Signs There Is An Animal Living In Your Roof

Heard something scurrying around in the ceiling at night? Or maybe a downlight has come loose? These are tell-tale signs of an animal living in roof space in your home.

This comprehensive guide to detecting whether there is an animal living in your roof covers everything you need to know to minimise damage to your home, from what types of animals most commonly make their way into the roof, to how to remove them safely.

What animal is living in your roof?

If you suspect you have an animal living in your roof it’s probably one of the following:

  • A possum
  • A rat
  • A bird

In Australia, rats and possums are found in people’s roofs fairly frequently, so that’s what we’ll focus on in this article. Birds can also make their way into the roof cavity, although they’re more often found nesting in eaves or guttering. If you suspect you have a bird in your roof, check out our guide to removing birds from on and in the roof.

If you have a possum in your roof it’s mostly likely a common brushtail possum. These native marsupials are widespread throughout suburban areas of Queensland and often crawl into the roof to rest during the day before searching for food outside at night. Because possums are a native species, it is illegal to kill them or relocate them to other areas.

If you have a rat in the roof, it’s most likely either a black rat (AKA a roof rat) or a brown rat (AKA a Norway rat). Unlike possums, rats aren’t native to Australia and are considered a pest species so it’s ok to trap and kill them.

Why it is essential to remove an animal living in your roof?

Apart from keeping you awake at night with their scurrying, rats, birds and possums can cause a range of problems if they’re allowed to make a home in your roof. Some of the most common impacts of animals living in the roof include:

  • Structural damage – to plasterboard, the ceiling cavity or weatherboards. While possums might do this by bumbling around, rats will actively chew on these things to keep their teeth sharp.
  • Chewed wiring – this is particularly common with rats and mice which are notorious for chewing electrical cables.
  • Stains and unpleasant odours – there’s nothing quite like that dead animal in roof smell that occurs when a possum has kicked the bucket, or a poisoned rat has crawled into a corner to die. Possum urine can also cause unsightly stains on the ceiling.
  • Disease – rats in particular can carry diseases, which humans can encounter through their faeces and urine. They also often carry ticks, lice and fleas.

Also remember that just because an animal has decided to start off in the roof, it doesn’t mean it won’t find its way to other areas of the house. For example, if allowed to nest in the roof, Norway rats can have up to 60 offspring in a single year, meaning it’s a good idea to get onto the problem early.

Signs there’s an animal living in the roof

The good news is that it’s typically fairly easy to identify an animal living in the roof. Common animal living in roof signs include:

  • Scurrying, scampering or thumping sounds that might be more prominent at night. Often, people will hear the animal in the roof before they see any evidence of it. Sound is also a good way to tell possums and rats apart. Possums are significantly heavier than rats, weighing in at around 4kgs, so they generally make more of an impact on the ceiling. Listening for the pattern of sound is a good indication of the type of animal you’re dealing with too, with possums likely to leave the house at night and return in the early hours of the morning.
  • The apple test. If you suspect you have an animal living in the roof, place an apple in the ceiling near where you think the animal has been living. If it’s completely gone the next morning it’s likely you have a possum, whereas if it’s only been gnawed at it’s more than likely you’re dealing with rats.
  • Nests. If rats or birds have taken up residence in your roof cavity and been there for a while, chances are you’ll find a nest somewhere.
  • Droppings or urine. Possum pee can easily stain the ceiling, particularly given that possums will typically sleep in the one spot every day. Rat droppings on the roof, in the ceiling or in other areas of the house are also a tell-tale sign you have a resident rodent.
  • Gnaw marks or damaged wiring. Rats will chew on just about anything, so inspect your walls, wiring and ceiling cavity for signs of damage.

How to remove an animal living in your roof

Given the damage animals can cause if left to make themselves at home in your roof, it’s important to remove them as soon as you can. While it can be unsettling having an animal in your roof, the good news is that removing them is pretty straightforward. You just need a little bit of patience.

Here’s how to remove an animal living in your roof:

1. Identify the animal

First things first—figure out whether it’s a possum or a rat living in the roof. Listen for the sounds they’re making, look for droppings and if you still aren’t sure, try the apple test. That way you know which method you need to employ to remove the animal.

2. Set traps for rats

If you’ve figured out it’s a rat living in your roof, your best bet is to set some traps. Traditional snap traps are generally the most effective however live traps (for capture and release away from your home) and electronic traps are also often used. Poison is another option people commonly turn to, although we don’t encourage it for a number of reasons. If birds consume the dead rat, the poison can end up in their system. Poisoned rats are also likely to die inhumanely, and somewhere hard to find which means they leave that awful dead animal in the roof smell hanging around. Check out our comprehensive guide on getting rid of roof rats to learn more.

3. Block entryways to prevent possums from getting back in

Unlike rats, possums are a native species so it is illegal to kill or relocate them. The Queensland government recommends patching holes at night while the possum is out feeding, to prevent it from being able to get back in. You can also deter the possum by liberally coating the entrance with disinfectant which will prevent the possum from being able to identify the entranceway. If you’re not having luck with this method, you can consider trapping the possum and releasing it on your property to give you time to patch the entranceways. For more information on removing possums, check out our comprehensive guide to removing possums from the roof and stopping them from returning.

4. Call an expert

If you’re too busy to remove the animal yourself, not sure how best to do it, or you still aren’t sure what animal is living in the roof, it’s a great idea to call a pest control expert to do the job for you. They’ll make sure the job is done humanely, and in accordance with the correct laws, and can give you expert advice to prevent the animal from returning.

How to prevent animals from moving into your roof in the first place

There are many simple steps you can take to prevent animals from moving into your roof in the first place. These include:

1. Close up any entry points

Regular roof maintenance is key to preventing holes that rats, possums birds (and even snakes!) can use to enter the roof. When you’re inspecting your roof for signs of wear and tear, take a look under the eaves for gaps that might be letting pests in.

2. Install nesting boxes in trees

Possums make their way into the roof because it offers a safe, warm and dry space to nest. Installing a nesting box on a tree is a great way to provide an alternative for those pesky possums.

3. Don’t keep pet food outside

Rats and mice are often attracted to homes because of food. To discourage them, don’t leave pet food outside and don’t leave food out in the kitchen.

4. Trim branches close to your roof

Possums often access the roof by climbing along branches. While this won’t always stop possums from entering your roof, it does make them less likely to come and snoop around in search of a nesting spot.

5. Generally keep your home neat and tidy

Don’t leave piles of rubbish lying around and store belongings in sealed boxes in your shed and attic to prevent rats from nesting in them.