It's such a concern in Seattle that the Health Department not only keeps a map of all the rat sightings, it hunts rats full time.
"I was in the living room and I heard splashing in the toilet," said West Seattle's Sereasa Wittman.
Sereasa got the unwelcomed vermin-visit last month.
"I'm about to have a heart attack, it's a huge rat -- about the size of our dog," she said.
The city says this is the time of year when rats have to work harder to find dinner. Many of their food sources dry up in the fall and winter.
The Problems Solvers spent the day with a city inspector and we learned quickly: Rats are out there, they're hungry and they respect no boundaries.
Any neighborhood, any toilet will do
"My husband and sons saw it peeking its head out of the toilet," said Molly Nelson.
A giant rat showed up in Nelson's bathroom on Christmas Day last year.
"I heard screaming and they took a broom to it to put its head back in the toilet and flushed it!" Nelson said.
She said they nicknamed it the 'Christmas Rat' since it showed up on Christmas Day. It must have smelled the Holiday Feast cooking.
Rats in toilets are no urban legend, they're a real life nightmare. Rats live in what some call Rat City, also known as the sewer line -- it's a ravenous rat's paradise.
"Some people believe rats in the toilet is just an urban myth and don't know it happens," said rat inspector Don Pace who works for Seattle-King County Public Health. "We're telling them yes, it does happen."
If you find a rat in your toilet, Pace responds. Last year, he got 65 complaints. The city has mapped the location of each one.
'We always keep our toilets seats down now'
"I'm a rat hunter," Pace says.
He's been baiting city sewer lines with rat poison for 16 years. Around these parts, he's after Norway Rats, also known as sewer rats. He says it's impossible to rid the city of rats, all he does is control them.
"I'm the man who tries to keep the rats out of your toilet," he said.
But it doesn't always work. Ben Egaas' wife found out the hard way in the middle of the night in their Ballard home.
"Scared the heck out of her," said Egaas.
No more bathroom breaks in the dark, and that's not all that's changed.
"We always keep our toilet seats down now -- ya gotta take cover!" he said.
Back in the sewer lines, it's man against rat.
Pace gets a complaint, finds the sewer lines closest to the complaint's home, and adds rat poison every week.
He continues the pattern until the bait goes untouched. That's when he assumes he's wiped out the vermin.
"The rats didn't touch this one," said Pace as he pulled a piece of two week old rat bait that from a sewer in Wallingford.
Sewer line breaks are the main culprit
We told Pace we were surprised the rats don't drown making their way through a toilet.
"Actually there is no water in the sewer pipe except what is in the bowl -- it is all an open line," explained Pace. "All they got to do is hold their breath for a few seconds."
The Rat Hunter insisted the rats don't want anything in the bathroom. He says they're headed for the kitchen -- these opportunists smell food and follow it.
"Since they can't make it through the kitchen sink, the easy access is through the toilet bowl," Pace said.
Pace said some rats are born in the sewer, some get carried in by storm-drain overflows, but most find a break in the sewer line.
Since neighbors have seen rats going in and out of hole in a North Seattle yard, Pace is checking for a sewer line break by adding water colored with neon yellow dye.
It's a 12-inch by 10-inch hole that neighbors say rats go in and out of even during the daylight hours. Rats are nocturnal.
A few minutes later Pace pulled the nearest manhole cover and finds the sewer water is a bright neon yellow. He now knows there's a break in the line. If the dye is getting in, that means rats can get through.
Sisters Sereasa and Samantha Wittman have been spooked every since the vermin visit last month.
"I check the toilet every day. I do, I do." said Samantha Wittman.
We should all do what our mothers taught us: keep our eyes open and the lid down.
Seattle King County Public Health says if you get a rat, it's best just to flush it and report it.
Pace Pace says it's best to clean your kitchen sink drains regularly - adding half a cup of baking soda and half a cup of vinegar followed by hot water. It removes the grease that rats love and kills food scents.
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