How to Create a Pet Rat Play Area
Why 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. In this article, we'll discuss the following:
- What to Put in Your Play Area
- How to Set Up Your Play Area
- Where to Set Up Your Play Area
- 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!
My Free-Range SetupClick thumbnail to view full-size
What to Put in a Free-Range Rat Play Area
Here are some ideas for enriching your rat's play space:
- Garbage Basket: Fill a garbage bin or basket with safe "garbage." Some things you could put in it is 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 to lead up to a piece of furniture. You can also cut more holes in the tunnels to make them fun to play in. 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 a 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.
More Enrichment Ideas
Toilet paper rolls
Bits of cardboard and untreated wood
Scraps of fabric
Plastic and metal lids
Bits of rope
Empty spools of thread
DIY Rat Toys
You can also get creative and build fun rat toys yourself. I made a toy with papier-mâché and then put little treats inside of it. The rats have to roll the ball around or chew through it to get the treats out.
How to Build Your Own Play Place
Supplying your rat with a play place doesn't have to break the bank. Here are some great ideas for how to build fun and cheap enrichment areas for your pet rats. We will go over the following projects:
- Cardboard Box Fort
- Rat Tent
- Rat Fishing Pond
- Rat Digging Box
- Ice Cream Bucket Fort
- Rat Pillow Fort
- Wooden House
- Miscellaneous Projects
1. How to Build a Cardboard Box Fort
Plain cardboard boxes are great for rats, but what's even more fun, is a box fort. Here's how to make one:
- Collect any clean boxes you have and assemble them together; cut holes from one box to another.
- Add tunnels, walkways, ladders, windows, and curtains.
- Tape everything together (you will be with your rats, so you can make sure they don't eat it).
- Once the boxes are taped together, scrunch up strips of paper and put them 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 the house (pictured above). I find that this way takes a little more work, but it is still fun to make.
2. How to Build a Rat Tent
You can also construct a tent from coat-hanger wire and fleece material (pictured above). It is definitely a ratty favorite of mine (and my rats') and has been used for years.
3. How to Build a Rat 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 a 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 adding water and peas. This way, ratties that don't want to get wet can fish standing on the rocks.
Video: My Rats Lily, Rue, and Piper in Their Digging Box
4. How to Build a Rat 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).
They have a lot of fun digging in the dirt and eating the sprouts.
5. How to Build a Ice Cream Bucket Fort
Ice cream buckets (or other plastic bins) make great hiding places. Construction is simple:
- Wash them.
- 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.
6. How to Build a Rat Pillow Fort
A pillow fort is something very quick and easy to set up, and it 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 the top. The bigger and more complex, the better!
7. How to Build Wooden Houses for Rats
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. Houses can function as both a hideout and a staircase (pictured above).
Tip: Adding cloth tunnels to a wooden house makes for a fun rat maze.
Koko in Her Play AreaClick thumbnail to view full-size
8. Miscellaneous 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 balls
- baby and kid toys
- doll house
- any other safe household things (e.g. lampshade, milk jug, flower pot, cookie tin)
More Fun Creations
- Playmates: Probably the most fun thing for a rat to play with is a friend. This means other rats and you.
- 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.
- 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).
Video: An Exceptional Free-Rage Play Area for Rats
Where to Set Up a Free-Range Area
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 setup works great when you have lots of young rats to watch.
Other safe places for rat setups include:
- Bathrooms: 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.
- Separate Rooms: 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 or by blocking off open doorways using cardboard, 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 of your rats.
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.
Change It Up
You don't have to choose just one place. Try changing it up to keep the rats (and you) interested.
How to Rat-Proof Your Home
- 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.
- Baby rats can often squeeze under doors, so you may want to jam a towel under the door.
- Make sure there is nothing unsafe for them to chew, like wires.
- Put plastic outlet caps in any sockets.
- 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 into the back of my couch to get a stubborn rat out).
- 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.
Barricade Areas Where Rats Could Escape
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.