Rat Care Recommendations

I frequently get asked about recommendations for cages, food and bedding. I wanted to include a page or two with my personal recommendations and opinions on some of the more popular and readily available products to help new rat owners decide what will work best for them and their new pets.

Rat Cages

Critter Nation and Double Critter Nation

Pros:

- Very spacious

- Full sized doors for easy access

- 1/2 inch bar spacing

- Looks nice

- Storage rack & wheels

Cons:

- Expensive

- Lots of open space

- Hard to fully clean

- Loose bedding falls out easily

The Critter Nation and Double Critter Nation cages are very popular for pet rats. These cages are spacious and can house up to 6 rats per section. But, there is a large amount of open space, which needs to be utilized. Hammocks, baskets, extra shelves, bridges, lava ledges and hanging toys can be used to fill the space. The pans that come with the cages are very shallow, making the use of loose bedding basically impossible. Rats are fossorial, and need to be able to practice natural behaviors like digging, burrowing and nesting, so offering loose bedding for these behaviors is important. There are deeper pans available for use with loose bedding, but they can be expensive. You could offer digging boxes by using cat litter pans or under the bed storage bins to hold the loose bedding.

If you choose to use the flat pans and cover them with fleece, a common practice, please note that fleece used as flooring should be changed every 1-2 days and the pans should also be cleaned. While some rats can be litter box trained, most will still dribble pee as they move around their cage. Fleece allows the urine to pass through - it is not absorbed and the urine remains on the pan. If your rats walk or lay on it, the urine will end up on your rats. Ammonia will also build up, since fleece will not neutralize ammonia. To keep your rats healthy and smelling nice, fleece has to be regularly switched out and the pans need to be sanitized.

Martin's Cages - Rat

Pros:

- Lots of floor space

- Large doors for easy access

- 1/2 inch x 1 inch bar spacing

- Lightweight

- Easy to clean

- Decent pan for loose bedding

Cons:

- Powder coating is necessary

- Assembly can be difficult

- Shipping is costly

- Wire floors

Martin's cages for rats are some of my favorites. There are several different options, varying in size from the R-670 (the smallest version I would recommend) that is suitable for 2 rats up to the R-699 that is suitable for up to 8 rats. These cages all have a 3 1/2in drop-in plastic pan that will easily hold loose bedding. While each cage offers a decent amount of floor space, there is also plenty of space for hanging hammocks, baskets and other toys.

The ramps and levels are wire and many people choose to cover them with fleece. As long as you are using a loose bedding in the bottom, this works well since any urine would be wicked through the fleece and would fall into the bedding below. Regardless, you would still want to change the fleece regularly and keep the levels clean. If you choose, you can leave the ramps and levels uncovered. Many people believe that if rats walk on wire, they will develop bumblefoot. Simply walking on the wire will not cause bumblefoot - even rats kept on only solid flooring can develop bumblefoot. Bumblefoot is caused by an open cut or wound on the foot combined with unsanitary conditions, generally pooling urine that rats may walk through. It can also be genetic, and is more common in older and overweight rats.

Martin's cages are relatively lightweight and can easily fit in a standard bath tub or be carried outside for deep cleaning. One thing to consider if you choose to order a cage from Martins is that these cages do need to be powder-coated.  The galvanized version would rust and hold urine, so the cage would not last as long without the powder coating. Martin's offers a powder-coated option for each rat cage.

You & Me Rat Manor

Pros:

- 1/2 inch bar spacing

- Lightweight

- Easy to clean

- Decent pan for loose bedding

- Collapsible

- Inexpensive

- All metal

Cons:

- Ramps are a bit flimsy

- Ramps are steep

- Small doors

- Wire shelves and middle level

- Not super sturdy

The Rat Manor cage is a fairly decent cage for the price. It is a smaller cage, suitable for up to 3 females or 2 males (Standard sized). It is all metal, so anyone with chewers would have no issues with escapes from this cage. The pan is deep enough to hold loose bedding. It is fully collapsible, but that feature also makes it a bit less sturdy than other similar cages. The middle level and shelves are removable, but when placed in the cage where intended, the ramps end up being very steep - as you can see in the image above. While this isn't really a problem for young or small rats, older rats or those that are a bit on the larger side would have difficulty getting from shelf to shelf. Since the shelves and full middle level are exposed wire, you may choose to cover them to make them a bit more comfortable for your rats to walk on. My biggest issue with this cage is actually the latches on the doors. The latch at the top of the door is meant to pop onto the bar to effectively lock the door, but this can cause the bar to bend. It can also be difficult to get the doors opened and closed if your rats tend to get excited and hang on the doors - it's very easy to catch toes in this type of door latch. If the latches are not properly closed, rats can learn to pop the doors open and escape.

Kaytee My First Home Multi-Level for Exotics

Pros:

- 1/2 inch bar spacing

- Lightweight

- Deep pan for loose bedding

- Inexpensive

- Large amount of floorspace

Cons:

- Lots of plastic pieces

- Odd ramps

- Shelves are difficult to move

- Small doors

- Can be difficult to clean

The Kaytee My First Home Multi-Level for Exotics is a decent cage. It is a pretty spacious cage and is a nice size for up to 4 Standard sized rats. The base is deep and allows for lots of loose bedding for digging, burrowing and nesting. The biggest downside to this cage is the use of so many plastic pieces. The oddly shaped ramps, shelves and base are all plastic. If you have chewers, you would probably want to steer clear of this cage. Since the cage attaches to the top of the base, rats prone to chewing can fairly easily chew right through the base and escape. This cage also utilizes the same type of door latches as the Rat Manor, which can be difficult to open and close properly without injuring your rats and can pop open if left unlocked. The shelves need to be kept very clean, as urine can pool at the sides. The shelves snap on tightly to the wire and can also be very difficult to remove, which can make deep cleaning difficult.

Mcage & Similar Multi-Use Small Animal & Bird Cages

Pros:

- 1/2 inch bar spacing

- Very spacious

- Inexpensive

- Can be used for various pets

Cons:

- Lots of small doors

- Steep ramps

- Lack of full levels

- Can be difficult to clean

- Shallow pan

- Wire floors and shelves

There are an awful lot of multi-use type small animal and bird cages available, especially on Amazon. Since these cages are meant for use with so many different species, including small birds, the bar spacing is nearly always 1/2 inch - which is very appropriate for rats of all ages and sizes. But, since these cages can be used for birds, there are several small doors that would need to be secured to prevent escapes. Rats are quite smart and can easily figure out how to open these doors. Some of these cages have nice, large doors which makes decorating and cleaning the cage much easier. But, nearly all of these cages feature shallow pull-out pans, which make using loose bedding difficult. These cages almost always have a full wire floor as well as wire shelves, which you may choose to cover to make them more comfortable for your rats to walk on.

My biggest issue with this sort of cage would be the lack of full levels to break up the space. While rats are excellent climbers, they can and do fall. In a cage this size, a fall could cause serious injury or even death. If you choose to use a cage like this, be sure to add large hammocks or additional shelves in the middle and through the cage, in case of a fall.

Modified Bin Cages

Pros:

- Very inexpensive

- Customizable

- Stackable

- Deep base

- Very easy to clean

- Very lightweight

Cons:

- Plastic

- Typically a DIY type cage

Now, I'm pretty sure I know what you're thinking - that bins  cannot be a good idea for permanent housing. But, they certainly can make great temporary and permanent housing for rats. Modified bin cages are customizable and stackable, so you could have a single level or stack a few and connect them with PVC pipes for multiple levels.  Bins that are properly modified do allow adequate ventilation - as long as windows are added in at least the top and one long side, or both long sides, bins will have plenty of air flow.

For permanent housing, the smallest storage bin size that I would recommend would be a 105qt (pictured). These bins would be suitable for 2-3 Standard sized rats. As you can see, this size allows for large houses, hides, hammocks and other hanging toys as well as open floor space for rats to wrestle and play. The side window is placed 6 inches from the bottom, which allows a couple of inches of loose bedding to be used for digging, burrowing and nesting. Bins are extremely easy to clean. It takes just minutes to fully clean, dry and reset a bin cage.

There are only a couple of downsides to bin cages. One big consideration is that they are predominantly plastic. If you have rats that are heavy chewers, this certainly can be a problem. There are ways to further modify bin cages to keep rats from being able to chew out. The only other downside is that these cages are not commercially available for sale. While there are a few breeders here and there that make and sell them, most of the time you'll have to make these cages yourself. Thankfully they are not very difficult, and very inexpensive. There are several very good tutorials available online that can take you step by step through the process.

Cage Considerations

There are many different types of cages out there, so here are a few things to consider before choosing your rats' cage.

 

When choosing a cage, it's important to consider several factors. The biggest factor would probably be the overall size of the cage and whether it would be appropriate for the number of rats you'd like to house in it. Anything that is marketed for use with hamsters, gerbils, mice or other similarly sized pets would most likely not be large enough to use with rats. If you are not sure how many rats could comfortably live in a particular cage, there are several rat cage calculators available online that you can use. You would also want to make sure the cage you choose will fit in the space you can provide for it within your home. Many people choose to place cages on top of tables or on other furniture. If you choose to do this, you need to make sure the surface is large enough and it is sturdy enough to accommodate the cage. Also consider any other animals that may also share your home, and what cage would be best to keep them properly separated.

The materials the cage is made of should also be a consideration. Cages that include plastic shelving, cages with plastic pans or improperly reinforced bin cages could easily be chewed, which can lead to escapes. Wood is also not recommended for use in a rat cage unless it is in the form of chew sticks, other toys or as litter or bedding material. Wooden shelves, levels or even wood houses would not only be chewed by rats but the wood would also absorb urine and would be very difficult to sanitize. Glass or acrylic as the main exterior of an enclosure is not recommended for use with rats due to the lack of proper ventilation. Unlike a bin cage, where you can add large windows on multiple sides for ventilation, glass or acrylic enclosures or tanks do not have that option.
Ammonia can build up quickly in an improperly ventilated enclosure, which can cause illness very quickly. The best options would be wire cages with either thick plastic pans with no exposed chewable pieces, cages with metal pans, or properly constructed bin cages.

Bar spacing is another consideration. Most cages made specifically for use with rats have 1/2 inch bar spacing. This spacing is suitable for Standard or Dwarf sized rats of all ages. Spacing of 1/2 inch (or smaller) is the bar spacing I would recommend. Most cages made for use with Ferrets, Chinchillas, or other similarly sized pets would likely have 1 inch bar spacing. Rats can fit their entire bodies through any hole that they can fit their heads through, so 1 inch bar spacing would not be suitable for young or smaller adult Standard sized rats or Dwarf rats of any age. However, large Standard sized females and most adult Standard sized males would be okay with that bar spacing.

 

You also want to consider whether or not the cage will allow rats to practice natural behaviors, like digging, burrowing, nesting, wrestling and general play. Rats benefit from having more horizontal space rather than vertical, so a very tall cage with minimal floor space would not really be the best option for rats. While rats are decent climbers, they certainly can and do fall, and if that happens in a cage with a lot of open space that can mean injuries. Cages should have some way to use loose bedding, so cages that include a deep base are preferable. It allows them to practice natural behaviors such as digging and burrowing. The use of loose bedding is also more hygienic and will keep your rats healthier and smelling better. Solids generally fall below the top levels of the bedding, and liquids are absorbed, so your rats have less direct contact with their waste.

Lastly, you'd want to consider ease of decorating and cleaning the cage. Being able to easily access all parts of a cage makes decorating and cleaning that cage much quicker and easier. A cage that is relatively light weight with large doors is going to be far easier to clean than a large, heavy cage or a cage with smaller doors. While wiping out large, heavy cages very regularly is recommended, they will still need regular deep cleans to remove built up urine. Deep cleaning these cages can be very difficult. You may be able to move the entire cage outside for cleaning, but if this is not an option it may require you to take the cage apart to get it fully clean. Cages need to be cleaned regularly to avoid ammonia build up and to keep your rats healthy and happy.

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