2023’s Most Vulnerable Cities for Rat Infestation

Three big rats sniff littered trash around a garbage can on a city sidewalk.

Which U.S. cities are the most inviting playgrounds for rodents?

Like a rat homing in on cheese, Pest Gnome sniffed out 2023’s Most Vulnerable Cities for Rat Infestation.

We compared over 150 of the biggest U.S. cities based on five categories. More specifically, we factored in residents’ dissatisfaction with their city’s garbage disposal, the number of restaurants per square mile, and access to exterminators, among nine metrics.

See if your city could be plagued by rats in our ranking below. To learn how we ranked the cities, see our methodology.

Contents

Rankings

See how each city fared in our ranking:

Infographic showing the Most Rat-Vulnerable Cities, a ranking based on City Crowdedness, City Dirtiness, Rat Infestation, Rat Bait, and Rat Control

Rat’s Nest: Top 5 Close Up

Check out the slideshow below for highlights on each of our top five cities.

Bags of trash and litter surround a garbage can while people walk by on the sidewalk in New York, New York.
No. 1: New York | Overall Score: 85.10

City Crowdedness: 1
City Dirtiness: 12
Rat Infestation: 1
Rat Bait: 3
Rat Control: 10

Photo Credit: Xavier Häpe / Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Trash overflows from a sidewalk garbage can on Western Avenue in Los Angeles, California.
No. 2: Los Angeles | Overall Score: 59.49

City Crowdedness: 18
City Dirtiness: 15
Rat Infestation: 2
Rat Bait: 4
Rat Control: 27

Photo Credit: Omar Bárcena / Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Trash is littered across a wooded area in Jersey City, New Jersey.
No. 3: Jersey City, New Jersey | Overall Score: 56.04

City Crowdedness: 2
City Dirtiness: 5
Rat Infestation: 70
Rat Bait: 5
Rat Control: 12

Photo Credit: Bill Benzon / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
In the foreground, trash litters a sidewalk while a broken bike with no rear wheel leans against a fence in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; in the background, more trash is visible.
No. 4: Philadelphia | Overall Score: 50.68

City Crowdedness: 8
City Dirtiness: 26
Rat Infestation: 7
Rat Bait: 18
Rat Control: 21

Photo Credit: Zepfanman.com / Flickr / CC BY 2.0
In the foreground, trash litters a parking lot against a backdrop of walls covered in graffiti under the Katy Freeway in Houston, Texas.
No. 5: Houston | Overall Score: 50.29

City Crowdedness: 77
City Dirtiness: 1
Rat Infestation: 5
Rat Bait: 26
Rat Control: 58

Photo Credit: Ed Schipul / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Infestation Insights

The Big Picture

Large, densely populated cities claim the top 10 places in our ranking. They include urban giants like New York (No. 1), Los Angeles (No. 2), Houston (No. 5), and Chicago (No. 9). Notably, three of these urban centers — New York, Jersey City (No. 3), and Newark (No. 6) — are part of the New York metro area, which emphasizes the region’s susceptibility.

Cities like Virginia Beach (No. 152), Tallahassee, Florida (No. 151), and Roseville, California (No. 149), sit at the bottom of our ranking as the least vulnerable to rat infestations. While these cities are scattered across various regions, they are not as crowded and maintain a generally cleaner environment that’s less attractive to rodents.

Standout Stats

The Big Apple’s Big Problem

  • New York snagged the top spot as our most vulnerable city, with a 25-point lead on Los Angeles in 2nd place. The Big Apple is by far the most crowded and — according to one dirtiness indexnot the cleanest. It ranked riskiest for Rat Infestation and is densely packed with myriad bait options like restaurants (40.57 per square mile) and grocery stores (over 1,100). In addition, New York lacks enough rat exterminators10th worst in Rat Control — to tackle the scurrying menace.

Pest Control Galore

  • Florida‘s balmy, humid climate is a breeding ground for pests of all kinds. No wonder its cities are teeming with exterminators. Even Jacksonville (No. 104), the Florida city with the fewest rat exterminators, boasts nearly 50 per 100,000 households, more than in 50 other cities. It seems the Sunshine State is gearing up to ensure its pests don’t overshadow its palm trees.

Alaskan Anomaly

  • Anchorage, Alaska (No. 143), one of the cities least threatened by rat infestations, naturally employs fewer exterminators, a mere 13.12  per 100,000 households. However, other low-risk cities double or even quintuple that number. For instance, Lexington, Kentucky (No. 145) trotted in with 35.76 exterminators per 100,000 households, and Tallahassee, Florida (No. 151), surged with a massive 70.73. So, if rodents decide to shift their sights toward Anchorage, the city might find itself in deep trouble.

Filthydelphia’s Surprise

  • Affectionately dubbed “Filthydelphia” by its locals, Philadelphia (No. 4) still outshines 25 other cities in the cleanliness department. But don’t be too quick to cheer — the city’s Crowdedness (No. 8), combined with the restless fingers of concerned residents (No. 7 in rat-related Google searches), has trapped it in 4th place overall.

Pest Control Disparity

  • Jersey City, New Jersey (No. 3), and Bakersfield, California (No. 54), might seem like partners in grime, ranking similarly in city dirtiness (5th and 6th, respectively). But the gap in overall rank tells a different story. What gives? Despite being less crowded and having less Rat Bait, Bakersfield surprisingly boasts over 5X more rat exterminators per 100,000 households, 90.81, than Jersey City, 17.29.

Exterminator Shortage

  • Chicago (No. 9) and San Francisco (No. 7) are notably under-equipped, with just 13.75 and 14.40 exterminators per 100,000 households, respectively, mirroring a larger trend among the 10 most rat-vulnerable cities. Yet, in stark contrast, Miami (No. 8) shines with a massive 127.20 exterminators per 100,000 households. Kudos to the Magic City for tackling its rodent issue head-on!

Search Overload

  • Topping the Rat Infestation charts, New York (No. 1) earned the dishonor of first place with an average of 9,660 monthly Google searches for rat-related keywords. This staggering figure is nearly double the searches in Los Angeles, trailing in 2nd place with 4,920.

Rat Radar Rising

  • While Lexington, Kentucky (No. 145), and Greensboro, North Carolina (No. 146), may not offer rats their ideal urban paradise, these cities rank notably higher-risk for Rat Infestation (48th and 78th places, respectively) and lack of Rat Control (66th and 83rd). Could these cities be overlooking a growing whiskered concern?

Behind the Ranking

First, we determined the factors (metrics) that are most relevant to rank the Most Rat-Vulnerable Cities. We then assigned a weight to each factor based on its importance and grouped those factors into five categories: City Crowdedness, City Dirtiness, Rat Infestation, Rat Bait, and Rat Control. The categories, factors, and their weights are listed in the table below.

For each of the 500 biggest U.S. cities, we then gathered data on each factor from the sources listed below the table. We eliminated 348 cities lacking sufficient data in a single category, resulting in a final sample size of 152 cities.

Finally, we calculated scores (out of 100 points) for each city to determine its rank in each factor, each category, and overall. A city’s Overall Score is the average of its scores across all factors and categories. The highest Overall Score ranked “Most Vulnerable” (No. 1) and the lowest “Least Vulnerable” (No. 152). 

  • The “Worst” among individual factors may not be No. 152 due to ties.
  • Google search keywords were used as a proxy metric indicating rat population, for which there is no official data. The keywords include:
    • mouse traps
    • mice
    • rat traps
    • rat poison
    • rodent control
    • rat exterminator

Sources: Google Ads, LawnStarter, TripAdvisor, U.S. Census Bureau, and Yelp

Final Thoughts

Rats pose more than just an aesthetic nuisance. These unwelcome visitors can gnaw through pipes and wooden beams, compromise electrical wiring, and carry pathogens like hantavirus and leptospirosis.

Rats become increasingly problematic during the fall and winter seasons, which is when they are on the prowl for warmth and food, making our homes their prime targets.

In some cities, the rat problem is so severe that local leaders have had to implement extreme measures. New York, for instance, appointed a Rat Czar, a citywide director dedicated solely to rodent mitigation who is already making inroads.

However, people are not just desperate to get rid of mice. From termites chipping away at our homes to mosquitoes turning our summers into a buzzing nightmare, the pest problem is diverse and daunting. 

Here are some measures you can take to deter rodents and other pests:

  • Regularly clean your home, especially the kitchen and bathroom areas.
  • Seal off potential entry points like cracks, holes, and rips in mosquito nets.
  • Ensure food items are properly stored.

What is Pest Gnome?

Pest Gnome — part of the Home Gnome family of home service providers — puts local pest control experts at your fingertips. We connect you to the best local pros to get the job done quickly.

Media Resources

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Maria Isabela Reis

Maria Isabela Reis is a writer, Ph.D. candidate, and plant enthusiast from an area where mosquitoes are as relentless in their pursuit of blood as she is in her quest for knowledge. When she’s not swatting away these buzzing annoyances, she’s playing with her dogs and savoring a cup of tea.