How We Care For Our Ratties
and some tips for how to care for yours!
This is by no means the only way to care for ratties, but if you are or have adopted rats from us, we do expect them to receive the same level of care we give the ratties here.
It can be tough to find a good rat cage, many cages marketed for rats are much too small for even one rat. According to Debbie Ducummon, a well known and trusted rat expert, a rat cage should be at least 14" X 24" X 12" tall. Ideally a rat cage should be 18" X 30" X 18, or even larger and tall enough to include toys such as branches to climb on, a wheel, a hammock, tubes, ladders, etc. A good rule is get the largest cage you have room for and can afford, ratties can never have too much room. Also be sure not to over crowd cages. Overcrowding can cause aggression towards cage mates, sanitation problems, and illness from stress and too much ammonia build up.
A good cage is one that has multi-levels, yet still has enough floor space to fit their house, wheel, toys, and food dish. There should never be a wire bottom floor, as it is not good for rats' feet. Powder coated wire is also ideal, as bare galvanized wire is harder on feet, and tends to smell and rust over time. We prefer cages that have solid shelves as well, but for some cages, such as Martin's cages, we cover the wire with fleece, felt, and rubbermaid container lids.
These are our current cages:
Our 2 Double Critter Nation Cages
Size: 36"L x 24" W x 63" H
We have two of these cages, they are the main cages we use. It's an awesome cage, very large and spacious. It's easy to clean, and can very easily split into two cages. Midwest also makes a single Critter Nation cage, which is equally as great, just half the size.
Living World Ferret Cage
2 Martin's Cubbyhole Cages
Size: 24" L x 14" W x 16" L
These cages are our nursery mostly. We really like Martin's cages. To protect our ratties' feet from the wire shelves and second level floor, we clip large pieces of fleece and felt, or place storage container tops on the wire. We use this cage for mamas and babies once they are old enough to roam around. The Cubbyhole cages are for expecting mamas, and litters up to 3 weeks, at which time they are moved to the Critter Nation where the females raise their babies together.
Other Cages We Have Used and Liked
Prevue Hendrix Critter Cage
Note: We have all of these cages available in Our Web Store
We use a plastic kiddie pool set up high on a butcher block kitchen island for the ratties to play in. Rats have very poor vision and depth perception, so do not jump into the "unknown", though once in a while one will fall out, which is why we never leave the pool unattended...always have a "lifeguard" on duty;)
Litter and Bedding
Commonly used pine and cedar bedding are toxic to rats, causing respiratory and liver damage, and eventually death. Here are several articles about the negative effects of pine and cedar:
Respiratory Toxicity of Cedar and Pine Wood
Toxicity of Cedar and Pine Shavings
Cedar and Pine Shavings are Toxic to All Small Animals
Physiological Effects of Softwood on Respiratory and Liver Function
Dusty litters and beddings should be avoided. Not every bedding that works for one rat will work for another, some rats have allergies to certain beddings.
We use pelleted recycled newspaper litter, called Yesterday's News (marketed as a cat litter) in our litter boxes and a recycled shredded paper bedding called Eco-bedding, in the rest of the cage. We also give the ratties lots of fleece to make beds out of and snuggle up to. For newborn litters, we use Harlan Teklad Diamond Soft, a dust free paper type bedding.
Aspen and paper beddings such as Carefresh are also good beddings to use,though some ratties may have allergies to them, so if your ratties start sneezing, try switching to a different bedding.To learn how to litter box train your rats, click here
Both Eco-bedding and Yesterday's News are available in our Web Store. I can also order Diamond Soft for anyone who is interested.
Toys and Cage Furniture
A proper rat setup includes a shelter for the ratties to hide and feel secure, a wheel to exercise, a leak proof water bottle, a food dish, and a hammock or similar cozy item. Other things that can be added are additional ledges, steps, ladders, swings, ropes, etc. Since ratties are pretty smart, and get bored easily in their cages, they should have some toys to play with as well. You can also add a litter box and potty train your ratties. Both pictures to the left are good model set ups(click images to enlarge).
There are so many toys and furniture items you can add to a rattie's cage, the more you add, the more fun they'll have! Sometimes you have to get a bit creative, since items made just for rats are pretty limited. Bird, baby, dog, cat, ferret and other small animal toys can often be used for rats as well.
Some of the items we use for our ratties are:
Diet plays an important role in the health of rats, including preventing or causing mammary tumors. There are some main points about rat nutrition I talk about below. This is how I feed my rats, it may differ from others, and that's ok, but the main points are: Block food with a protein/fat content specific to the rats age is best, produce is important to feed, but not too much fruit, especially with rats over a year. Some treats along the way are fine, as long as they are healthy too! A long lived healthy rat starts with a good breeder, but the responsibility continues with the owner. Avoid ANY junk food, sugary or fatty foods, your rat will thank you...ok, maybe not while he's eying that Oreo your eating....but it's really for the best!