Humane Pest Control Options

Updated: April 16, 2014
Published: October 23, 2013
Share this:

One of the great joys of becoming a veterinarian is the diversity of jobs that are available to those doctors who choose to “think outside the box.” Even for those of us who pursue a relatively traditional veterinary career focusing on (or writing about) private practice, opportunities occasionally pop up that are decidedly outside the mainstream, like the one that I’m just finishing up with now.

The practice that I currently work for focuses on end of life care — particularly veterinary hospice and in-home euthanasia. As part of this work, I have become very familiar with euthanasia techniques and the updated AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals that were released in 2013. As if this focus was not odd enough in and of itself, it recently got me involved in a panel that looked at and rated the relative humaneness of a wide variety of rodent control measures.

People who appreciate and choose to share their lives with pets tend to have an overall fondness for animals, but speaking from experience, that fondness doesn’t necessarily translate to the “vermin,” for lack of a better word, that invade our living spaces. Don’t get me wrong. I like mice and rats. I’ve owned mice myself and am a vocal advocate for choosing rats as pets over hamsters and gerbils (they’re much friendlier and less likely to bite). That said, I certainly don’t want the rodents who frequent my neighbor’s “compost” heap (in truth, it’s just a pile of rotting garbage) to decide to overwinter inside my house.

I understand the need for rodent control, but I suspect that like many consumers, I want it done in the most humane way possible. I can’t go into the details of our panel’s findings since they haven’t officially been released yet, but here’s the gist of what we determined.

  • The most humane rodent control measures available are the electronic repellants. They work by emitting high frequency sound waves that are so annoying to rodents that they avoid the areas where they are in use. Several of these products have been tested on dogs, cats, rabbits, etc., and have been shown to have no effect on these species, but of course they shouldn’t be used anywhere near pet rodents.
  • The least humane rodent control measures are the poisons (e.g., brodifacoum, diaphacinone, chlorophacinone, warfarin, and bromethalin) and glue traps. Both of these options produce prolonged and severe suffering in affected animals, and have the strong possibility of directly or indirectly having a serious adverse effect on non-target species (e.g., cats, dogs, birds of prey).
  • Falling in the middle are the other lethal-control measures. Some are superior to others, however. Electronic mouse and rat traps seem to work quickly enough that suffering is minimized, as do certain snap traps. Contrary to what you might think, some of the old school wooden snap traps seem to perform the best.

A type of home rodent control that the panel didn’t evaluate is one that I have personally found to be very effective — cats. I can’t say they’re especially humane, at least during the “elimination” phase of control, but I suspect their continued presence is an effective repellant for many rodents.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Thinkstock