Simple and Easy Ways to Accessorize a Rat Cage
Rats are very intelligent animals and thus need interesting cages and toys to keep them stimulated. Even if you do not own any tools, know how to sew, or have much time to build anything fancy, there are still many simple and easy ways to accessorize your rat cage. All of the ideas listed below are very cheap to make (or free if you have some basic things to use at home) and do not require any tools or special skills. And the rats love them!
Where to look for cheap accessories:
1. Your house; you can reuse old clothing
2. Outside, for things like rocks and driftwood
3. Second-hand stores; check out free bins, the clothing section, the fabric section, the household section, etc
4. Dollar stores
A rat cage really should have multiple levels because rats love to climb. If your cage only has one bottom level you should try making fabric levels. They aren't as sturdy as wooden or plastic ones but if you use a tough fabric (like jean) they work quite well.
To make a fabric level:
1. Measure your cage to decide on the size you should cut your fabric. You should add 3 inches to each side of what you want the finished piece to be. For example, if you want the finished level to be an 18-inch square, then cut out a 24-inch square.
2. Draw the square (or rectangle, triangle, or whatever shape you want your level to be) on your fabric and cut it out.
3. Draw a 3-inch border on your fabric. Make slits in the corners.
4. To make tying easier you may want to cut away some of the 3-inch border. Adding ties along the sides in addition to the corners makes the level sturdier.
5. Tie your level up. You don't want the fabric to droop, so take the time to make readjustments until it is pulled nice and tight.
*To make an even sturdier level you could try folding a piece of fabric in half and tying it up so that it has double the thickness.
I love using pot holders in my rat cages. They can be placed on the floor of a level to make a nice cushion for rats to sit on, or they can be used inside tunnels and hammocks to give them more shape and support. When they get dirty they can be cleaned in a washing machine. Colorful potholders can be found pretty cheap at dollar stores, or you could check second hand stores.
All rat cages should have a hammock, but they do not need to be fancy. Making a hammock can be as simple as cutting a square or rectangle of fabric from an old pair of pants and pinning it in your cage using strong safety pins. I find that fleece material works best because it doesn't fray, but you can use other materials (jean is nice and sturdy). Just be sure that there aren't any long threads that rats could tangle a paw in.
Don't have any old clothing to cut up? Try the free or cheap bins in second hand stores.
To make a jean hammock more comfy for your rats: cut a square piece of fleece, place it on top of the jean square, and then pin them up together. Cozy AND sturdy!
To make a more interesting hammock you can use part of a pant leg. Cut off the bottom section of a pant leg, and cut a hole in the top layer. Put safety pins in the corners and hang it up. You can also tuck inside a couple pot holders to make it more firm and steady. Rats can lounge on the top, or crawl through the hole and snuggle inside.
Fringe-tied hammocks look much fancier, but still do not require any sewing.
1.Cut two large squares of fabric (cut the squares about 2 inches bigger all around than you want the finished hammock to be)
2.Cut 2 inch squares off of each corner
3.Make the fringe by cutting in 2 inches (make sure you have the same number of cuts on each piece of fabric
4.Lie the squares of fabric on top of each other and tie each piece of fringe together with a simple knot.
5.Hang the hammock using strong safety pins or other hooks
Note: Fringe tied hammocks can also be used as cozy blankets.
Variation of Fringe-Tied Hammock
To make your hammock more interesting for your rats you can cut a hole in the top layer of fabric. This way your rats can burrow inside, or lounge on the top.
To make a cushion for your rats to lounge on, follow the same fringe-tying directions as given above. However, before you have completely tied all the knots, put stuffing inside. Then finish tying the rest of the knots. Scraps of fabric work well as stuffing. Make sure that whatever you use as stuffing does not have thread that could get wrapped around rat paws, in case your rats chew through the cushion.
You can also make round cushions, by cutting circles of fabric instead of squares. In this case there is no need to cut of any corners before making the fringe.
Hanging Hat Beds
For a very simple bed, simply use strong safety pins to pin up a fleece hat. Fleece hats can be found in second hand stores for a couple bucks or you could use any old ones you have.
For a slightly more complex hat bed, try cutting a hole in the side of the hat and pinning or sewing on a circle of fabric for the roof.
One of the easiest accessories is a cardboard tunnel. You can cut extra holes in the tunnels, hang them up, or just have them on the ground. Regular toilet paper rolls can be used for baby rats, while larger tubes are necessary for older rats. Large, long cardboard tubes can come from rolls of carpet or from some roofing material, so you could ask around if anyone has any since they just get recycled. For shorter cardboard tubes (which are great for holding open cloth tunnels) you can use those large toilet paper rolls that are often used in schools or industrial buildings.
Fabric tunnels can easily be made by cutting off a pant leg or shirt sleeve (I like to use fleece). Putting cardboard tubes in the ends helps keep it open. Fabric tunnels can be strung up or left on the floor. You can also try cutting extra holes on the sides of the tunnel.
Paper Mache Hideout
To make a paper mache hideout:
1. Blow up a balloon to desired size
2. Make the glue by mixing together water and flour. I used about 1 cup of flour and 1 1/2 cups of water. I also used a few drops of food coloring in mine.
3. Cut strips of white paper (the ink on newspaper is probably toxic) about 2 inches thick
4. Dip the strips of paper in the glue, squeeze off excess glue, and then smooth the strips onto the balloon, leaving a small opening where the balloon is tied.
5. Once you have covered the balloon with a couple layers leave it to dry for a day.
6. Pop the balloon and remove it.
7. Cut a bigger entrance hole. You could also cut extra doors and windows now.
8. Punch holes in the top with something sharp, like a nail, skewer, or pen, and hang it up with rope.
9. Fill it with crumpled strips of paper or fabric to make a cozy nest.
*You could make a dome hideout instead of a round hanging one by cutting it in half after you pop the balloon. You could also try doing different shapes by using different shaped balloons.
Flower pots turned on their sides make good hideouts for rats. You could also get the plastic kind and cut a hole in the side and turn it upside down. However, don't use plastic if your rats like to eat it.
Braided Treat Toys
To make a treat toy for your rats, make a long braid out of some strips of fabric. Then tuck little treats into the braid and hang it up in the cage (don't hang it up somewhere too easy for the rats to reach).
I strung pieces of wood onto mine, but this isn't necessary.
Rocks are fun for rats to climb on and they help file down ratties' sharp nails. Just make sure you wash and scrub the rocks clean before putting them in your cage.
Driftwood is great for making ladders to levels or as a climbing toy on its own. You can use driftwood that you find on the beach, but it must be cleaned. First, wash and scrub the driftwood to get rid of any dirt. Then, bake the driftwood in the oven on lower temperature for a couple hours to disinfect it. Finally, secure it in your rats' cage (with something like cable ties).
All you need to make a rope ladder is rope! They are pretty easy to learn to make; this was the first one I've made. Just follow the directions given on this site: http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Rope-Ladder (click on the picture to go to it)
Just make the rungs a big smaller and closer together than what is shown on the site. The ladder I made still used about 35 feet of rope so make sure you have enough.
To make a jean rope ladder, cut long strips from a pair of old jeans and braid two long strips for the sides of the ladder. Then, make the rungs one at a time, starting by tying three strands of jean through the braid of one side of the ladder, braiding the width of the rung, and then tying the ends of the strands to the other side of the ladder. Once all the rungs have been braided you can tie or pin the ladder up.
In this picture I sewed on the rungs, but tying works as well.
You can hang up baskets and fill them with fabric or put in a potholder to make a comfy hideout. If your rats like to chew you will want to make sure that the material the basket is made out of is not toxic. Baskets can be hung upright or sideways using cable ties, carabiners, rope, etc.
Ice Cream Bucket House
To make a house, simply wash out an old ice cream bucket and cut an entrance.
Fringe-Tied Hanging Cube
Hanging cubes are very cozy for rats and they look great. I have always sewn them before, but then I realized they could probably be tied, the same way as the fringe-tied hammocks. So I tried one out and it works! However, this isn't a really quick project; mine took me about 3 hours. And be prepared to tie a lot of knots!
Make a square template out of cardboard. This way you only have to measure once. To know how big to make your square piece of cardboard, decide how big you want your cube to be and then add 2 inches on each side for the fringe. For example, if you want a 6 inch cube, then cut a 10 inch square. I made my template 8 X 8 inches (5 inches for the inside dimension of the cube and 1.5 inches on each side for fringe, however I STRONGLY recommend making your fringe 2 inches or more to make tying easier).
Note: A 6 inch cube is a good size for two full grown female rats. The larger you make your cube, the less it holds its own shape.
Next, trace 6 squares onto your fabric (I recommend fleece because it doesn't fray) and cut them out. You can use all one color, but I like to use different colors for different sides.
With a marker, draw a two inch border on each square of fabric, overlapping the lines in the corners
Cut out the 2X2 inch corners on each square of fabric.
Cut the fringe on each side of each fabric square. Cut as close to the marker line as you can. The number of fringe pieces per side you choose to do doesn't matter as long as you have the exact same amount on each side of each square. I did 15 on each side.
Decide which square you want to be the front of your cube and trace a circle in the middle with a small cup. This will be the entrance. You want to make sure it will be big enough for your rats to squeeze through, but keep in mind that fleece does stretch so don't make it too big.
Cut out the circle.
Lay out your pieces of fabric so that you know which is the top, side, bottom, etc and where each piece will connect. This is especially important if you are using different colors and want them to be in a specific place.
Lie your front piece on top of your bottom piece with the wrong sides facing each other. Tie knots along one side (But not the other 3!)
Tip: I find it useful to tie the first and last knot on a row first, and then tie the others. This way you wont accidentally start tying up another side.
Take one of your side pieces and attach it to the bottom, making sure that you keep the wrong sides together (so that the knots show on the outside and the ink from the marker on the inside).
Note: Double check that you are tying the right thing! It's very frustrating to have to untie the knots and redo things...I know from experiece.
Once you've tied the side piece on it should look like this
Now tie the back piece to the bottom.
Tie the side piece to the bottom.
Now tie the top square to the back piece (or the front, it doesn't matter).
Now you can start tying up the sides.
It should look something like this once all the sides have been tied up.
The last step is to tie the roof to the top of the 3 remaining open sides. Now you're done! To hang your cube, use 4 strong safety pins in the top corners.
I stuffed some fabric in my cube for the picture, which I will probably leave in because it makes it extra cozy for the rats.
Setting up the Cage
Although cages like the one to the right are a half decent size (although rats like taller cages, so try to get a tall cage or stack two cages if you can) they are pretty boring for rats unless you accessorize them well. Even if you just use some of the ideas listed above you can still create a pretty fun cage for your rats.
Below are some step-by step pictures of an extra cage that I set up using some of the easy accessories mentioned above.
Cover the bottom with a piece of fleece fabric. Add levels.
Hang up a paper mache hideout.
Pin up a fabric tube as a ladder.
Hang up a fringe-tied cube.
Pin open a fleece hat.
Add a square hammock.
Add a rock, cardboard tunnels, a hanging treat toy, a jean rope ladder, a cushion, a litter box, a food dish, and a water bottle. Now its ready!
From a different angle.