Can Birth Control Fix Your Rat Problem?

ContraPest’s “Safe Sex for Rats” Technology Gains Traction in Santa Barbara

Can Birth Control Fix

Your Rat Problem?

ContraPest’s “Safe Sex for Rats” Technology

Gains Traction in Santa Barbara

By Matt Kettmann | March 16, 2023

Credit: Courtesy

Read all of the entries in our “Pets & Animals, 2023 Edition” cover here.

Three minutes. That’s the time it takes for someone at a playoff football party to realize that their friend is wearing a hat that reads: “Safe. Rat. Sex.” 

“It’s birth control for rats,” explained Zed Reagan, an anesthesiologist who lives in the semi-rural Goleta hills near Cathedral Oaks Road. He discovered the product and its producer, ContraPest, while searching the internet for rat control options that were safer than traditional rodenticide, which often passes up the food chain to kill innocent birds of prey, mountain lions, and coyotes. 

Rat populations, meanwhile, usually outlive lethal eradication efforts anyway given their ferocious fecundity. They start reproducing at just two months old, then do so every eight weeks, pumping out as many as 15 baby rats per litter. All told, one rat couple can be responsible for more than 15,000 offspring in a year.  

“It’s like whack-a-mole if you’re just trying to kill them off — you’re never going to get them all,” said Nicole Williams, ContraPest’s chief revenue officer. “It’s not really a complete management program if you’re not also addressing the birth rate.”

Reagan is happy with the results so far — happy enough to wear the hat, at least. His traps, once the execution chambers for at least two rats per week, have been much quieter, and the rats enjoy the liquid so much that they even try to eat the bait station when it runs low. But he remains in the evaluation stage. “It’s not cheap,” said Reagan. “Maybe I should get a night camera or something, but it’s hard to know if it’s working.”

Credit: Courtesy

Those with a bigger sample size, such as the Los Angeles Zoo, are more confident in their ContraPest results. At the end of last year, the zoo expanded from 17 original test stations to 250. Up north, Santa Clara County used ContraPest to manage rat infestations in areas where the unhoused congregate, and municipalities, homeowner associations, and vector control agencies nationwide are turning to the product as anticoagulant rodenticides get banned. 

“People are looking for effective alternatives to either get ahead of or get into compliance with new regulations,” said Williams, explaining that it’s becoming popular in the integrated pest management protocols. “We are the only product registered with the EPA that is a fertility control mechanism that impacts both male and female rats. This should be part of every program.”

The technology was developed by two scientists, Loretta Mayer and Cheryl Dyer, who found a way to induce menopause in mice, hoping to test out menopausal drugs for women. The Phoenix-based company, which launched in 2004, adopted the science to instead affect Norway and roof rats, winning EPA approval in 2016. By 2021, ContraPest was making headlines and selling directly to homeowners.

That’s when things got funny, at least for the marketing department. Most people’s eyes would gloss over when company representatives started talking about fertility inhibitors and restricting reproduction rates. “As soon as we started saying it was ‘birth control for rats,’ it was that ‘aha’ moment,” said Williams. “We’re all familiar with that concept. Instead of having to explain it to someone 20 times, that just skipped to one sentence that would get them to understand the concept immediately.”

But ContraPest, which is owned by the publicly traded company SenesTech, skips the cheeky vibes when speaking in industry circles, and is dead serious about changing the pest control industry for the better. They recently completed their 2023 EPA registration with no red flags and released a study showing a 95 percent reduction of rats when added to existing integrated pest management plans. It may not be long before Santa Barbara County vector control agencies take notice. 

Meanwhile, Reagan is reporting more progress at his home in the Goleta hills. He started off using one ContraPest cartridge per week, but his latest cartridge is still half-full two weeks later. 

“The consumption seems to be going way down,” said Reagan. “It makes me think there may be less of them around.”


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