If you live anywhere near wet, marshy areas, then you’re probably familiar with these chunky rodents known as muskrats. They’re bigger than rats, smaller than beavers, and can cause a lot of ruckus and damage around ponds, streams, lakes, and farmland. Luckily, if you have a small muskrat problem, it can be handled using scents and smells they dislike.
Muskrats do not have a well-developed sense of sight, hearing, or smell. Although muskrats don’t smell well, they will respond to strong scents. Peppermint, cayenne, garlic, used cat litter, spent coffee grounds, clothing fabric, predator urine, and ammonia are strong enough to repel a muskrat.
Read on to find out the 9 scents that muskrats hate and how to use them. We’ll also talk about some other ways to prevent muskrat damage!
What Is A Muskrat?
Before we get into how to repel muskrats, let’s make sure we’re actually dealing with a muskrat problem. These rotund rodents have a robust body and a long, vertically flat, and scaly tail. They’re typically tan, brown, or black in fur.
Muskrats can be differentiated from beavers and other aquatic mammals by their burrows. They usually dig into the side of steep embankments and make their homes just below the waterline. They will also create floating homes beneath vegetation in open water.
Muskrats prefer stagnant or slow-moving water – think ponds, marshes, lakes, swamps, and slow-moving streams. You won’t find a muskrat very far from water, so they’re not found in hot, dry desert climates.
Both beavers and muskrats are nocturnal, but muskrats will not chew or down trees as beavers do. They also do not build dams or lodges but rather build floating homes with vegetation and mud.
Muskrats: The Good And The Bad
These chonky rodents can be great for aquatic environments. They feed on aquatic vegetation like cattails, bulrush, water lilies, and pondweed. This opens up the water and gives waterfowl like geese and ducks more open water to land and hang out.
Muskrats also create homes and shelters for a variety of aquatic animals. Snakes, turtles, and even some waterfowl will use the platforms created by muskrats to rest and nest in.
The downside to muskrats is the damage they can cause. According to the University of Nebraska, their burrowing can weaken stream and pond banks, causing eventual collapse. This adds to the sediment in the water system, which can be dangerous for fish and other animals that require deeper waters.
Muskrats can also cause agricultural damage when they destroy levees or dams due to burrowing. Muskrats also love rice and will chow down on the crop. They will also chew on structures near docks, though their teeth marks are far smaller than that of a beaver.
These sneaky rodents will also creep into gardens and vegetable fields at night if they are close to water. Carrots, potatoes, and other root-like vegetables, beware!
The Scents That Muskrats Hate
Muskrats aren’t like most pests you want to repel. Their noses aren’t as sensitive as others, and can you blame them? They live mostly in water and rely on their sense of touch to find food.
So, to repel muskrats, you need some STRONG scents.
Pet Smells Will Repel Muskrats
Got a cat? A dog? turtle? Any pet will do. Muskrats have many predators – foxes, coyotes, owls, hawks, cats, dogs, minks, otters, and bobcats. If they think a predator is around, they’re likely to skedaddle and find a new area to call home.
The smell of your pet will likely raise suspicion within the muskrat, appealing to its sense of danger. You don’t necessarily need a guard dog or mousing cat. You just need to fool the muskrat into thinking your pet is around often.
All you need is their scent.
So, by scent, we mean…? One of the best scents to deter muskrats is used cat litter. This may be a weird one, but anecdotal evidence suggests it works with muskrats.
To use it, you don’t want to spread it around all willy-nilly in the water. This can have negative impacts on your aquatic ecosystem. Instead, you’ll want to target muskrat burrows and barges specifically. Look for holes in steep banks or floating vegetation with burrows dug in them.
The signs of a muskrat are pretty obvious, so it shouldn’t be hard to target their specific areas. Place the used cat litter in or near their burrows and vegetation barges. If you live near a water system and are having problems with muskrats in your garden, place a cat litter barrier around your garden to protect it from these rotund rodents.
Persistence is key!
When flushed out of one den, muskrats will quickly build another. You’ll need to stay on top of them to make sure they get the hint that they are NOT welcome in your waterways.
The thought behind used cat litter is that it reeks of ammonia, which is a pretty strong scent. If you’ve ever had a cat have an accident on your clothing or sheets, you know exactly what we’re talking about.
Suppose you don’t have a cat, or even if you do and you simply aren’t too thrilled about using their spent litter, no worries. You can use fabric from cat or dog beds to deter muskrats too!
If your cat or dog has a favorite blanket that they don’t use anymore, or maybe an old bed, don’t throw it out! Cut up the fabric into smaller pieces and place them in mesh bags or cheesecloth bags. Place these little sachets of fabric and fur around your pond or marsh to deter muskrats.
Just be aware that the scent will eventually fade, especially during rainy weather. Be sure to keep replacing the sachets to continue deterring those pesky muskrats.
Use Garlic & Cayenne To Repel Muskrats
No good-smelling meal is quite complete without garlic or cayenne. These two ingredients are in just about everything and give so much flavor to the dishes we love the most. And peppermint? Perfect for dessert and candy!
Even a muskrat’s poor sense of smell can pick up these three strong-scented ingredients. When a muskrat picks up on the scent, they’re likely to go on red alert as the scent is strong, and to them, the taste is just awful.
To use garlic and cayenne to repel muskrats, you can use the plant itself. Simply cut some cayenne and garlic up and spread the mixture around your pond, near muskrat burrows, and on their floating barges. Similarly, you can plant peppermint to grow in these areas.
Because scents need to be replaced often, you may find this option a bit on the expensive side, especially if you have a large pond or a big colony of muskrats.
Instead, you can opt for a spray:
- Bring 4 cups water to a boil
- Add 1 onion, chopped (optional – but another strong-scented vegetable)
- Add 4-6 cloves of garlic, chopped
- Add 2 hot peppers, chopped (alternatively, add ½ bottle hot sauce)
- Reduce heat & let cook for 5 minutes
- Turn heat off and let the mixture cool
- Strain the ingredients and place the liquid mixture in a spray bottle
Target the areas where you see muskrats the most. They like to hang out in marshy areas and will even venture into brackish water along the coasts. Look for burrows and floating barges.
Peppermint Oil Repels Muskrats
Similar to cayenne pepper and garlic, peppermint can repel muskrats due to its pungent aroma! However, for it to be effective, it needs to be used in the oil concentrate. Peppermint plants by themselves can’t repel muskrats.
This lovely-smelling scent is strong enough to repel muskrats and is easy to use. Something like Mighty Mint Peppermint Oil Spray is a great choice. It’s made with peppermint oil along with a soap to make the spray stick to surfaces.
This ready-to-use spray can be used around gardens that are susceptible to muskrat visits. You can also soak rags with the spray and staple them to stakes that you place around the perimeter of your waterways.
We don’t want any of these scent deterrents making their way into the actual water system.
Remember to be persistent in your efforts. Muskrats are resilient and will often find new burrows in the same area if another one is compromised. Using physical deterrents and habitat modification in addition to scents will often yield the best results.
Don’t worry… we’ll get to those other deterrents later!
Muskrats Don’t Like The Smell of People (Used Coffee Grounds & Clothing Fabric)
Rude, right? But it’s true! Muskrats are afraid of people and will often flee at the first sign of them, whether that be by sight, sound, or smell.
Muskrats are not aggressive and will not bite or scratch you unless they are trapped or cornered and feel their life is in danger. Most times, a muskrat will dive underwater when they sense a human is around.
Let’s use that to our advantage!
Just like with used cat litter, there are other avenues to pursue.
Used coffee grounds have a very strong, bitter smell and flavor. Muskrats don’t really know what to make of the smell of coffee, as they don’t encounter it in the wild. As such, they’re likely to associate the smell of used coffee grounds with humans or some other danger.
Look for muskrat burrows or floating barges and toss the grounds in and around those areas. You can also look for signs of muskrat activity on the shore – tracks, droppings, and broken mussel shells.
If you’re not a coffee drinker, we have alternatives! Just like with your dog or cat blanket, you can use scraps of your old clothes to deter muskrats. Simply cut the fabric into small pieces and place them in a mesh bag like the Celestial Gifts Cotton Muslin Bags.
You can place stakes around your waterway and staple the bags to the stakes to be sure they stick around and aren’t blown away by the wind. You can also hold them down with rocks. This is a great option for your garden as well.
Predator Urine Scares Away Muskrats
In a similar fashion as using spent cat litter to fool muskrats into thinking a predator is around, you can use predator urine to do the same thing.
Believe it or not, you can buy this stuff online. American Heritage Industries Coyote Urine is the perfect product to scare away muskrats. It comes in a bottle that is ready to use.
You can combine your coyote urine with Wildlife Research 375 Key Absorbing Wick for easier application. You just dip the wick in the bottle and then hang the wick out where you need to repel muskrats from. This option also wastes a lot less of your bottle than simply spraying it on the ground.
Coyotes aren’t a muskrat’s only predator. You can use the urine of any muskrat predator such as mink, otter, or bobcat. This will fool the muskrat into believing a predator is nearby. If they smell the scent enough, they may decide to move to a different location.
Always be sure to follow the label on your product.
If you’re interested, you can read our piece on the best coyote urines here.
Ammonia Can Repel Muskrats
Predator urine and used cat litter have two things in common – they have a strong ammonia smell. So, why not go straight to the source?
You can use ammonia to repel muskrats, but take care not to pour it into any waterways, as this can alter the water’s composition and harm other animals.
Instead, soak a few rags in ammonia and place them in containers or open bags. Add rocks or sand to the containers to keep them from blowing over. Be sure your bag or container is open so that the scent can escape.
Make sure you use thick rubber gloves and take all product recommendations for handling the product.
Alternatively, pound in some trusty stakes around your pond or stream and staple the ammonia-soaked rags to the stakes.
Place your muskrat deterrent in areas that you want to repel them from. It’s not a good idea to place the rags in the water, but you can place the bags or containers near burrows or on the banks of ponds and streams.
When Are Muskrats Most Active?
Muskrats are nocturnal and do most of their skulking about and eating at nighttime. It’s not too uncommon to see them during the day, especially in the spring, but they are creatures of the night for the most part. You’ll often see muskrats when shining lights near the holes they dig.
Other Ways To Deter Muskrats Naturally
If you don’t want to go the rodenticide route, we don’t blame you. They can be tricky to use around water, and oftentimes we simply want the pests to move on, not to harm them. Here are a few ways you can repel those pesky muskrats naturally – no chemicals needed!
Grade Your Banks
Muskrats love burrowing into the steep banks of streams, ponds, and marshes. If you have the option, try to grade the banks of your waterways, so they are at a 3:1 ratio – 3 feet horizontal for every one foot vertical.
This creates a gentle slope that the muskrats have a hard time burrowing into. They will still make vegetation barges, but we’ll get to that next.
Eliminate Their Food & Shelter Sources
This all comes down to how much you really don’t want muskrats around. You can clear the vegetation of their favorite foods (cattails, water lilies, pondweed, etc.), but this will also deter other animals from calling your waterway home.
Fish also depend on vegetation for cover from predatory birds. Turtles, snakes, and other critters like vegetation, too.
This choice is great for areas where dams, levees, or boat docks are present. You don’t want any wildlife near those areas, as they can damage the integrity of the structure or your docked boat.
Use Wire Mesh To Cover Banks
This option is a bit more pricey but is the most effective way to repel muskrats. Use galvanized wire such as Amagabeli 2 inch Galvanized Wire Mesh Fence. Place it flat on the ground along the water’s edge and down along the banks, securing it every few feet.
Be sure the wire extends three feet below the water and one foot above in case of water level fluctuations.
This method is not great for waterways where people will be swimming as the wire will eventually rust and corrode. But if you’re trying to keep them out of your koi pond, marsh, or stream, it can work great.
Wrapping Things Up
Muskrats can be tricky pests as they’re resilient, and we often don’t notice their damage until it’s too late. Underground burrows can extend up to 80 feet and are just below the surface. This is particularly troublesome for cows and other heavy livestock.
These sneaky rodents are also fans of rice crops and will even meander into your garden if it’s close enough to a water source.
Luckily, there are scents and smells we can use to deter muskrats. To recap, those scents include:
- Pet Smells
- Used cat litter
- Used coffee grounds
- Clothing fabric
- Predator urine
Add additional physical deterrents and habitat modification for the best results. Muskrats may be tricky to repel, but it can certainly be done with enough persistence!
And if you are ever unsure about a muskrat problem or feel the situation needs to be handled by a professional, we got you covered! Our nationwide pest control finder can get you in contact with a pro for free.
Ahlers, A. A., & Heske, E. J. (2017, September 05). Empirical evidence for declines in muskrat populations across the United States. Journal of Wildlife Management, 81(8), 1408-1416.
Bos, D., Kentie, R., LaHaye, M., & Ydenberg, R. C. (2019, May 11). Evidence for the effectiveness of controlling muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus L.) populations by trapping. European Journal of Wildlife Research, 65, 45.
Miller, J.E. 2018. Muskrats. Wildlife Damage Management Technical Series. USDA, APHIS, WS National Wildlife Research Center. Fort Collins, Colorado. 13p
Shuler, J. (2000). A history of muskrat problems in northeastern California. Proceedings of the Vertebrate Pest Conference, 19.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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