Cages and Bedding
Your rats’ cage should be as large as possible so that they have plenty of room to run around and play. The less time you have to take your rats out to play, the bigger the cage should be. You want plenty of room to run and for lots of toys, hammocks, tunnels, ladders, etc.
The link below is one of the available Rat Cage Calculators that can help you buy a cage with adequate size for the number of rats you will have: http://www.ratzrus.co.uk/ratguides/rat-cage-calculator.php
Remember, rats are very social and love their whole family. This includes you. If you can place their cage where the family gathers in the evenings, they will be happiest. Make sure they are not next to a drafty window or too close to a heating or cooling vent. Additionally, locate your cage so that your rats get total darkness at night, meaning, not a room where an outside light shines in all night, or a room with a night light. This is important for their eyes as well as some other health issues.
A rat’s cage should be made of wire, with approximately ½” wide horizontal bars [for climbing]. Wire cages are a must because rats need good ventilation. Aquariums concentrate ammonia [produced from their urine] due to the lack of air flow, and ammonia irritates their sensitive respiratory tract.
Do not feed your rats treats through the bars. They will gladly accept them, but then think that anything that passes through the bars is a treat—including fingers!
Rats are very smart and love toys. You can find lots of ideas in the pet sections for small animals online or in pet stores. The bird areas have great items as well. They love tunnels, hammocks, cubes, hanging toys to chew on, ladders and ropes to climb, different levels and shelves, etc. You can rotate toys weekly as well to keep them stimulated. Decorating a cage is really fun—use your imagination! One thing to not use is anything made of towels. Towels fray and have loops that can catch their toes and toe nails. Fleece is the best, or even, if you’re handy, making items out of old tee shirts. There are lots of great fleece products available on eBay as well, for some very reasonable prices. Often the sellers will let you customize your order too.
This is very important; regardless what any bag label or store clerk might tell you, never use pine or cedar bedding for your rats. These woods have aromatic oils [hydrocarbons] that irritate their sensitive respiratory tract. The phenols can also potentially affect their livers and compromise their immune systems. Clay cat litters are too dusty, and corn cob litters can grow mold. Use instead Aspen, CareFresh, Yesterday’s News, and similar such bedding.
Litter Box Training
Also remember, rats can be litter box trained! It is a great time saver [from cleaning] and money saver [less bedding to buy] and well worth any time it takes to train your little buddies. Below are the basic steps to take to litter box train:
This works based on the fact that many animals and rodents prefer to keep their home clean and potty in one area. They like to go where other rats have gone as well.
- Observe your rats and note what corner they seem to prefer to use for their potty.
- Place a litter box [this can be any kind of flat plastic or Tupperware-type container] in this corner and fill it with your chosen litter.
- Toss a few “raisins” and some wet litter into the box to make it obvious that it is a potty area.
- Now, to make the box stand out as different and so they can distinguish this area from the rest of their cage—remove the rest of the litter in the cage. Replace this with either a fabric cage liner, strips of old tee shirts or fleece, or a totally different litter type.
- Place your rats in the box a few times and praise them.
- Whenever you see them potty elsewhere, gently pick them up and say a soft little [kind] “uh uh” and place them in the litter box. Then—very important, tell them they are a good good smart rat and love them. All animals train better based on positive reinforcement of good behavior. Look to do this at every chance. I am against any strong “NO”, yelling, scaring, or any kind of punishment. Correct and ignore undesired behavior, and praise like crazy their good behavior. You want them to seek love and praise, not cower and hide from punishment.
- Whenever you see errant raisins or wet not in the litter box, scoop them up and place in the litter box. Keep the rest of the cage clean.
- Now the fun part. Soon you will see your ratties getting in and using their litter box. When you see them using it, Praise them! Tell them they are wonderful! Give them a cheerio or treat and make a big fuss loving on them. Pretty soon you will see them getting better and better about using the box and your life will be much easier.
Some rats are just not as good at this for some reason, but keep at it. The more you get in the box, the less you have to clean!
An additional benefit of being litter box trained, is that when they are out for playtime, you can have a litter box available for them and they will learn to use it out of their cage as well.
Good luck with the training!
Fancy Pet Rats Philadelphia, PA suburbs