This article is from the WSSF 2011 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
Q I’m new to rats and have checked out various web sites for information and found different types of cages listed. On the breeder sites I’ve been to most use wire cages but they look like they would be messy by having the cage litter kicked out, but aquariums would be heavy and hard to dump if I got a huge one. Is there a recommended cage for 2 rats? Some people mention plastic storage bins but I would like to be able to see my rats.
A There are many caging options and we leave the decision up to each person as to what works best for them based on the species, size, sex, number, and type of pets. For example, Dwarf rats could be housed in cages smaller than what you would house two normal-size females in or you could put more Dwarfs per cage than what you would with normal rats.
Used aquariums may be obtained at garage sales and swap meets for an inexpensive price but are breakable and can be heavy. To clean the very large tanks it works best to just scoop out the litter (or use a shop vac), spray down the glass with animal safe cleaner such as Nolvasan or Roccal-D, wipe clean, then add fresh bedding. These could be used for older rats that could injure themselves falling off of shelves in wire cages, or rats that have trouble getting around due to age issues or a defect. The 10 to 20-long gallon size are good for mom rats with new litters to keep the babies safe compared to being in a wire cage where they can be drug up shelves and possibly falling off or squeezing through the bars. Some breeders use the 15–20-long gallon tanks for when they do breedings. A 40–60 gallon tank is a good size for 2 rats with plenty of room for a wheel (if you have females) and house plus the out-time you give them. Unfortunately, you would not be able to easily hang a hammock or toys inside the tank unless you hung them from the lid. A water bottle would need to be hung inside the cage with a bottle protector. With the right lid the rats will get proper ventilation, and if the cage smells, then you are not cleaning the cage out often enough. Aquariums keep the bedding in the cage and keep fingers from being poked in and possibly getting bit unlike what can happen in a wire cage. We use large aquariums for our displays to keep fingers from being poked in at the rats and they offer an unobstructed view. A large aquarium might be the preferred choice if you have small children or these are going to be classroom pets for small children. Aquariums, bird cages, rabbit cages, or homemade cages used to be the only caging choice many years ago before companies starting making cages just for rats.
Wire cages with shelves and a plastic/metal bottom are most used by rat breeders and pet keepers now. Owners are able to get more interaction with the rats through the wire bars without having to take them out, and the rats love the levels to climb on. Wire cages with levels would take up less of a footprint on a table for its cubic footage compared to what an aquarium of the same approximate cubic footage (such as a 60-gallon tank) would need. They also allow hammocks and other toys to be easily attached inside the cage and the water bottle would not need a separate holder but would be attached from the outside of the cage. On the down side, wire cages can be too drafty (keep any cage away from open windows, fans blowing right at the cage, or overhead ducts that would blow right into the cage), allow the bedding to fall out, are harder to clean and disinfect, and corrode after long exposure to urine (the powder-coated wire rat cages are a little easier to clean than non-powder coated ones).
If wire shelves/ramps are used in the cage, they should be made of ½ x ½ inch wire as a rat’s back foot can get caught in 1 x ½ inch wire and they could break a leg. Solid shelves need to be wiped down twice a day so the rats don’t get dirty or develop sores. It is recommend you cover any kind of shelf with something—indoor/outdoor carpet, towel, fleece, etc., to protect the rats’ feet and absorb all the pee—just make sure you attach the items to the shelves or the rats will take off with these items to put in their nest!
Wire cages need to be scrubbed down weekly as the rats will pee on the shelves, ramps, and sides of the cage when they climb around. Wire cages with levels should not be used for moms and young litters. Some wire cages with plastic bottoms don’t have the wire going all the way down into the pan and where the wire sits on the pan, there are edges that the rats are able to chew holes into and escape. Some brands of wire cages are difficult to clean each week because they need to be disassembled and put back together again.
A lot of people now use the plastic storage bins modified for rats which is the same concept as a tank (breeders use them for their rat moms with new litters or for a transport cage), just lighter weight, but common for rats to chew out of them. They keep the bedding in but the plastic is usually opaque so you can’t see inside and you would have to have some DIY (Do It Yourself) skills and tools to modify the lid to add screen and put a hole in the side to have a water bottle attached from the outside. Some also add screen to the side(s) or put several small holes near the top of the sides for added ventilation, but holes without screen on the inside would allow the rats a place to get their teeth into to start chewing. Personally, I think rats prefer cages they can see out of whether it is a breeding cage or community/pet cage.
Over the years I’ve seen a lot of rats better taken care of in tanks than in wire cages—a lot of people don’t scrub down wire cages every week and keep solid shelves wiped down twice a day like they should and the rats are filthy, have sores, urine burns, etc., or the urine is so caked in all the crevices and on the wire you have to take a wire brush and spend hours trying to get it clean. I’ve also seen rats in wire cages that have hammocks and towels/fleece on the shelves that if the fabric doesn’t get changed every couple of days, the rats start sneezing because of the ammonia buildup in the fabric.
I’ve used both aquariums and wire cages and there are pros and cons for each type of cage for each type of critter. Wire cages are not good for mice as most don’t have the proper bar spacing to keep mice from getting their heads caught and hanging themselves or escaping—solid cages are best for them, whether it is aquariums, modified plastic bins, or lab cages.
For more information on caging, visit the AFRMA web site Information Pages. Karen Robbins
Valerie Laddusaw, facebook
Q I am wanting to adopt a rat as a pet, having taken care of mice and hamsters most of my life. I used to make cages out of plastic tubs (the thick kind) with screening (heavy mesh) to provide ventilation and used them for the smaller rodents. I didn’t know if a rat might chew right through one of them or not? Anyone successfully used these with their rats? Obviously the rat WILL be out often to play. Thanks for your help!
A I use plastic tubs for nursing moms. But I have to replace them often because rats are aggressive chewers. Rats really need a cage with bars. They are very athletic and we need to keep minds and bodies exercised. Rats are much smarter than other rodent species and need to be housed in a much more “fun” environment. Rat cages are inexpensive and do more benefit for the rat’s well being. Plastic tubs are more appropriate for moms or nursing infants who you want to keep in a small area. Amy, Camarattery
A Don’t forget when you are ready to get a rat, to get two of the same sex so they have a buddy to play and sleep with and groom each other. And if you get girls, make sure you get a cage large enough to have a wheel (minimum 11 diameter size) so they can run off their excess energy. Rats are very social animals and need a fellow rat to interact with and it is not fair to the rat to deprive them of this. Most people think that if they get two, they won’t bond with the owner but that is not the case. Each rat is different in their personalities and how outgoing they are, and some are just naturally always begging for attention in a cage full of rats while others are happy with a normal amount of handling. Getting only one rat does not guarantee you a friendly rat that will immediately want to always be with you. If the rat is not very outgoing or hadn’t been handled much to begin with, you are not doing the rat a favor by not getting it a social friend that it could learn from and become the nice rat it could be. Spending a couple hours a day with one rat does not give it the interaction they need, so remember to always get at least two. Some people have learned that getting three are actually better so when they are old and one dies, there are still two left so you aren’t left with a very lonely, sad rat missing his companion. We have an article on enrichment that includes social enrichment as well as other fun things you can provide for your rats, and the N.F.R.S. has a good article on “Why Rats Need Company”. There is another article “Why Rats Need Company” from the N.E.R.S. and one from the Rat Fan Club “The Case Against Single Rats”. Karen Robbins