The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
March 21, 2011

What I Learned From The Rat In My Toilet

The text message I sent my sister Friday night was, “OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! There was a rat in our toilet bowl tonight!”

You know the urban legend about rats and snakes and other critters swimming up through the sewer pipes into your toilet? It’s not an urban legend. Not where rats are concerned, anyway.

This story gets pretty gross, so be warned.

We buy Swheatscoop cat litter. It comes in a paper bag, not plastic, and it’s made from wheat, so it’s compostable and flushable. Our cats love it. In fact, they love it a little too much.

Swheatscoop cat litter

Swheatscoop cat litter

Which is why ever since this incident in 2008, we’ve kept the bag out of reach of little critters.

Swheatscoop cat litter

Swheatscoop is certified flushable (as long as your cats don’t have toxoplasma gondii, the parasite that kills sea otters, which ours don’t) but even still, sometimes the clumps get a little hard, so the company recommends to let it sit in the toilet for 20 minutes before flushing to help the wheat clumps break down. And that’s the problem…

Swheatscoop cat litter

We sometimes let it sit in there longer than 20 minutes. Friday night, we forgot to flush before leaving the house, and when I got home and lifted the lid, there was a fat brown rat EATING the cat litter IN THE TOILET! Did you hear what I said? The lid had been down! He got into the toilet through the pipes!

I dropped the lid and started to hyperventilate. “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, Michael, oh my god, OH MY GOD!!! There’s a RAT in the toilet!!!”

“Beth, I tried to tell you that before,” he said, “But you didn’t believe me.”

See, apparently, in the middle of the night a few weeks earlier, Michael thought he’d seen a tail scurrying down the toilet pipe when he got up to pee. But I’d told him he was hallucinating and forgot all about it.

Oops.

“Well, it’s huge and it’s sitting in there! What should we do? (OMG OMG OMG OMG!!!)”

Michael came running in with a baseball bat. I don’t know what he thought he was going to do with that thing, but after pacing back and forth, peeing in the tub finally (because I really, really had to go!) and then pacing some more, I sloooooooowly lifted the lid to look in again, and… the rat was gone. GONE!

Of course it was. It had gone back into the sewer wence it came.

So I flushed and flushed a bunch of times. And then I started to Google. I found all kinds of discussions about rats showing up in closed toilet bowls, with people insisting that the rats had swum in from the pipes and others arguing that was impossible.

It’s not impossible. In fact, there is a device you can attach to your toilet to keep out rats and snakes and other unwanted animals.

Okay, so I’m not going to stop using Swheatscoop. It works well for us as long as we sprinkle baking soda in the litter box, comes in a paper bag, and can be flushed without a problem. (Well, except for this problem.) I’m going to get my landlord to install that device, and I’m not going to let the litter mellow out in the toilet anymore.

But aside from practical considerations, this incident has forced me to examine my feelings about and relationship to animals. How is it that I would do anything, anything to protect my little kitties? I don’t eat meat and have changed my life to protect wild animals from plastic pollution. And yet, for a few minutes one night, we thought about clubbing an animal to death with a baseball bat. And then discussed various types of poison before coming to our senses. What’s that about?

Hal Herzog has a book out called, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals. iconI haven’t read it yet, but I listened to an interview with the Herzog on To The Best of Our Knowledge the other night and a few days later read Mark Bittman’s piece in the New York Times, “Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others,” in which he bemoans the treatment of farm animals and “pests” and wonders how a woman can be jailed for beating a hamster to death while the City of New York gets a pass for routinely poisoning its cousins the rats.

I don’t want a rat in my toilet. And I don’t want a rat as a pet either. So I’ll find a way to block its entry and stop leaving “food” in my toilet. But because of this incident, I’ll continue to examine my relationship to the animal world and the strong reactions I have to it.

Oh, and look before sitting down.

54 comments
jules333
jules333

dousing cotton balls with cayenne pepper and peppermint oil can be an effective natural deterrent in keeping mice away.  put the cotton balls doused in the cayenne pepper and peppermint where you have seen mice---and change every three months.

jules333
jules333

dousing cotton balls with cayenne pepper and peppermint oil can be an effective natural deterrent in keeping mice away.  put the cotton balls doused in the cayenne pepper and peppermint where you have seen mice---and change every three months.

jules333
jules333

cayenne pepper--(cotton balls doused with cayenne pepper) and peppermint oil (same--cotton balls doused in peppermint oil) are natural deterrents for mice...put them in places where you see mice indoors/outdoors.  seems to work.

BethTerry
BethTerry

Hi Jay.  I'm inferring from the website that EnviroKats litter is made from recycled tires, but strangely, I can't find any page that actually says that.  The front page says it is made from "recycled material" and the Environment page says, "EnviroKats™ (Patent Pending) helps reduce the number of used tires that are clogging our landfills." However, there is no page that actually says "EnviroKats contains... xyz" so that leaves me wondering what else is in it.  Also, I'm not sure about the safety of having my cats sit in used car tires... they are synthetic and contain all kinds of ingredients, so I don't know about the health impact for my cats. Have you done any research on it?

BethTerry
BethTerry

I wouldn't add diatomaceous earth to the litter because it's not good for cats to breathe.  And no, most essential oils are bad for cats and would probably drive your cats away from the box.   I haven't had a bug situation, only a rat situation, and only in the toilet.  Wondering if anyone else has.

Melissa
Melissa

I've started using swheat scoop but I'm afraid the little weevils will move I to it (I tossed the instant rice where they lived, so they're looking for a new home). Does anyone have a weevil/bug solution? Maybe add diatomaceous earth? Probably can't use anti bug essential oils..

Emily
Emily

I am an animal lover so when you talked about the baseball bat, I was like "ohh no :(!!" I'm glad it didn't get hurt though. I can understand safety concerns with the rat but I'm glad you were making the connection from how you treat your kitties to how you treat rats. I hope that you will be up for using a humane method of releasing a rat should another one come about :)

Amber
Amber

I have thankfully never had a rat in my toilet, or any other kind of living creature. But I've had a phobia about it ever since I heard a news story almost 25 years ago about a local woman with a snake in her toilet. I think it's normal to have an aversion to certain animals. While it may not be totally fair, the truth is that some animals carry disease and steal our food. I've had mice in my house (but thankfully never rats) and it's pretty annoying when they pee and poo in your cupboard and eat the good chocolate. Wanting to keep them out of there is pretty reasonable, I think. There are more and less gentle ways to do that, but I can understand why your first impulse would not be to turn the rat into a pet.

Clif
Clif

Hey Petunia, we had a house mouse that we named Milton. We discovered him when an unexplained hole into a tunnel appeared in the soil of a potted plant. We figured it was a mouse but could not figure out how he was getting into the big tall pot to do the digging.... First, to verify the hole/tunnel was in use I put one piece of shipping popcorn in it. Next morning, the popcorn had been moved out. So I set up my videocam aimed at the potted plant and let it run all night long. Bingo! I caught Milton in the act! It was hilarious. He would leap from the floor and grab hold of a low-hanging leaf on the plant, then he would climb the leaf stem and jump into the pot. The funniest part was his leaps to grab the leaf weren't always successful and he would fall to the floor, go back and take another leap until he made it. Life is tenacious and inventive.

Petunia GreenBeans
Petunia GreenBeans

Ack! Ack! Ack!!!!! Good grief!!!! The first time I found a mouse in my garage, my instinct was to let the cats loose and let nature's take it course. Well that plan backfired, as Zoe & Mittens made friends with Mr. Mouse and went so far as to share their food with it!! After that I got a metal trap (no kill), and a spoonful of peanut butter did the trick. Once caught, the poor little guy sat their for (seemingly) hours while my husband and I debated who would set it free. "You do it"..."No you do it..." Luckily my rock crushed his scissors. Phew. But just recently we had magic mouse in the garage- trap set, peanut butter slathered- 5 days- no mouse. I KNOW I saw him/her. I refreshed the peanut butter for another week and still no mouse. Hubby thinks I hallucinated, I suspect he made it out on trash day (or at least I hope- the alternative is he chewed through the wall and is now living it up somewhere in our stead!) A RAT is another story though, YIKES! If I ever caught one of those in my trap, I'd be praying that my paper covers hubby's rock!!!!

sui
sui

Your story made me laugh out loud... in other news, we use Yesterday's News litter made from recycled newspapers, but I'd love to find Swheat Scoop... there are other litters that are flushable but in plastic bags. Bleh. Anyway.. hrm. I think rats are pets are quite fine indeed, but as a pest? I also couldn't bring myself to take one's life-- I'd probably set a trap and release them a few miles away, which is what one of my neighbors did. This raises a very interesting question though. Huhm....

Stephanie
Stephanie

Oh my god. I have goosebumps just thinking of it. I think it's instinctive for humans to recoil from certain animals: spiders, snakes, rats, wild things with really big teeth. These are animals that our bodies recognize as DANGEROUS. And I'll tell you...I'm a vegetarian animal-lover...and I would have been brandishing a baseball bat if I'd seen a rat in my toilet. Quick story: my sister worked in a restaurant - a very clean and well-reviewed restaurant in the downtown core - and one day when she was working 2 rats crawled up through the sewers and ran through the restaurant. They were still WET and one of them crawled onto a customer's purse. ARGH! Needless to say, there was a bit of a stampede to get out of the restaurant and it took a long time to rebuild their reputation!

Karin
Karin

We discovered that mice were attracted to the wheat litter (the cat box is in an unfinished basement). And since our cats like to catch mice, but not kill them, and because they transported the live mice from the basement into our first-floor bedroom (via a really nifty series of ramps and a cat door), and because they would drop the mice and play with them (a little) and then get bored and come to bed (leaving the mice roaming our bedroom, often injured), we got rid of the wheat litter. I was once told that if you have mice, you don't have rats. And if you have rats, you don't have mice. Mostly, I'm happiest without either.

Cee
Cee

Augh! Animals where they don't belong are always troubling. Myself, I love *pet* rats. They're social, smart, and very friendly. One of ours figured out how to open his cage door and would sit waiting for my mother to come in and pet him :) That said, there's a difference between my dearly-departed Buddy and the wild 'un in your bathroom! I'm glad you're taking a nonviolent solution, though.

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Wow, Blessed, wow. I love that Maxine Kumin poem. And yeah, I get it. I remember the Robert Stafford poem from way back when I was an English major at the University of Maryland. Beautiful.

Blessed
Blessed

#2 Traveling through the Dark William Stafford Traveling through the dark I found a deer dead on the edge of the Wilson River road. It is usually best to roll them into the canyon: that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead. By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing; she had stiffened already, almost cold. I dragged her off; she was large in the belly. My fingers touching her side brought me the reason— her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting, alive, still, never to be born. Beside that mountain road I hesitated. The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights; under the hood purred the steady engine. I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red; around our group I could hear the wilderness listen. I thought hard for us all—my only swerving—, then pushed her over the edge into the river. The conversations I had with my students every year about these two poems were always some of the best of the year. I thought you--and your animal loving readers--might enjoy these poetic contributions to the dialogue on how we view animals and their rights when they come into conflict with human life.

Blessed
Blessed

Two poems for you, Beth, which I used to teach at the U of CO in a literature class: #1 Woodchucks Gassing the woodchucks didn't turn out right. The knockout bomb from the Feed and Grain Exchange was featured as merciful, quick at the bone and the case we had against them was airtight, both exits shoehorned shut with puddingstone, but they had a sub-sub-basement out of range. Next morning they turned up again, no worse for the cyanide than we for our cigarettes and state-store Scotch, all of us up to scratch. They brought down the marigolds as a matter of course and then took over the vegetable patch nipping the broccoli shoots, beheading the carrots. The food from our mouths, I said, righteously thrilling to the feel of the .22, the bullets' neat noses. I, a lapsed pacifist fallen from grace puffed with Darwinian pieties for killing, now drew a bead on the little woodchuck's face. He died down in the everbearing roses. Ten minutes later I dropped the mother.She flipflopped in the air and fell, her needle teeth still hooked in a leaf of early Swiss chard. Another baby next.O one-two-three the murderer inside me rose up hard, the hawkeye killer came on stage forthwith. There's one chuck left. Old wily fellow, he keeps me cocked and ready day after day after day. All night I hunt his humped-up form.I dream I sight along the barrel in my sleep. If only they'd all consented to die unseen gassed underground the quiet Nazi way. Maxine Kumin (anyone who is initially incensed by this poem, remember to look carefully at the imagery, word choice, and tone of irony, and think about what the author is really saying)

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Hi Joddle. It might ease one's mind to think that the rat somehow got in from the outside, but no, this one definitely did not. First, we NEVER leave the lid up because we don't want our kitties playing in the toilet bowl water, which for some reason they are attracted to. Second, the rat disappeared again -- back down the pipe. So if it left that way, it surely got in that way. And third, Michael thought he saw a rat tail disappearing down the pipe a few weeks ago in the middle of the night. So yeah, it definitely came up from the sewer. I found a funny story on This American Life about this very thing. Just listen to the first 7 minutes. It's worth it: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/406/true-urban-legends

Joddle
Joddle

Is it possible the rat got into the toilet by jumping in from the outside, and then accidently knocked the lid down on top of itself? In British toilets pests cannot enter the home backwards through the sewer system. My mum's cat chooses to do its mess in the bath all the time! It's a bit disgusting but saves a lot of cat litter waste

Jessica
Jessica

I think I fell in love with you a little because of this post. I don't know which part I loved more- the detailed description of kitty waste disposal, the admittance of peeing in th tub, or the well articulated, non judgemental way you questioned your reactions and came to a well-thought out conclusion. Maybe it was the picture of the cat languidly lounging in a pool of kitty litter. Whatever it was, this is one of my favorite posts on the internet, ever. Thank you for that.

Ruthie
Ruthie

I have a pet rat which is very different than a wild, sewer rat. Talk about ambiguous lines between love and loathe! But seriously, I work at a country vet clinic. I see this situation every day. A farmer loves *his* dogs but when dogs come to his yard and attack his sheep, they need to be shot. No word as to whether his dogs ever get out and attack other people's sheep. Good luck!

Laura
Laura

Not that this is the point of your post, but I have always heard it is a bad idea to flush animal waste simply because waste water treatment plants are build with a certain population capacity in mind, and if everyone with a pet flushed their pet waste it would overload the treatment plant. Maybe pet waste is not a bad thing to put in the trash (in a paper bag or sans any bag)...

Condo Blues
Condo Blues

There is a food chain and rats in the toilet are waaaaay down my list. Not to mention, did you see the movie Willard (original or remake)?! That made a rat in the toilet seem like a walk in the park. Pet rats are a different story because they are not bubonic plague carriers.

Heather
Heather

Could you please send me some info on these anti-animal-in-your-toilet-devices? I use Swheat scoop, too!!! heather-kitchen@hotmail.com thank-you so much :D

Helen
Helen

A few years ago we installed a new bathroom with a (sorry) plastic waste pipe - the rats came up and ate through the pipe and were running around under the bath. Fortunately that area was sealed off at the time and they didn't get out into the house. As we were in the process of renovating the house at the time and not living there we only found out when we connected the growing smell with water seeping out from under the bath when we flushed the toilet. Removing the side of the bath revealed most of what we had flushed away of the previous 2-3 weeks had run straight out of the hole in the pipe and into the space under the bath. Not a pleasant clean up operation!!

Rob
Rob

LOL When I clear the drains here at work... people always look at my funny when I say I got the rat out of the drain line. Now I have proof!

Erin aka Conscious Shopper
Erin aka Conscious Shopper

As a kid, we regularly had frogs (toads? I forget which) hop out of the toilet. It made nighttime bathroom trips very interesting.

Dmarie
Dmarie

ok, this wins the "freakiest read of the day" award! And though I feel I must have a little Jain in me (at least enough to feel guilty about killing even insects), any intruder INSIDE my home may be subject to dire consequences. Manys the time I've picked up a spider in a tissue or trapped in a glass then put it outside, but a rat? I'm ashamed to say that I'd hope someone were around with a bat...or else I'd have to move. ;)

Melissa
Melissa

Kaylen- I'm worried by your comment of you put your dog poop in the municipal composting bin. I'm the recycling educator in Sonoma County and we don't allow that. I was under the impression that it wasn't safe because even a commercial composting system can't breakdown any pathagons commenly found in meat-eating mammels animal's waste. Does anyone know more info about this?

LInda Anderson
LInda Anderson

You have a natural right to protect your house and food from wild animals. They can cause some serious damage and can spread disease. I found the old fashioned wooden mouse/rat trap to be the most eco-friendly (not a plastic one). That may be difficult with your inquisitive kitties. Once in Hawaii, a rat jumped into the bathroom through an open window. It landed on my son's back while he was on the john! Throwing mice/rats outside does nothing. They just come back in. I love and respect nature but have no problem killing furry invaders from nature. Snakes, I catch them and put them back outside, but that's just me.

underbelly
underbelly

OMG, Beth, are you saying that in addition to having a mouse run under my feet when I stumble to the toilet in the middle of the night (true story), there might possibly be a rat IN my toilet?

EcoCatLady
EcoCatLady

Holy Crap!!! I think I might have become totally hysterical if I had found a live rat in my toilet. And I am utterly shocked... I would have sworn that rats coming in through the toilet was the stuff of urban legends. It's giving me a little nervous hoe down here just thinking about it. You know, I've sort of come to the conclusion that wild animals and real estate have a great deal in common. What's really important about them is location, location, location! We had a mouse in the garden last summer and I thought it was the cutest little thing, but when one showed up in the living room a few weeks later I was reduced to a blithering idiot. The scene was quite comical, in fact. Picture two kittens bouncing off the walls (quite literally) and me using every ounce of self control I had in my posession to keep from doing a complete rendition of the South Park "Eek a Penis" episode (http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes/s12e05-eek-a-penis). All of the excitement roused Sputnik, the 12 year old fat cat, from his sleep - and while still yawning he meandered over, and caught the thing in 2 seconds flat, seemingly without any effort whatsoever. He didn't even hurt it, he just brought it over to me and spit it out into a bucket so I could let it outside. But all funny stories aside, I share your constirnation regarding the seething cauldron of contradictions that it is to be an animal lover. But, in the end I don't think there are any moral absolutes. I mean, I strive to treat all living things humanely, and with compassion, but the animal kingdom (of which we are a part) is more like a Roman Gladiator pit than a cuddly petting zoo. Animals can pose real threats to us (as can other people) and it's normal and healthy to want to protect yourself.

Meg
Meg

Oh, Holly, that does sound horrible! Do you remember what trap style/company it was? I want to make sure I avoid that kind. It wasn't a metal trap was it? That's the kind I would use.

Holly
Holly

Oh, Meg, I did try the humane traps -- only to have a mouse chew through the side and get stuck half in and half out. It was horrible.

meghan
meghan

Beth, I used to have a rat as a pet. But I had invited her into my home and expected her to be there. Likewise, I used to have a landlord who I would invite into my home and all was good until the landlord broke into my home in the night. I know bizarre right? Well I went from making tea for the landlord to running out of my bedroom with a big knife to protect myself in that instance, so I think your feelings about the rat in the toilet are justified. I think you have made a wonderful decision to install a blocking device for the rat. I'm sure it was pretty surprised to see you shriek and open the lid too. It will be best for you both to install the block

monkeyjen
monkeyjen

I guess they should start calling it SWEETscoop

Tanya
Tanya

Thats so gross. I would have totally freaked out if there was a rat in my toilet.

Meg
Meg

Holly, there are humane mouse traps that don't kill the mice. Please switch to them. Those kill traps are just awful. Beth, I'm glad you're not eating meat, but I hope you will consider the many other animals who are exploited and killed. The milk and egg and leather industries, for example, are all as bad if not worse. Even the stuff labelled "humane" is needlessly cruel. I'll admit, I'm still working on how I treat "pests". I had to switch to a pest control service because ants were just attacking my house from all sides. I guess they were carpenter ants or something because they were more interested in the house than anything else inside. I feel awful about it, but the could have caused some serious damage. I do keep things very well picked up and haven't had problems in the kitchen at all. I do get some bugs in the bathroom, though, and I try to take them outside and let them loose. Sometimes I still panic because I have pretty severe arachnophobia. I'm trying really hard to get past that because it's not fair to them to be killed on account of my irrational fear.

Erika
Erika

I know EXACTLY where you're coming from. I'm a hard-core animal lover, but living in the woods, I have a chronic problem with mice infesting my parked car. They have destroyed the fire-proof lining inside my car's hood, torn up everything in my glove box to make a nest, and left little turds all over my dashboard. Mice are a real health hazard here. My stepmother died from hantavirus (which is transmitted by mouse feces). And if they nibble the wires or hoses in my car, it could be a real safety issue. Not to mention the repair bill! And the horror of driving along and having a mouse pop out of the air vents where the hood meets the windshield. I tried everything. EVERY. DAMN. THING. Every single suggestion I read on the internet, I tried it. None of them worked. Finally I had to give in and use poison. I can't even use traps, because there's no way to situate a trap inside my car's engine compartment. I feel really bad about it, but it's literally me or them.

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

I wouldn't add diatomaceous earth to the litter because it's not good for cats to breathe.  And no, most essential oils are bad for cats and would probably drive your cats away from the box.   I haven't had a bug situation, only a rat situation, and only in the toilet.  Wondering if anyone else has.

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Petunia, you're too funny. Well, the rat is still partying in our toilet. I haven't seen it again, but even though we stopped letting the cat litter sit in there, we keep finding little tiny rat turds and hairs in the bowl. I'm wondering if he's stuck in our plumbing system and can't figure out how to get back out to the wider sewer system. Or maybe it's not just one rat (ack!) but all his buddies too. Don't know. But we are trying to get our landlord to install that device and in the meantime, we keep a dumbbell on top of the lid, just in case our friend (we should really name him/her, shouldn't we?) turns out to be strong enough to lift it.

jay
jay

Mice and rats can coexist. We discovered both living in our floor's insulation (open to the house's crawl space).

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Hi Laura. I don't know how Oakland determines what the capacity should be for the waste treatment plant, how many people per household, but since we have no kids, our cats are our kids. So I'm not too worried about it. If we had children, we'd be flushing their waste and no one would question it -- no matter how many kids we had.

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Melissa and Kaylen, we have municipal composting in Oakland, but we are not allowed to put cat litter in the bin. I'm sure it's because of the pathogens.

jules333
jules333

cayenne pepper--(cotton balls doused with cayenne pepper) and peppermint oil (same--cotton balls doused in peppermint oil) are natural deterrents for mice...put them in places where you see mice indoors/outdoors.  seems to work.

jay
jay

OMG! I've slowly been catching up on your blogs, and just now read -and reread- this! Living in the East Bay I'm all too familiar with the rodents we have living in a not so parallel universe! Don't know if its been mentioned elsewhere, but have you looked into the EnviroKats system? Might be worth a review on your blog...

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

Hi Jay.  I'm inferring from the website that EnviroKats litter is made from recycled tires, but strangely, I can't find any page that actually says that.  The front page says it is made from "recycled material" and the Environment page says, "EnviroKats™ (Patent Pending) helps reduce the number of used tires that are clogging our landfills." However, there is no page that actually says "EnviroKats contains... xyz" so that leaves me wondering what else is in it.  Also, I'm not sure about the safety of having my cats sit in used car tires... they are synthetic and contain all kinds of ingredients, so I don't know about the health impact for my cats. Have you done any research on it?