Are My Rats Bored? What Do Pet Rats Like to Play With?

Pet rats are such fun pets for so many reasons, but one of the biggest is how playful they are. It can be so much fun to play with your rat or even just watch them play with toys and each other. While you may know this to be true, you may not know what toys and things you should get them. Read on to learn everything you need to know about rats and their toys.

Are my rats bored? Rats are very intelligent animals with complex social hierarchies, they are naturally inquisitive and enjoy problem-solving. Therefore it’s imperative you create an interesting and stimulative environment for them to live in and explore inside and out of their cage to prevent them from getting bored.

Luckily there are countless things you can do or toys you can buy to keep your rats entertain, whether it’s a simple piece of string or purpose-built for, we have plenty of good ideas for you to try. Continue reading for all the information you could possibly need about toys for your rat.

Why Do Rats Need Toys?

Rats require mental stimulation to keep them occupied and happy. They enjoy exploring, chewing, digging, problem-solving and a bit of the old rough and tumble with each other. A basic parcel box with holes cut in it or filled with shredded paper can provide hours of fun. However, if you are the type of person who struggles to be creative, there is also a huge selection of toys on the market that are perfect for rats.

The main kinds of toys you need to be sure to have for your rat are climbing toys, chew toys, foraging toys and regular play toys. These types of toys will help keep your rat stimulated, happy, and healthy.

You can get these toys online or from a pet store, sometimes they may be labeled as another animal’s toy, but you can use them for rats, or you can make many of them yourselves with items you already have in your house or can buy for a fairly low price.

Chew Toys for Rats

There are a couple of reasons why rats need chew toys. The first is the most practical reason for their health. Rats teeth and nails will continue to grow throughout their entire lives (and they only have one set), so they need to be worn down continuously. If you do not supply your rat with things to chew on and their teeth can get too long, and a number of problems can ensue.

Your rat’s teeth may get infected, your rat may experience a lot of pain, they may be unable to feed themselves or refuse to eat all together. In severe cases, the problems caused by overgrown teeth can even lead to death There are ways to trim a rat’s teeth safely, but it is better if they are able to keep them short through chewing alone.

How Do You Know if Your Rat’s Teeth are Too Long?

The incisors (front teeth) are the only teeth that continue to grow, which is good because they are easier to examine. If they begin to curve and poke out to where you can see them when your rat’s mouth is closed, and they seem to get stuck on things regularly, they are probably too long.

Additionally, if any of the teeth begin to grow up into the gums, they are too long. Even if you can not see the teeth poking out, you should examine all their teeth (front and back) regularly to make sure they are healthy and in good condition.

The second reason you should get chew toys for your rat is, so they do not become bored. Boredom can lead to damaged teeth due to bar chewing, overgrooming, hair loss, neurosis, weight gain or weight loss, aggression, stress, and an overall weakened immune system. Rats can become bored quickly when they are not stimulated.

How Do You Know if Your Rat is Bored?

Because rats get bored quickly, if they do not have anything to do, they are quite possibly bored, but here is a couple of the telltale signs that your rat is bored:

  • Are they chewing on their cage, food bowls, water bottles, etc.?
  • Do they appear to be grooming excessively, to the point where bald spots are appearing? (this is known as barbering)

Rats start barbering for a number of reasons, however, stress is one of the main reasons and a bored rat can easily become very stressed.

What Makes the Best Chew Toys?

Chew toys are an excellent addition to your rats cage as these will prevent some of the major health problems that can come when their teeth get too long. Some of the best chew toys for rats are made of wood, and you can buy them from any pet store. Keep in mind that most pet stores will market these chew toys for small animals in general, not rats specifically.

A few other options for getting your rat chew toys are Nylabones, Gumabones, hanging chews, and other wooden toys like these. Make sure that any wood or cardboard toys you get do not have preservatives in them that could be harmful to your rat.

If you would rather not spend money on buying chew toys for your rats that they will go through quickly, you can make your own chew toys out of stuff you have laying around the house. Cardboard rolls from paper towels and toilet paper make excellent chew toys along with cardboard egg cartons.

Another great option is cardboard boxes, as they can double up as chew toys and hideaways for your rats. You can also use paper products such as brown paper bags and crumpled up paper balls, both of which they will love to shred.

For both paper and cardboard boxes, you should make sure they are non-toxic. This means you should probably use mostly products that do not have paint or glue on them. You should also remove the homemade toys regularly as they will probably get dirty fairly quickly.

What Kind of Climbing Toys Should You Get?

The second kind of toy you should get for your rat is climbing toys. Rats are naturally great climbers, so giving them toys to climb on and through can make their cage much more entertaining and stimulating. Here are a few kinds of climbing toys for you to consider:

  • Rope toys make great climbing toys for rats as they can use them for both climbing and chewing. There are parrot rope toys that you can buy that attach to your rats’ cage, but you could also opt to make your own rope toys. You can make rope ladders up and down the cage along with bridges that stretch from one platform to the next. Make sure you get sturdy, thick cotton ropes and do not hang/tie them in any pattern that might risk strangulation.
  • Tubes and tunnels are a great way to make your rats’ cage more stimulating and fun for your pet. You can go to your local pet store and buy ferret tunnels to attach to the sides and various layers. Ferret tubes are nice because they are usually bendable, so you can twist them however you want. You can also, of course, make your own out of PVC pipe. Your rat probably will not be able to destruct the PVC pipe, and it comes in a variety of sizes, and you can get connectors to make intricate and fun networks. Your other option is to make them out of sturdy fabric.
  • Containers such as jars, bins, and even small containers that stack (such as those used to hold office supplies) make great climbing toys for rats, and they are multifunctional. Your rats can use them to climb all around in, sleep in, and hideaway from the world inside them. Another option for climbing containers is coconut shells. You have to wash them out, but then you can put them in the cage, and your rats can use them as climbing objects, hideaways, and even chew toys.
  • We have already discussed how you can make ladders and bridges out of rope, but there are also other options for ladders and bridges. You can buy both at pet stores and online that are easy to attach throughout your cage, and you can also build them out of wood, cardboard, PVC pipe, etc.

Keep in mind that when making or buying any climbing toy for your rat, you need to make sure it is safe. Make sure that all the spaces are big enough that your rat will not get stuck in. Additionally, make sure that you have all of your climbing toys attached tightly and securely. While your rats are agile and generally have very good balance, so they will not fall on there own, it can be dangerous for them if their climbing toys are falling all the time.

Foraging Toys

Foraging is an excellent way to stimulate their minds and keeping your rat entertained while in their cage. You can hide small treats around the cage, like berries in a thick layer of the substrate or make up your own with something hanging from a string like small pieces of fruit.

If you are struggling to think of some ideas you could opt for a foraging ball or hanging foraging toy that you can hide treats inside, these are pretty robust and your rat will spend hours rolling it around and knawing on it to get her favorite treat out.

Online and pet stores sell various food dispensers and these can provide hours of enjoyment by making the pet rat work for their meal or treat. Depending on the toy, some must be rotated while others have to be jostled to earn their treats.

Toys for Outside the Cage

Time outside of the cage is a necessity for your rats. In fact, they should have at least an hour of playtime outside of their cage each day. When you do this, there are a few things you should consider. For one, remove or hide everything from the floor or in the room that you do not want your rat to chew on or eat, especially anything that can harm them.

Once you have everything removed that you do not want your rat getting to, it is time to consider what you want to give your rat during this time. One of the most common toys people get their rats for playing outside exercise balls (hamster balls), but this is NOT a good idea. Even the largest hamster balls force rats to run with their backs bent and can easily stress them out. It is a much better idea to close the door or set up a playpen (like one for children) and let your rat run and explore freely.

There are some toys you should get your rat. For starters, chew toys. In this case, you can really just take one of their chew toys from their cage and put it on the ground, but one of the best ways to ensure your rat will not chew up your belongings is by giving them something they are allowed to chew on. Personally, my rats don’t tend to chew much when free-roaming, they prefer to explore.

You can also get them balls or small wooden dog toys to play with outside of the cage. Balls are a great option because they can not really play with them inside their cage, so it will be a fun treat when they have time to play outside the cage.

Another great option for your rats outside of their cages is building them a playhouse/climbing gym out of baskets and boxes. Just because your rats are outside the cage, does not mean they would not still enjoy a place to climb and play, especially if they have a smaller area to explore. You can also make a maze for your rat to explore (put a treat at the end if you want them to be extra motivated.)

In the end, the best thing for your rat to play with outside of the cage is you. Your rats will bond with you, so when they have time hanging out with you, that is probably what they will want to do best. You can gently wrestle with them with your hands, allow them to climb all over you, and, sometimes, they may just want to lay on your shoulder or in your lap.

It is also a great opportunity to give your rat some special treats, such as plain popcorn. Keep in mind that what your rat wants to do, how much it wants to play, and what it wants to play with does depend a lot on its individual personality.

DIY Rat Toys

Below are instructions for some great DIY rat toys.

A great toy to keep your rat busy and entertained inside or outside the cage just requires a toilet paper roll, some sort of paper, and a few treats. Take your toilet paper roll, put the treats inside, and wrap it with paper. Make sure to give one to each of your rats, so they do not fight and enjoy as they work to get to the treats.

Rats love to dig. A great way to satisfy this want is with a plastic container with a big open space at the top. Fill the container with shredded paper or coco soil, then hide some dry food and rat treats and watch as your rats dig through to find their favorite treats.

If you do not have the money to buy rope, you can make your own out of toilet paper. Twist and braid the toilet paper together, and it makes a fairly strong rope that your rat can play on. Of course, if this rope gets chewed on or wet, you will have to replace it.

Fabric tunnels are an easy toy to make. If you can sew, you can sew a tube out of a sturdy fabric such as fleece. But if sewing is not for you, you can use an old sweatshirt or t-shirt sleeve instead. After you have your fabric tunnel, cut a circle of cardboard or plastic from a water bottle, and attach it to the ends of the tunnels, so they stay open.

Wreaths are a great option as your rats can crawl through them, chew on them, and hit them around. All you need to make a wreath is a wooden or cardboard ring and some strips of fabric. Cover the ring with the fabric and hang it in your rat’s cage.

It is really cute to see a rat sleep on or cuddle with a little stuffed animal or teddy bear, and they are actually really easy to make. Cut out two teddy bear shapes, sew them together, leaving a small gap to stuff it, and then stuff it with paper. The truth is, your rat will probably chew and destroy it, but you will get to enjoy the adorable-ness while it lasts.

A pinata can be a lot of fun for your rat. Take a piece of paper and fill the center with treats. Close the top tightly with a piece of hanging wire or rope and hanging it from the top of the cage. Your rat will smell the treats and have fun hitting it down. This is a great way to keep your rat busy and stimulate for a while.

Pea piñata – paper towels and peas inside tied with string

One of the easiest toys you can give your rat is a roll of toilet paper. You can hang it up or just give it to them and watch as they have a blast digging at it, chewing it, and destroying the roll. (Warning, this can be quite the mess to clean up when they are done.)

Playing will most likely be one of your rat’s favorite things to do, it is necessary for their health, and you will surely love watching them play as well. For all these reasons having the proper toys, and lots of them is really important when you bring your rat home and later on. Now that you know what they need and why, you can head to the store to buy some toys or the supplies needed to make your own.

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Darren Black

I'm Darren Black, the owner, and author of I am from Scotland, United Kingdom and passionate about sharing useful information and tips about properly caring for an animal's wellbeing.

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