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Unwanted houseguest
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Every fall I will receive calls from homeowners with the problem of squirrels in the attic. At first the person may think there is a rat chewing on the inside of the attic, but after days of hearing sounds, they discover the problem is squirrels.

A squirrel is really not a rat, but once squirrels begin to live and play in your attic, it can be as bad as any rat. Squirrels in the attic will not only keep you up at night, they can also cause damage to your home by eating holes in walls and wires.

If you have squirrels in the attic, there must be a hole someplace on the outside of your house.

Some homeowners will phone me and state they have squirrels but no hole in the house. My answer is the only other way is if the squirrel has a key to your front door and is using it to go in and out while you are asleep.

Before you change the locks on your house, please realize that in nearly 30 years as a county agent, I have never seen a squirrel with a key, but have always found an outside entryway for the squirrel to enter freely.

Closing up all entryways is essential to keeping squirrels out of houses. The best time to close the entryway is on warm sunny days when the squirrels are, hopefully, outside. It's especially important to check the repairs carefully for the next week or two as the displaced animals may try to chew their way back in. The use of metal to cover the entry works well.

Even more important is to put dishes of water, nuts, apples or crusts (spread with peanut butter) at two or three places in the attic where the squirrel is likely to find them. Without the food, the confined animal will get hungry and thirsty and it will run amuck chewing on window frames and other items, including wiring in its efforts to escape. After it dies, usually in some inaccessible place, it will stink.

The food will prevent all this because the squirrel will advertise his presence by eating it. Check the food dishes to see if any is missing. If there is no sign after a week that the food is being consumed, your worries are over.

If the food is gone or shows tooth marks at least you know a good spot to set a trap. Most people choose a cage trap. Put a food dish inside and wait. If you catch a squirrel, simply take him outside and let him go. Then reset the trap. Remember, there may be two, three or more animals using your attic.

Some people will use a large rat trap baited with peanut butter. This will work but will kill the squirrel. If you use the rat trap, check it every two or three days.

How can you keep new squirrels from trying to get in? If your house is overhung with large trees, there may be no answer. Isolated trees can be encircled with bonds of slippery metal about18 inches wide attached about four feet above the ground. Should the treetops be near other trees that are part of the squirrel's branchy travelways, this method won't work.

Squirrels may be fun to watch play on your lawn, but are always unwanted houseguest.

Clark Beusse is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706)265-2442.