This article is from the Fall 2000 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is a 940 Fern cage. Photo by Craig Robbins.
A 950 Fern cage with 3 shelves. Photo by Craig Robbins.
A 960 Fern cage. Photo by Nichole Royer.
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.
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.
A Coast Cage. Photo by Nichole Royer.
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.
A Converted Rabbit Cage. Photo by Nichole Royer.
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.
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.” 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.
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” owned by Holly Stack. Photo by Nichole Royer.
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)
C) $Sky’s the limit
3) How many rats do you expect to house in this cage?
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?
9) What is the temperature of your potential cage location?
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)