As Dallas-Fort Worth home builders set a record for new home construction this quarter, the rapid expansion comes with unwelcome guests — roof rats. 

The pest, also known by its Latin name rattus rattus, thrives in environments where humans leave their mark. Trash left out by humans serves as a food source, and structures built by humans serve as the perfect cover from predators. 

Orkin named Dallas-Fort Worth the 16th rattiest city in 2020. 

“The development has helped out with the population growth,” Randall Kennedy, owner of Dallas Fort Worth Wildlife Control, said. 

Top 10 ways to keep rodents out of your home:

  1. Seal all the structure’s gaps and cracks, exterminators and wildlife removal specialists usually offer this service.
  2. Close ceiling pipe fixtures, which are notorious for allowing not just rats but also roaches to get in.
  3. Call professional pest control companies to inspect the property.
  4. Keep bushes trimmed a couple inches away from the structure.
  5. If you do have foliage against your house, cut it into a V-shape to remove ground cover for rats. 
  6. Make sure tree limbs aren’t touching the roof of your house.
  7. Remove mulch away from building foundations. Allowing for a few inches of space between the mulch line and your house will prevent rats from creating a shelter near foundations. 
  8. Fix plumbing leaks and improve drainage to prevent water accumulation.
  9. Use self-contained, leak-proof compactors instead of Dumpsters, or at least use Dumpsters with tight-fitting lids.
  10. Fill in inactive burrows with filler such as mortar.

Not only are roof rats destructive, costing up to $10 per square foot to remove, they also can have devastating health effects. 

The rats, originally from South Asia, have adapted from the trees of the tropics to the attics of North Texas homes. We help the rats survive by giving them food and shelter away from natural ways to control the population — like predatory birds. 

“The rodents are going to show up. If you keep providing them what they need, you’re going to see them more often,” Andrew Graf, Eco-Safe Pest Control’s entomologist, said. 

All the experts agreed: The best way to keep rodents and pests out of your home is through prevention and education. 

“Changing the environment around a home or business where it makes it less conducive for rodents to feel at home, the more likely you’re going to have better prevention,” Gregory Brandt, owner of Eco-Safe said.  

“New development is very susceptible to having the roof rat move in,” he said. “Even if it’s just a new house in an old neighborhood, they are going to have roof rats before they are actually finished building the home.”

The cleanliness of job sites where houses are being built often serves as invitations for vermin to move in. Any trash left out by construction workers creates an opening for rats to thrive at that site and move into a home before the flooring is installed. 

Tarrant County health officials serve developers outside of the county’s largest cities. Officials give guidance on how developers should prevent and respond to infestations.

The roof rats’ remarkable ability to expand is thanks to their reproductive habits. Rats can have multiple litters in a year, and multiple babies in each litter. 

If you want to take preventative measures:

  •  You can begin inspecting your property yourself or call a wildlife removal specialist/exterminator. 
  • If you suspect you have a rat infestation, call in an expert, they should remove the rats, clean up the hazardous materials (poop and urine) and seal off any possible openings to prevent the rats return.

When a rat finds its way into a home, it’s just a matter of time before others move in, said Janet Hurley, with Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center is the state’s foremost expert on rodent pests in Texas. 

“There is nothing cute and fuzzy about a rat,” Hurley said. 

Rats can find their way into a home through an opening no smaller than a quarter. “And once they’re in, they’re in,” Hurley said. 

Hurley has 30 rodent bait stations around North Texas. Usually, the summer heat reduces the populations she’s able to record, but not this year. 

Because of their high reproductive rates, Hurley said, it’s the best they can do to keep the population of rats at bay. 

“We are constantly baffled about the fact that no matter what we do, it’s like we’ll reduce the population, and then it will rebound,” Hurley said. “And it’s simply because, again, humans help (the rats).”

Illustration of three rats carrying luggage.

Health risks 

Rodent infestations cause “millions of dollars in damage in Fort Worth alone,” according to Kennedy. In addition to the mess they leave, they can chew through wires and cause house fires. 

But what makes them most dangerous is the diseases they carry. 

In rats’ feces and urine, researchers have found salmonella, leptospirosis (a bacterial disease), staph and other foodborne illnesses. Also, the fleas found on roof rats can carry typhus. 

“Foodborne illnesses are generally spread more by insects and vermin than it is from food, not the right temperature,” Hurley explains. “They’re nasty little creatures.”

The existence of rats in a structure attracts other vermin. 

“Every year, we get more and more snake calls due to their food source being the rats,” Kennedy said. 

Prevention

Jeremy Trueax, Eco-Safe Pest Control’s Wildlife Specialist, said there will always be construction gaps rats can use to infiltrate a home. 

“They will eventually get into your house, no matter what it is if it’s a $10 million home or a $10,000 home,” he said.

But an inspection can go a long way to ensuring your house is free of gaps rodents can use as an entry point. 

“If you seal them off preemptively, the chances of you actually getting an infestation drops dramatically,” Trueax said. 

Hurley inspects her property regularly. Since Texas ground shifts, she said, it’s wise to make sure no entry points have been exposed. 

“I am constantly on the lookout for (entry points),” Hurley said.

She insists the key is educating others about the problems associated with infestations and how to spot ways to prevent their entry. 

“If you’re going to invest in a piece of property, the best thing you can do is be your best steward and look at things that can help improve your property,” Hurley said. 

Hurley is working on educational resources to inform people about how to exclude rodents from their property. In the meantime, she said, look for information from universities, because they aren’t trying to sell any products as they provide information about rodent control. 

She is also holding an event for registered sanitarian or code enforcement officers on rodents and what to look for when inspecting properties.

Rachel Behrndt is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Her fellowship is supported by grants from the Amon G. Carter and Sid W. Richardson foundations. Contact her at rachel.behrndt@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter.

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Rachel BehrndtGovernment Accountability Reporter

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report in collaboration with KERA. She is a recent graduate of the University of Missouri where she majored in Journalism and Political...

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