› Identifying the problem

Rat droppings and backyard chickens  -
the things you need to know.

Found droppings but not sure whether they're from rats or mice?

Worried they'll transmit disease to your chickens? 

Here's how to recognise the difference, know what harm they do and keep them out of your coop - and your home.

Please note : Backyard chickens and rodents do not automatically go together.  Good husbandry is very important - and very effective - at keeping vermin at bay.  This page and others on the same subject are there simply to help you know what to do should you discover a problem.

"I'll never have rats near my chickens - I'm too careful".

I can hear myself saying it now - and for a long time I was right.  Then one day I went into the roosting part of my chicken house and saw this ...

Brown rat in chicken coop.

Make no mistake - this is a rat.  I didn't have anything to compare it with at hand when I took the picture, but it was around six inches long.

Even then, I tried to convince myself it was a mouse.  A little on the large side, I know, but I lived in hope.

Until I saw this ...

Rat droppings - long and blunt at each end.

And then my heart sank, because I knew - it had to be a rat.

How could I tell?

Because ...

Rat droppings are very different from mouse poop.

It's easy to  tell the difference between an adult rat and a mouse - a rat is much bigger.   But it can be very difficult to tell the difference between a mouse and a baby rat.  They're about the same size and although there are subtle differences in shape and ear size, it's hard for a person without specialist knowledge to tell them apart.

Rat droppings are the giveaway.  They're bigger, quite long and more jelly-bean shaped, being blunt or rounded at each end. 

Mouse droppings, on the other hand, look like little black grains of rice.  They're much smaller and they're pointy at both ends.

This image, courtesy of Lewisham Council, England, shows the difference clearly.  Rat droppings are on the right, mouse on the left.  The coin is a British penny, about the size of a small US cent.

The difference between rat and mouse droppings

They're different in the way they're deposited, too.

Mice tend to poop everywhere.  They really don't care.  You'll find their little 'parcels' all over work surfaces if they're in your kitchen, or sprinkled over run areas if they're outside.

Rat droppings tend to be more isolated.  Ironically, that's because rats have some sense of cleanliness which makes them use specific areas as a 'rat bathroom'.  See how the dropping above was by itself?

So - can rat droppings cause problems for chickens or for humans?

Rodents love nesting in straw.  This one was in my roosting coop.  Beware - the dust can carry bacteria.

Brown rat nesting in straw.

They certainly can, but probably not as much as you think.  The droppings themselves won't, for example, cause you to contract Bubonic Plague - that was carried by fleas.  And a rodent has to be infected itself before it can pass on any infection.

But more often than not rats and mice won't show any signs of being infected so you won't know whether or not you're dealing with an infected animal.  For that reason, any rodent droppings and urine (whether rat or mouse) need to be taken seriously.

Most of these illnesses won't leave lasting damage in a normal, healthy individual but they can be very serious for 'at risk' groups such as the very old, the very young, people whose immune systems are low (for example because of cancer-related drug therapy) and pregnant woman. 

Here are some examples of the types of disease which can be carried by infected rats and mice.

It's important to emphasise the words "can be" and "infected" here and not to over-dramatise the scale of the problem.  Not every rat or mouse will transmit these illnesses, and even if they do not every chicken or every human will catch them.   However, it's much better to be safe than sorry.

You've probably heard of Salmonella, but you may not know that the bacteria Salmonellosis can be carried by rats and mice and transmitted to chickens (and other birds) through drinking water which contains rodent faeces and urine. 

Rat urine can carry the Salmonella bacteria.

Contact with infected rat urine in straw, feed or water can cause the bacterial infection Leptospirosis, also known as Weil's Disease.  In humans it can enter the body through broken skin or through mucus membranes - such as those found in the nose.

Common house mice are the carriers of a virus which causes Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis.  It's found in the saliva, urine and droppings of infected rodents and it's thought that around 5% of house mice in North America are carriers, although they won't necessarily show any signs of infection. 

It's most often contracted by breathing in dust when clearing away animal (or chicken) bedding.  If you're not sure whether you have rats or mice, take precautions anyway. 

How to get rid of rat droppings.

It should be obvious from the kinds of harm rodents and their droppings can do to your flock and your family that you do need to take care of this issue as soon as you become aware of it, by both getting rid of the droppings and getting rid of the rodents.

Here's what you need to do when you're taking the first step - getting rid of the droppings. 

Brown rat drawing

If there are droppings in the straw or on the floor, clean out your coop thoroughly.  Before you start, use a spray bottle to soak the droppings in either a strong disinfectant or a solution of bleach and water.  Leave for at least five minutes before clearing away.

Brown rat drawing

Clear the straw with a shovel, burn it if possible and then disinfect the coop.  Remember, it won't be only droppings - there is very likely to be urine around too.   Be careful though because as we saw here, the dust from the straw can carry harmful bacteria.

Brown rat drawing

Remember to rinse your coop very thoroughly with plain water after disinfecting.  You don't want your girls suffering burnt feet because of left-over bleach.

Brown rat drawing

If there are rat droppings in food containers - throw away the feed.  The excrement can infect it.  Put it into a plastic bag, seal it and put it into a second plastic bag which should also be sealed.  Only then should you put it in the waste.  Clean your feeders thoroughly before re-stocking.

Brown rat drawing

Consider buying vermin-proof containers and feeders.

Any specific precautions to be taken?

  • Definitely.  Firstly, put your flock into a separate area while you clean. 
  • For yourself, use a mask, particularly when clearing out straw.  Don't worry if you don't have a commercially produced one - it doesn't need to be anything fancy and it's better to get rid of the excrement quickly rather than waiting until the shops open. 
  • A scarf tied round your nose and mouth will be effective for this purpose.  Later, you might want to buy a a builder's mask from a D-I-Y store - they're cheap and effective.
  • Use rubber or plastic gloves.  We keep a stock of plastic surgical type gloves which can be thrown away after each use. If you want to re-use rubber gloves you'll need to disinfect them after every use.
  • Use a shovel and keep it separate to any household or gardening tools.  Disinfect it after use.
  • Never, never pick up either mouse or rat droppings by hand. 
  • Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after you've finished.

Get my free downloadable rodent control checklist!

Get my free dowloadable rodent control checklist!

I've had so many enquiries about how to manage rats and mice in the chicken coop that I've designed a checklist for you to download for free.

It covers five separate areas of rodent control, all of which are covered in detail on this website, in an easy-to-understand format  covering all the major issues you need to remember.

Fill it in online or download so you have it on paper - it's up to you!

Click on this image to go to a page where you'll be able to request your free download.  If you use it and like it, please do let me know in the comments box at the bottom of this page.

Need more information about how to get rid of rats?

I have lots of information learned from bitter experience and from talking to and taking advice from experts. 

These pages (click on the pictures) will tell you everything you need to know about dealing with rats in your chicken coop - and how to avoid them in the first place.

Ten ways to get rid of rats - link
Electric rat trap review - link
Link to page about using rat poison safely.

Or go to this page which lists all my pages about pests in the coop.

All you need to know about rats - click here.

I have a total of eight pages on this website about rats, ranging from how to assess whether you have rats or mice, to how to get rid of rodents, to how to use poison safely if it comes to that.

If you're not sure which page you need, click on this picture and it will take you to a list of all the pages about rodents together with a brief description of what each covers. 

From there it's a simple click to the page you need most.

Do you have any comments or questions about dealing with rats?

Or perhaps you have downloaded my free checklist to help you manage rodents in your chicken coop.

Please - feel free to leave your comments in the box below.

Tell me all - I'd love to hear from you!

Unfortunately I've learned about rodents through first-hand experience.  However, as with all information on my site I have taken care to have it verified by credible sources.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been extremely helpful in identifying disease and illnesses caused by rodents.  Their website contains much fuller information than I can cover here.

I am also indebted to Darren McKellar, Pest Control and Clinical Waste Manager at the London Borough of Lewisham, for his advice and for giving permission to use their very helpful graphics.

If you found this helpful, please take a few seconds to share it - thank you!

Link to Raising Happy Chickens home page.