Pest Control

10 Reasons Your Rat Traps Aren’t Working

Rat Trap

Nobody wants rats around. They spread severe life-threatening diseases to both humans and pets. Rats urinate as they run to mark trails and communicate with other rats via the release of pheromones. A single rat leaves forty to one hundred droppings a day. This amount of rat urine and feces contain abundant bacteria and viruses transmitted to humans.

Rats can cause thousands of dollars worth of damage to homes, cars, and other equipment. It is a worthwhile goal to get rid of rats. You buy a trap and set it only to discover that the rats are not being caught. To add insult to injury, often, the bait is taken, but the trap has not captured anything. What is happening?

Here are ten reasons why rat traps do not work:

  1. Wrong bait
  2. Neophobia
  3. Wrong trap
  4. Incorrect positioning
  5. Insufficient traps
  6. Competing for food sources
  7. The human smell on traps
  8. Rats are clever at accessing the bait
  9. The trap is not sensitive enough.
  10. The presence of other animals

This article examines why rat traps fail to work and what can be done to make them more effective. It will also look at different trap types and common mistakes when baiting and placing rat traps.

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Rats Or Mice – It Makes A Difference To The Trap Used

Before you consider going out to buy a trap, it is essential to decide if you have rats or mice.

Large round earsSmall ears lying close to the head
Small feetLarge feet
Long thin tail, covered in hairThick, hairless tail, covered in scales
Light-colored undersidesWhite, brown, black, or grey
Sharp pointed snoutBlunt snout
Two – four inches in length (3-10cm)Seven to nine inches in length (16-40cm)
Droppings 1-2mm with pointed endsDroppings 10 -20mm banana-shaped or look like a large rice grain.

It is crucial to decide whether mice or rats are plaguing you because they have very different behavior and size. The rodent that is present affects the type of trap you choose. A mousetrap will not catch a rat, and a rat trap will not catch a mouse.

Types Of Traps

  • Snap traps are the traditional and best-known type of trap. They consist of a wire attached to a spring. The wire is released and kills the rat by breaking its neck. A snap trap suitable for a rat is quite a lethal instrument capable of breaking fingers and causing injury to children and pets.
  • Plastic snap traps work on a similar principle but have a plastic nozzle or ‘mouth,’ which, once triggered, clamps down on the rat and suffocate it. These traps are less harmful to children and pets.
  • Glue traps are very controversial. Plastic sheet or cardboard with highly sticky glue. The rat runs over the trap and becomes stuck in the adhesive. These traps are considered inhumane as the rat dies slowly of starvation and dehydration.

    They are not popular as the homeowner must either leave the rat to die slowly or somehow kill the rat by some other means. It is impossible to release a rat caught by a glue trap as it is usually permanently disabled by the glue. This trap is not reusable.
  • Electronic traps are long tunnel-shaped traps with a metal plate on the floor to detect the rat’s presence. Once triggered, a high voltage shock is released, which kills the rat instantly. The voltage is insufficient to cause a danger to children or larger pets such as cats and dogs.
  • Live traps consist of a cage with a spring-hinged door. When the trap is triggered, the door springs closed, capturing the rat. The rats must then be removed and released significantly from where you caught them. Some live traps have an added feature that activates a carbon dioxide canister as soon as the door closes. The carbon dioxide kills the rats making it less of a headache to decide what to do with live rats once caught.

Bait Is Important

Choosing the correct bait for a rat trap is essential. Most people automatically head for cheese when baiting a trap. Cheese may catch some rats, but it is not a guarantee. Generally, the stronger smelling the bait, the better. Some rats are more attracted to protein, so a piece of fish or bacon would work well.

Others, such as the ship rat, prefer fruit and juicy foods. Peanut butter is a popular bait. Rats can be difficult and will not always eat a new food substance. In those instances, it is better to bait the trap with a usual cereal or food type. Be prepared to try out different baits to catch the rats.

Habituate Rats To The Bait

The cautious nature of rats means that even with new foods, they will have a careful approach. Rats typically eat tiny amounts of any new kind of food. This behavior means that if the food were to make them sick, they would survive as they only ate a minimal amount. Rats may then avoid triggering the trap as they only snatch a tiny morsel, or they will not be attracted to the bait as it is new to them.

The most accessible course of action is to scatter the food to be used as bait at various locations so that the rats eat it over a few days and realize it is good for them to eat. The rodenticides don’t always work because the rat does not eat enough to kill it and discovers the rodenticide is making him sick.

More Details On Bait

You must use the correct amount of bait. If you use too little bait, it may allow the rat to snatch the bait and escape. Peanut butter squashed into a small container is hard to get out of and is a good option for trap bait. Bait should be supplied in sizes appropriate for rats to hold with their paws. Rats often ignore bait that they cannot pick up with their feet.

Cubes may also be difficult for a rat to hold. Thin elongated pieces are easy for the rat to carry and will be attractive to the rat. You may not catch any rats with human food as bait. Consider using natural bait like cockroaches which can be tied with dental floss. Crushed snail shells are also attractive natural bait for rats.


Neophobia is the fear of new things. Rats are suspicious of new items in their environments. As mentioned above, this may extend to foods they do not normally eat. It will include a trap that suddenly appears in their environment. It is probably a good idea to habituate the rat to the presence of the trap. The trap should not be activated and should be left in the areas that the rats frequent.

It can have bait or food morsels spread around to allay the rats’ suspicions. Once the rats are used to the trap, the trap can be correctly baited and activated. Interestingly mice do not show the same neophobia and are more curious than rats.

The Wrong Trap

We have already discussed that you cannot catch a rat with a mousetrap. Mice traps are too weak to hold a rat, and the rat will happily walk off with the bait with no harm done to it. Some traps also have defects in their design. Traps with plastic parts are often problematic. The plastic may be too stiff to spring when it is new. Plastic degrades and softens as it ages. An old trap with plastic parts may not be strong enough to hold a rat.

Glue traps may also be unable to hold a rat. Electronic traps must be designed for rats as a higher voltage shock is needed to kill a rat than what is necessary to kill a mouse.   

Incorrectly Positioned Traps

Rats are cautious animals. They prefer to use the same routes over and over. Their paths usually follow along walls as the rat can only guard one side of himself. They have developed these cautious instincts to avoid predators and give them quick, easy escape routes, which are well known to them. Then, the traps need to be located along routes the rats commonly follow.

A trap in the middle of a room is unlikely to catch any rats. Snap traps should be positioned perpendicular to a wall, with the trigger end closest to the wall. You may want to set two traps in the exact location with the triggers facing differently. Rat droppings are a good clue that a route is being used by rats and will indicate where to position the traps.

Insufficient Traps

Pest control experts recommend three traps for every rat you wish to catch. Rats exposed to multiple traps will become more quickly habituated to them. Numerous traps increase the likelihood of catching a rat. Rats seldom occur as a single rat. They are social animals that breed quickly. Therefore, multiple traps will help reduce the rat population much faster than a single trap.

Competing Food Sources

It is essential to limit the rats’ access to food sources. Rats are suspicious of anything new, which often includes a new type of food. If they have access to their regular food supply, they may ignore the trap’s bait and continue feeding as usual.

If food sources are limited to the trap’s bait, the rats will likely be driven to investigate the bait. You can handle a large rat infestation better if food sources are limited. All the rats will be attracted to the bait by hunger. You can set traps holding multiple rats with sufficient bait to attract many rats at once.

Human Smell On Traps

Rats naturally avoid humans and will avoid anything that smells like a person. Similarly, people often touch their pets, and handling the trap after touching your pet will result in the trap smelling like a dog or a cat. It is not enough to wash your hands before setting and handling the trap. The natural oils in your hands will leave residue smells on the trap, and the rats will avoid it.

It is best to use latex or rubber gloves to handle traps. If you have touched the trap with bare hands, wash it with warm water and leave it to dry in the sunlight. Once dry, the trap can be reset while wearing gloves.

Rats Are Clever At Accessing Bait

Rats are intelligent animals with a great deal of dexterity in their paws. Alpha rats are more dominant and are often more cautious than less prevalent beta rats. The alpha rats usually show more problem-solving skills. Due to their natural caution, they can often steal the bait without triggering the trap.

If this frequently occurs, consider changing the type of trap you are using or choosing a bait that is harder to snatch quickly. 

Trap Is Not Sensitive Enough

Traps can lose their sensitivity as they age, and parts become worn, stretched, or pliable. Check the sensitivity of your trap using a stick. Do not use your fingers or hand. Rat traps can result in nasty injuries. If you feel your trap is not sensitive enough, it may be time to invest in a new trap or a different kind of trap. Snap traps most commonly have problems with sensitivity. Consider using one of the other types of traps.

The Presence of Other Animals

Sometimes we set traps and find rats took the bait and the trap untriggered. We automatically assume the rat is too intelligent to be caught. This belief is not always the case. If you have mice and rats, the mice can often eat the bait without triggering the trap as they are too small and light to trigger a trap designed for a rat.

Another culprit may be ants that are not going to trigger anything. A surprising culprit in bait stealing is snails. Snails leave shiny trails where they have moved. If you see no bait in your trap and the surrounding area has silvery shiny trails, move the trap to a place the snails cannot reach.

Rodenticides In Traps

Some people like to include rodenticides in bait in rat traps. This practice can be problematic as it can lead to accidental poisoning of children, pets, and wildlife. Rats with previous experience with rodenticides may be put off the bait by the smell of the rodenticide.

Call A Professional Pest Control Company

You may have no luck with rat traps, or the rats may be breeding faster than you can trap them. The most practical approach is to contact a reputable pest control company and let them deal with the rat population.

These professionals are experienced and able to accurately identify different kinds of rats and know the best way to exterminate the rat population. The pest control company will seal holes, cracks, and crevices where the rats enter the building.

Video Demonstration

We have found a quick and easy video to help you understand better why your traps are not working.


Rat traps may not be catching rats for several reasons. The correct bait is vital. Habituation to the bait and the traps is essential to overcome the rat’s natural caution for anything new in the environment. The traps must be correctly placed and should not have any human smell. Setting rat traps is not a simple case of putting some bait in and placing the trap anywhere.

A careful study of the rats and their routes is necessary for the traps to be effective. You should carefully consider a lot of other factors. Sometimes it is best to leave rat extermination to the professionals.  

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Hubert Miles | Licensed Home Inspector, CMI, CPI

Hubert Miles is a licensed home inspector (RBI# 2556) with more than two decades of experience in inspection and construction. Since 2008, he has been serving South Carolina through his company, Patriot Home Inspections LLC. As a Certified Master Inspector, Hubert is dedicated to providing his expertise in home inspections, repairs, maintenance, and DIY projects.