NEW YORK (PIX11) – New York City has tried to combat its rat population through a multitude of ways, including extermination and implementing new trash container policies, but could the answer lie in spaying and neutering?  

Female rats produce litters between five and 12 pups depending on the species and can produce as many as seven litters per year – roughly 84 offspring per year. They can also live for up to four years, according to experts at PetMD

A new study released in August suggested there could be as many as 3 million rats in New York City. That number is up from an earlier estimate of 2 million in 2014.  

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal welfare activist group known as PETA, says New Yorkers are to blame for the increased rat population. The organization argues more humane methods should be used to control the rat population.  

“On New York City streets there is just so much garbage not only in the streets but on the subways and it’s just an invitation to rats who are looking for food. So there really cannot be a serious discussion about addressing the rat population without talking about the garbage problem that humans contribute to,” said Ashley Bryne, the director of outreach communication at PETA.   

Bryne suggested there are many ethical and humane ways to control the rat population such as birth control and cleaning up city streets. 

The city did try ContraPest, a type of birth control, but it’s not effective, according to a veterinarian in New York City who specializes in wildlife species and has over 12 years of experience. 

“Rats can be spayed and neutered but it’s just not practical,” the veterinarian at West Side Vet Center in Manhattan said. “If the city were to implement a spay and neuter program it would cost anywhere from $200-300 per surgery, and birth control for rodents is something I just wouldn’t tell my patients to use, it is just out of scope of my training and largely ineffective.” 

PETA maintains that past efforts to control the rat population have been inhumane and hurts companion animals like cats and dogs.  

When Mayor Eric Adams was Brooklyn borough president, he was known for his dislike of rats. In 2019, he famously turned stomachs when he demonstrated a trap at Borough Hall. Earlier this year, he hired the city’s first-ever Rat Czar, Kathleen Corradi, to tackle the problem head-on.

“New York City has done a lot recently when it comes to fighting public enemy number one: rats,” Adams said in April. “The rats are going to hate Kathy, but we’re excited to have her leading this important effort.” 

Adams isn’t the only New York City official to try to control the rat population. Former Mayor Bill de Blasio spent millions of dollars on efforts to reduce the rat population in targeted neighborhoods through more frequent trash pickup. 

In another attempt, city officials tried to use dry ice to suffocate rats in their burrows. 

“No suggestions or attempts to control the rat population will be instant gratification. There needs to be long-term solutions,” said Bryne. “Most people think rats are disgusting but multiple studies show rats are sensitive creatures that care for their offspring and care for other rats.” 

The City of New York and Kathleen Corradi did not respond to PIX11’s request for comment on what long-term ethical solutions could be made to address the rat population, or if they would consider spaying and neutering female rats.   

This story comprises reporting from The Associated Press.

Matthew Euzarraga is a multimedia journalist from El Paso, Texas. He has covered local news and LGBTQIA topics in the New York City Metro area since 2021. He joined the PIX11 Digital team in 2023. You can see more of his work here.