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Most rat owners choose one of two housing options: aquariums or cages.

Aquariums (large fish tanks)

Aquariums are an attractive way to house rats, because there are no cage bars to block the view. They are easy to clean - you just sponge them out with warm soapy water. Aquariums do have the disadvantage of being poorly ventilated though - they need a wire lid (not glass!) to let the air in, and may not be suitable for warmer climates. Because of this poor ventilation, they also need to be cleaned out more often.

Cages

Cages are a better option for warmer climates, allowing the breeze to flow through. Cages can either be bought as-is, although very few pet stores have cages that would be large enough for rats, or you can build them yourself. The benefit of making your own cage is that you can make it to your own specifications, according to the room that you have available, how many rats you have etc. Remember that rats will chew on wood, so if you use wood for the frame, be prepared for it to be gnawed on. Wire mesh should be small enough that the rats can't get legs or heads stuck, and if you keep your rats outside, the mesh needs to be able to keep snakes and birds out.

Pet rats are *not* wild rats - they are not build to live outside in the elements. If you absolutely have to have them outside, make sure they are sheltered from the sun, wind and rain. Mosquitoes and ants may pose a problem for outdoor rats. Keep the cages up on tables where possible, and either spray around the table legs, or scatter ant dust around (make sure none goes into the cages). Mosquito coils and citronella candles can be used to keep insects away, but don't put them too close to the cages, as rats have very sensitive noses.

Combo cages!

If you want the good looks, convenience, and insulation of the aquarium, but want to give your rats climbing space and a breezy place to sleep in summer, consider combining tanks and cages into one big combo cage. By building a "cage topper" for your aquarium, you instantly have two levels for your rats to explore, and it allows them to choose whether they want to sleep downstairs where it is warm, or upstairs in the cool.

Toys and accessories

Rats love to play, so make sure that the cage has plenty of things for them to climb on and explore in. Here are a few ideas:

Hammocks Ladders
Plaited ropes Scratching posts
PVC pipes and tubes Parrot toys
Igloos Cardboard boxes
Bricks Rags
Chew toys Paddlepop sticks
Catnip toys  

Most pet toys are suitable, but remember that rats love to chew, so make sure they have no pieces that could come off and cause the rats to choke.

Litter and bedding

Some litter products can be harmful to rats. Pine shavings (soft wood) contain chemicals that can cause respiratory problems, and are best avoided. I use recycled paper litter, which is sold in supermarkets. It isn't as soft and fresh smelling as pine shavings, but the rats soon get used to it, it's much better for them, and it makes good compost too.

Avoid clay kitty litter at all costs. If swallowed, clay litter naturally clumps together, forming a deadly lump in the rat's stomach. If you want a litter that is similar to clay litter, but non-toxic, there is a product called Max's, made from rice hulls.

Rats love to explore!

Rats are very intelligent, and will automatically try to keep their toilet area away from their food and sleeping areas. Set up a kitty litter tray at one end of the cage, with Max's litter in it, and use newspaper pellets for the rest of the cage. Put the food bowl and sleeping area at the opposite end to the kitty litter tray. The rats will soon get used to using the kitty litter tray, so you will only need to empty the tray each day and not the entire cage.

This also means that you can put a kitty litter tray down on the floor when you let your rats free-range. If they are familiar with using the tray, they will actually run across the room to use it, rather than making a mess on the carpet! I have seen one of my rats hop out of a hammock, walk down a ladder, across the cage, into the litter tray, use it, and then go back up to "bed". Rats hate mess.

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