Creating a Pet Rat Play Area

Updated on June 7, 2012

Rats Need Free Range Time

All rats should have a free range area. Even if your rats have a large cage it is important for them to have time outside the cage to run around and socialize with you. This page provides some ideas of what to put in your play area, where to set up your play area, and tips on how to rat-proof your play area. There is virtually an unlimited number of ways to create your rats' space so be creative and have fun, but remember to always keep your rats' safety in mind!

What to Put in a Free Range Area

Garbage Basket

Fill a garbage bin or basket with safe "garbage." Some things you could put in are crumpled paper, toilet paper rolls, bits of cardboard and wood, popsicle sticks, scraps of fabric, plastic and metal lids, bottle caps, bits of rope, empty spools of thread, etc...anything that your rats would find interesting to dig through. Make it even more fun by wrapping up treats in the paper.

Cardboard Tunnels

Lay cardboard tunnels on the ground or use them as ladders up to a piece of furniture. You can also cut more holes in them to make them fun to play in.

Where to get them: large, long cardboard tubes come from such things as rolls of carpet or roofing material, so you could ask at a store if they have any. If they do they will likely give it to you as it would just be recycled anyway.

Fabric Tunnels and Mazes

Cut off pant legs and shirt sleeves to make fabric tunnels. Insert large toilet paper rolls in the ends to keep them open. You can also try making a tunnel maze by pining or sewing a bunch of tunnels together.

Spool Treat Toy

Take an empty spool of thread and put few small treats in it (like cheerios or rice krispies). Then give it to the rats. They will have to roll it around and dig in it to get the treats to come out.

Cardboard Box Fort

Plain cardboard boxes are great for rats, but what's even more fun is a box fort. Just collect any clean boxes you have and assemble them together, cutting holes from one box to another. Add tunnels, walkways, ladders, windows, and curtains. You can use tape to hold everything together, because you will be with your rats so you can make sure they don't eat it. Once you've got all the boxes taped together you can scrunch up strips of paper and put it inside, wrapping treats in some of them.

If you don't have a collection of several small boxes you can just use one or two large boxes and cut them up. That is how I made this house. I find that this way takes a little more work, but it is still fun to make.


This little tent is made from coat hanger wire and fleece material. It is definitely a ratty favorite and has been used for years.

Lily's first time fishing
Lily's first time fishing

Fishing Pond

Rats love to fish for frozen peas. If your rats aren't used to water just use a really shallow dish with some pebbles in it. You can make the water deeper as your rats become more accustomed to it. I like to use a paint tray as a swimming pool because it naturally has a shallow end and deep end. Some rats like to swim in deep water or dive to retrieve things from the bottom of their pool. You can make your pond more interesting by putting larger rocks and pebbles and driftwood in a bin and then adding water and peas. This way ratties that don't want to get wet can fish standing on the rocks.

Digging Box

To make a digging box fill a bin with some clean soil and plant wheat or vegetable seeds or other edible things. Water it and let it grow for a while (takes about a week). Then add rats! They have a lot of fun digging in the dirt and eating the sprouts.

Here are my rats, Lily, Rue, and Piper enjoying their digging box.


Laundry Basket

Ratties love burrowing in a basket of laundry. Because they sometimes chew through things, you should fill a basket with clothing and material that you don't care about (try the free or cheap bins at second hand stores).

Pillow Fort

Koko hiding
Koko hiding

A pillow fort is something very quick and easy to set up, and is great if you are just having your rats out on your bed or couch. Try adding stuffed animals and cardboard tubes, and throwing a blanket or towel over top. The bigger and more complex the better!

Paper Mache Treat Ball


I made this toy by paper macheing a small balloon, letting it dry, popping the balloon, and then putting little treats inside it. The rats have to roll the ball around or chew through it to get the treats out. See my other lens for more precise directions: or just click on the picture to go there.

Ice Cream Bucket

Ice cream buckets (or other plastic bins) make great hiding places. Just wash them and cut an entrance.

My rats like dark hideouts so I made cloth coverings to put over the ice cream buckets. I think it looks nicer too.

Wooden Houses

If you have access to some scrap wood and have some basic tools (or know someone who does) you can make all kinds of wooden houses, hideouts, staircases, etc.

This one functions as both a house and a staircase.

A house made from popsicle sticks
A house made from popsicle sticks

Adding cloth tunnels to a wooden house makes a fun maze for rats.

Litter Box

It is a good idea to have a litter box in your free range area, especially when you have your rats out for long periods of time. I prefer to always have a litter box available even if my rats aren't out very long, because I wouldn't want them to feel forced to go on the floor. I just think it helps with litter training to always allow your rats a place to go. It is fine to just use a cardboard box for the litter; you will just have to replace it once in a while.


Probably the most fun thing for a rat to play with is other friends. This means other rats and you.

Other Ideas

There is pretty much an unlimited number of things you can put in a free range area. Here are a few other ideas:

-furniture (table, chair, shelf; be careful with couches as rats can get stuck inside)

-wine rack

-curtain, housecoat, or something else for rats to climb

-box of shredded paper

-box of fabric

-container of interesting little things (rocks, shells, buttons)

-ping pong ball

-baby and kids toys

-doll house

-any other safe household things (eg. lampshade, milk jug, flower pot, cookie tin)

Where to Set Up a Free Range Area

A separate room for your rats makes the best free range area, because it's easy to keep rat-proofed and you don't have to set up and clean up every time you take the rats out. Don't worry if you don't have a spare room (I never have), because you can still make a great free range area.

The most important factor when choosing a space in your house for a free range area is your rats' safety. Choose an enclosed room or make an enclosed area. You can make an enclosed area by building a rat playpen (see the featured lens below for excellent instructions), or by blocking off open doorways using cardboard, or wood, or something else. Although bigger is generally better, you don't want the space to be so big that you can't always keep an eye on all your rats. Don't forget to rat-proof the area (see tips below).

You may also want to consider the type of flooring. If your rats tend to pee when they are out then you probably don't want to choose a room with carpet. If you want to protect the flooring you can lay down a blanket first.

*Note: You don't have to choose just one place. Try changing it up to keep the rats (and you) interested.

My Pick: I usually find that bathrooms work really well because there aren't dangerous appliances, wires, or carpets. Also, they are enclosed with doors so I never have to set up cardboard walls. And it's not gross if you keep your bathroom clean.

Tent Play Pen

My favorite place for free ranging my rats is my tent! And it's their favorite place too. I set the tent up in my living room, lay down my "rat blanket," and then fill it with toys. I like to hang up tunnels and hammocks too. This set up works great when you have lots of young rats to watch.

Rat Proofing

1. Make sure that there are no heaters, vents, or gaps that your rats could disappear into. You can use wood or cardboard to block off any gaps, but make sure you always watch your rats because if left unsupervised they may chew through.

2. Baby rats can often squeeze under doors so you may want to jam a towel under the door.

3. Make sure there is nothing unsafe for them to chew, like wires.

4. Put plastic outlet caps in any sockets.

5. Be wary of couches! If you choose a room with a couch, make sure your rats can't get into them (I once had to cut a hole in the back of my couch to get a stubborn rat out).

6. Sweep the floor before letting your ratties play in the area; you don't want them inhaling dust or eating whatever got dropped on the floor.

This is a picture of the bottom of my fridge and stove. Because my rat runs around the whole house, my boyfriend and I wedged pieces of wood under the fridge and stove, and put a large piece of wood over the front of the microwave stand. This keeps her from getting into anything dangerous in the kitchen.

My Free Range Set-up

Click thumbnail to view full-size
All the toys fit on the shelving we made.
All the toys fit on the shelving we made.
All the toys fit on the shelving we made.

Here's a short video tour of my rat's free range area.

Koko in Her Play Area

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Here is my lovely siamese rat, Koko.
Here is my lovely siamese rat, Koko.
Here is my lovely siamese rat, Koko.

Here's Koko exploring her play area.

Rats in an Awesome Free Range Area

One day I hope to have a whole room for my rats, like in this video.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


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