This article is from the WSSF 2016 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
By Karen Robbins
Ayla Michelle Pless, Facebook
Q I bought a cage for my babies and it had a grated bottom and shelves. I got it because it was so cheap and it’s a very sturdy cage. I’ve always laid fleece over the grates and held them in place with binder clips. Well these 2 particular females ain’t having it—they chew and tear up the fleece so that they are walking on the grates. Any advice? I don’t want them to get bumble foot.
A Yes, females chew a LOT more than males. Try either taking out the wire floor (if there is another bottom underneath that so they won’t get out of the cage) or putting something solid like plastic needlepoint canvas, plexiglass, or glass on the wire, then putting the fleece or bedding on there so that way there is a solid surface for them. You can also get a large tray like a cement mixing tub if it would fit (some cage companies sell trays for their cages) and use that on the bottom wire. Also, get a wheel if they don’t have one yet (minimum 11–12 inch diameter) to help wear down their energy. Wooden chew toys (see the WSSF 2014 newsletter on how to make your own wooden chew toys) or something simple like a cardboard box also helps by giving them something else to chew on.
Nuts in the shell are good for chewing (hazelnut, walnut, pecan, almond, Brazil nut). They give the rats something to do and is a good workout for their teeth, but should only be given as a special treat, not every day. Rats also enjoy chewing on cooked soup bones, rib bones, turkey bones (after you have eaten the meat off of them), antlers, etc., and it takes them a while to chew them up. Rats gnaw the bones so there is no fear of them getting splinters like if a dog were eating them. They also get calcium and other nutrients from these bones.
We have several other ideas to keep rats entertained in the article
For The Pet Rat and
Happy Play Time. In the Pet Projects
section, there are lots of fun things you can make for your rats to keep them busy.
We had a similar question as yours in the
Chewing Rats article regarding chewing cages
and what to give them to chew on.
To read more on Bumblefoot, we have these articles online:
Abscesses/Bumble Foot and
Bumble Foot. For rats with this condition treatment has been various things—some work,
some don’t, depending on the severity of the problem. If the rat is overweight, the weight needs to be reduced.
Sometimes the type of bedding used will aggravate the problem. Not only cage floors with wire but also wire shelves should
be covered in fleece/towel and changed every two days. Genetics can also be a part of rats getting this problem.
See also these sites for information:
RosaLee Muckley, WI, Facebook
Q I have a breeding question. I was told that you can breed the chewing behaviors out of a rat. I can’t see how you could breed a natural instinct out like that. Can you really breed chewing behaviors out of a line?
A If you mean chewing as in chewing items in the cage, that is part of being a rodent, they have to chew things and females are especially more prone to chewing—they have the kids, have to make nests for them, etc.
If you mean chewing your house if you let them out, there are some precautions you can take to protect some items like
Stop Chewing Wires), but they will chew—carpet, walls, baseboards,
wallpaper, doors, furniture, drapes, etc., not to mention the possibility of getting up inside furniture and doing damage
or getting squished when someone sits on it. Giving your rats a confined play area is better (
A Play Pen For Your Rats).
If you mean chewing as in chewing the fur off themselves or others, that can be hormonal, from boredom, stress, parasites,
neurological, nutrition deficiency, genetics, or something else (
Rats Chewing Off Fur on Feet). In this case, you would need to know why they are chewing
to know if it is something that needs treated or if it is from nervous behavior. Treating for parasites, having a good diet
(a high quality lab block plus fresh veggies, fruits, cereals, etc.), having enrichment activities, and not in a stressful
situation, will rule out those possibilities. Rats living alone can do this from boredom. If nervous behavior, then yes,
not keeping/breeding from these animals is recommended. Usually in rats it is from hormones, stress, or boredom.
Q I meant chewing the cage and stuff. I put my females in tanks for breeding because they chew through the plastic totes that I have tried to use before. I was told that if they are chewing out of the totes, that they should not be bred and that that behavior can be passed down through the genetics. My females chew a lot—hammocks, toys, everything, so a plastic tote with plenty of ventilation just isn’t an option for me and my girls. I was then told that I am not doing things right because tanks are bad for them.
A Plastic totes are the same concept as tanks. People started using them years ago in place of
tanks since they are lighter weight and can’t be broken like the tanks. However, the down side is rats will chew out
of them because they are plastic. You also have to cut out the ventilation areas and replace with wire. With any kind of enclosed
container like a tote or tank, it all depends on the type of lid/ventilation you provide and how often they get cleaned, since
the same problem with tanks can happen with totes (I’ve seen totes with only a small cutout on one side that made it way
too stuffy for the rats inside). Also, some rats because of their age, are a mom with new babies, or are recuperating from surgery,
should not have a cage with levels in it and do better in enclosed cages so they are kept out of drafts like wire cages can have.
Tanks are not bad for rats and using them does not mean you are doing anything wrong. They do make
tank toppers which are
a wire cage that you put on the top of the tank to give more climbing space then has the glass bottom part for the bedding which
can’t be kicked out like it can in full wire cages.
Lids for tanks need to be made out of a minimum of ¼ inch wire (we have plans online on making your own lids for tanks that can also be used for totes as well as one for making a wire-only lid for a tank).
We also have lots of articles on making toys for rats. Rats need chew toys so give wood (manzanita) items like what is used for parrots, hard chew bones/antler chews, or purchase chewable toys (many sites online, Creative Bird Toys is one of them). Rotating/changing out the items periodically will keep them interested.
To read more on caging see:
Housing For Rats—Solid Cages vs. Wire Cages; Plastic
Bin For Housing/Single Rat,
Rat Cage Bar Spacing, as well as the series
A House for your Mouse (or rat) (Cages).