City rats are among the most important but least-studied wildlife in urban environments. Their presence, compounded by the rate of human urbanization and effects of climate change, frequently bring potentially infectious organisms into contact with people and other wildlife. Urban rat control, however, is ineffective, largely because so little is known about their ecology. It is therefore, essential that we exploit new research avenues if we are to better understand and manage these risks. The hallmark of robust science includes replication at the level of the individual and urban landscape, allowing researchers to study behaviors and populations over time. However, unlike most wildlife, urban rats are confined to environments where there are numerous incentives to exterminate, but few reasons to study them. Thus, gaining access to rats presents an exceptional challenge for researchers. To address this problem, we first identified prevailing knowledge gaps in the literature and then used a five-step ‘wicked problem’ framework to define the issues, identify stakeholders, and systematically examine options for remediation. We discuss pest management professionals (PMPs) as an important conduit between private enterprise and the research community and suggest that businesses supporting research be rewarded through part-compensation, or allowances (credits) from the health department. This allows urban rats to be studied like all other ecological research subjects—in the field, while animals are alive. Appropriate incentives could enable scientists and PMPs to work together toward ‘smart’ ecologically based rodent management, hereby enhancing options for control while preparing for the challenges of continued urbanization.