UBC Faculty Research and Publications

“They’re always there”: resident experiences of living with rats in a disadvantaged urban neighbourhood Byers, Kaylee A.; Cox, Susan M.; Lam, Raymond; Himsworth, Chelsea G.


Background: The presence of urban rats in the neighbourhood environment may negatively impact the physical and mental health of residents. Our study sought to describe the experiences with, perceptions of, and feelings towards rats and rat control efforts among a group of disadvantaged urban residents in Vancouver, Canada. Methods: Semi-structured interviews were held with 20 members of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) recruited by VANDU staff. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using thematic analysis. Results: Participants reported daily sightings of rats and close contact during encounters. Participants generally disliked encountering rats, raising issues of health and safety for themselves and the community due to the belief that rats carry disease. Fear of rats was common, and in some cases resulted in avoidance of rats. Effects of rats on participants were particularly pronounced for those living with rats in the home or for homeless participants who described impacts on sleep due to the sounds made by rats. Although rats were viewed as more problematic in their neighbourhood than elsewhere in Vancouver, participants believed there to be a lack of neighbourhood-level control initiatives that angered and disheartened participants. In combination with other community-level concerns (e.g., housing quality and availability), the presence of rats was viewed by some to align with a general disregard for the community and its residents. Conclusions: This study suggests that the presence of rats in urban centres may have several consequences on the physical and mental health of residents living in close contact with them. These effects may be exacerbated with continued contact with rats and when residents perceive a lack of initiative to control rats in their neighbourhood. As such, research and policies aimed at mitigating the health risks posed by rats should extend beyond disease-related risk and incorporate diverse health outcomes.

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Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)