Q: My mother-in-law was visiting over the holidays and kept saying she could smell a mouse. I looked all over but couldn’t see or smell anything. Was she just being paranoid? – Jim in Worcester, Mass.
A: Believe it or not, it is possible to smell that a mouse is present in your home. Field mice, for example, build nests in the walls near an entry point. The nests give off a unique musty smell, caused in part by bits of fur padding the nest and urine (mice dribble urine constantly).
Mice also are small and sneaky, usually coming out only at night when the family is asleep and the sound level in the house is low. They travel under cover as much as possible, either along the inside of the walls or the back of cabinets and behind countertop items.
How do they get into the house in the first place? According to Terminix, mice can squeeze through a crack that a pencil will fit through (sightly larger than 1/4 inch in diameter). Rats can get through a quarter-sized opening. So small openings in the foundation of a house are common entry points. Openings around pipes or cables are prime spots as well. Mice also might climb in through the attic, exploiting openings around soffit vents or damaged sections of the roof or eaves.
To find out if you have a rodent infestation, head for the kitchen and food-storage areas (like the basement and pantry). Pick a lower-level shelf and remove all the items, then inspect the back of the shelf, with a flashlight if need be. Look for telltale mouse droppings (they look like black rice grains). You also might see an unusual amount of spilled grains (rice, oatmeal, etc.) or crumbs, and you might detect a faint musty odor.
Inspect the food containers you just took out. Cardboard boxes with gnawed corners indicate mice have attempted to get into them (they often will be chewed through, with their contents spilling out). Plastic bags also will be compromised, and mice can even gnaw through the plastic tops of metal coffee cans.
Next, check the attic and crawlspace areas. Use a flashlight to look for droppings along the support beams, and inspect insulation for damage caused by burrowing rodents.
If you don’t find evidence of mice or other rodents in the house, don’t assume there is no infestation, particularly if you notice a musty smell. Schedule an inspection by a pest-control service to confirm whether or not you have an infestation.
HOME TIP: Leaf piles, unturned mulch, junk piles and stacked firewood are tempting shelters for all kinds of rodents. Locate them several feet from your house, garage or shed, and remove junk piles as soon as possible.
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