Most rat housing needs 'spot cleaning' at least every other day, if not daily. This basically means removing droppings from the litter and replacing wet bedding with fresh. If you have lino or plastic shelving then these should also be wiped down daily. Many people find baby wipes very useful for this job. Or you could use some small animal cage spray and a damp cloth – but don’t spray near the rats themselves. Rats can be litter trained, which helps enormously in keeping their housing clean. It is important to replace all urine soiled bedding/hammocks on a regular basis as a build up of the chemical ammonia can cause respiratory problems and conjunctivitis.
The cage will need a complete clean out every 5-7 days, or as you feel necessary. Everything, including tubes, beds and litter trays should be removed from the cage and washed using hot water with a little detergent. You may wish to use an animal safe disinfectant. Everything should be thoroughly rinsed and dried before being returned to the housing. The housing itself will also need regular attention to prevent grime and waste build up on the base, bars etc. After you have tipped out the old substrate wash the cage base in the same way as the accessories. Many people find it easiest to do this in the bath or outside using a hose. Wiping over with a cloth wrung out in hot soapy water can effectively clean cage bars. Always ensure that the cage is properly dry before adding new substrate and your rats. Finally, check the area around your cage as some rats manage to spray beyond the cage bars! For this reason it is sensible to place your cage in front of a wall with a wipeable surface - or slip a large sheet of card between the cage and your absorbant wallpaper! You would then need to renew this fairly regularly as it becomes soiled.
As time goes by you will come to know how much cleaning out your particular rat set-up is going to need. This will depend on how many rats you have, their diet, personal behaviour etc. Some dominant rats may scent mark, so smells could build up more quickly in their housing, although people tend to have varying experiences with this.
Regularly check the general condition of all the rats' toys/beds/houses etc and discard those items with sharp edges or splinters. Rats do enjoy gnawing on both wood and plastic, so expect to have to update and renew most of the cage furniture and toys at some point!
It is possible to be over zealous with cleaning and trying to make a rats' cage completely 'smell free' is likely to end up with the rats marking more and more (and therefore getting increasingly smelly). Try to keep complete clean outs to a minimum - no more than every 5 days but slightly less often should be fine in most cases.
Author: Fancy Rats Team
Articles relating to cages and habitat enrichment
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