Learn about the best cages, beddings and cleaning methods for your new rats.
Ferret Nation, Martens, and Critter Nation cages are considered the optimal cages to use, seeing as they can have multiple layers to them and even a single usually has enough space to house 3-4 rats comfortably. These cages can be on the pricey side, though, but luckily most small animal cages you find at the average pet store work just fine as well. The standard rule of thumb is that for each rat in the cage, there needs to be at least 2 square feet of space. Also, always keep in mind the size of your rats, and make sure that the bar spacing of the cages aren't too wide, otherwise they may attempt an escape mission. Rats are considered fully grown at 6 months, so any rat younger than this will need smaller bar spacing to ensure they are not able to wiggle out.
It is strongly advised to never, ever keep your rats in tanks. There is one very important reason for this. That reason being that the tanks simply aren't well ventilated enough. Rats are naturally prone to respiratory infections and must be kept in well ventilated areas at all times. The lack of proper air flow that the tanks promote can lead to very serious illness, and even death, in your rats and can cause a build up of ammonia that not only has the chance of making your babies sick, but smells disgusting as well.
There are a number of stimulating toys that can be placed inside your cage. These toys cannot only keep your friends from getting bored, but it can brighten up the cage space as well! There are many creative things you can do to decorate your cages with rat friendly objects.
Rats are very intelligent animals, and this can cause them to get bored quickly. Always make sure they have something to keep them busy and stimulate them. Providing plenty of places to climb up on or tunnel through is one of the best ways to do this. Hammocks and soft tubes are one of the best options. These come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors and give your rats some extra space to sleep, or hide out if they are feeling stressed in addition to serving as a makeshift obstacle course.
Wood Chews - Wood chews are great option for enrichment. These give the rat something to do, while helping to grind down their teeth. Be careful of the type of wood you use, however. Brightly dyed colored wood can sometimes be toxic to them, depending on the material used to dye the wood. You can also give them apple wood chews to gnaw they love those. Just be mindful of the types of chews you use and how it may effect your rats digestive system if ingested.
Ropes - Ropes are another great option! These also stimulate the rat's natural desire to chew, and provides a fun climbing platform for them to balance on. Ropes come in a variety of shapes, lengths, and colors and can be a great way to decorate your cage.
Dig Box - Providing them a dig box is also another idea. This can be done by placing a box into their cage and filling it with a different type of loose bedding for them to burrow in. Burying treats in the box before giving it to them will also give them some extra stimulation, as it will prompt them to dig up the food.
Other Activities - In addition to toys, you can also get creative and make your own enriching activities for them to enjoy. One of our personal favorite "toys", or enriching activities to do with our rats, is to place a shallow container of water in the cage, fill it with peas, and watch them "dive" for them. Always make sure the bowl is shallow enough that their feet can firmly touch the bottom though, and never leave them unsupervised! Rats are also natural problem solvers. Creating mazes, obstical courses, and treat based puzzles for them to solve are a great idea to keep their brains healthy!
There are many different kinds of toys available for rats, so many we can't list them all here. Our only word of warning, other than avoiding the pine based wood chews, is that we do not advise that you use plastic based toys. It is very easy for rats to choke on the small pieces that they gnaw off, so always be cautious.
There are many types of bedding that you can use for your rats, and depending on who you ask, some are better than others. These are some examples of different types of bedding and our reasons for liking or disliking them.
Paper - We personally DO NOT recommend paper bedding of any kind. Here's why: While paper bedding looks nice and gives your rat something to dig and nest in, It does nothing for ammonia control and is one of the leading reasons people come back to us saying their rats have a bad respiratory infection. Yes, it may wick the urine away but if you're not changing the bedding frequently you're still putting your rats at risk of infection. While this is a preferred bedding for some, we do not recommend the use of paper bedding. Bedding such as Exquisitcat Cat Litter contain chemicals, like zeolite and baking soda, which may be harmful to them.
Wood - When it comes to wood based bedding, there has been much controversy over which types are safe for our rats. For instance, many will tell you to avoid pine and cedar due to the fact that many studies have been done that suggests it is actually toxic to rats. Others will tell you to use kiln dried pine, as this type has had the phenols that cause this toxicity removed. Personally Cedar is a big no no for us. Kiln dried pine, however, is great and controls ammonia levels and absorbs urine keeping your rats clean and smell free way longer than any other bedding we've used. We have over 30 rats at some times and people don't even realize they live there lol! We've also not had a single respiratory infection since we switched.
We personally recommend Kiln Dried Pine from tractor supply if you would like to go with a wood based bedding. The bags of this pine bedding are little more than $5 and you get a lot more for your buck. It also comes in fine or pellet so you can use it in your litter boxes instead of chemically altered litter.
* Note: When purchasing any type of paper or wood based bedding, we recommend placing the newly purchased bag into the freezer for at least 24 hours to ensure that there are no parasites, such as lice and mites, hiding in the bedding.
Fleece - Fleece is awesome to look at, fun to decorate with and aesthetically pleasing, right? Well lets take a deeper look at fleece in and of itself. While it looks nice and makes things pretty, fleece does not absorb at all. This means that while it looks nice and you can have fun decorating your rats are still breathing in the ammonia from their urine. This increases the risk for respiratory infection. Yes, you can litter box train them, but have you ever noticed that they tend to dribble when they walk all over you? This is because they scent mark where they walk and feel comfortable. So even though you litter box train them you still need those absorbent layers in there as well as changing the fleece every other day or even daily, depending on how many rats you own. So personally we don't recommend fleece for owners. Lets face it, in this day and age people are always busy and that one day you say you'll change the fleece tomorrow could mean you're risking their respiratory systems.
Hammocks - We touched on hammocks earlier, but now we are going to talk about them in terms of a place to sleep rather than a place to play. Rats, like other living things, like a private and quite place to be able to sleep. Rats are natural climbers and love sleeping in high places. Hammocks are a cheap and stylish way of giving your rats a comfortable place to sleep! They can be hung from the top of the cage and come in a variety of styles, colors, and patterns. Many hammocks are machine washable and look and feel much better than the plastic igloo beds you commonly see. We definitely recommend these material based beds as opposed to the plastic and hard beds that you commonly see in pet stores.
Litter Pans / Litter Training - A great way to help keep your cages cleaner is to litter train your rats! If you would like to do this, you can get a corner litter pan (usually found around the ferret section of the local pet store) and place it in the corner of your cage. Litter training your babies is very easy, but does take patience. To do this, simply place a different kind of bedding in the litter pan than the rest of the cage. Frequently relocate your rat's droppings inside of the litter pan, and eventually, they will learn that that is where they are supposed to go!
Another method is to put a flat, river type rock in the litter pan. Rats will naturally urinate on this, and can help draw them to go in the litter pan! If you get a rock from outside, always make sure it is thoroughly sterilized before placing it in the cage to avoid exposing your babies to any parasites or harmful growths that may be found on the rock. These rocks can also be purchased at gardening and hobby stores.
Water Bottles - This should go without saying, but always make sure your rats have fresh water to drink! We do not recommend using bowls to do this, as it will become polluted very quickly. Instead, use the water bottles designed for small animals that you find at your local pet stores. These should also be cleaned once a week to avoid any mildew or build up inside of the water bottle.
Cleaning Solutions - When deep cleaning your cage, there are many different kinds of sprays and disinfectants you can purchase that claim to be safe for animals. However, many of these can have ingredients and chemicals that can actually be harmful to your babies. We recommend going the safe, yet effective route. The best solutions to use are actually Dawn Dish Soap and water, or white vinegar and water! Both of these solutions will clean and disinfect your cage without actually harming your little ones.
Never use chemical mixes such as Windex or any other home based cleaning sprays to clean your cages. After cleaning your cage and accessories with your chosen solution, always make sure to rinse it out thoroughly and let it dry!
It is also not recommended to deep clean your rat's cage more than once or twice a week, as cleaning too often will cause the rats to over mark to compensate for the constant lack of their scent. This can not only stress your rats out, but it will be a hassle for you to constantly feel the need to clean the cage.
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