Pet rats need tons of stimulation and enrichment, from cuddling and contact with you to objects to explore, hide in, and chew on. They should have plenty of different toys and structures in their cage for mental and physical stimulation.
However, toys and other enrichment can be expensive. Continue reading for some ideas for do-it-yourself toys and structures to enrich your rat’s life every day.
The Importance of Play for Pet Rats
Rats, like dogs, cats, and even people, use play for a variety of functions. Play helps with physical development, motor skills, cognitive function, and safe risk-taking behaviors.
Also, it builds relationships, both between a human and their pet, as well as among the animals themselves. Animals learn social skills, acceptable behavior, and how to survive in the world through early play with their mother and siblings.
For rats especially, diverse play in lots of different situations is necessary to prevent boredom and promote healthy behavior. If you only have one rat, they need playtime alone and with you. You can buy toys, but it’s more fun to make your own.
Everything can be enriching for your rat, and everyday household items can be the most fun and exciting. Even in the cage, you can also create some wonderful toys or accessories around the cage to make fun with them.
What Makes A Good Toy?
Anything can be a toy. Rats are excellent at taking what’s available and making their own fun. When traveling with your rat, a simple travel cage would be better for him. The most important thing to consider when making DIY rat toys is safety.
Make sure wood is untreated. Nothing you put in the cage should have little pieces that could come off and create a choking hazard or intestinal blockage. Watch out for strings that can get tangled around paws.
- Toilet Paper/Paper Towel Tubes
Toilet paper and paper towels can provide hours of fun for your rat. A toilet paper roll on its own can be a tunnel to hide in or part of a more massive do-it-yourself play structure with boxes and ramps.
You can cut a paper towel tube into curly strips, which your rat can then shred or use as nesting material. Different widths of tubes can be assembled into a fun one-level maze, or cut a hole in one or two sides and attach to other tubes to make a multi-level tunnel maze.
Better yet, hang an entire roll of toilet paper from the top or side of the cage using string, and let your rats go to town.
- Kleenex/Kleenex Boxes
If you never gave your rats anything except kleenex in boxes, they might be okay with that. The boxes can be excellent hiding and sleeping spaces. Leave the tissues in the boxes, because rats love to pull them from the box. Then, they can use the tissues however they want. They can tear the tissues up and add them to their nest or hide food in the box.
Just be aware that shredded tissues can be dusty. Rats are susceptible to respiratory problems, so if your rat is acting like they have allergies, ditch the tissues. But feel free to keep the boxes.
- Plastic/Glass Containers
Plastic containers and lids are another multi-functional DIY rat toy. You can turn a small butter tub over and cut a door out of it to make a cute hiding place or a little house.
A small yogurt container (think Yoplait) with the bottom cut out can be a tunnel, while a small glass jar, such as a garlic or ginger jar, can serve as a sleeping or hiding container.
Fabric is a rat’s wonderland! Fleece is primo material for rats because it is sturdy, has a tight weave, and doesn’t unravel. They can’t shred it, and their claws won’t get stuck in the threads.
Denim is also a good option because it is thick. Still, you have to watch out for strings, which like to escape and get caught around feet and toes. Also, denim is satisfying because they can chew on it.
Make hammocks, tunnels, or little hideaways for your curious furry friend. They don’t have to be fancy. A hammock can be as simple as a piece of fleece tied to the sides or top of the cage, or a multi-tiered affair with hiding holes. You can find free patterns for these and other rat hammocks online. Hammocks are also useful to put in your rat’s travel cage for comfort.
- Egg Cartons
Oh, the egg carton! You can put it in a larger play structure for climbing, or place an empty bit in your rat’s cage and see what they do with it. Fill the egg cups with tissue or fleece for a cozy resting spot. They will likely chew on it quite a bit, so make sure to save your egg cartons!
Butcher paper, brown paper lunch bags, newsprint – they’re all safe for rats. They love to shred it, so larger pieces are best. You can crumple paper, which your rat can use as a ball.
Fold a piece of paper over into layers and tape it closed. Rats will spend a long time unfolding the layers. That in itself is its own reward, but you would be an especially good parent to your furry babies if you put a tiny treat inside as a reward.
Rats are incredibly agile. They love to climb and jump around, and ropes are a great DIY rat cage accessory. You can tie them to the top of the cage for vertical climbing, or stretch a thick rope between the sides of the cage to make a bridge. Just make sure to use a tightly-woven rope, or check the rope daily for stray strings.
Wood is crucial for your rat’s health. Rats need to gnaw to keep their teeth short. Like other rodents, their teeth continue to grow throughout their lives, and consistent access to hard objects keeps their teeth from growing into their brains!
You can simply provide sticks and larger pieces of found wood that has been boiled and baked to sanitize and rid of any bugs in residence. Or get wooden beads in the jewelry-making section of your local craft store. Rats like to carry these around and gnaw on them, or you can string them on a rope or string to make a ladder.
Make sure, though, that any wood you give your rats is untreated because paints and stains are highly toxic to rats!
- Digging Box
Perhaps the most crucial toy you can make for your rat’s cage is a digging or foraging box. In the wild, rats spend most of their time foraging for food, and they need to engage in this behavior in captivity as well.
To create a foraging box out of a plastic container, fill it with loose bedding, paper, pieces of fabric, popsicle or craft sticks, small lids, bits of rope, corks, and even chopsticks. Your rat will love digging around and finding fun things to play with.
Rocks are important for rats because they use them to file down their claws without you having to trim their nails. Just put a clean rock in their cage and let them go to town. But be aware that, in addition to climbing on their rock, your rats might really like to pee on it!
Other Fun DIY Games for Your Rats
A great, easy game for fun and food is fishing for vegetables. Fill a shallow dish with a little bit of water, and put peas or carrots at the bottom. Not only will your rats have a grand time in the water, but they will get some tasty treats for their efforts.
Another food-related toy is a piñata. Simply take some rat-friendly snacks or homemade dry mix and put it on a piece paper towel or inside a folded up portion of toilet paper roll. Use string to hang it from the top of the cage to where your rats can reach it while standing on their back legs.
Both of these toy ideas will provide your furry friends with exercise and treats, and will keep them entertained for a while. This is a great treat for the daytime while you’re at work.
Pets, in general, can be expensive. Rats need cages, bedding, food, and toys. While you have to buy a cage, bedding, and food, you can develop fantastic DIY toys for your rat’s cage using everyday household items. You can then create enrichment that your rats will love.
Cardboard tubes, boxes, and plastic containers make great playhouses and structures, mazes, and nesting. Fabric can be made into hammocks or shredded for bedding. Egg cartons, rope, paper, and wood are all things that rats love playing with.
Providing enrichment and playtime for your furry friends is your most important job as a rat owner. Playtime allows them to interact and have fun with you, as they are highly social animals. Enrichment lets them engage in those innate rat behaviors that are important to their health and well-being. By DIY-ing toys for your rats, you can keep them happy and healthy without spending a lot of money.