Substrate (litter) for the base of the cage/litter trays
There are several options when deciding which litter to use in the base of your rats’ cage, and what you use will probably be determined not only by what you prefer but also by what you have available to you in your area. Any litter should be dust extracted and odour free.
Unsuitable cage litters
Wood shavings – pine, spruce and cedar shavings are one of the most commonly seen litters but in fact, there is evidence that suggests they may be harmful to the health of rats and other small animals. As well as generally being quite dusty, these softwood shavings give off phenols and acids that are toxic and could lead to irritation of the respiratory tract and skin, and liver disease. It is possible that in some rats this could reduce life expectancy. There are many other more suitable alternatives.
Sawdust – all of the above applies to sawdust with the added problem of it’s fine grain which renders it very dusty.
Pine cat litter – wood pellet cat litters form sawdust when wet, and have all the issues of shavings/sawdust.
Paper based cat litters – some "paper based" litters are only around 40% paper. The rest is clay, minerals, odour absorber, perfume etc that render the litter unsuitable. Clay based litters can be a choking hazard if they are eaten and they are generally very dusty, exacerbating respiratory problems.
Shredded cardboard – primarily produced as a horse bedding, shredded corrugated cardboard products make excellent cage substrates. They are very cheap, especially if bought in bulk and now used widely by rat owners across the UK. The main problem with them is that they can be difficult to source in some areas, however, they are available by post. Not really suitable for litter trays. Examples are EcoPetBed, Easybed, Green Mile and safe T bed
100% paper cat litters – these are made from paper pressed into pellets and are often readily available in supermarkets. The main problem with them is that they can work out rather expensive. Examples are Bob Martin’s 100% recycled paper cat litter, Biocatolet and Yesterday’s News.
Hardwood shavings – these are safe and clean to use but can be expensive and are often difficult to obtain. Aspen is an example.
Newspaper – cheap and easy to obtain, and safe if the dyes are vegetable based. However, tend to get very smelly and the rats will usually get quite discoloured. Not suitable for litter trays.
Cross shredded paper – cheap and easy to get hold of (if you have a cross shredder!) but can be dusty. Not terribly good at hiding smells. Not really suitable for litter trays.
Cotton Towels – cheap bath towels can be used to cover surfaces of the housing. They are dust free and soft on the feet. They can be shaken daily to get rid of droppings and when it is time to change them they can be washed and reused minimising waste. They can however become a bit smelly if not changed regularly. Not suitable for litter trays.
Hemp – made from dried and shredded plant stems, this substrate is available in carry packs as Hutch Hemp, or in large bales manufactured as horse bedding. Aubiose is an example.
Corn cob litter – this shouldn't be used as the sole litter, as is extremely absorbant and can dry out a rat's skin. In young rats this can cause a condition called 'ring tail' which in its advanced stages may cause part of the tail to drop off. However, it is useful to use in litter trays, but can be expensive. An example is World’s Best Cat litter.
Recycled paper small animal bedding – very much like the paper cat litters. Can be expensive to use. An example is Carefresh
Author: Fancy Rats Team
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