Next to the diseases a live rat can carry, the threat of having dead rats decomposing somewhere in your home is a top reason homeowners—especially those who’ve experienced the smell of a dead rat—give as a reason to fear an infestation. When considering how to get rid of rats the odor can completely disrupt your family’s existence for days, weeks or longer. What are the signs you’re dealing with a dead rat smell and what can you do about it?

What does a dead rat smell like?

As anyone who’s dealt with a dead rat in their home can attest, the smell is one you’ll never forget. The putrid odor is a nasty mix of chemicals produced as the body decomposes, including sulfur dioxide and methane. The best way to describe it would be the rotting smell of death.

The bigger the animal, the more tissue to break down, the more time needed to decompose. Rats are larger than mice, so the smell of a dead rat is likely to be stronger and last longer than that of a mouse. Still, unless you can actually see the animal, you might not be able to determine whether you have a dead rat or a dead mouse in the house.

Regardless of whether it's a rat or mouse, squirrel or opossum, there’s no formula for calculating how long the smell of a dead animal will last. It may take days or weeks for the carcass to dry out and the odor to naturally and completely disappear. Humidity can affect the process and make the nauseating odor even more intense. So, if a rat dies near steam pipes or other moist areas in your home or car, it may be "ripe" for a long time.

So, what can you do about the terrible odor?

How to get rid of a dead rat smell

Locate the source. As soon as you notice what you think is the dead rat smell, start looking for an increased presence of flies, maggots, beetles and other insects that are attracted to dead animals. If flies seem to be hovering or landing near a specific area on a wall or floor, try a “sniff test.” Does the odor seem stronger at that spot? Sometimes bodily fluids seep out of a carcass, so also keep an eye out for stains on sheetrock or ceiling tiles.

Remove the problem. Removing a dead animal and ventilating the area is the quickest route to relief. Unfortunately, rats aren't usually thoughtful about dying in plain sight or within easy reach. They are nocturnal beings that prefer to hang out in small spaces that offer plenty of hiding places.

Sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures, and the process of extricating one dead rat from your home or vehicle may include cutting through sheetrock or floors, replacing ceiling tiles, pulling up carpets, etc.

In some cases, the best solution is to leave the carcass where it is, apply odor-neutralizing chemicals or deodorants and hope the process of drying out happens as quickly as possible. This method still requires ventilating the area by drilling into walls or floors, so repair costs would still be involved.

If you are able to find and remove the dead rat carcass, seal it in a plastic bag and dispose of it promptly. Always wear protective gloves and clothing, including a dust filter mask or respirator, whenever handling wild animals, dead or alive. Rats and mice can introduce dangerous bacteria and viruses into our homes, so even if you're gloved and covered, thoroughly wash up afterward.

Once the affected area has been completely cleaned with bleach and water or other disinfectants, it's time to begin a different search. How are rats getting in?

Keep in mind that rodents are smart and resourceful animals. They are also limber and can squeeze through very small openings. Cover vents, seal holes in walls and foundations and look for gaps around roof soffits and loose pipes.

Prevention is the key to avoiding the dead rat smell.

If you’re trying to address a rat problem, traps are preferred to poison bait. Rats may eat the poison and later die in an area of your home where their bodies cannot be removed.

Remember, keeping rats out of your home is the best way to prevent one from dying and creating an unpleasant situation. If you suspect a dead rat or other pest may be causing odors in your home, contact Terminix® to discuss your options.