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New owner - cage set up advice

Posted: Sun May 12, 2019 8:36 am
by tubaboya
Hi everyone. I've just gotten 2 8 week old rats yesterday. I've never had rats before so been doing a lot of googling on setting up the cage, spent 2 weeks setting it up but still not sure if I'm happy with it.
I know you should have set ups that challenge the rats but not sure if I'm doing it right, my girls managed to explore everything in the cage within the first 20 minutes and have used everything except the rope and fleece pouch.
I'm also unsure about the amount of stuff in the cage. A lot of the pictures I've seen have A lot more things in the cage. I do have more things to go in but didn't want to make it too crowded.
I'll post some pictures and if anyone has any advice/suggestions I'll be grateful

Re: New owner - cage set up advice

Posted: Sun May 12, 2019 6:02 pm
by [cub]
A more open layout is actually a good idea while the rats are still settling in, so this is actually a great first setup. This helps the rats acclimatise to their new home more quickly; a layout with a lot of cover and enclosed spaces would allow them to hide away more, which means they can take longer getting used to their new environment. In fact, if they seem at all nervy, I'd suggest removing the couple of enclosed houses you've got in there at the moment. If you have any flat hammocks, those would be great replacements.

If those wooden shelves are uncoated, you may wish to remove them and coat them with a child-safe paint before putting them back in. Most rats love peeing on flat surfaces for some reason, and untreated wood will just soak up the urine. Plastikote enamel is a good option for coating wooden platforms, though it can take a few coats to get a wipe-clean finish. Alternatively, just leave them out and replace with rope toys or smaller perches. I do like putting platforms in when I've got old or infirm rats with mobility problems as it helps a lot with safe and accessible layouts, but hopefully that won't be relevant to you for a long while yet.

I can't tell exactly how deep the base is, but if you can manage to put down some loose substrate at the bottom, that will be great both for more digging opportunities and also smell control. For the cage base, most people use chopped cardboard or good quality (dust extracted, kiln dried) shavings, usually ones marketed for horses (!). The bales are huge but they last ages so it's actually much cheaper in the long run than buying rodent substrates, and since horses are sensitive creatures, their substrates are generally much better quality too.

The shredded paper in the trays at the moment is great for nesting and foraging, but it's very low absorbency so it'll get smelly fast, especially if the rats use them as litter trays. Paper litter pellets are the best choice for litter trays as they're much more absorbent, but still safe if eaten (which rats will sometimes do...). Breeder Celect or Back 2 Nature are the leading brands of paper-based litter; they're made by the same company and almost identical so people generally use whatever is cheaper, and there's a few other places doing paper litter as well.

The wheel in there is too small for adult rats, but fine for youngsters, so feel free to leave it in there until they grow out of it. A 30cm/12" wheel is the minimum for adults, though larger girls and most boys will find that too small. Tic Tac wheels do 14" and 16" metal wheels; I'd just save up for one of those if you can. (14" should be fine for all girls and smaller boys, but when I upgraded to a 16" I noticed my larger girls suddenly doing a lot more running. So I just advocate going for the biggest one regardless of sex and size now. :lol: ) The plastic 12" wheels (Silent Spinner and Wodent Wheels are the two main ones I know of) are cheaper, but Silent Spinners in particular have a tendency to break, so once you've had to buy a replacement you may as well have saved for a Tic Tac. Wodent Wheels don't break that I know of, but they are very noisy and a real pain to clean.

One last thing: the Pets At Home nuggets aren't great for rats. A few well-respected breeders noticed the incidence of mammary tumours increasing sharply when they incorporated PAH nuggets into their rat mixes, and then dropping off again when they took the nuggets out. So I'd suggest switching them off it ASAP. If you want something you can buy easily at a shop, Reggie Rat is actually not that bad. You can scatter their dry food in the trays of shredded paper too, instead of using a bowl, to make feeding time more interesting for them. You can use the bowl for water instead; some rats prefer drinking from a bowl, and many rats enjoy having a bit of a wash in one.

Longer term, a lot of people get their food from Rat Rations:
There's a lot on the shop so don't panic while you get lost in there. :lol: You can make it as complicated or as simple as you like; to keep it simple, go for one of the Isa-Mixes (under Complete Mixtures For Rats), and supplement with some DailyRat3 stuck to some wet food like lightly oiled veg a couple times a week (under Health and Treatments). Rat Rations also sell a variety of substrates so you can get some from there to make best use of the postage.

Sorry for the essay; I know there's a lot to take in. :oops: There's a lot of articles on rat care here if you want more info: viewforum.php?f=11

Re: New owner - cage set up advice

Posted: Sun May 12, 2019 11:54 pm
by tubaboya
Thanks very much for replying and all the advice.
The wood is unfinished but I have loads of it so easily replacable. I do a lot of woodworking, mostly organic childrens toys. I make my own finishes for them but haven't found any info on if the ingredients are safe for rats, might just buy a shop varnish. They haven't peed on them yet so might not be much of a problem.

There is pretty much no base, only 1cm. I did have correx to make a base but cut it completely wrong so my husband is going to bring home more tomorrow. I have some finacard that I'm going to use on the bottom that I "borrowed" from my dad's horses.

The blue tray at the bottom and the big white tray are filled with back 2 nature paper pellets with the paper bedding scattered over the top. The 2 little trays are hopefully going to be litter trays and have bio-catolet paper pellets (read somewhere to use a different brand for litter tray, don't know how true it is but figured it wouldn't hurt)

It's a 27.5cm wheel, was the biggest one pets at home sold. I'll order a bigger one online tomorrow. I'm also a big fan of bigger is better and I'm already planning an extension onto my cage. The cupboard next to the cage is 4' long and I reckon the top of it would be a great bit of floor space for a digging box and some bigger items once I work out the cage for it ( I have a lot of wire mesh left from when I made my guinea pig cage)

I don't plan on using the pets at home food for long, I have other food mix that is scattered in their trays and hidden around the cage. I just get nervous about new pets and like to know that they are eating. I got the same food they had in the pet shop and planned to reduce it away over the next couple of weeks once I had a chance to see they were eating ok. I had guinea pigs for years and they didn't cope well with sudden food changes but if rats are ok with it then I'll just stop using it now. I'll have a look at that site as i like the idea of mixing my own food. I already had to add a water bowl as the bottles are either leaking or not giving out water.

My girls are actually surprisingly friendly, happy to be petted and take treats from my hands. Leia will climb onto my hand happily and eat there, Arriety is a little more timid but still fairly friendly and content with my hand. Was petting them this morning and Leia actually ran up inside my house coat sleeve and climbed all over me. Makes a big change from the weeks it always took for my guinea pigs to even tolerate a hand being near them. They like to sleep in the coconut but it's easy enough to get them out, I just hold a treat near the opening and then take it away and they come scampering out to see what they might be missing lol.
I did sew them a fleece hammock today and put it in the cage, they've not used it yet though.

Re: New owner - cage set up advice

Posted: Mon May 13, 2019 12:50 pm
by [cub]
If a finish is safe for children then it's safe for rats; rats are fairly similar to humans in terms of what's safe for them to ingest. So you can go ahead and use whatever you'd use for your toys.

Finacard is a great base substrate; you'll be the envy of a fair few people for still having some. :lol: If you've got horses in the family then you can probably just keep nicking their substrate honestly.

Rats are fine with sudden changes in food for the most part. They're properly opportunistic scavenging omnivores, so they can eat most things in any order. :lol: I've only noticed problems if they suddenly get a lot more fresh/wet food than they're used to, but even then they just get slightly runny poos and are otherwise fine. Their guts are actually pretty robust, certainly compared to guinea pigs and rabbits. (Never had any but I've heard the stories.)

If you're keen on DIY rat food then I highly recommend getting a copy of The Scuttling Gourmet:
Rat Rations also stock copies, if you're ordering from them anyway. It's a good primer on rat nutrition and pretty much the only source out there on rat nutrition from a pet-keeping perspective.

There's also Nutrient Requirements of the Laboratory Rat, which has all the delicious crunchy numbers, and is available online:
NRLA has limitations though, most of which are noted in the text, but also because a lab rat's needs and lifestyle are very different to those of a pet rat. It's a properly robust work though, so a solid foundation to build off. (Also the only foundation; Scuttling Gourmet, for example, references NRLA's numbers extensively.)

I can't see what brand the bottom water bottle is, but I'm a pretty faithful devotee of Classic brand since they haven't let me down so far. Good to have multiple water sources available though.

Where have you placed the fleece hammock? If you can hang it from the top of the cage they might like it up there. I've found rats tend to like sleeping up high. They're likely to end up using the big white tray at the top as a toilet since it's close to where they're sleeping, so it's just as well you've put litter underneath there! :lol:

Sounds like you've got some very friendly girls, and at least one sleeve rat. :hearts: Eating while sat in your hand is proper trusting behaviour.