Tails Blog

Keeping Rats

Steve Coppell - Sunday, November 07, 2010

In the wild, rats spend most of their time roaming, foraging for food and building nests, all of which demands alot of mental and physical energy. Unlike domestic rats, they dont have the luxury of bowls filled to the brim with food, water bottles, and comfy hammocks and igloos to snuggle up in. However, while pet rats are quite different from their wild counterparts, they still have the same  requirements, such as running, climbing, gnawing, digging and nesting.

Rats need lots of space to run around, and therefore require a fairly large cage. Mice cages are not suitable, as they are far too small. A large wire cage with different levels is ideal. Rats usually prefer tall vertical cages that offer plenty of opportunity to climb. Modified bird aviaries and cabinet cages made out of an old bookcase, or chest of draws works well. Good ventilation is essential, as rat urine produces ammonia vapours that can harm a rats respiratory system. For this reason, wire cages are a better choice than glass aquariums. The cage, including all its contents, should be cleaned at least once a week. When lining the cage be wary of wood shavings not made for this purpose. Pine and ceder wood chip bedding should not be used as they damage the respiratory tract, causing chronic respiratory disease. Paper cat litters, Shredded paper, Soy ink based newspaper and Old towels make good bedding for rats.

Location of your rat environment
Choose a room that has a significant amount of foot traffic. Rats love to interact with people and enjoy being where they get to see people on a regular basis. Make sure the cage is in a room with a constantly moderate room temperature, and away from drafts. It is also important to keep the cage away from direct sunlight, as rats can overheat quickly. They can become quite stressed if harrassed by cats and dogs, so ensure the cage is out of reach of other pets.

Cage Accessories
A large cage is great, but with no stimulation for their active imaginations, your rat will get bored quickly. The cage needs to be both a safe and enriching living space.
A place to nest is important for your rat. It gives them somewhere to hide and stash food, and provides a sense of security while sleeping. Small animal igloos are perfect for this. Less expensive alternatives include upturned ice cream containers with entrance holes added. Tunnels can be made from PVC piping found at most hardware stores. Tissue boxes or cardboard boxes are also ideal places to hang out, but will need to be replaced every few days. Fleece hammocks and cubes are popular accessories for your rat. Some toys designed for birds, dogs and cats make good rat toys. Stiff rope  bird perches are ideal for climbing and chewing. A cat feather toy used under supervision is another winner with rats. Playing with toys is a great form of exercise for your rats.

Fun with food
Rats love to chew! Their teeth are continually growing, and while rats with properly aligned teeth wear them down naturally by grinding them together, they still love to chew for entertainment and relaxation. In the absence of something to gnaw on, you might find your rats chewing on something they shouldnt like curtains they can get to, or clothing left within reach. Cheap effective chew toys  include Nylabones, wood chew toys and branches from non toxic trees such as apple. Chicken bones are another popular choice with rats, and because they gnaw the bones, theres no chance of splintering or choking.
Hard shelled nuts also provide plenty of entertainment for rats, but should be used sparingly because of their fat content. Feeding them treats in inventive ways will keep your rats occupied. Treat balls made for cats, dogs,  or rats that dispense food as they roll across the floor can offer hours of fun and excercise. White yoghurt drops, banana chips and pumpkin seeds make popular treats.

Outside the cage
Even with the most interesting home, rats still need at least an hour outside their cage every day, ideally interacting with you.
If you can provide a rat proof room for them, you can set up a play area for them. Include cardboard boxes with holes cut in them, blankets for rats to tunnel under, and a cat scratching post for them to climb.
Pea fishing is perfect for hot summer days. Take a fairly flat dish, pour in some lukewarm water, add some frozen peas and place the tray on a flat surface (put a towel underneath if your concerned about spillage). Your rats will love diving for the peas theyre a tasty treat.
There is nothing more amusing to a rat than you. They love to explore and climb all over you. Whether its  shirt diving, shoulder surfing, or just hanging out, rats find us humans endlessly entertaining.

Provide an environment that is entertaining interactive and rewarding for the health and happiness of your pet rat.