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Minimize attraction of outdoor pests

February 26, 2016

While Los Angeles County Vector Control reports that Cerritos has one of the lowest numbers of pest complaints, outdoor animals such as rats, opossums and raccoons are occasionally seen within the city. To help residents better understand these animals and minimize their exposure to these pests and the fleas they carry, the City offers the following facts and tips.

Outdoor pests can be found in many residential areas where natural foliage provides them with an ideal place to live and make their homes. Fruit, avocado and nut trees provide an excellent source of food. If a rodent is seeking shelter, it can easily enter a home by climbing adjacent trees, gnawing through wood siding and partitions or crawling through even the smallest holes or vents.

Rodents live in burrows or holes in the earth, and also above ground. They will hide in attics, basements or other buildings on your property, in addition to piles of trash or wood. Trees and dense shrubbery also act as nesting sites.

Practice safe flea control and do not allow pets to roam freely where they can come into contact with infected fleas. When purchasing pesticides to treat yards and homes, use only materials which state "fleas" on the label and follow all label directions carefully.

Signs to look for

Signs that outdoor pests may be nesting on your property include:

  • Seeing them – in trees or on wires and fences. Rats are usually less than a foot long and are dark gray, black or brown in color. Opossums are typically the size of a house cat and have coarse, gray hair, a white snout and a long pointed muzzle with many teeth. Opossums are most active at night, usually scavenging for food.
  • Droppings – found most often around the animal's nesting sites, runways or feeding areas.
  • Noise – thumping, scraping or squealing in walls or attics.
  • Damage – gnaw marks on fruit or branches. Also, inspect for chewed wood, cloth, paper or bags.
  • Smudges – black marks on exposed runway surfaces made when a rat rubs its dirty fur against a structure.
  • Tracks – five-toed and up to one inch in length.

Getting rid of them

Aside from unnerving residents, outdoor pests can become nuisances by chewing through wiring, rummaging through garbage and carrying disease. A qualified exterminator can take care of rat problems, or the pests can be trapped with poison or other bait. Opossums must be trapped. Residents may borrow a trap free for up to seven days, with a $100 refundable deposit, by calling Long Beach Animal Care Services at (562) 570-7387. The City contracts with Long Beach Animal Care Services for all animal-related services. An animal control officer will pick up the opossum once it has been trapped. Do not attempt to capture and relocate animals to other areas. This practice violates California Fish and Game laws, spreads disease and is considered inhumane.

If you catch an opossum in your yard that has not been trapped, do not corner it or attempt to pick it up. Instead, try to scare it away with a flashlight or loud noise. Opossums often play dead when startled. Leave it alone and it will eventually scurry away.

Tips to minimize exposure

The following tips can help keep outdoor pests away from your home:

  • Keep ivy, shrubs and other ground cover trimmed back.
  • Don't leave anything in your yard overnight that could serve as food or water for rats and opossums, including pet food, water dishes or birdseed.
  • Pick up pet droppings regularly from your yard.
  • Use plastic garbage bags and close the lid tightly on outdoor trash cans.
  • Seal or cover all possible entrance holes in your home measuring one-quarter inch or more in size.
  • Keep any woodpiles at least 18 inches above the ground.
  • Pick up any fruits and vegetables that have fallen from backyard trees or plants.
  • Consider removing fruit trees or plants that attract outdoor animals.
  • When cleaning nesting areas, spray the area with disinfectant and wear protective equipment such as a particle mask or respirator, goggles and gloves.

If you need help with rodent problems, call the Los Angeles County Environmental Health Division at (626) 430-5450. For problems with insects such as mosquitos, call the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District at (562) 944-9656.

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