“I can still hear it swimming. Other toilets in the house are rodent free.”

toilet rats
Photo by PoPville flickr user Beau Finley

Well this is terrifying and will likely haunt my dreams for months…from the Cleveland Park listserv:

“11:15 pm, on my way upstairs to bed, stopped in at the bathroom beside the kitchen instead of waiting until I got upstairs to pee. As I lifted the lid of the toilet – I saw a rat inside the toilet bowl. A full grown, not dead, Norway rat.


I can still hear it swimming. Other toilets in the house are rodent free. Doesn’t this happen only in the horror movies?

311 transferred me to animal control which was no help. They don’t do rodents and they don’t do private homes. DC water and sewer was no help and had no ideas. I can’t get in touch with my plumber for help or suggestions, he seems to be out of town, and so far, Adcock’s emergency number hasn’t returned my call.”

And to cement the nightmares, one resident responded:

“Around 15 years ago I found a live huge Norway rat in my toilet. My brave husband dispatched him and I called our plumber. He said they can climb and swim and defeat the built-in “protection” (the sharply curved trap section of the plumbing) and that nothing is wrong with the system. He also assured me that “it is a once in a lifetime event.” Well, we must be very special because over the years it has happened two more times. In all 3 events the rat was unable to get out of the toilet, if that is some consolation.

68 Comment

  • The silver lining: maybe this will inspire guys to put the seat & lid down?

  • Dunno if the listserve OP will see her (his?) posting here on PoPville, but the 311 person who referred the OP. The OP should have been directed the OP to Rat Abatement, which is part of the Department of Health.

  • maxwell smart

    Between this and the creepy police sketches, I am guaranteed to never sleep again. Thanks Popville!

  • This is going to be horrifying and totally impossible to summon the courage to do – but apparently, you’re supposed to squirt Dawn in there so they can’t get traction and just keep flushing. Gah.

  • I’m not even kidding, this scenario is one of my worst nightmares. I hate rats.

  • Emmaleigh504

    This is one of my worst nightmares! aaagghhhhhh

  • I don’t know whats worse. Not dead rat to battle against, or dead rat to dispose of.

    • DCReggae

      I think we both know the answer to that…

    • Can’t speak to the live one situation but dealing with a dead one a few feet from my front door was a stinky homeowner task that my parents never told me about. Luckily a garbage bag and shovel did the trick which is much easier than what to do wit a live one in the toilet. Course it took 2 days for the smell inside the house to abate.

    • What would be the most humane way to deal with a live rat in the toilet (or do we not care about humane at that point)?

    • Blithe

      Well, if you have to listen to it’s frantically scrabbling little feet while trying to come up with a way to make it dead so you can then dispose of it, it kind of makes option 2 look a little brighter. — while saving a few distasteful steps. Yikes.

  • As bad as that sounds, my encounter was worse since the rat had the run of my studio apartment with me trying to sleep on my futon on the floor. I could hear it knocking over things in the kitchen.

  • we had a squirrel come up ours. alive and well. it looked really rough after the trip through the pipe. our cage over the air pipe for the toilet had blown off in a storm. animal control told me too open all the windows and sprinkle confectionate sugar all over the floor of my home to be sure it left the house and i could see the trail out. that was all they did for me. still freaks me out though…

    • If you have gas utilities that vent to a chimney, be sure the chimney has a cap. Long story short, you don’t want a squirrel in your house any more than you would a rat. Been there.

  • This happened to me when I lived in a house in Chevy Chase, DC. Unfortunately the rat did manage to get out of the toilet. Hilarity ensured. The exterminator mentioned this is more an issue with basement toilets. He suggested keeping a can of paint on top of the toilet lid to prevent any more rats from coming out, but luckily it never happened again.

    • maxwell smart

      Ahhh! I live in a basement! In Chevy Chase! I’m never going to sleep again!!!

      • We never used that bathroom so I think the pipes would have been dry and that was probably a factor.

        • maxwell smart

          That’s some relief. I generally keep the lid down at all times (as well as the stopper in the kitchen sink) for just this reason.

  • This is a great place to share one of my favorite bits of rat trivia, which is also a metaphor for hope:
    A rat in water will swim for DAYS, and never give up until it dies of exhaustion. However, if you cut its whiskers, it drowns pretty quickly. For a rat, if it can’t sense its environment, it gives up. A rat without hope is a dead rat.

    • Smilla

      I see a significant drawback to this plan…

    • Many years ago there was an experiment where they “trained” rats to be either optimistic (press a lever and get a food pellet) or pessimistic (press a lever and get random electric shock or food pellet.) The optimistic rats swam for 3 days before drowning while the pessimistic rats gave up after a few hours.

      • holy $hit that that’s depressing! I mean, I don’t want to hang out with rats or have them trying to scramble out of my toilet/in my kitchen/anywhere near me, but they’re just little animals doing what they’re programmed to do, and doing it pretty well, to boot. When I hear trivia like that, it makes me respect them a little more, even if I don’t like them.

        • Rats are amazing. Smart, social, adaptable, affectionate, emotionally complex. (Check out the studies about rat empathy. You will like rats more, and dislike behavioral scientists more.)
          Don’t get me wrong, I’m not out befriending the alley rats. I in fact make a yelp/squeak noise (very undignified) when one gets too close to me. But yeah, lots of actual respect for the little beasts.

        • I found that kind of depressing too — poor rats, never knowing if they were going to receive food or an electric shock. 🙁

  • I did some googling on rats in toilets, and found what appear to be some good resources on dealing with this shudder-inducing phenomenon:
    It sounds like the listserve OP (if she ever sees this page) should probably also call D.C. Water.

  • Had this happen once in our basement apartment. While the rats can get past the curve on their way up the pipe, it’s difficult for them to get past it to go back down, so they will remain in the bowl. Luckily for us this happened when we were out of town, and we had the lid down. So I only had to deal with a dead rat in the toilet bowl, not a live one. This is why I always make sure the toilet lid is closed when not in use. However, that doesn’t help with the fear of a rat coming up while one is using the toilet.

  • Here’s an excellent video showing how rats can swim up through a toilet. It actually takes place here in DC!

    • Blithe

      I really should not have clicked that. I was taken in by your jaunty “actually takes place here in DC!” comment.

  • Well, that’s 100% horrifying. I don’t think I would ever stop screaming.
    Also, can someone please let me know where that bathroom in the photo is, so I never, ever go there (as it were)?

  • Reading Popville today honestly ruined my life

  • God help us all when the rats figure out how to escape the toilets. *smh*

  • I am shuddering at “I can still hear it swimming”. You have my deepest sympathies OP.

  • Girl on a Hill

    This happened to me in February! I came back from the movies, and low and behold when I got back there was a dead rat face down in my toilet. Thankfully it was already dead and thankfully my roommate isn’t squeamish. She put on our dishwashing gloves picked it out by the tail and put it in a plastic bag. It was horrifying.

  • maxwell smart

    The amount of “me too” stories this is inviting is going to give me a toilet complex.

  • Blithe

    Yep – this truly is the stuff of nightmares.

  • Did OP try flushing? I don’t understand why a rat wouldn’t flush easily enough since it was able to fit going the other direction just fine. Cruel, maybe, but it sounds like this rat had a good run.

  • I knew someone that had that happen in Foxhall – she pulled up her skirt and was sitting down before she saw it…

  • Yup, me too. Like another commenter, I rarely use my basement bathroom and affectionately call it the “prison toilet” (no sink or shower or anything, just a toilet with an aftermarket wall around it), so the pipes are dry and make it easier for them. And they were totally able to crawl out. I was finding increasing amounts of droppings, and thought they were coming in via screened window where my dryer vents out (diy installation), but my mom (braver than I) looked carefully and noted the fur and greasy film around the toilet bowl.
    We went with the “fill the bowl with straight up bleach” route (I usually like to be humane, but …). Closed the lid, put a paint can on the lid. Closed the door to the aftermarket bathroom, put a paint can in front of the door (there’s no latch). So far I haven’t had a problem, but of course, this isn’t a viable solution in a one-bathroom abode.
    Still trying to figure out what to do about alley rats without poison — too many outdoor cats, plus the rats that die in yards with dogs. One of our neighbors put arsenic in our yard to kill our dog when I was a kid, and it’s a dreadful way to watch a pet die.

    • For alley rats, call DC rat abatement. They are actually fairly responsive. The will look for burrows and they have a device to shoot the poison way down into the burrow so cats or dogs don’t come into contact with it.

      • +1 on the D.C. Rat Abatement Team; I found them very helpful.
        When I bought my house, there was a major problem with rats in the alley — it was swarming with them, even in January. You could watch multiple rats frolicking and chasing each other in the alley. The rats haven’t been completely wiped out, but I see them much less often now.

  • “In all 3 events the rat was unable to get out of the toilet, if that is some consolation.”

    – those are just the three you found in the toilet. There could have been more, watching you sleep, cuddling your pet, smelling every breath you take.

  • The rat is nothing compared to the design of this bathroom. WTF.

  • This happened to my neighbors (who live in our basement apartment) a few years ago. From the first floor kitchen, I heard a shriek from downstairs, and then a debate about whether it was a rat or a mouse that was swollen from death + water… : S

  • Back in 2007 National Geographic did a show about the genius of rats, including a section on their toilet hijinx.

    Here is the DC-based clip on the toilet rat:

  • This actually happened to me. After squealing like a very small girl (I’m a man, 6 ft tall), I shut the lid – found a funnel and some bleach. That did the trick. Plus after all that thrashing, the toilet bowl was delightfully clean. Of course, then I had to fish the Norwegian Rat out of the bowl (Size of normal domestic cat.)

  • What comes up, might go down. I have successfully flushed a rat back down. Easy peasy!

  • I saw a National Geographic video about this. It’s apparently easier than we’d like to think; rats can hold their breath for 3 minutes and have collapsible ribs.

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