There’s a lot to consider when bringing home a new pet. Daily care, dietary requirements, and appropriate veterinary care are among the top concerns for new pet owners, but what about your new pet’s living quarters?
If you’re bringing home a pair of rats for the first time, you’ll need to know how to set up a pet rat cage! Ensuring the cage meets safety, size, and material standards are compulsory, but an owner must also plan to create an appropriate cage environment conducive to keeping their pet rats happy and healthy.
Understanding the difference between a good and bad cage is the first step to being a responsible pet rat owner. The following article aims to educate and answer all cage-related questions.
Cage Safety First
Rats are small, flexible rodents who happen to make excellent escape artists. As such, it’s important to pay attention to the space between cage bars; if they’re too far apart a rat could escape or end up getting themselves stuck in the process. Generally, half an inch between bars is considered safe and “escape-proof”, even for baby rats!
Additionally, wire grates, floors, and ramps should be avoided as they cause damage to the feet of your pets. It’s possible for the wires to cut into tender rat toes, which can lead to painful infections known as “bumblefoot”. Unfortunately, it’s possible for this to result in further deformations and, in severe cases, may even require amputation.
Rats are also infamous chewers, another trait that lends to their escape artist persona. Cages should be made out of sturdy, stable, chew-proof materials such as plastic or metal, although the latter is preferred. Caution should be exercised when purchasing a cage with plastic components, as it’s possible for them to be too thin to hold up against determined chewers.
One should also steer clear of any gaps between walls or doors that don’t fasten securely; both could result in a stuck rat or one who’s slipped away entirely.
Finally, pet rats have sensitive respiratory tracts and need to be kept in areas with good quality ventilation, a wire cage provides this environment so avoid the use of tanks. The buildup of ammonia from urine, and dust, can be damaging to a rat’s health.
How Big Should A Cage Be?
Each rat should be allotted at least two and a half cubic feet of space. You can use this cage calculator here from the fancyratforum. Considering rats should never be kept by their lonesome, accounting for about four cubic feet of cage space is a good place to start when adopting a pair of pet rats.
Providing enough floor space for your pet rats enables them to scamper around and get more exercise. Another benefit is that there’s more space available to place toys and other cage furniture for your rats to climb and explore, this will enhance their living area.
Multi-level cages are a common choice as they provide a lot of room within a smaller footprint, and incorporate an exercise-friendly environment through the use of ramps, ropes and ladders.
Cage Material Choices
Plastic or metal cages are the best material choices available. Both are strong enough to withstand rambunctious rats and hold up well to excessive chewing. Such cages are popular and can be found in most pet shops or online, so there are many options to choose from, though it’s a good idea to check out reviews as not all cages are created with quality in mind.
Aquariums, fish tanks, or anything with solid glass or plastic walls won’t make an ideal pet rat cage; these choices limit the ventilation in the cage. Air circulation is also reduced which could cause unwanted moisture to build up, potentially forming undesirable odors.
Wood cages may look appealing but depending on their construction could result in your pet rats easily chewing through them and escaping.
Cleanability Of A Cage
Regardless of the type of cage selected, it must hold up to regular cleaning. A rat cage should be spot cleaned daily (where applicable, like the litter box) and given a more thorough cleaning once a week.
Plastic cages require a little less care as they can easily be washed with soapy water without having to worry about rust. Scrubbing is also well tolerated with most plastic cages.
Bare metal cages can rust quickly if washed frequently. However, if the cage metal is coated with PVC, then it will be able to tolerate being washed without rust beginning to develop. Unfortunately, PVC-coated cages tend to be more brittle and are prone to damages. Cracks, chips, and breaks are more common, so the cage should be inspected regularly.
Accessibility Of The Cage
Depending on the size, material, and configuration some cages can be quite heavy and difficult to construct. If the cage proves to be too cumbersome then it may not be the best fit for your household.
Being able to properly access all areas of the cage is important; cleaning the space, arranging cage furniture, and handling pet rats all require the room to move about.
Firstly, being able to easily pick up your pet rats is essential. Rats can typically be found curled up in a tunnel or snoozing in a hammock, and sometimes these spaces are pretty small. Ensuring that your hands can follow wherever your pets may go will create a better experience.
If a multi-level cage is chosen, the ramps, ladders, and ropes connecting the levels should be arranged for safe use but also create a bit of a challenge to stimulate your rats. Some cages which haven’t been designed for rats may have odd configurations.
Lastly, the cage door shouldn’t become a hassle and should remain secured with relative ease. A door that opens to provide adequate room for cleaning or handling purposes is common, whereas other top-opening doors may be ideal for particularly escape-prone rats.
While this may not be necessary for all households, a cage that also lends itself to being easily transported will make traveling easier. Pet rats shouldn’t be left alone for long durations of time, so you may need to disassemble their cage and cart it over to a trusted rat-sitter or secondary caretaker.
When looking for a portable cage, search for ones made of durable materials that will be able to withstand multiple assembly sessions and travel.
What Bedding Material Should I Use In My Cage?
All pet rat cages will require some form of bedding material, and there are many to choose from; look for bedding that is dust-free and made of non-toxic materials. Other benefits such as advanced odor control are also available, although you will need to avoid scented materials or ones with baking soda as this can be harmful to your rats respiratory system.
Although cedar and pine chips can be found in every pet store, these chips should be avoided at all costs. Both cedar and pine chips expose pets to harmful hydrocarbons called phenols; these phenols are damaging to the respiratory tract when inhaled and put stress on the liver when absorbed through the skin. If wood chips are the desired bedding, opt for a safe wood such as aspen, but still beware of potential splinters!
The most common disposable bedding material is wood pulp or recycled paper pellets, which are both great choices as they are soft, safe, and toxin-free. These materials help to wick excess moisture and won’t irritate sensitive rat feet.
If disposable bedding isn’t appealing, opt for cloth bedding or cut up pieces of fleece. Some rat owners create a few of their own cage sets which can be swapped out when soiled and laundered. However, if you do opt for this option I would suggest placing a dig box in their cage so your rats can express their natural digging/foraging behavior.
Rat Cage Furniture
No cage is complete without the proper cage furniture. Creating a decent living space for your pet rats will ensure they’re happy in their home.
Pet rats require a cozy place to sleep and are quite fond of being able to curl up in a quiet, closed-in space. Supplying sleeping dens or hammocks to snooze in is vital for providing a place of rest to your rats.
A water source is another must. Water bowls are great and can be used for ‘pea fishing‘ but may become spoiled easily, can be tipped by rowdy pet rats. and will require more upkeep to remain fresh. There are also water dish varieties that attach to the wire cage walls for added stability and to prevent tipping.
Another option is to attach a water bottle to the cage, although these can get quite noisy. If noise is a problem, there are versions that don’t use a metal ball bearing at the tip of the drinking spout. I like to use two water bottles at either end of the cage, this way if one fails then your rats will have another source of hydration. It’s recommended changing their water daily to keep it nice and fresh.
Wheels are another good piece of furniture to supply as they provide a source of exercise for cooped up rats. Take care to avoid wire wheels, as these could trap tails or toes and lead to injuries. Make sure to look for solid, rat-safe exercise wheels. Silent exercise wheels are also available.
Finally, no cage is complete without the inclusion of toys! Pet rats will spend a lot of time in their cage, so it’s important that they have activities to do and things to play with to provide enough daily mental stimulation. Chew toys are a top recommendation to help satisfy a rat’s need to gnaw but to also take care of their ever-growing teeth.
Foraging toys are also popular amongst rats as they encourage curiosity and reward inquisitive behavior. Toys bought from a store are great but you can also create your own from household supplies, too.
Pet rats can easily be litter trained, so it’s worth it to toss a litter box into the cage. First, locate an area of the cage where your pet rats have designated it for bathroom usage, this is the best place to put their new litter box. To encourage pet rats to use their litter box, place some soiled bedding in the tray and sit back. Litter boxes shouldn’t have wire floors and they should be made of easily cleanable materials, too, just like the rest of the rat cage.
Litter Box Material
The best litter material is safe, absorbent, and will help control unwanted odors. There are many options available, but some might not be rat-safe. As with bedding materials, cedar and pine chips should be avoided. Cat litter is also not rat-safe due to the dustiness and toxic nature of some formulations.
It’s important for the litter box material to be different than the material chosen for cage bedding, otherwise, this may blur the boundaries and cause confusion for the pet rats.
Recycled paper pellets are one of the best choices due to their high absorbency and low amount of dust. Some options include added baking soda for additional odor control!
This is an odd piece of litter box furniture but one that deserves to be included. A pee stone is a smooth stone that can be placed in the litter box to encourage proper litter box usage and to discourage random marking behavior.
These stones can be purchased in pet stores or simply found outside. The smooth, yet porous, nature of the rock helps to collect and hold scents, making it an attraction for pet rats to visit when going to the bathroom.
Location, Location, Location
Choosing where to place the cage becomes easier when you know what environment is best for keeping pet rats. Pet rats prefer to be kept in low-light locations instead of under direct illumination. One should also take care not to place the cage in view of direct sunlight, as this could easily disturb your pets.
Pet rats will also require a location away from high traffic zones, and should be kept away from sources of noise. Rats are nocturnal and will require the freedom of being able to choose to go for a nap when needed. That being said, a rat cage should be involved with family life and not left alone in isolation. It’s important for these creatures to be included in daily routines to help establish trust and to form a bond with their caretakers.
Rats are social creatures and will benefit from inclusion.
Keeping It Fresh
Pet rats are intelligent creatures who need to be kept entertained, something that goes further than supplying toys or letting them out for free-range playtime.
As an owner, the best thing to do for your pet rats is to change things up now and again. Swapping out toys can pique new interests and allowing rats to forage for treats is always rewarding, but a cage that accommodates adjustments and allows for rearrangements is ideal. Moving floors around and adjusting ramp locations can do a lot to refresh the floor plan of the cage.
If a multi-level cage wasn’t purchased, or if the floors aren’t able to be moved around, one can always get a bit crafty. Adding floors and new structures yourself will not only bring new life to the cage but also add some personalized charm to it. Additionally, many pet stores offer various cage attachments, although due diligence is still required to ensure the attachment is safe for rats.
The best rat cages haven’t simply been bought from a store shelf, they’ve been tailored to their tenants. While this guide aims to educate caretakers on what is required in a rat cage, it also seeks to encourage individuality.
Rats are fantastic creatures with rich, diverse personalities and the best cages will reflect these differences. A pair of rats who love to tunnel and dig may accumulate paper tubes and nesting materials to create a labyrinth of their own. This may prove to be too much effort for other rats who prefer to laze about in hammocks all day.
Part of the enjoyment of keeping rats is held in observing their antics and doing so will tell you much about their personal needs. Catering to your particular pair of rats will be more beneficial than strictly following any specific guide.
Things to Avoid When Shopping For A Rat Cage!
Finally, to answer any extraneous questions, there are some miscellaneous things to avoid when shopping for pet rat cages.
Any cage that doesn’t have decent visibility, or is too enclosed, should be disregarded. Proper airflow is vital to maintaining decent air quality in a pet rat cage; without adequate ventilation ammonia and other airborne contaminants will begin to accumulate, potentially damaging your pet’s health. Glass enclosures are known for this and will often develop a persistent foul odor as a result.
Due to their excellent minds and nimble fingers, pet rats are capable of figuring out simple latching devices. When selecting a cage, pay close attention to the door(s) and ensure the latch provided won’t be easily undone.
When in doubt, always opt for higher quality materials and better construction.
Providing a habitat that meets the needs of your rats will go a long way in keeping them happy and healthy. Ensuring an appropriately sized cage is selected and that it is made of quality materials is the first crucial step to becoming a responsible caretaker.
Putting together a wonderful rat cage isn’t hard, and it’s an incredibly fun experience to share with a pair (or group) of pet rats. Observing them as they interact with new toys or clamber around the furniture will teach you a lot about their individual needs and preferences, allowing the caretaker to tweak the cage to their rat’s requirements.
A cage isn’t a trivial purchase. It’s the home of your pets and should provide comfort, entertainment, and reprieve to them throughout their stay. Knowing what the characteristics are in a high-quality cage versus a low-quality cage will make shopping easier and more fun for everyone.