American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association

This article is from the Fall 2000 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.

A House for your Mouse (or rat) (Cages)

By Nichole Royer

A House For Your Mouse (or rat) (Cages) - Part 3

This issue we will cover wire cages and miscellaneous cages.

Note: The number of animals appropriate to each cage will vary greatly by the age/sex/size/personality of the specific animals kept, and often a fewer number than indicated would be ideal. The rule of thumb with cages is “the bigger, the better.” Please use good judgment. The opinions expressed are of the author, and may differ from those of other fanciers.

Mouse in House

By far, these are the most common housing on the market. Unfortunately, many cages which can be bought are not suitable for rats.

Mice should not be kept in wire cages — period! They are very small and have been known to squeeze through ridiculously narrow spaces between bars. They also have a tendency to stick their heads through bars or ½ x 1 inch wire mesh and get their heads stuck. This usually causes them to panic and ultimately hang themselves.

There are many different brands of cages, some good, some not so good. I am going to specifically mention the ones I use; however, I have not used and cannot talk about them all.

Basic Guidelines for Buying Wire Cages

There are a number of things to look at and think about before buying a wire cage. First, consider where you are going to put the cage and how much space you have. The rule of thumb with cages is “the bigger, the better.” If a cage has wire shelves or a wire floor, be sure it is made of ½" by ½" mesh. If the mesh is any bigger, the rats will get their feet caught and break their legs. You can solve this problem with wire shelves by covering them with plastic needle point canvas. Some people like cages with wire bottoms; however, this does put the rats at risk for bumblefoot. Many people simply remove the mesh floor using wire cutters or needle-nose pliers.

It is important to remember that you must be able to remove your rat from their cage, even when they don’t want to come out. Be sure that you can easily reach all corners and floors of the cage. It s important that the door be big enough for not just your hand, but also a full grown rat, plus grabbing little feet.

Remember, our rats are basically ground dwellers. Though they enjoy climbing, they also need adequate floor space. Some cages on the market are very tall with numerous levels, but are extremely narrow. I do not recommend these. A cage should have a base which is at least half as long as the cage is tall.

Wire cage
Photo from Christiane Frost, Berlin, Germany. This elaborate set-up is home to several rats and has lots of room for toys.

Pros: Can be very large, provide great opportunities for behavior enrichment, accessories can easily be added, relatively light weight (until you get into large awkward sizes), great ventilation, animals are very visible.

Cons: Can be very large, can be hard to clean, requires scrubbing/hosing/rinsing, rats will scatter shavings, can be drafty, maintenance is more time consuming, metal can develop an unpleasant odor over time, powder coating makes cleaning simpler.

Fern Cage by Sierra

NOTE: Fern Cages are no longer being manufactured. Look for them used.

These are one of only two brands of cages which I can recommend without hesitation. They were designed with rats in mind, and have been used for some time by southern California fanciers with great success. They were the first cages truly designed with the health and safety of the animals in mind. No question, these are a great buy. Most Fern cages are powder coated, have easily removed pans, solid shelves, and extra large doors. They are easy to clean, give good access to the critters inside, and come in a variety of sizes. The shelves are all made of solid powder-coated metal, which is great because the rats cannot trap their legs and feet in them. On the down side, the solid shelves do collect urine which must be cleaned off daily.

#940 2-shelf Fern Cage with Cat Litter Pan Bottom
  • Cost: $25–$40
  • Size: 14″ x 10″ x 18″T
  • No. of Animals:
    Rats: Good for transporting or temporary housing. Two small rats max. for permanent housing.
  • Comments: These cages have nice deep pans to limit the amount of bedding scattered. Easily cleaned. This is the minimum size cage you should consider keeping rats in.

Fern 940 cage
This is a 940 Fern cage. Photo by Craig Robbins.

#950 3-Shelf Fern Cage with Cat Litter Pan Bottom
  • Cost: $35–$70
  • Size: 17½″ x 10″ x 24″T
  • No. of Animals:
    Rats: 3 males, 4 females max. [preferably only 2 rats]
  • Comments: Bigger than the 940, with 3 shelves. This is the most popular cage available, and the best buy for the money.
Fern 950 cage
A 950 Fern cage with 3 shelves. Photo by Craig Robbins.

#955 1 Large Shelf Fern Cage with Cat Litter Pan Bottom
  • Cost: $30–$70
  • Size: 17½″ x 10″ x 18″T
  • No. of Animals:
    Rats: 2 males, 3 females max. [preferably only 1–2 rats]
  • Comments: Just like the 3-shelf, only shorter. This has one wide shelf which is great for males.
#960 2-Shelf Large Fern Cage with Metal Pan
  • Cost: $90 up
  • Size: 21″ x 15½″ x 24″T
  • No. of Animals:
    Rats: Up to 6 females
  • Comments: As tall as the 950 above, but wider and with more floor space. I like big cages . . . this is my smallest.
Fern 960 cage
A 960 Fern cage. Photo by Nichole Royer.

#970 3-Shelf X-Large Fern Cage with Metal Pan
  • Cost: $100 up
  • Size: 24″ x 18″ x 29″T
  • Comments: Has everything the large cage has, only bigger.
Fern Ferret Cage
  • Cost: $80 up
  • Size: 30″ x 15″ x 36″T
  • No. of Animals:
    Rats: Up to 10 females, depending on how often you feel like cleaning.
  • Comments: Not powder coated, comes with wire shelves but solid ones can be bought from Sierra. Hard to move and clean, but well worth the effort if you have room. I’m a big believer in “the bigger the better” as far as cages are concerned. This is one of my favorites!
Fern Ferret cage
Fern Ferret Cage. Photo by Nichole Royer.

Fabricated in Italy for Super Pet. This is the other brand of cage I can highly recommend. They first came to my attention when one of our European rat friends mentioned them. They are made of an odd size wire slightly smaller than 1″ x 1″ with wire shelves and removable floor made out of wire mesh smaller than ½″ x ½″. The entire cage comes apart and folds down to fit in just the pan. This makes them very easy to transport. The floor comes out so that the cage can be used with a solid or a wire bottom. Powder coated in a very pleasant off white/tan color.

Small Terenziani Cage
  • Cost: $60 and up
  • Size: 27″ x 16½″ x 14″T
  • No. of Animals:
    Rats: Up to 6 small females
  • Comments: Entire top opens as a lid for easy access (though this makes stacking impossible). Shelf and floor mesh is small enough not to cause any apparent foot problems. Also comes in much larger ferret/chinchilla sizes. Expensive, but worth it! I haven’t seen these as often in stores recently, so their availability is not known at this time. If you find a used inexpensive one, buy it!

These are fairly new cages on the market and are fast becoming popular, thanks to their easy availability at large chain pet supply stores. My experience comes from one that came along with a group of rescue rats, and if the short term results are representative, these are excellent cages. They come in a number of sizes, colors, and styles.

Coast Cage
A Coast Cage. Photo by Nichole Royer.

Ritz Chinchilla/Rat Cage # RC-6
  • Cost: $54.99
  • Size: 22″ x 16″ x 19″T
  • No. of Animals:
    Rats: 2 males, 3 females max. [preferably only 2 rats]
  • Comments: I’m not sure why this is labeled for Chinchillas, it would be totally inappropriate. On the other hand, it appears to be a very nice cage for rats. This cage is made of bars rather than mesh wire. It would not be an acceptable cage for very young/small rats due to the possibility of them getting their heads between the bars. Older rats, however, find it very acceptable. The shelves consist of bars placed ½" apart and I did not find any problems with rats catching their legs and feet. These eliminate the problem of urine collecting and are nice and wide which the rats seem to like. This cage has a cat litter pan bottom, but the cage part sits up on the edges of the pan instead of inside. The result is more cage space with the same size footprint seen in some of the Fern cages. I actually prefer this cage’s layout because it gives more floor space and shelf space, and less height, while leaving enough room for a wheel. This cage has two shelves, with connecting ladders. It also has an acceptable wheel that surprisingly is large enough for adult female rats. It doesn’t compare with the solid wheels sold by fern, but it is far more acceptable than most others. The door is wide and tall, making access very easy. The only problem I have with this one is the “new spill proof food/water dishes.” If this is a “new” feature, it is a mistake since the bowls cannot be removed without making it possible for the rats to get out.
Converted Rabbit Cages

With minor conversions, rabbit cages can make great rat cages. They are often spacious, well built, and easy to find. The major problem is that they are usually equipped with a ½ x 1 inch wire floor, a real no no for rats. Cages with trays that slide in and out usually cannot be converted; however, those cages which sit in metal pans can have their bottom cut out. With a few accessories, these make lovely rat cages.

Converted Rabbit cage
A Converted Rabbit Cage. Photo by Nichole Royer.
Converted Bird Cages

These also can make good rat cages. Those made for small birds (finches, parakeets, cockatiels) are too flimsy, small, and would never hold up to a rat. Parrot cages on the other hand are excellent. They are spacious, heavy duty, and well built. All they need are some accessories (ledges, shelves, etc.), to be the perfect rat house.

Home Made Cages

If you are handy with tools and have the inclination to build your own cages, it can be easily done. This is a wonderful way to get exactly the features you want, and do-it-yourself cages are great if you have specific needs.

If you choose to go this route, a few things should be kept in mind. Rats are great chewers. They can and will chew on anything they can get their teeth on. Wood and plastic materials are not good choices for this reason. Porous materials (wood, soft plastic, carpet, etc.) are not good materials to use in any portion of the cage because they will become soiled and can not be sterilized. Ease of cleaning is a major factor and this should be a major consideration while planning. You will also want to be able to move the cage in some way, and make sure it fits through doorways, up stairs, etc.

Der Rat Haus (homemade cage)
“Der Rat Haus.” This cage is 44Lx28Wx24T. It features a pull out tray and lots of room for toys. Photo by Kathryn Hanneman. Cage built by Kathryn’s father.

One of the biggest problems with home made cages is their cost. In most cases they end up being significantly more expensive by the time construction is completed.

In Conclusion

As you can see, the choices for housing rats and mice are many and varied. What is the correct and ideal way to house your rats and mice? Only you can decide. The solution that fulfills your needs and desires and that your own animals do well in, is the right one for you. Do you have a house for your rat or mouse that I haven’t talked about? If it works for you, please share it with us. *

Eclipse (Rat in house)
“Eclipse” owned by Holly Stack. Photo by Nichole Royer.

Go to Part 1: aquariums.
Go to Part 2: plastic carriers, tube systems, and lab cages.

Confused as to what may be
the best cage for your rat?

Answer the following questions for some suggestions.

1) How much space do you have for your rat’s home?
A) Very Little
B) A reasonable amount
C) Whatever it takes

2) How much are you planning on spending on your rat’s cage?
A) Very little (under $30)
B) $35–$60
C) $Sky’s the limit

3) How many rats do you expect to house in this cage?
A) 1–2
B) 3–5
C) more than 5

4) Does it matter if shavings get kicked out of your rat’s cage?
A) Yes it matters
B) I can live with it
C) Doesn’t matter a bit

5) Do you plan on using accessories in your rat’s cage?
A) Not many
B) A few
C) Yes, lots of toys!

6) How important is it that your rat’s cage can be cleaned quickly?
A) Very important
B) Somewhat important
C) Not important

7) Is weight or awkwardness a factor you need to consider?
A) A heavy cage is OK
B) I need a cage that is both light weight and easy to handle
C) It’s okay if my cage is somewhat hard to handle

8) Is there a draft in the location your cage will occupy?
A) Yes
B) Slight
C) No

9) What is the temperature of your potential cage location?
A) Cool
B) Moderate
C) Warm

10) How much time will your rat be spending outside its cage?
A) Lots (over 2 hours)
B) Some (½ to 2 hours)
C) Little (under ½ hour)

Rat Writing Letter
   give yourself
1 point for each A answer
3 points for each B answer
5 points for each C answer

Total Points:
10–20:You most likely would be happiest with an aquarium.
40–50:You most likely would be happiest with a wire cage.
20–40:You fit somewhere in between. Your best bet would be a small, high-sided wire cage like the Fern 950 cage.

Go to Part 1: aquariums
Part 2: Plastic Carriers, Tube Systems, and Lab Cages.

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Updated March 5, 2015