So, now you have your rats, where do you keep them?
These days, it is commonly accepted that cages, not tanks/aquariums, are the best homes for rats. It used to be that rats were often kept in tanks some years ago, and I kept my first couple of rats in tanks, but advances have been made in rat care since, and they are no longer considered good rat housing.
In general, a cage is preferable over an aquarium for a number
of reasons. The main reason is that tanks don't allow for good ventilation, and rats can suffer
from respiratory problems at the best of times. Because of this, you would need to clean a tank
much more often than you would a cage. Also, tanks don't leave much space for adding toys, or for allowing the rat to climb, and even the biggest tank you can find will not be as big as the biggest cage!
I would only use a tank for nursing does or young babies. They are also handy as hospital accomodation for unwell rats.
Aside from any vet's bills, the
cage will be the biggest expense in owning a rat and it's worth spending a bit of cash and
getting something good rather than scrimping and having to upgrade the cage later anyway.
Some pet shops have been reported to be reccomending hamster cages as suitable for rats. Be very wary of this, and do not blindly trust the workers at the pet shop. A lot of them do not know anything about rats or realise how much space they need.
It is truly heart-breaking when I get a rat come into my sanctuary that has spent it's whole life in a cage designed for hamsters where it has barely any room to move (and one must also pity the hamsters that are made to live in these cages, too). Consider that your rats are as intelligent as a dog, which will give you some idea of how much space and activity they need. Hamster cages sold in pet shops are often far too small for hamsters, even, so to see rats in them is horrible.
Steer clear of cages made from galvanised metal
and these tend to smell bad after a time and are almost impossible to ever get smelling sweet again! Plastic or powder coated bars are always preferable.
When choosing a cage, consider how easily you'll be able to clean it. I've had some cages of decent size over the years, but that were complete nightmares to clean. You may think you can 'live with it', but trust me, after a while, a hard to clean cage will become a real burden.
Also consider the size of door on the cage. There are lots of rat cages on the market that are of good size and otherwise decent, but that have ridiculously small doors on them. This makes access to your rats difficult, and if you have timid rats who don't willingly rush to the door, it can be a nightmare trying to get them out through a tiny gap.
I do not wish to have to be a contortionist just to get to my rats!
I have gone through many cages over the years, some good, some not so good.
Here, I have compiled a small run down of the cages I've used in the past and what I think of them, as well as cages commonly recommended within the rat community.
Cages I've owned
The Savic Freddy
I still love Savic Freddy cages. I think they're great, versatile cages. They're brilliant for a pair of adults, or a first cage for babies, or a retirement cage for oldies, or even as a hospital cage. I always have at least one; they're great, and easy to clean out, too.
They're fairly common second-hand, so its worth having a look around for a used one, you can pick them up for half the sale price, or even for free sometimes. The only issue I have with them is that they do not collapse/fold flat, which makes storing them difficult.
Critter cages/Terenziani cages
These cages are made by a company called Terenziani. There were some direct copies of these cages made that were called 'critter' cages, and are, from what I can see, exactly the same.
They come in three sizes: the critter 1/Canova, the critter 2/Michelangelo, and the critter 3/Moore.
While these are not awful cages, I would not choose to use them again unless I had to. Everything on them is wire, from the shelves to the flooring. Wire isn't that great for rat feet to walk on, or that easy to get clean, and everything on this cage is wire!
The wire on this cage is small, close set squares, which attract dirt easily. They require a really thorough scrub each week to keep them clean.
This may not sound like a big deal, but getting the wire sections out of this cage is a bit of an ordeal, particularly with the larger 3-story version.
So some choose to cover the wire with lino or cloth, which seems, to me, just as hard to keep sanitary and a waste of time when cages exist that don't require such measures.
The doors on these cages are also a bit of a pain. They open inwards, and have to be hooked up into the top wire to keep them open. Some people remove the doors and turn them the other way, so they open outwards, which is much more practical.
But again, one is having to modify this cage to make it easy to live with!
The single story version is really too small to be any good as anything other than a hospital cage; I wouldn't want to keep a pair of rats in it permanently.
While the 2 and 3 story versions look bigger, they are a little deceptive. Due to the way the levels and shelves are layed out, there is actually not a great deail of room in this cage, and its hard to attach toys and items. I couldn't even fit a wheel in mine.
The good points of this cage, however, are that it has a metal base. This means the bases of these cages are sometimes worth salvaging even if the cage is not as they can be used for other cages if you have particularly chewy rats!
It also folds down for storage, which is beneficial.
Really, though, these are cages that require a lot of modification to be easy to use, and even then are not going to ever be brilliant rat cages. For the price, you could get better cages that don't need any work on your part to be useable.
However, my favourite cage to date is this one:
The Liberta Explorer
I have 3 of these.
They are not cheap cages, but they are well worth the extra money. This is a very large cage, which comes on wheels so you can pull it out to clean behind it. One of the best things about this cage, to me, are the front opening doors. The entire front of the cage will open up, making cleaning out a very easy and quick process.
You can also block up the hole inbetween the sections and house two seperate groups in it if you so choose.
Its a very robust cage, the bars are thick and strong, and the bar spacing is narrow enough for the smallest of does not to be able to escape from!
It comes with two hammocks which aren't really a lot of good as they're flimsy and tend to get destroyed quickly, but a nice gesture none the less!
The only thing I would mention about this cage is that the black, plastic trays are very shallow, meaning litter will fall out of this cage regularly. Seriously, every time I open the doors, there is an avalanche of litter onto the floor. You can buy some deeper custom made trays for it which prevent this, but they are not cheap. The litter falling out all the time isn't too much of an issue for me as the rats are in my shed, but it would be a bit annoying if I had this cage in my living room!
The trays also don't stand up to much chewing. After a week of my girls being in the cage, they had chewed through the corners of the tray, meaning litter would fall from the top section through to the bottom.
If this cage came with stronger, deeper trays, perhaps in metal rather than plastic, it would be pretty much the perfect cage, to me. While one can buy both replacement trays and custom made metal trays for this, neither are particularly cheap, and given the already expensive price of this cage, it can be a bit annoying to have to fork out even more on these issues.
But I still like this cage a lot, and do recommend it to anyone looking for a hard wearing, easy to clean, spacious cage that will keep its value. You rarely see this cage sold for less than £150 second hand, so you won't lose much on it if you ever decide to get something different.
Cages for small animals can be something of a rip-off when you consider the actual work that goes into them. Its not uncommon to pay over £100 for something that is literally just a plastic base with a wire frame on top! Therefore, I do always reccomend searching for second hand cages. You can find some good deals like this, and if you get something cheap, you can try customising it yourself and it wont matter too much if it all goes wrong!
For litter, you have several choices. A lot of pet shops will advise using woodshavings, but there are mixed views on these in the rat community. Some people believe them to be bad for rats due to the oils in the wood, but others have used them for years without any issues. If you look up woodshavings and rats, you'll find lots of debate on the subject.
Paper based cat litters are safe for rats, providing they do not have any perfumes added to them and are just paper. Steer clear of anything with added perfumes, chemicals or oils. Remember, rats have delicate respiratory systems.
There is also a litter called 'Carefresh' which comes in a pink bag. This, too, is a paper based product, and looks like lots of soft, chopped up egg-cartons. Some people swear by Carefresh, but I've always found that it doesn't control odour particularly well, and the light, fluffy nature of it means it is more easily strewn around and thrown out of the cage. It is also rather pricey, but if you only have a few rats, its a safe, easily available option.
sure you only use PAPER based cat litters. Clay based litter could be dangerous if your rat ingests it, and should never be used.
Another very popular type of litter at the moment is the cardboard squares style litters. There are many brands of cardboard bedding; EcoPetBed, Green Mile, and Bed Excel among others. These types of litter tend to come in large bales as they are intended as horse bedding.
For bedding to go in igloos and for nesting, do not be sucked into buying over-priced, tiny packets of shredded paper or cotton wool. They are rip-offs. For a start, any fluffy, cotton-wool type bedding should be avoided anyway due to the risk of the tiny fibres becoming wrapped around the rat's limbs and injuring them. But as well as this, buying some rolls of cheap kitchen paper and shredding them up for your rats is just as good, and a lot cheaper!
You can also use pieces of fleece in their houses and beds. These are particularly good for elderly rats who move less and need a more comfortable bed. They will need to be washed or replaced regularly, though as rats tend to pee on them.
Hay is also a good bedding for rats. Its warm and is more natural for them as they can build proper nests with it, and even nibble on it.
Ensure it is good quality hay, and not dusty. It may also be beneficial to freeze the hay for a period before use, as hay can contain mites which will pass to your rat. Freezing it before use will kill them off. Some people frown on hay as bedding, but as with many things in the rat world, you have to make up your own mind. I have been using hay in the winter for several years now, and never had any issues.
If you have hairless rats, be extra careful with your hay. It can sometimes have sharp bits in it which, while they may not bother furred rats, can be uncomfortable for hairless ones.
Rats love toys and are very intelligent animals, so you should provide them with things to keep them
amused. Some scientists estimate that rats have the intelligence of a 2-3 year old child, so its worth bearing this in mind when considering toys. A bored rat is an unhappy rat.
Rats love hammocks and no rat should be without one! Once they have it, you won't be
able to get them out of it. I have several, so that when one is in the wash, they still have another
to go in.
Hammocks can be purchased at Hammocky Hammocks, as well as many other places.
If you have rats that like to destroy everything you put in their cage and don't want to spend money on something they will chew to bits a few hours later, you can make your own hammocks out of towels/pieces of fleece and some clips. If you're a rat owner, it's a good idea to search charity shops for old fleeces and jumpers that you can cut up to make beds and hammocks!
The toy preferences of rats seem to differ depending on their gender, and age.
As females are more active then males, you tend to have a greater toy choice with them. Girls seem to like toys that allow them to climb, so shelves, ladders with dangly things attached, tubes, jingly balls, rope bridges and such are all favourites with girls.
Boys, however, can be downright lazy, especially when older. They prefer toys they can sleep on, or in! My boys like shelves and tubes, like the girls do, but they seem to get little excitement from ladders, branches and rope bridges. They prefer houses they can hide in, log bridges they can sleep under, and fluffy, fleecey round beds.
Of course all rats are different, so try everything and see what your rats happen to like using most. Young rats are more likely to get the most out of toys, some old males will completely ignore them!
Rats can be given wheels to run in, but there are a few things to bear in mind before you run out and buy one.
Firstly, a lot of rats will completely ignore a wheel and never use it. You'll probably find that females, and males introduced to them as youngsters, are the only rats who will run in them. Occasionally there are exceptions to this, but for the most part, adult males will only use them to sleep in, if that.
Secondly, there are only two makes of wheel that I would ever use for my rats. They are the 'Wodent Wheel' and the 'Silent Spinner'These wheels are designed specifically with rats in mind and are 100% rat
Most other wheels are either far too small, or have wire rungs on them which rats can trap their tails in. Remember, an animal running in a wheel should have its back pretty much straight as it runs. If it's back is curved into a 'U' shape as it is running, the wheel is too small.
The largest size 'Silent Spinner' is a good wheel for girls.
The largest size 'Wodent Wheel' is a good wheel for bucks. But again, be aware that an adult buck who loves to run in a wheel is a rarity. You may have better luck if you introduce them to it as babies, however.
There are several things you can do to keep your rats entertained. Try taking an egg box, and filling it with treats, then shutting it back up again. Put it in the cage, and the rats will have fun working out how to get to the treats, and ripping the box up.
Or why not string some cheerios up on twine and hang in the cage so your rats have to figure out how to get them down, and work their brains.
Or take a toilet roll tube, fill with treats, and wrap paper around it, twisting the ends shut like a christma cracker, so the rats have to work out how to get the food out.