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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
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
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:
|PVC pipes and tubes
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
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 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