If you’ve recently put up a hutch, you might have noticed a few unexpected garden visitors. Unexpected and unwanted. Do you want to know how to keep rats and other rodents out of your enclosure? It may take some effort, but you can do it.
What Attracts Rodents?
There are two reasons that any wild animal comes into your yard: food, water and shelter.
Just like visiting foxes, rats and mice may come into your yard looking for a bite to eat and a warm, safe place to set up a nest. People can inadvertently attract rodents and other wildlife by leaving out food, water sources and clutter.
Dry food for rabbits, guinea pigs, and hedgehogs are highly nutritious, and rodents find it irresistible. If you’re wondering why your pet is suddenly eating so much more, it may be because they’re sharing with rodents.
If that’s not enough, rats are coprophages. That means that droppings are on the menu, too.
Also, yard clutter can be an attractant. Have you left your hutch cover lying on the ground? Or a blanket in the run? Wood piles are a great place for a mouse or rat to hide. If there’s anything sitting around that might offer shelter to a small visitor, chances are it’s been noticed.
You need to nip that in the bud.
The Dangers of Rats and Mice
Rats and mice may look cute and harmless. Indeed, domestic breeds make great companions. But wild rats and mice pose a variety of dangers.
Rats and mice carry a host of diseases. These may vary depending on where you live. Some are more serious than others. But I think we can all agree that it’s best to avoid them altogether.
There are numerous types of hantaviruses. All are carried by rodents. Old world (European) hantaviruses are carried by rats, mice, and voles. New world hantaviruses, found mainly in the western United States, are carried by certain types of mice.
In all cases, however, infection happens through exposure to rodent urine, faeces, or saliva. Occasionally people may be infected by a bite.
European hantaviruses can cause kidney and/or haemorrhagic diseases. American hantaviruses can cause a severe respiratory disease.
There is no cure for any of the hantaviruses, and treatment is supportive.
Lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM) is carried by the common house mouse. Both humans and animals can contract LCM. This happens through contact with urine, faeces, or saliva, and, sometimes through rodent bites.
LCM symptoms come in two phases. The first phase is characterized by flu-like symptoms: headache, muscle aches, fever, and also nausea and vomiting. The second phase has neurological symptoms, including meningitis and encephalitis.
Treatment for LCM is also supportive.
Tularemia is caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis, which is spread by rodents. Both humans and pets — especially rabbits — are vulnerable to Tularemia. The disease spreads through skin contact, insect bites, inhaling infected dust, and contact with contaminated water.
Tularemia has different symptoms depending on the method by which the bacteria entered the body.
Although it can be life-threatening, doctors successfully treat most patients with antibiotics.
Plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Infection generally happens through flea bites, or by contact with an infected animal, infected fluids, or through infected droplets, as from a sneeze.
There are three different types of plague: bubonic plague, pneumonic plague, and septicemic plague. All can affect both you and your companion animals.
Today, doctors treat plague with antibiotics.
Aggression Toward Your Pets
Although a mouse is unlikely to be aggressive toward your animals, rats are a different story.
Rats are omnivores, which means that in addition to food and droppings, they sometimes also eat other animals.
It’s unlikely that a rat would attack a full-sized bunny with the intent of eating it. However, rats have been known to carry off kits. And a large rat is certainly a match for a dwarf or miniature breed.
Also, a daring rat might well attack a small pet in an attempt to get at that animal’s food.
Any injury should send you straight to the vet. But if you suspect your pet has been in a fight with a rat, then medical attention is especially important.
Other animals understand that rats can be a threat. So if your garden pet is suddenly acting frightened, it’s possible that rats are about.
Do You Know How to Spot a Rat?
If you’ve seen a rat, mouse, or vole, then you know where you are. But rodents are adept at hiding in plain sight. Other signs that you might have unwanted visitors include:
- Holes in rabbit hutches
- Teeth marks and other signs of chewing
- An ammonia-like smell (this is urine)
- If your animals are acting frightened or avoiding part of their enclosure
How to Keep Rodents Out of Your Enclosure
Rats and mice are persistent. They also breed like, well, rats and mice. A rat’s gestation period is just three weeks, for example. And each litter can result in up to 14 new rats.
As for mice, they can breed immediately after giving birth, and in as little as 20 days, you can have a dozen more.
But there are steps you can take to get rid of rodents, and to discourage new ones from settling in.
First, get rid of attractants. Attractants include pet food, faeces, bedding, and anything that may be used as shelter.
Toward that end:
Don’t leave pet food unattended
That includes dog and cat food, as well as garden pet food.
It’s a good idea to feed your pet small amounts of pellets several times a day, then get rid of uneaten food after a certain amount of time, instead of leaving the full amount in their feeding dish. The same goes for wet hedgehog food.
Also, rabbits should eat a diet that is primarily hay. Hay is of no interest to rats.
If you’re feeding your garden pets fresh fruits or vegetables, remove those, as well, if your pet hasn’t eaten them after a certain amount of time has passed.
Also, consider using a water bottle instead of water dishes.
Bird feeders are another food source that a mouse, rat, or other rodent could easily get into.
Keep the outdoor area clean
Regularly cleaning your hutch and run will not only keep your outdoor pet healthy and clean. It will also help to keep away mice and other rodents.
Spot clean your garden pet’s litter box at least once a day. Rats and mice are nocturnal, so remove faeces and soiled litter just before dark.
Also, check bedding daily, and get rid of any soiled bedding when you find it. Replace the soiled bedding with fresh, clean bedding.
Finally, remove any outdoor clutter where mice and other rodents could hide and/or nest.
Mulch and compost
Mulch and compost are amazing for your garden. But they can also provide a safe, cozy place for mice and other rodents to nest.
Keep compost in a secure bin. And reconsider using mulch. If you must mulch, the wood chip variety provides a less effective hiding place. Always keep unused mulch securely stored.
After you’ve taken away rodents’ reasons for visiting your enclosure, seal off access to it.
Seal up holes
An enterprising rat can fit through a gap of 20 to 25 millimeters (that’s about an inch.) A younger rat can fit through even smaller spaces. And mice? Mice can fit through very tiny spaces indeed.
If your hutch is made with chicken wire, consider switching out the chicken wire or covering it up with rodent-proof wire mesh.
Clear up hiding places
You probably won’t be able to keep mice or other rodents out of your garden entirely. But you can make it less attractive to them.
Clear up or enclose any outdoor clutter. This includes:
- Piles of rubbish or garden waste
- Compost heaps
- Wood piles
- Tarps, tablecloths, or other large sheets
- Cardboard boxes or piles of cardboard
Also, make sure to move your hutch away from trees. A rodent can use trees to hide, as well as to access your hutch.
When a lot of us hear the term “pest control,” we think of traps, chemicals, and exterminators. And that is one way to go — although any exterminator will advise you to remove attractants and block access once the rodents are gone.
The problem is that many kill methods can be a threat to your garden pets, too.
Here are a few ways to handle an infestation without harming your garden pets.
Traps don’t have to kill.
Humane rodent traps can catch and hold rats or other rodents inside so that you can safely release them far away. Even better, though, if your garden pet stumbles upon your traps, they won’t come to any harm.
Bait your humane traps with high-protein, high-carbohydrate foods like chocolate and peanut butter. Cheese, bacon, and buttered bread also make attractive bait, especially for rats. Check your traps and replace the bait daily.
Sonic Pest Control
Sonic pest control devices emit a sound that is uncomfortable for pests, but generally inaudible to humans. Devices emit sounds at different frequencies to keep mice and other pests away.
Because some of these devices are made to deter cats, dogs, and rabbits, as well, it’s important to make sure that the one you choose is safe for your pets.
There are a number of chemical rodent deterrents on the market. Many of them are even safe for your garden pets.
In any case, never spray any preparation on or near your outside pet. And if you’ll be using it in an area where your pet spends time, make sure that the preparation is pet-safe.
As always with natural weed and pest control, it may take more than one method. You may also need to be a bit more vigilant. But for many of us, the tradeoff is well worth it.
Here are a few natural ways to deter rodents from your garden.
Peppermint oil is a tried and true rodent repellent. They absolutely hate the smell of it. And the great thing is, not only is peppermint oil pleasant smelling to us; it’s also non-toxic. Not only that, but it’s inexpensive and easy to find.
Simply mix one part peppermint oil to ten parts water, add a dash of dishwashing liquid to help everything to hold together, and spray where needed. As a bonus, spiders also hate the smell. You can also spray your solution onto cotton balls and leave them in areas where a rodent might make its way inside.
Commercial peppermint oil-based preparations like Repel Shield provide another solution.
Ammonia and vinegar
A solution of equal parts ammonia and vinegar mimics the smell of a predator’s urine. You can put this in a spray bottle and spray it outside around the perimeters of your yard.
Be careful, however. Both ammonia and vinegar can irritate your skin, eyes, and nose — and those of your garden friends, too.
Never spray this (or any) solution on your animals. And be cautious spraying it near them, as well. Also, only spray outside the hutch. Never spray inside.
Get a cat
You might think that the last thing you need is another pet. You might also think that the only thing worse than rodents in your garden is a garden full of tiny rodent corpses.
But a cat doesn’t have to kill to be effective. In fact, the mere smell of a cat is often enough to encourage rodents to leave and not come back.
So if you were thinking of adding to your household anyway, this might be a good option.
Rodents have lived alongside us for some 15,000 years. That’s longer than dogs. In that time, they’ve learned quite a few tricks. Once rodents have made a home in your garden, it may be difficult to dislodge them.
But with persistence and vigilance, it can be done. More importantly, it can be done safely.
Remove attractants. Seal off access. Humanely trap and remove unwanted visitors, and apply deterrents. You may need to do this repeatedly.
Your garden pets are depending on you.
Have you had rodents in your enclosure? Do you have any advice for keeping them away? Tell us about it!