A home for your rats
Many cages (including some sold for birds, ferrets, chinchillas and rabbits) can be successfully used to house rats depending on their size, age, gender and how many you have. Each cage has its unique advantages and disadvantages so it is wise to read reviews and recommendations based on personal experience prior to buying a cage. This will help you avoid the common pitfalls and may end up preventing you wasting money on a cage that turns out not to meet the needs of either your rats or your circumstances.
Glass and plastic tanks and low level ‘pod’ style rabbit cages (like the Duna) are not suitable for housing rats throughout their lives. They may be useful at times (e.g. birthing tank for pregnant does and babies still in the nest). Their low level, lack of climbing opportunities, and reduced ventilation make them inappropriate for healthy older babies and adult rats.
A cage is the preferred choice of many rat owners. They offer plentiful climbing opportunities, ventilation, and an ideal environment for adding items such as hammocks, suspended tubes and extra shelving. A cage also allows for greater interaction between owner and rats. The cage should ideally have several levels with care being taken to avoid long drops from one level to another (this is particularly important for geriatric rats). Covering wire mesh levels/shelves with something like lino will make them more comfortable for your rats to walk on and easier to clean.
If you have babies or young rats ensure that bar spacing is not so great that they can squeeze themselves out. Maximum gap should be approximately 19mm (0.75 inches). Powder coated wire cages are better than galvanised wire cages, which can retain smells and are harder to clean. There is also a concern about zinc poisoning from galvanised wire.
Any cage you buy should have a plastic/metal tray at the base so that you can fill it with litter. Where the base is plastic the bars will preferably go right down inside the tray to prevent the rats chewing the base itself. However, many rats live their entire lives in a cage where the wire frame sits on top of the plastic base and never chew the base at all. Chewing tends to be more of a problem with does, particularly in the presence of bucks, at times when the does are on heat.
When buying any cage always consider access, not just for getting the rats out but for spot cleaning shelves and other areas. Will you be able to easily get your cage furniture in and out of the door for cleaning? Door size and position can make the difference between a cage being wonderful or a nightmare to use.
Going for this option depends really on your own DIY skills or whether you know someone who does have the necessary ability. When designing your housing you should consider all of the issues discussed above, such as ventilation, materials, safety and accessibility. Materials such as MDF may be harmful when ingested so thought should be given to the type of framework used. Bare wood is best coated with a safe paint such as Japlac or Plastikote so that it is easier to keep clean. The advantages of building your own housing is that it can be totally customised to meet your own requirements e.g. number of rats, available space and budget. You may also find this option cheaper than some shop bought solutions.
Finding more information
Whatever your choice of housing for your rats you will be able to find further information including many overviews of cages in the Habitat section of our online community.
Author: Fancy Rats Team
Articles relating to cages and habitat enrichment
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