By Elisa Black-Taylor
New York City officials are now predicting the rat problem in the city to worsen after Hurricane Sandy. Rats have been a problem in New York for several years now, with the problem steadily increasing. The rat problem was up 5% between 2009 and 2010, then another 9% increase between 2010 and 2011. The New York City Health Department has a Pest Control Bureau that’s doing it’s best to handle the problem¹.
I heard the news about how Hurricane Sandy is going to make rats come up through the flood waters and spread throughout the city as I was listening to a popular talk show host on my drive home from work. I became interested as soon as the host began talking about the diseases rats carry. These include Hantavirus, salmonella and plague². That last one really got my attention after having read a book called The Black Death back in the late 1970’s. The book was a work of fiction about an outbreak of plague in New York City and was caused by rats³.
As it turns out, rats aren’t great at climbing, but are excellent swimmers. With flood waters putting their underground homes under water, the rats are now trying to scramble to the surface. Rats handle extreme weather quite well.
One thing mentioned on the talk show I was listening really scared me. A person doesn’t have to be bitten by a rat to become ill. The diseases are present in their urine and feces. Coming into contact with contaminated water may be enough exposure to make a person ill.
I’m also worried about how the Pest Control Bureau will handle the problem. There are three ways I know of to kill a rat. None of them are very cat friendly.
- Humane traps (rats are caught in a cage and later killed)
- Traps that kill (a larger version of a mouse trap, since some of the rats are cat sized)
I had a cat many years ago who killed and ate a poisoned rat. He almost didn’t survive. We literally had to wait it out and wait for the poison to pass through his system. Poisoning is a hard way to die.
Humane traps would also pose a danger to any cat who has the misfortune to wander into it. These traps work on a spring system. When the rat steps so far into the trap, a door swings shut. This door will allow another animal to enter, but no exit is possible. Unless the rat gets lucky and runs out as another rat enters the trap. This brings another problem. What if the trap catches a rat and then a cat? I wouldn’t doubt both would be killed because of the danger of infection. Rats as large as those found in New York City could do some serious damage to a cat if caged together.
Traps that Kill
Traps that kill. Need I say more? How can we be assured a helpless cat won’t wander onto the trap and be snapped in half when the trap activates?
I don’t know what methods the city is going to use to get the problem under control after Hurricane Sandy. The problem wasn’t under control before the hurricane. There were over 10,000 calls made to the 311 emergency line in 2010. I can’t imagine how many calls will be received in the coming weeks with rats escaping the flood waters.
Is there any way feral cat colonies could help with this issue? It depends. First a massive TNR effort would have to be made. And the Pest Control Bureau would be limited in the methods they could use to kill off the rats the cats can’t catch. So I’m not sure it would even be worth asking cats to help. This problem could multiply too quickly and be too dangerous to involve cats. I’m afraid the cats who live in flooded areas will end up in the middle of this regardless. By this I mean the cats may be bitten, trapped, poisoned, killed or infected just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
New York City is the main area officials are concerned with. I imagine any area with a subway system or that experienced massive flooding should also be concerned about a potential rodent problem.
I wrote this article mainly to warn people of the dangers of these rats. Most people believe rats aren’t a big concern unless a bite is involved. Cat lovers who have cats who live outdoors or who manage feral colonies in the New York City area need to be aware of the problem. What if a feral cat drinks from a puddle with rat fecal matter, and that cat scratches or bites a person? How big is the danger of passing an infection that way?
I’m not an expert in infectious disease. I don’t know all the facts on how the rat problem will be handled or how wide spread the experts expect the danger to reach. I’ve recently entertained myself with several pandemic Kindle books in the past few months. Plague is one word that scares the life out of me. Because it could happen.
I do have a little experience with rats. I raised hairless rats several years ago. They’re much tamer than your typical rat and make excellent pets. I was only bitten once during this time, and that was when I had grabbed one by the tail. Don’t ever do this. A rat can twist its body and bite before you know what’s happened. I still have a scar after eight years.
Am I being paranoid? How do the readers here feel?
References: The supercript numbers (1-3) in this text are references. You can see them by clicking on the following link. They are on a separate non-website page because external links break and go wrong over time. References for this article