7 Humane Solutions to Rat and Mice Infestations

These are the 'nice guy' alternatives to poison and sticky traps.

mouse on a grey sofa

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Aww, such a cute rat... until he starts eating into the chain saw oil, contaminating the chicken coop with his droppings, and threatening to bite the baby. Then even the most soft-hearted animal lover knows the time has come for action.

Ask your friends. They will probably recommend you pick up poison at the home improvement market—problem solved.

But is it? What if your child or dog or neighborhood wildlife finds some poison that was dragged away from your careful controls by a critter before it died a painful death? And poison, both in the manufacture and use, poses risks to the environment.

"Sticky traps" offer a popular alternative: rodent walks on but can't walk off. Easy cleanup: pick the trap up by the edge and toss the dehydrated corpse in the trash—still frozen in the spot where it was trapped. But slow death by dehydration? Even mice and rats deserve to be treated more humanely than that.

There are better ways. Following the prevent-and-minimize motto of green living, when it has become absolutely necessary to adjust the population balance in favor of human interests, a humane pest control solution should avoid killing if possible, or at least minimize stress and make it as efficient and painless as possible.

1. Rat-Proofing

cord is damaged because it was bitten by a mouse

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If rats are not a problem except in certain areas (for example, puncturing water pipes as pictured, or chewing wires in the engine compartment), treat the area with a natural deterrent. PETA suggests whipping up a potent concoction of salad oil with horseradish, garlic, and plenty of cayenne pepper. Let the oil sit several days, then strain it. Use a spray bottle to coat surfaces with the rodent deterrent.

You can also coat cotton balls with peppermint oil, cayenne, pepper, or cloves, which mice allegedly hate, and set these around the area where they've left their traces. If you make it unappealing enough, they may not want to come back.

2. Get a Cat (or a Rat Terrier)

Family Cat in the Kitchen on a Sunny Morning

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Finally, you have an excuse to get a fuzzy companion that will assume its critter-deterrent responsibilities in addition to keeping your lap warm.

Mice and rats may find cats and rat terriers to be un-humane, but the method does fit into the natural scheme of things, and the cat ends up with a sustainably sourced meal.


This option is not appropriate if poisons have already been distributed around the home, or for urban areas where neighbors may be spreading poisons. Before enlisting the help of a pet to control a rodent problem, ensure that whatever environment they enter will be fully safe for them.

3. Trap and Release

mouse catch and release trap

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Live traps, like the Havahart two-door rat and squirrel trap are favored by many people with a heart for even the most annoying animals.

However, keep in mind that releasing an animal more than 100 yards (90 meters) away from its point of origin is not humane according to PETA, so if you don't want a re-run of mouse versus man, a little animal suffering must ensue. Unfortunately, these animals' survival rate when released in a new environment is very low, so it's arguable that this is "unlikely to be a more humane alternative to killing them quickly and painlessly."

One good use for live traps is that they allow you to follow a newly-released mouse right back to the entry point of your home. They'll almost always go straight there, so you have a chance to see where you can patch up a hole with steel wool, caulking, or boards.

4. Traditional Spring Trap

mousetrap sitting in a dirty basement

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The most humane options above really amount to just living with rats and mice. Most of us do so without ever noticing they are there. But occasionally, populations explode to the point that we must exert some control.

How do you know when things have gone that far? Well, the final choice depends on personal tolerances, but when lines of disease or damage are crossed and your own health could be at risk from contamination by rodents, it may be time to get serious. The search for a solution turns to humane methods to reduce the population.

The spring trap, an age-old technology, remains the cleanest and greenest option. A properly sprung trap will kill an animal almost instantly (do check traps often for the rare case when an animal that is only wounded and trapped must be put out of its misery). Place parallel to a wall, not at a right angle, for better chances of correct positioning. You could also place the trap at the end of a 'funnel' of sorts that ushers the mouse directly to it.

If an animal is not dead, you must kill it immediately with a rapid, strong blow to the head. This might be easiest to do with a plastic bag, dropping the mouse into it, and then twisting the bag down to control its movements. According to Wildlife Damage Management, "Firmly grasp the mouse behind the head, and apply cervical dislocation or decapitation cervical dislocation." It's not fun, but sometimes it's necessary.

Look for a model that can be cleaned (metal or heavy-duty plastic base), avoiding those with wooden bases or which come in multi-packs. A pair of rubber gloves and a dust mask is a good idea for when you release the little guys in a proper burial ceremony to assuage karma for what had to be done.

5. Electrocution

electric mouse trap from Owltra

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Electrocution traps fill a niche when dead vermin cannot be seen by the public, or for those people who are leaning towards poison because the options above have too high an "eewww" factor. It kills by delivering a high-voltage shock once the mouse or rat has been lured into the trap by high-protein bait. A green light indicates a kill has taken place and there's a dead mouse to remove from the trap. A safety switch deactivates the trap when opened to ensure kids or household pets aren't harmed. These traps are usually battery-operated.

6. DIY Rodent Trap

rat trap

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Inventive types may want to build a better mousetrap. We have heard ideas ranging from putting a piece of wood with peanut butter in a bucket of water (drowning is not the most humane option, but quicker than a sticky trap) to people who are so convinced they built a better mousetrap, and are selling their ideas in an e-book on building a humane mousetrap with materials easily found at home. YouTube has plenty of ideas, of course.

7. High-Tech Biomimicry

Speaking of building a better mousetrap, James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau set the standard. Their high-tech vision for a rodent trap mimics giant rat eating plants discovered in the Philippines.

They envision rodents lured up the inside of tubular table legs in search of crumbs. When the rat or mouse steps on the trap door a sensor opens it, dropping the pest into a microbial fuel cell. The digestion of the animal powers the sensors and trap door.

This article was revised to clarify that cats (or rat terriers) should not be exposed when poisons may already be in use.

View Article Sources
  1. Environmental Poisons.” Oregon Poison Center.

  2. Living in Harmony With Rats.” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

  3. "Natural mouse repellents that work." Seventh Generation.

  4. "What is the most humane way to kill pest rats and mice?" RSPCA.