rat paths. Oh, and set a lot of traps. One or two won't cut it. You want to BAM get them all quickly. I set a minimum of a dozen traps in an attic. You know, there's a lot to say here about rat trapping technique. Having an eye for it, and experience with many failed sets, helps a lot here.


Trick topic! Bait doesn't matter! In fact, you can set traps with no bait, and have just about the same success. Again, it all comes down to location. That said, I do bait my traps, because I do believe it helps, and it can't hurt, and every edge to make the job easier is good. The type of bait is easy - I just smear a thin layer of peanut butter on the trap pan. Simple! Read more about What is the best bait to trap a rat? I know of some people who do all sorts of crazy stuff, like tie a piece of meat or Slim Jim down with thread, but that's just silly, and not necessary. I've also heard some old-time trappers swear by this bait or that - one guy told me that only pineapples do the trick! He also told me that a cold winter is coming because his rooster was crowing three times in the morning, instead of two.


This type of trap is the best. As I've mentioned, I've tried many traps over the years. Many types of traps have been invented, but the original Victor wooden snap trap is definitely the best, for a variety of reasons. And I'm not some idiot who nostalgically pines for the good old days, when they made 'em like they used to, etc. I love new technology. But the wooden snap traps are the absolute best. The flat bottom sits well on insulation. The pan can be set at hair trigger. They are strong and kill instantly. There's really no design change that I've seen, outside of ease of setting (and that may be important to you) that improves upon this design.


Yes, if you want to, you can use live cage traps, and trap them live, and let them go outside. This is possible. And I do very much like to be humane to animals, and rats have feelings too. But I do not use cage traps for rat control, and here are several reasons why:
  • The cages often don't fit in the little nooks and crannies that rats inhabit. Often, I'm wedging a trap in a small area, and a cage just won't fit.
  • It's important to set many traps, at least a dozen at one time, to do the job right. Setting just one or two traps will cause several problems, because you'll have a bunch of free-agent rats with no trap to go to, and they start to gnaw and create problems. Not many people have access to a dozen cage traps.
  • Cage traps are simply far less effective. Rats are cautious, and not as likely to walk into a cage trap and back to the bait trigger pan. With a snap trap, they simply run along their usual route, and WHAM, they're dead instantly. Or if it's the bait they are after, one tiny sniff, and SNAP. With the cage traps, they have to commit much more, and rats are super cautious.
  • If you want to be humane, this is important - the traps MUST be checked every 8 hours or so. Rats can die quickly from heat stroke in an attic, and the stress of being in a cage trap can speed up dehydration and such. Most people who set cage traps in an attic don't have the discipline to check the traps on a frequent basis. You can negate some of the chance of death if you put fresh orange slices (a source of water) in the traps.
  • Okay, say you do trap the rat in a cage, and let it go outside. It want to get back in the attic, and will sniff its way back and try to chew its way back in. If you've sealed the house properly, with steel, this should not be a concern, but still, you've got attic-acclimated rats out in the environment now. Relocating them a far distance, at least a few miles, helps.


Glue traps suck. They don't work very well. I've seen more cases of rat footprints, bits of rat fur, and even gnawed-off rat limbs than actual rats caught. But mostly, I see empty glueboards with nothing trapped on them at all. Rats are pretty smart, and good about avoiding glue boards. But what if they do in fact get stuck, such as in the below photo? We're talking a slow and agonizing death, folks. And glueboards are one-time use, they are more expensive than good-old snap traps, less effective, far less humane. Why would anyone use one of these pieces of crap? I guess just because someone out there is marketing and selling them. I've never used them, but I've been called to many homes with rat odor, and I found a rotting and stinking rat on an old glue board lying around. Don't use glue traps. They stink.

Some people want to know how to keep rats away without having to trap them at all. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no effective repellent that actually works. The best form of rat prevention is to simply seal your house shut so that they can't get inside. If you need professional help, I have friends that I have personally trained in these cities:
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Although I wrote this site with rats in mind, such as the Roof Rat and Norway Rat, the same principles apply to other rodents, such as the house mouse. Mice behave very similarly to rats, they're just smaller. Email me if you have any questions about how to trap a mouse, mouse trapping, how to trap mice, mice trapping, or any rodent trapping issues.

Read more articles I wrote about rats:
What are the types of rat snap traps?
How to Make a Rat Trap
Is it legal for me to trap a rat?
Humane rat traps
Should I ever poison a rat?
An analysis of inhumane glue traps for rats
Should You Use Electrocution Traps for Rats and Mice?
Which is easier to trap - mice or rats?

What to do about a trap-shy rat

If you have rats that you can't seem to catch, you need to tweak your rat-catching method a little. Catching these animals is never going to be easy - they're wild animals, after all. They're meant to run away and evade capture. That's what they're very good at. Rats have many advantages over us humans in this battle also. They're smaller than us, can fit through much smaller gaps than we can, and can often go undetected for such a long time, they can wreak total havoc on your house before you even realize you have a problem.
Rat traps often work to solve the problem, but this is only the case when the traps are placed in the right position. The bait is important too, of course, but not as important as you'd think. You will need to place the traps in the right place in order for them have any effectiveness at all, and if you don't, the bait you use will be pointless.

In order to find out the best place to place your rat traps, you will need to sprinkle some flour down. This sounds odd, but you will soon see the tiny little paw-prints of these rats as they scurry about over the flour, and you can use the amount of dislodging as a guide. The more movement there has been on the flour, the more the rats are using that specific area. Those are the areas in which you should place the traps, not in the places where the flour hasn't been moved at all.

Another feature that will soon give the game away when it comes to finding busy rat areas, is rat droppings. They're typically rodent-dropping-shaped, and you will find plenty of them bunched together. The more droppings there are, the busier than particular area is, and the more chances your traps will have success.

When it comes to bait, peanut butter has shown to be a good one, but you could use a number of other things. Rats are scavengers, and they'll eat pretty much anything that you put out for it. You could try sweet treats, such as jam on bread, but you must remember that these foods may attract other animals also, and insects. You don't want to get rid of a rat but attract wasps, for example.

The more traps you have set, the more success you are likely to have, but you should only place the traps where it is safe to do so. The living room floor, for example, is probably not a great place, especially if the young fingers of your kids could easily be snapped by them. You should make sure you are checking the traps regularly - a couple of times per day - to ensure no dead rats are left lying around needlessly, and that they aren't lying around without any bait in them also.

There are other kinds of traps you can use if you are finding you still don't have success with the snap-traps. There are non-lethal traps, which often work with a small maze-style and plastic device, a trap set off to shut a door when the mouse or rat is safely confined within it. These often don't work as well as the snap-traps, and then give you the problem of what to do with the rat afterwards - a live one, but are another method you could try. The good news is that there is always something else you can try. If all else fails, you could always call in the professionals. It would probably be cheaper and much quicker to do that anyway …

Go back to the Rats in the Attic home page.