American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association

This article is from the Fall 1999 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.

Pet Projects

Making A Play Pen For Your Rats Rat in playpen

By Nichole Royer

AFRMA’s Playpen
AFRMA’s playpen that has been used in many displays. This one has a wheel, lots of tubes, and a large spool for them to play on. No sides or solid acrylic sides would be a better choice than wire. Photo by Karen Robbins.

Needs A More Interesting Play/Exercise Area For Rats

Victoria Coverley, age 15, England
QAs a rat and mouse enthusiast, and as I currently own two female rats, I am writing to you for any information that you may have on how to provide a more interesting play/exercise area for them. At the moment, they have an adequately sized tank with a wheel and other play things and are also allowed to roam around my bedroom. As I also own many other animals as well, including a dog, it is obviously not always practical for them to be out of their cage for extended amounts of time. I do, however, wish to make their cage more interesting and perhaps build them a play area with rope ladders, etc., to amuse them.

AThere are a great number of things you can do to create a wonderful play area for your rats. Many people like to add lots of toys to their rats’ cages, while others prefer to build them their own play area that they can use part of the day outside their cage. Both are wonderful ideas.

There are lots of toys and fun things that can be added to your rats’ cage. The only thing limiting you is space. Though rats enjoy all the toys, they do require a certain amount of open space as well. Your choice of toys will be limited in number and size to what fits in the cage.

Rat in tube
A rat checking out a tube. Photo by Larry Ferris.

Some of the best toys for inside cages are tubes, wheels, boxes, and balls. PVC tubes can be purchased at hardware stores and are very inexpensive. They come in many different sections including curves, Ys, and Ts, as well as straight sections. These are durable, easy to clean, and the rats love them. Colorful plastic tubes the correct size for rats can also be found in many pet shops (try looking in the ferret section of your local store). You can also use large cardboard tubes (the kind carpet or large rolls of paper come on—just cut to size).

Rat in cup
Rats even enjoy simple things like this cup. Photo by Karen Robbins.

Wheels are one of my own favorite “in cage” toys for rats. When raised with wheels from the time they are young, most rats (even the mellow couch potato boys) will use those wheels throughout their lives. In the wild, rats move and run constantly, something our caged friends often do not have the opportunity to do. Having access to a wheel allows for this kind of activity. The biggest problem with wheels is their size. Adult rats require a minimum of an 11" wheel. Many cages are not designed for a wheel this height, and often such a large object would simply take up too much of the rats’ living space inside its cage.

Rat on box
“Club Costco.” Rats owned by and photo by Dale McLain, Phillips Ranch, CA.
Rat in box
Rats like boxes. Photo by Craig Robbins.

Boxes are of course an eternal favorite with rats. They sleep in them, on them, play hide and seek in them, and enjoy them thoroughly. There are many options for boxes, from those that are made of plastic and wood, to the simple cardboard box. Rats enjoy permanent boxes, but keep in mind they always have to be kept clean. Rats just aren’t always the best of housekeepers. My own favorites are cardboard boxes (my rats love the kind that a 12 pack of soda comes in). Not only do the rats get all the benefits of having a cardboard box, but they also get to destroy it! What fun! Then, when the box is soiled or chewed to pieces, I simply throw it away.

Rat with ferret ball
Nichole’s rat “Willie,” playing with a ferret ball. You can put treats inside for an added bonus. Photo by Nichole Royer.

Balls and small carry toys are enjoyed by some rats and not by others. Small plastic balls are sold for ferrets that are designed to hold food. Stuff them with small pieces of fruit or other food and rats will roll them around for a long time to get that food out. Often the rats will push and carry those balls even when there is no food in them. Some small plastic toys made for cats are also loved by many rats just as something to move around their cage.

You can give your rats pre-made toys such as this stable owned by Nichole Royer. Photo by Donna Galins.
Rats in Pet Castle
Rats enjoying a Pet Castle ferret castle. Photo by Nichole Royer

Many people are not satisfied with what will fit inside their rats’ cage. Either their rats cage is too small for the largest of the toys, or they simply like for their rats to be able to get out and play in a larger area. This is a great idea, and can be used in several different ways depending on the person’s need. Some people have a number of rats and they like to reserve one very large cage or aquarium for use as the “play ground.” This is a secure area, and their rats can be rotated into it throughout the day. People having fewer rats often find that they want to interact with and enjoy their rats while they are in the playground. Because they have some supervision, this allows the playground to be less secure. Often, people will simply designate the top of a table for the purpose. Most rats will not make much of an attempt to get down from a table, though I would recommend supervision until you know for sure how your rat will react.

Rats in toy car
Rats out for a drive around the town. Photo by Nichole Royer.

With this much space you can really let your imagination go wild. The same toys that are good in cages work beautifully in a playground, as do many other things. Mazes can be made out of PVC pipe, with long, short, curving, and crossing tunnels. Wooden towers complete with ladders can be built, and bridges made out of heavy rope. Some rats love hammocks and swings, while others prefer to remain grounded. A visit to a toy store may provide many fantastic toys to make your rats’ playpen even more like Disneyland, and you may even find the same toys (slightly used) at the local thrift shop for a lot less money.

Rat in Little Tikes house
Holly Stack’s rat “Eclipse,” enjoying her house built by Little Tikes. Photo by Nichole Royer.

For the most part, your rat will probably love just about any toy you give them. With a little common sense, a fantastic play area can be made. Rats are like young kids, if they can get it in their mouths or cut themselves on it . . . they will. They also will be entertained for hours by something as simple as a cardboard box. Just think how excited they will get when you design a rat version of Disneyland for them. *

Der Rat Haus
“Der Rat haus” of Kathryn Hanneman’s, Hemet, CA.

Back to top

Updated April 2, 2015