How to Identify Rat Holes

rat in the hole of a house ground

Is your yard hosting a secret society of underground rodents? Those holes in the yard may be the VIP entrances for voles, moles, rabbits, or worse… the Norway rat. Learn how to identify rat holes so that you can prevent these disease-carrying critters from causing further damage to your yard or home.

If the holes are circular, 2 to 4 inches in diameter, and surrounded by soil forming a fan shape, then you’re likely dealing with rats. Proper identification ensures you secure the right-sized animal trap and approach the removal method with caution (a rabbit or vole, for instance, won’t be aggressive, but a rat sure might).

Let’s take a closer look at how to differentiate rat holes from other rodent holes. Rat removal options include setting live traps, flooding the burrow, or hiring a professional.

What Is a Rat Hole?

A rat hole is an opening or underground tunnel crafted by rats to serve as an outdoor refuge, nesting area, and a means of getting around. When you come across rat holes and burrows, they likely belong to Norway rats.

Norway rats create burrows with a tunnel leading to escape routes and the main nest underground. The burrows can extend as deep as 18 inches, featuring a network of tunnels spanning up to 3 feet, providing shelter for numerous rats. If you spot three rat holes, it might indicate the presence of a rat family in your yard. Typically, a rat family consists of six to eight members.

How to Identify Rat Holes

Pay attention to the following details about rat holes: 

Size and Shape

Usually, the entrance to a rat’s burrow is about 2 to 4 inches in diameter and the shape is often round or slightly oval. If the burrow is active, you’ll notice smooth walls inside. Keep an eye out for fresh dirt just outside the entrance, forming a fan shape: a result of rats digging out the dirt from the hole. 

Generally, these burrows are not more than 3 feet long and 18 inches deep. However, if you come across deeper rat holes, it’s often a sign that the rodents are trying to dig through a barrier, like a building’s foundation or a concrete slab.

Location

Rat holes can be found in various locations as rats seek shelter and food sources. 

Look out for these potential entrances:

  • Near overgrown vegetation, shrubs, and trees (especially fruit trees)
  • Grassy banks
  • Along paving edges
  • Underneath decks
  • Near rotting tiles
  • Compost heaps
  • Wood piles 
  • Areas along walls
  • Near foundations

Signs Around Holes

Detecting signs of rats in your yard involves being observant of various indicators:

  • Keep an eye out for gnaw marks on various objects, such as garden hoses. Rats tend to chew on almost anything. 
  • Look for oblong, dark droppings, approximately half an inch in length, signaling their presence. 
  • Observe well-defined paths, as rats often use the same routes to and from their burrows, and you may notice visible trails in the grass leading directly to the entrance of their holes. 
  • Check for rat footprints; the hind foot track typically measures between one half to 1 inch in length and width. Rats have four-toed front feet and five-toed hind feet. Their thick and long tails, which they drag around as they move, can leave a trace in their tracks.

How to Get Rid of Rat Holes

Here are four solutions to the rat holes problem in your garden. You can pick any of them, according to what you feel most comfortable with. Your options include flooding the burrow, setting live traps, rodent smoke bombs, or hiring a professional. 

Whichever method you choose, always conclude the removal process by closing the burrows to prevent rats from making a comeback. For burrows in the soil, fill them with soil and tamp them down using a shovel or simply step on them. 

Be prepared to handle any unexpected encounters with rats. Wearing protective gear, such as gloves and closed-toe shoes, can provide an extra layer of safety. 

Flood Out the Hole

Tackling rat holes with water can be quite effective. You should do it in late winter or early spring before the rats start reproducing. However, this approach isn’t suitable for burrows near homes or buildings, as it might cause damage to foundations or flood basements.

By using a garden hose to flood the burrows, you’ll encourage the rats to make a quick exit. Keep an eye on other openings for rats and be ready with a shovel to kill them: it’s not the most pleasant task, but exterminating them is crucial since just flooding the holes won’t entirely solve the issue. Otherwise, they might seek refuge inside your home. 

Caution: When using the water-in-the-hole method to address rat infestations, it’s important to exercise caution. This approach may put you at risk of coming into contact with the rat, especially if the rodents become aggressive when forced to evacuate their burrows. 

Use Live Traps

house trap caught in a live trap
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One effective method to address rats making holes in your yard is by setting live traps along the rodent’s traveled path. These traps are designed to capture rodents without harming them, allowing for their safe removal from your property. 

Lethal snap traps are not recommended, as they may inadvertently injure or even kill unintended wildlife, such as chipmunks, squirrels, or birds.

Live traps typically consist of a cage with a trigger mechanism that closes the door once the rat enters to access the bait. This method enables you to release non-target animals unharmed, such as chipmunks or squirrels, reducing the risk of unintentional harm. 

Caution: Handle wild animals in live cages with extreme care. They may urinate or bite when stressed, potentially transmitting diseases. When transporting the cage, covering it with a towel provides an added layer of protection for both you and the captured animal. Release the rats at least 5 miles away from your home.

Use Rodent Smoke Bombs

Using smoke bombs to eliminate rats in holes can be a quick but temporary solution. These devices release a significant amount of smoke upon activation, containing toxic substances like sulfur oxides or potassium nitrate. The smoke either drives the rodents out of their den to escape or suffocates them.

Caution: While rodent smoke bombs are effective in the short term, they don’t address the conditions that attract rodents to your home. Their long-term effectiveness is limited and they won’t prevent future infestations or keep rats from returning. Similar to flooding, you’ll need to eliminate the rodents to prevent them from returning or invading your home.

Call a Rodent Exterminator

Got a rat hole situation that’s making your head spin? Contact a rodent exterminator. These experts can handle the entire process with finesse. The cost of hiring a rodent exterminator can vary between $245 and $430.

Why stress over DIY solutions when a pro can find the right solution and solve the problem? A rodent exterminator brings not only experience but also the right knowledge and tools to say “Hasta la vista, baby,” even the most stubborn rat family.

Rat Hole Removal Methods to Avoid 

Discover what you should absolutely avoid. These tactics might sound like a good idea, but they’re more trouble than they’re worth.

Sealing Active Burrows

It’s crucial to seal only those holes that are inactive, as active ones pose risks. If sealed while active, rats might dig their way past the obstruction or create another entrance. Alternatively, they could die inside, leaving behind a hideous odor that may linger for several weeks, affecting your living space

Dry Ice

smoke of dry ice
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Another method to avoid when attempting to eliminate rats in holes in your yard is using dry ice. Dry ice is solid carbon dioxide that, when placed in rat burrows, sublimates into carbon dioxide gas, which can displace oxygen and suffocate the rats. 

While this method may seem straightforward, it’s best left to professionals due to several reasons. Firstly, dry ice can be hazardous to handle without proper training and precautions. Secondly, one of the consequences of using dry ice is that it may result in rats dying within the holes, leading to a foul odor. 

Dealing with the odor from dead rats can be challenging and unpleasant, making this method impractical for most homeowners. 

Poison

Rat Poison
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Sure, it might seem tempting to use poison in those rat holes, but hold your horses! 

Using poison as a method to address rat infestations is best avoided for several reasons. Poison poses significant risks to not only rats but also pets, children, and non-target animals. Mishandling poison can result in accidental poisoning of the person administering it, making it a hazardous option. 

Additionally, poison often leads to the consequence of rats dying in inaccessible places. The resulting decomposition can produce a foul odor that permeates the surrounding area, creating an unpleasant situation. 

Bleach 

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While bleach is effective at killing germs and bacteria, it is not suitable for eliminating rats. Pouring bleach into rat holes may seem like a straightforward solution, but it’s ineffective for eradicating these rodents. 

Rats are highly resilient creatures and can tolerate exposure to bleach without significant harm. Additionally, using bleach in this manner can be hazardous, as it poses risks to the environment and may contaminate surrounding soil. 

Instead of relying on bleach, it’s essential to employ proven methods specifically designed for rat control to effectively manage infestations and maintain a safe environment.

Natural Deterrents 

While natural deterrents like peppermint oil and certain herbs may seem like a promising solution to deter rats, it’s important to recognize their limitations. 

While peppermint oil has shown some effectiveness in repelling rodents and is one of the few things rats won’t eat, many other natural deterrents, such as cayenne pepper, black pepper, cloves, citronella, eucalyptus, and chili flakes, won’t eliminate your rat problem.

Despite their strong scents or flavors, these natural substances often fail to deter rats effectively. Rats are adaptable creatures and may not be deterred by these methods alone. Remember, when it comes to rat holes, leave the guesswork at the door and opt for methods that are proven, safe, and effective. 

How to Prevent Rat Holes

rake with leaves in a garden
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Creating a rat-free zone in your backyard isn’t just about eviction. It’s also about prevention. Here’s your blueprint for keeping those rats and their holes away:

  • Keep your backyard tidy: Rats love a cluttered space, so channel your inner Marie Kondo and keep your garden neat. Clear away debris, trim overgrown vegetation, and use well-sealed compost or garbage cans.
  • Remove any potential food sources: Remove fallen fruits, scattered seeds, and unsealed garbage cans. 
  • Trim your trees: Trim back those branches and shrubs that are getting too close to your house.
  • Pet food: Your pet might love late-night snacks, but leaving pet food or birdseed out overnight is an open invitation for rats. Establish a curfew for the kibble and seeds to ensure you’re not unintentionally feeding a rat family.
  • Rat patrol: Regularly inspect for signs of rats. Look out for holes, tracks, chewed items, and rat droppings. 

Remember, a proactive approach is your best defense against new rat holes. 

Is It Dangerous to Have Rat Holes in Your Garden?

So, you’ve spotted rat holes in your backyard. It’s no big deal, right? Think again. These burrows can be the prelude to a host of dangers that you definitely don’t want anywhere near your home.

  • Diseases: Where there are rat holes, there are rats, carriers of diseases. Rats can spread diseases such as hantavirus, salmonella, and leptospirosis. 
  • Home invasion alert: Don’t be fooled if you haven’t seen any signs of rat activity inside your home. Rats are on a perpetual quest for food and can enter your home through holes as small as 1 inch in diameter. If you’re not vigilant, they might enter your home through small openings, especially during the winter months.
  • Aggression: Rats, when cornered or feeling threatened, can get aggressive. This poses a particular risk, especially for pets and kids unaware of the potential danger. Rat bites and scratches are not the kind of playdate injuries you want on your hands.
  • Potential pitfalls: Those rat holes may seem innocuous, but they’re big enough for someone to unwittingly step into, a recipe for twisted ankles, sprains, and all sorts of injuries. A moment of carelessness could turn your backyard into a makeshift obstacle course. 

Rat Hole vs. Other Animals Holes

Learn the differences between rodent burrows. From the minute openings of mice to the intricate systems of rats and even the surface-level hideouts of chipmunks and squirrels, each hole is different. Discover the differences between rat holes and other animal holes.

Rat Hole vs. Mouse Hole

When distinguishing between rat and mouse holes, size becomes the ultimate clue. Mouse holes are tiny, resembling the size of a dime, while rat holes, on the other hand, are much larger, ranging from 2 to 4 inches. 

Rat Hole vs. Chipmunk Hole

Chipmunks and rats like digging holes, but there are subtle differences that can help you tell them apart. While chipmunk holes can sometimes be plugged, rats generally leave their burrow entrances open. 

Another clue lies in their droppings: rat poop is dark with an elongated sharp end, scattered everywhere, while chipmunk poop is smaller, lighter, and often concealed within their burrows. So, pay close attention to the holes and the telltale signs left behind.

Rat Hole vs. Rabbit Hole

Rabbit holes and rat holes may be burrow abodes, but a few distinctive features can aid in differentiation. Rabbit warrens typically have a single entrance, slope inwards at a shallow angle, and are commonly found on slopes or banks. In contrast, rat holes, usually number three per nest, lack a specific slope, and are scattered around. 

Additionally, rabbit droppings are very different from rats. Rabbit droppings are small and brown and have a distinctive ball-like appearance.

Rat Hole vs. Squirrel Hole

Squirrels and rats have different reasons for digging. Squirrels create shallow holes, no deeper than 2 inches, to stash food like nuts, especially before the cold season. These surface-level holes are visible and accompanied by disturbed grass. 

Rat holes, on the other hand, can be quite deep, leading into tunnel systems. If you spot a dark hole leading into a mysterious tunnel with no visible end, you’re likely dealing with a rat’s hidden home.

Rat Hole vs. Mole Hole

Mole holes typically present as circular mounds of earth resembling miniature volcanoes, covering and plugging the entrance to their intricate tunnel systems. These creatures are content digging tunnels in open spaces, including the middle of lawns, leaving a network of surface-level trails. They tunnel close to the surface, which can give the ground a squishy and spongy feel. 

On the flip side, rats exhibit a different behavior. Their holes are more visible, akin to vole holes, and are often found along fence lines, near walls, or underneath bushes. Unlike moles, it’s rare for rats to dig holes in the open garden, as they prefer the cover provided by fences and foliage to feel secure. 

Rat Hole vs. Vole Hole

Voles like to dig their holes in the middle of the lawn or open areas. Their holes are small, under 2 inches wide. You can tell if voles are around by looking for chew marks on tree trunks or plants, and by seeing dead plants with their roots eaten.

Rats, on the other hand, don’t do this kind of damage. Their holes are bigger, 2 to 4 inches wide, and often have a pile of dirt outside in a fan shape. Rats dig their holes near fences, walls, or under bushes. Understanding these differences can help you figure out which critter is causing trouble in your yard.

FAQ About Rats

What type of rats make holes in the walls?

The type of rats that commonly make holes in walls are roof rats. They have a preference for nesting inside walls. On the other hand, Norway rats tend to burrow tunnels outside in the ground or near foundations. However, they may also make holes or chew walls to access food inside homes.

Is a pack rat a mouse or a rat?

A pack rat is neither a mouse nor a rat in the traditional sense. While it shares similarities in appearance with both, being a rodent, it stands apart. Adult pack rats, larger than house mice, bear a resemblance to roof rats in size and shape. 

However, distinctive features such as a long tail covered with fur or long hairs, larger eyes and ears, and an overall clean, soft appearance set them apart from conventional mice and rats.

What sounds do rats make?

Rats communicate through various sounds, including squeaks, hissing, teeth chattering, ultrasonic vocalizations, bruxing, and scratching.

Hire a Pro to Get Rid of Rats in Your Home

Now, you have mastered identifying rat holes in your garden. However, dealing with these hole-digging critters can be challenging, especially if time and energy run low. No need to stress. Reach out to a local pest control pro. They’re equipped with the skills to send those rodents away and restore your backyard to a hole-free space.

Main Image Credit: Rpktheboss / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Editorial Contributors

  • Cecilia Acevedo

    Cecilia Acevedo

    Author

    Cecilia is a writer focused on keeping homes clean and healthy. When not exposing the secrets of home invaders, she digs into the latest pest news, offering practical tips to kick them out. Join Cecilia for straightforward information and advice on dealing with pesky intruders.

    Learn more
  • Jane Purnell

    Jane Purnell

    Editor

    Having lived in the rural countryside and bustling city, Jane Purnell is familiar with a wide variety of critters sneaking into the home, including mice, spiders, cockroaches, snakes, and stink bugs. She practices a proactive approach (Integrated Pest Management) to keep pests out of her home.

    Learn more