On my way home last night, I called to check-in on a friend. She’d asked me for a BB-gun. I don’t normally get those types of requests, so I was just a tad curious as to why she required a non-lethal, but potentially harmful device. She summed it up in one word: Squirrels.
Apparently for the last seven months, she and her husband have battled squirrels. At night they hear them in their attic and during the day they watch them run back and forth from the roof, to the electricity wires, to the waiting cover of the surrounding trees.
And the BB-gun is a last resort. Half a year ago, my friend called in a professional rodent removal company. It didn’t work. The squirrels came back. Then they tried sealing up any holes in the roof and repairing any broken soffits. Apparently they’ve missed some, because it didn’t work. The squirrels came back. Now, she’s desperate. And she’s not the only one.
Fall is when many home owners across Canada will start to notice unwelcome residents in their homes. Raccoons, spiders, mice, rats, opossums, skunks and even feral cats will begin to look for warm, dry shelter, during Canada’s cold winter months—often that shelter is found under the roofs of our homes (and the walls, and the baseboards, well, you get the picture). Just recently, a Regina, Saskatchewan family found 102 garter snakes in their basement and when they started poking around, they realized that the snakes had already started migrating—making nests in their kitchen, bathrooms and bedrooms.
The good news is that you can stop or prevent vermin infestations. The bad news is that it’s patient, persistent work.
Just ask my husband. Despite long work days at his renovation company, he spent almost the entire Spring season relocating dozens of raccoons. This is before we learned that it’s illegal to trap and relocate wildlife in the City of Toronto (the only legal way to do this is to call a professional rodent removal company. I should point out: It’s also illegal to shoot an animal with a BB-gun!). Still, I have to say baiting raccoons with peanut butter and trapping them in a cage actually works. We definitely reduced the number that ransacked our refuse and we were able to humanely relocate them to a suitably forested area away from homes. To find out if trapping is legal in your city call your local Humane Society or get in touch with your municipality’s animal services department.
But even if you do decide to trap (either personally or professionally) that only gets rid of current vermin. To prevent their return and stop other critters from taking up residence in your home, follow these five tips:
- Go on a hunt. Vermin must find a way in and this means there are holes in your house. Remember, that some rodents can squeeze into the smallest of spots—a mouse can fit into a hole the size of a dime and squirrels only need a gap an inch wide! Inspect the interior and exterior of your home and look for gaps, holes, even cracks.
- Fix your holes and remove water sources. Whether it’s caulking, sealant, or steel wool, you’ll want to plug up or seal every single hole. Let’s say that again: Every. Single. Hole. You will also want to remove all sources of water. Inside the home, that means fixing any leaks (did you know cockroaches will gather in the well of your dishwasher when you’re not looking!) and outside it means consistently dumping stagnate water.
- Consider other points of entry. Once all the holes in your house have been filled, you’ll need to examine other points of entry in your home. For example, squirrels love holes in siding and will even use ventilation systems to get into your home. Cats, mice and other vermin will also find ways into your home through basement window wells and under porches or decks. To prevent entry through these areas verify that there are no holes (even small ones) and that your ventilation grates are secure and not open or loose to let in vermin.
- Set up one-way doors. To deter repeat offenders, consider setting up one-way trap doors where rodents are nesting. For instance, install one-way doors in your attic. The doors allow the squirrels or other vermin to get outside, but then lock and prevent them from getting back inside.
- Clean and get rid of all food sources. The reality is, vermin need good hiding spots. If you do a thorough cleaning of every nook and cranny, you’ll disturb those spots and make it harder for vermin to stay. This is particularly true if you have spider infestations. You’ll want to vacuum every dark corner and this includes cupboards, baseboarsd, door frames and crown moulding. You will also want to get rid of all food sources. For spiders this means getting rid of dead bug debris. For raccoons, cats and squirrels you may need to shelter your food waste receptacles (either by bringing them inside, or with a lidded bin) and storing food in your kitchen in pest-free containers (plastic or glass jars with lids). You will also want to rotate loose, stored goods, such as cans or bottles in your pantry or linens and towels in your closets.
For those that want to use natural or chemical-free deterrents here’s a good list:
- For mice, use steel wool to plug up any holes bigger than a dime. The mice can’t chew through the steel wool.
- Ants won’t cross an unbroken line of cayenne or black pepper (just remember, that children and dogs can hurt themselves, though, if they ingest too much of these spices).
- Ants also dislike strong smells. Wipe down entry spots with oil of cloves or eucalyptus. Just remember, deterring them from entering one spot will only push them to find another entry point if food sources aren’t dealt with.
- Use natural powder, such as Diatomaceous Earth around baseboards and window frames/wells. This powder adheres to the shell of insects and slowly dehydrates them. It’s also safe for pets and humans, although, I wouldn’t recommend snacking on it. (Also, like any powder, breathing it in is very unhealthy. Wear a paper mask when applying the powder.)
- Peanut butter is great at attracting raccoons and mice to traps. Don’t bother with the healthy stuff—these critters like the more sugar-loaded variety.
While my friend is still looking for a BB-gun (she’s only half-serious), the fact is there really isn’t a magic spray or device that can make vermin, such as squirrels or mice, disappear. Some companies will attest to the power of predator urine, mothballs, ammonia-soaked rags, or ultrasonic emitters, but this is just the vermin equivalent of snake oil, sold by snake oil salesmen—they don’t work. The one and only way to take care of a vermin problem is to trap and remove (or, in some cases, such as mice, trap and kill). Follow the five steps above, consistently and repeatedly, and your vermin problems with (eventually) go away.