Wire vs. Aquarium
Both wire cages and aquariums are suitable for rats, but there are several terms that may sway you in either direction. First of all, let’s talk about wire cages. These cages offer more ventilation than aquariums. Cages with a solid bottom are safer for rat feet. Wire bottoms, especially when made from mesh that is 1/2″ by 1″, can cause rat feet to fall in between the bars and get sprained or broken. This is the main problem of wire cages. Another thing to consider is the corroding of the metal used to make the cage. It is best to have a litter pan that is made of plastic for easy cleaning, and the wire works best when coated with nontoxic plastic. As for aquariums, ventilation is important. Because rat urine turns to ammonia quickly, you must change the litter in an aquarium more often than you would in a wire cage to prevent poisoning from air pollution. Make sure the cage is always clean. Remember: A clean rat is a happy rat.
The cage should be at least 12″ by 24″ (15 gallons), but buy the largest cage you can.
Making your own cage
Making your own cage is also an option. I have made many rat cages, but I find that the materials I like are often not available, such as mesh and bars that are covered in a plastic-sort of coating. I suggest that you design and research before you make your cage. My design is always changing when I see new cages that I like. Another thing you can do is connect several cages (both aquarium and wire) using sewage piping or large PVC piping. I once had a cage for my rat, Sugar, that was two wire cages linked together with sewage pipes. I had a major problem with this, though, because Sugar would pee inside the pipe, and them it would be very hard to get out. It was cute, though, there was a door and whenever she saw me coming, she would run right to the door. Try and make the cage something your rat will enjoy. While you aren’t home, your pet has to entertain himself, so make the cage fun. Put yourself in your rat’s shoes (?). If you wouldn’t want to live where he is living now, how do you think he feels?
A Cageless pet-letting your rat roam
Many people have a “rat room”, where the entire room is rat-proofed, and the rat lives there all the time, with a cage in one corner. The door to the cage is open all the time. This way, the rat can go in the cage with the door closed when the room needs to be used. The only problems with this kind of set up, are that:
a) furniture in the room is often destroyed, and
b) you must always remember to keep the door closed and make other people remember to do the same.
Just make sure the room is “rat proofed” first. The fact of the matter is, rats LOVE to explore. And unfortunately, when they’re cooped up in a cage, there’s not too much exploring to be done. When you let your rat run around in a room in your house, I can guarantee they will find a way to get into something they shouldn’t be getting into. In order to keep your rat safe from household toxins, crevices he can get stuck in and various other catastrophes (or should I say, RATastrophes), you need to rat-proof your home. By rat-proofing the rooms your rats love, you may be saving them from sickness, or even death. There are several items that you need to make this easier, most of which you can either find in your home or at the local pet store. Once you have finished rat-proofing, you may want to buy some things to make the room more interesting (although, surely it’s quite interesting already). The only things you might want to buy are some toys, like ladders and tubing. The possibilities are endless, so let’s get started.
Step 1–Surveying the site
Take a look at the room in which you want to rat-proof. Try to find places a rat could go. Keep an eye out for:
- Heater Vents
- Doors that could be left open accidentally.
Look for furnishings you like. Can they be chewed on? Is it necessary to keep these items in here?
- Blankets, sheets
- Anything made out of wood
- Important papers
Look for electrical wires, phone cords, and other types of cords, and various other electrical stuff, like:
- Cords from blinds for windows
- Computer stuff
- Electric Clocks
- Music stuff
- Phone Jacks
- Electrical outlets
Is there any place in the room you don’t want the rat to go?
- Behind the wall
- In a cupboard
Is there anything else that looks dangerous?
- Kitchen Supplies
- Bathroom Cleansers
- Old Foods
- Things that don’t say “nontoxic”
Now that you’ve covered most of the basics, it’s time to think about how to fix this stuff.
Step 2–How do I fix minor problems?
Cupboards and Doors
On cupboards, you can either tape them shut, or buy latches to put on them. Keep in mind, even though they are heavy, if they stay ajar when closed or are accidentally left open, there could be a major problem. Build a guard to set up around doors when the ratties are playing (in case someone accidentally leaves a door open), at least a foot and a half tall. It should be made out of something non-chewable, such as Plexiglas or metal sheets. Wood is okay, because even though it can be chewed, it can’t to the extent that a rat could get out in any short length of time. Put up signs you printed out on your computer to make sure that other people don’t leave windows and doors open. Make sure people who enter the room take their shoes off at the door.
Under the Furniture
Put up guards around the bottoms of furniture that your rat could get under if you don’t want them under there.
Holes and Protecting beds from rat pee
Put up guards over holes and heater vents (Try to screw them on, if possible. Rats can be VERY sneaky). If you’ve got a bed in the room, put an old blanket over it and then put a fitted sheet over that to protect it from urine.
Electrical Wires and other scary stuff
ANYTHING ELECTRICAL SHOULD BE REMOVED. Wires should be covered and hung above the floor, attached to the wall securely and there should be NO WAY for the rat to get at it AT ALL. Electrical and phone jacks should be covered with covers made for crazy children with paper clips. Remove anything you think is harmful. Make sure the toilet lid is closed if the rat has access to a bathroom, because he or she could fall in and drown.
Step 3–Major Problems
There are several major problems that you need to look for before letting your rat loose.
- Windows, ledges, and any way to get outside
- There should be NO WAY for your rat to get outside.
- Other animals you have as pets or other people’s pets, or wild animals
- There should be no other animals in the room. Make sure that you check the room for your cats, dogs, and snakes before even putting your rat down.
- People coming into the room and stepping on your rat
- Make sure there is a guard around the door, and a sign that tells people to take off their shoes before entering.
- Garbage Cans and Laundry Dryers, etc.
- Make sure all garbage cans are removed or covered, and don’t have your rats running loose if you are doing the laundry, as they can get lost in the laundry, thrown in the dryer or washer, and killed accidentally.
- Couch cushions and box springs
- Make sure the rat is not in the couch, behind the cushions, or somehow in the box springs. They can suffocate when you either sit down or get up.
Step 4–Protecting the room and caring for the rat
Beds and Furniture
Cover all beds and furniture you don’t want peed on with a sheet. For beds, rats like to burrow in the sheets and leave bits of food, poop, and other “fun” items in there. This is not appreciated. Get an old blanket and put it over the bed, and then cover that with a fitted sheet.
To keep your rat from chewing on items, wait until you see where the rat is chewing, and then put some “Bitter Apple” on the place. Bitter Apple is a nontoxic juice kind of stuff that tastes very bad. Rats will not chew on the place anymore if they hate how it tastes.
Going to the bathroom
Rats urine mark. Males do it more than females, and if your male does it a lot, you might consider getting him neutered before letting him run free, because their pee tends to stink more than the female’s. As far as REALLY having to go to the bathroom, you should strategically place small litter boxes around the room. An alternative is to leave their cage in the room. Often, the rat will go back to his cage to relieve himself.
Food and water
It is a good idea to leave the cage in the room so that Rattie can go and get food and water when he or she pleases, but you can also find a place to hang a water bottle and leave a food dish.
Lots of rats like to sleep in tight spots. It is a good idea to have a nest in case your rat gets tired. I suggest getting a fish bowl and filling it with shredded paper. Your rat can make a nest, and when he’s tired, take a nap.
Step 5–Checking the rat room
You are going to need to check the room, and possibly vacuum every time you let your rat loose, to make sure there’s nothing icky in the carpet. Also check for any spider webs, bugs, open cupboards, etc. Just do a basic ground check.
Check for any chewed spots, and apply Bitter Apple if needed. Empty any very dirty litter boxes, replace food and water, etc.
Step 6–Adding cool stuff to their playground
Here are some neat ideas for things to add to the room:
- A rattie lawn (box with grass growing in it)
- A Ferret Freeway (clear dryer vent tubing)
- Be Creative!
Now that the room is safe, your job is to keep it that way, making sure it’s always clean, and fun to be in for the ratties. Have fun!