How to Choose and Set Up the Perfect Rat Cage
Providing your pet rats with a fantastic cage in which they can rest, feed, play, and engage in other natural behaviors is a tremendously rewarding experience. While purchasing a high-end, fully-equipped rat cage can be a good start, the unique, snuggly elements you choose to include are what will turn their cage into a home. This article includes a host of suggestions that are sure to enrich your furry friends' home life.
Choosing the Right Cage
Your rats' home is their castle, so be sure to choose one that's a good fit for their needs! Keep the following factors in mind when selecting an appropriate cage for your rats.
Your rats will have plenty of free-range time under your supervision, but being primarily nocturnal, they will spend the bulk of their waking hours in their cage. Rats need room to sleep, exercise, play, investigate, and be alone, so when it comes to their cage, bigger is almost always better. If you plan to keep multiple rats, be sure to get a cage spacious enough to allow individuals to find a solitary corner every once in a while.
Gaps Between Bars
Cunning and curious by nature, rats will squeeze through small spaces just to explore. Avoid cages designed for ferrets and other larger animals, as their bars are usually spaced too far apart to be an effective barrier for a dexterous rat.
As a rule, adult rats are generally able to fit their entire bodies through any space large enough to accommodate their head. Cages with bars no more than a half inch apart should be a good fit!
Unfortunately, our rodent pals are particularly prone to respiratory disease, so adequate airflow is important to their health. Since aquarium-style enclosures have solid glass or plastic walls, they are not an ideal choice for rats. Instead, choose a cage with wire bars to ensure your rats get plenty of fresh air.
Ease of Cleaning
Weekly bedding replacement is recommended to keep rat cages clean and prevent common respiratory issues that may result from inhalation of waste material. Since this is a regular chore, be sure to get a cage that is easy to clean. Many cages have detachable bottom trays, allowing for quick and easy bedding replacement on a regular schedule.
Customizing the Cage
Rats, like humans, are highly intelligent mammals that require enrichment and stimulation above and beyond their basic needs in order to thrive. Would you want to live in an empty house with just a well-stocked fridge and a working sink? Of course not! Your rats feel the same way. Once you have acquired a suitable cage, make sure it is stocked with rat basics—bedding, a water dispenser, food, and a food dish—then consult the following list of additional elements that will add comfort, enrichment, and play to your rats' home life.
Cloth hammocks provide a great alternative texture to your rats' bedding, add a vertical dimension to their cage, and provide a comfortable spot for relaxation. Climbing or jumping into and out of their hammock is a great way for your rats to remain active in their cage. Most rats love hammocks, and it is a joy to watch them snuggle together in comfort. Hammocks designed specifically for small rodents are available for sale at most pet stores.
DIY Rat Hammocks
If you prefer, you can make your own hammock by cutting a rectangular section out of a spare piece of durable fabric like fleece or denim, then attaching it to your rats' cage with clothespins or binder clips. If your rat cage has primarily horizontal bars, feed the ends of the fabric rectangle between two of the cage bars, then tuck them under the lower of the two bars before attaching the clips.
Ramps and Platforms
Multi-level homes are great for young rats, as they provide the infrastructure necessary for movement and exercise. Some cages already have multiple levels, but if your rats' home is single-story, it can still be modified with some play-friendly features. Using natural wood, safe plastics, or even plain, un-dyed cardboard, install a raised platform and attached ramp to add a loft to your cage.
Ropes, Ladders, and Tunnels
Natural rope tied to or hung from various areas of the cage can make for a great climbing feature that will help your rats hone their balance and agility. Ladders and tunnels also promote active play, and can be purchased at pet stores or created at home using natural wood or un-dyed cardboard. Tunnels serve the same purpose, and can be created from repurposed cardboard poster tubes or other safe materials.
When including cardboard features in your rats' cage, be sure to use only un-dyed, natural cardboard. Use scissors to cut around any areas that contain glue or other adhesives.
Even if some of the structural elements of your rat cage (e.g. ramps, hiding huts, ladders, etc.) are wooden, it is important to place some pieces of natural wood in the cage for your rats to chew on. Chewing is a frequent habit for most rats, and wood is hard enough to keep their growing incisors in check. Including smaller pieces of wood in the cage will allow your rats to do their chewing wherever they like.
Mirrors, Bells, and Other Toys
Interactive items like mirrors and bells provide sensory stimulation for your rats, and allow them to play by themselves or with each other. Toys designed for birds are often appropriate for this purpose. When selecting toys, be sure to choose items that seem like they will stimulate your rats mentally, not just physically.
If you have any old clothes you don't mind retiring, cut them up and make them into bedding material for your rats. These will need to be thrown out and replaced periodically as they are soiled. You can also include intact sleeves or hoods to serve as play tunnels and nesting pouches. Soft material appeals to rats, and provides additional textural diversity when included alongside bedding, wood, cardboard, and plastic.
A Non-Toxic Stone
This one's more for you than the rats. A thoughtfully placed stone in a high-trafficked area of the cage can help keep your rats' nails trimmed so they don't scratch you as much during handling. Make sure the stone you select is hard, clean, and non-toxic. A river-tumbled chunk of quartzite would be suitable after a quick scrub with hot water and antibacterial soap.
Ensure your rats have a private place to hide away from the world. As prey animals, most rats prefer to sleep and rest in areas that are protected and hidden from view. Store-bought wooden or plastic enclosures are widely available, but homemade cardboard enclosures work just as well.
Use your imagination!
Depending on the size of your rats' cage, you can really go wild. Make a shallow swimming pool from a spare tray, create a system of tunnels using old wrapping paper tubes, or build a seesaw out of spare wood.
A Final Note About Rat Cages
The biggest complaint from rat owners is that their pets just don't live long enough. Maintaining an enriching and healthy environment is just one way to try to prevent common issues like respiratory diseases, tumors, and behavioral problems. Help your rodent companions make the most of their two to three years by providing them with a safe, spacious, comfortable, and enriching home.
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.