Rats and Mice

Rats and mice are rodents that are commonly found living near people. They can be very destructive to homes and can carry germs that make people sick. They often make their nests in and around people's homes and office buildings. The Health Department educates and informs the public about health hazards like rat and mice infestations and advises people about the best way to address the problem.

  • The Fairfax County Health Department does not provide pest control treatment. In the event that your home, business or other property requires pest control services, please contact a licensed pest control company. If you observe rats and/or mice at a Health Department licensed facility, you may submit a complaint.
  • If you own or manage a licensed facility in the Fairfax community, your first responsibility upon observing rats or mice is to contact a pest control company to help you evaluate and get rid of the problem.

How to Identify and Control Rats and Mice

How to Identify and Control Rats & Mice tip sheet pdf icon

Rats and mice remain in a location and multiply due to food, water and shelter. Removing food, water and shelter along with pest control (trapping and baiting) is the best way to eliminate an infestation. To ensure your property is free from rats and mice, inspect your property on a regular basis for:

  • Signs of Infestation.
    • Burrows: Rats are ground dwellers and dig burrows in the ground or under things and make their nests underground. A burrow is an opening about the size of a tennis ball and will be smooth and clean. You may see dirt mounded up where the rat has excavated the hole/burrow. Look for other openings in your home, garage or storage shed that could allow the rats or mice to enter the structure. Seal holes and openings to prevent entry. Mice need only a ¼ inch opening and rats a ½ inch opening to gain entry.
    • Droppings: Droppings will tell you the path the rodents are traveling. Droppings should be removed via wet cleaning (soap and water) not dry (broom or vacuum).
    • Runways: Runways or runs are worn areas created by the rodent during its travel route. Rats leave a grease stain on walls and other surfaces of the areas they frequently travel.
    • Gnawing: Gnawing is an early sign of an infestation. Inspect your home, garage and storage sheds for gnawing. Rats often gnaw the bottom of trash receptacles; please be sure to inspect all trash and recycling bins for signs of damage.

  • Food Sources.
    • Bird feed and grass seed: Clean up and dispose of food/seed on the ground. Place bird/grass seed in a glass or metal container with a tight fitting lid.
    • Pet food and water: Clean up pet food and water after the animal has finished and keep pet food in a glass or metal container.
    • Household garbage: Household garbage should be kept in a container with a tight-fitting lid.
    • Wildlife feeding (squirrels, deer, etc.): If wildlife feeding is occurring, discontinue the practice until the rat/mouse problem is resolved.
    • Vegetable gardens and compost bins: Avoid placing food scraps into the compost bin until rat/mouse problem is resolved. In vegetable gardens, keep rotted fruit off the ground and remove ripe produce as soon as possible to prevent a possible food source for rats/mice.
    • Animal waste: Pick up waste regularly and place in a receptacle (trash can) with a tight fitting lid.

  • Harborage (covering/concealing of burrow or nest). Rats prefer dark shaded areas and they avoid sunlight. Expose dark shaded areas to sunlight. For example:
    • Trim/cut back low lying bushes, shrubs.
    • Remove junk piles and store wood piles up off the ground.
    • Keep grass and landscaping short and tidy
    • Inspect your home, garage and storage sheds for harborage conditions
    • Inspect your raised patio, deck, or stairs for burrows, openings and harborage conditions.

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