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Help! I have critters in my home!

When critters invade your home, is it best to call your local exterminator or tackle the project on your own?

Trying to catch bats in an attic doesn't sound like the safest do-it-yourself method to get those winged critters out of your home, but it worked for Jeff Gordon, a blogger who writes about healthy living alternatives.

"We had no idea that the bats were there until my daughter had gone up to the attic one day to store some boxes and screamed at the top of her lungs when a couple bats flew out from behind a rafter," Gordon wrote in an e-mail.

He put on heavy work gloves and tried to snatch the juvenile bats with his hands. But when that didn't work, he ended up chasing them out through an opening in his attic fan. Gordon bought some fiberglass compound at a hardware store and plugged the gaps and holes in his attic, which pest control experts say is a smart and inexpensive way to keep wild animals out of your home.

Critters can be deadly

Although few bats have rabies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the diseases that they and other animals might have don't make removing them yourself worth the risk, pest experts say.

Some pests can be deadly, such as a swarm of 60,000 bees that attacked a Miami man who was renovating a home for his daughter last year. Apparently, the man tried to remove the bees himself. He was found dead in the house, surrounded by the insects.

Mice and rats can carry hantavirus, a deadly virus for humans carried through the urine and feces of rodents.

"Once they're in your home, it's going to be difficult to get rid of them yourself," pest exterminator Ryan Frawley says of rodents.

Doing the job right

Frawley says people think that the smell of mothballs or a dousing with a hose will force critters out. What it usually takes, he says, is trapping them.

In addition to posing health risks, wild animals can cause serious damage to a home. Squirrels and mice will often gnaw on wood beams and electrical wires and will run around in the early morning, creating a noise that's not easy to ignore.

Whether it's winter and they're looking for a warm place to sleep, or spring when a mother will move in to have babies, many animals get into your home through small holes in a roof or near the basement. Others critters chew their way in. Raccoons prefer hollow logs to nest in, but Frawley says he's seen young mother raccoons dig into roofs because the inexperienced moms are often left without the best nesting sites.

"I've seen raccoons just tear off a roof and tear shingles off and make their own entrance," he says.

Mice, rats and squirrels, oh my!

Mice can get through gaps next to gas lines leading into a house, says Scott Armbrust, owner of Rid-A-Pest Exterminators in Littleton, Colo. "A mouse can fit through something the size of a dime, so it really doesn't take much of an opening," he says.

Simply trapping and removing the pests may not be enough. After pests are removed from an attic with insulation, for example, it's important to go back and remove the animal droppings that could carry a virus and to spray with disinfectant, Armbrust says.

To get rid of mice and rats, cheap snap traps work well, Armbrust says. If someone wants them removed humanely, live traps are more expensive. That's because a pest control expert like Armbrust will have to return daily to check the traps and charge $120 each time.

There are also sonic plug-in devices that sell for about $15 that send sound waves to drive the mice out of a house. These products have mixed reviews, but when it comes to removing pests, what works for one person may not work for another.

Armbrust, along with many other pest control experts, charges a per-trip fee to remove squirrels -- about $100 per squirrel for removal. Armbrust says it once took him a month and a half to get rid of 30 to 40 squirrels that lived for years in the attic of a home where the rental tenants didn't care about the noises above.

Removing other common invaders

Getting rid of small birds yourself is possible if you're up to the task, but a live skunk that can spray or bite you is best left to a professional, says Sam Lazarus, co-owner of ServiceMaster by Best, a cleaning and restoration firm that doesn't remove animals but cleans up after they're gone.

The spray from a skunk can get into everything in a home just like smoke after a house fire, says Lazarus. He remembers cleaning all of the contents in a mobile home that was hit by skunk spray.

"The odor permeated through the whole mobile home," he says. "It was gross."

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