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Ottawa city councillor eyeing 'rat birth control' to cut down on rodent infestations


As construction across Ottawa stirs up rats, sending them into residential neighbourhoods, one city councillor is looking at a contraceptive product that could cut down on rat populations.

Ottawa has seen more than 100 service requests for rats on private property so far this year and had 779 service requests in 2023. Last year, the city rebooted its rat mitigation working group to help deal with infestations.

But College Ward Coun. Laine Johnson is proposing another idea.

She tells Newstalk 580 CFRA's Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron that she intends to bring forward a motion to council, calling on the city to urge Health Canada to approve a rat contraceptive product that has been used in several U.S. cities.

"We've seen pilots in various cities like Seattle, Washington, D.C. — New York is going to be undergoing a pilot — and they have been applying this bait preconstruction on sites … and they've seen reductions of up to 90 per cent of rats on site that they would normally experience during that time," Johnson said. "The results coming out of the States have been extremely favourable."

A notice of motion was put forward at Wednesday's council meeting. It will be discussed at the council meeting on June 25, Johnson's office says.

One product that acts as a rat contraceptive is called ContraPest. It is currently not authorized for use in Canada. It targets the reproductive functions of rats to keep them from breeding, as rats are wont to do. One study found a significant decrease in litters among rats in Hawai'i that were administered the contraceptive. It does not sterilize them, however, and requires consistent ingestion. The company that manufactures ContraPest says tests have found no adverse effects in non-target species.

Johnson's motion references another product called "Evolve Soft Bait", which is manufactured by Senestech, the same company that makes ContraPest. It is a physical bait, as opposed to a liquid and functions in a similar manner, interrupting reproductive functions in rodents. Senestech says the bait poses little or no risk to people, the environment or non-target animals. 

Johnson says these products are made to be appealing to rats and they also don't kill them.

"First of all, it's delicious and very sweet, so the rats are attracted to it as they would be anything else, but what's kind of neat about this particular product is the rats don't die afterwards. It targets their fertility so other rats in the population don't get the signal that it's bad for them, which means that they also eat it," she said.

More construction sending rats scurrying

Johnson says there is a lot of construction in Ottawa as the city grows, and that's disrupting rat habitats, sending them into other parts of the city that might not have seen them before.

"Our yearly housing targets for the city of Ottawa under the province are pretty substantial. We've got big city building projects underway," she said. "College Ward has two LRT stations being built in it that has pushed rats into neighbourhoods as well as the stormwater management pond, so we're creating some of these conflicts between rat habitats and people and we want to make sure we're doing everything we can as efficiently and cost-conscious as we can, and I think that this tool might be one of them."

City of Ottawa staff say a key aspect of effective rat control in Ottawa is "prioritizing educational efforts and addressing the environmental factors that contribute to rat infestations." Bylaw officers who are called to deal with rats, for example, can provide rat control advice to residents and they will proactively look in the neighbouring properties to provide further education and speak with homeowners to address and prevent rat infestations.

Bylaw and Regulatory Services told CTV News Ottawa earlier this year that officers don't engage in live trapping or removal activities, but can issue orders requiring property owners to rat-proof their properties. 

"Alternatively, a Notice of Violation may be issued requiring the property owner to cut long grass or remove exterior waste and debris from the property that may serve to attract rodents," a statement to CTV News Ottawa said.

Johnson said that contraceptive products could reduce the number of calls to bylaw for rat problems and could also cut down on the need to deal with the gruesome aftermath of traps.

"Every time you call bylaw, that's money from the city, right? So, what's neat about trying to change the products that you use, that work in a passive way inside a system, means that there aren't the same expenses to control and maintain for that," Johnson said. "Every time you put a trap out, you've got to deal with the result of the trap, right? Here, we have a solution that allows for things to progress naturally, in a sense, and so we could hopefully see a reduced cost as well as a bigger effectiveness."

That doesn't mean, however, that residents can get lazy.

"It doesn't mean we shouldn't be doing the things that we need to be doing as residents, making sure our garbage is well put aside and construction site standards need to be in place, all of those are good strategies, but I want to make sure that we, in Canada, have the most modern technologies to address the rat issue that is impacting residents," Johnson said.

Tips for dealing with rats on your property

The City of Ottawa says effective rat management necessitates a collective approach.

"Everyone plays a crucial role in identifying the signs of rat presence, implementing preventative measures to protect property, and implementing effective mitigation and removal strategies," a rat mitigation working group memo from city staff said in late May.

Here are some tips from Ottawa Public Health (OPH) on how to deal with rats:

Look for evidence

OPH suggests looking for further evidence such as droppings near where garbage is stored; gnaw marks or holes in wood, plastic, or garbage bags; and signs of "runways" in tall grass.

"Rats run along the same path many times a day, leaving dark greasy track marks along walls and worn down paths in grass," OPH says.

Clean up

Cleaning up and getting rid of clutter is an effective way to prevent rats, OPH says.

Sweep up droppings and clean the area with a mild bleach solution. Keep in touch with neighbours as well to ensure rats don't just move next door.

Remove any trash around the property and store items away from walls and off the ground.

Control weeds and shrubs and ensure tall grass, bushes and mulch aren't placed close to building foundations.

Starve them

Rats only need an ounce of food a day to survive, and your garbage can be an easy source for them, says OPH.

The best way to avoid attracting rats is to keep garbage sealed in hard plastic or metal cans with tight-fitting lids. Bring it to the curb as close to pickup time as possible, not overnight. Keep all food in tightly sealed containers and don't put food out for other animals such as stray cats or squirrels.

Shut them out

Rats can chew holes into walls and can squeeze through cracks and holes as small as 1.25 cm (1/2 inch). OPH recommends sealing all holes and cracks in foundations, walls, floors, underneath doors and around windows. Fill inactive burrows with soil, tamping it down with a shovel or with your foot.

Wipe them out

Rat bait and pesticides can be an option. OPH recommends you hire a professional pest control service and follow instructions on any poisons carefully.

A good pest control company will…

  • Inspect your property before giving you a price quote.
  • Give you a written inspection report, and an action plan.
  • Base quotes on inspection findings, not flat fees. The cheapest services are rarely the best.
  • Make referrals for structural repair, if required.
  • Visit often until the job is done.
  • Put bait in tamper-resistant containers.
  • Employ qualified, well-trained exterminators.
  • Educate you on how to prevent rats.
  • Work with you until rats are gone. Top Stories

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