Selecting the best bedding for your pet rat is a matter that is constantly up for public debate. The advantages of paper over aspen, store-bought or DIY, loose or not, are well documented. In fact, the only thing rat owners seem to agree on is that pine and cedar, while affordable, are highly toxic to rats.
There are many things to consider when selecting bedding for your rat’s cage. This article will focus exclusively on fleece bedding for rats. We will examine its pros and cons, ways to work around trouble spots, and things you can use fleece for that will provide your rat with much-needed enrichment.
What is Fleece, Anyway?
Fleece, also called Polar Fleece, is a polyester fabric that is warm, soft, and breathable. It’s frequently used in winter clothes and accessories due to its moisture-wicking properties and is relatively inexpensive compared to wool. Rat owners have used it for years as a reusable and comfortable alternative to paper or aspen loose bedding.
More on Bedding for Rats
Rats need a couple of different things in their cage to serve as bedding. Unlike the hamsters and guinea pigs you remember from your elementary school classroom, rats can’t have loose shavings and nothing else in their cages.
Rats need stimulation and enrichment. They need things to climb on and hide. They need bedding and fabric to hide, burrow, and nest in.
Fleece is a very popular material for rat bedding. It can be used as mats to cover the whole cage, or to lay in playpens when you free-range your rats. You can also use it for hammocks or little houses, or simple strips for burrowing or nesting.
Advantages of Fleece Bedding for Rats
Fleece bedding has numerous advantages over loose bedding and even other types of fabric. Let’s look more closely at fleece bedding and see why choosing it will make your rat happy.
Fleece bedding for rats is the safest choice for bedding. Stretchy cotton, knitted fabric, and flannel have a much looser weave than fleece, making them a magnet for little rat claws. Additionally, cotton and flannel can unravel, and the strings can get tangled around your furry friend’s paws, legs, or even their neck! Knitted fabrics aren’t a good idea if you have a rat that’s a fabric chewer, because yarn can come loose, and your pet may ingest it. With fleece, they have nothing to catch or snag, and there are no loose threads.
Unlike paper or aspen bedding, fleece is washable. You can use it over and over again, so a few fleece blankets or pads will last you a long time. Fleece will actually get softer over time, but it doesn’t wear out like cotton fabrics. It also doesn’t need a lot of attention. It washes best in warm water and dries quickly both in the dryer or if you hang it outside.
- Reasonably priced
A yard of fleece at Walmart or a specialty fabric store will run you between $5 and $15, but you can wash it and reuse it. Paper bedding costs between $10 and $20, and aspen between $4 and $20. While that might not seem like a lot, disposable bedding will cost more throughout your rat’s lifetime.
Disadvantages to Fleece Bedding for Rats
The disadvantages of fleece bedding for your rats are entirely focused on the finer details of what fleece actually does with liquid.
- Wet fleece
Fleece is moisture-wicking, yes. Brand new fleece is even water repellant. But that liquid has to go someplace, and without an absorbent layer, all the fleece bedding will do is spread the liquid around. Water from your rat’s water bottle will then make the fleece a not-so-cozy place to sleep.
- Rat pee
Similarly to water, rat pee needs something to absorb it. Otherwise, urine will spread around the cage. This is bad for your rat because as it dries, urine released urea, which is that ammonia smell. It can cause lung irritation in rats, and it is not the best thing for people to breathe in, either.
Working the Problem (or Keeping the Fleece and Protecting Your Rat)
Now that we’ve established that the pros to fleece bedding slightly outnumber the cons, let’s talk about what actions will remedy the negatives because they can be fixed. It will just take a little extra time upfront and diligence in cage cleaning. If having a fleece pad is important for you, there are ways to make that happen.
The first part of making fleece a cage-friendly bedding material is to wash it and dry it three or four times before putting it in the cage. Wash between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not use fabric softener in the wash or fabric softener sheets in the dryer.
The aim of the wash and dry routine is to soften the water-resistant layer. Doing this allows the fleece to begin wicking moisture instead of simply puddling it. Fabric softener just adds this layer back.
The other thing you have to do is provide an absorbent layer for the liquid to go into after it is wicked through the fleece.
There are a lot of ways to accomplish this. Newspaper and pet pee pads are convenient and popular, but they can stick to the fleece once they are wet. They also tend to get squishy and smelly faster than other options.
Towels are the best choice. They are specifically made to be absorbent, first of all. They are cheap to buy at Dollar Tree or Walmart, and you can wash and dry them with your fleece.
Also, you can litter train your rat, but that’s another article. However, rats tend to use one area of their cage to do their business, so you can’t just put fleece there and avoid the whole problem.
Other Ways to Incorporate Fleece Into Your Rat’s Cage
Rats love having a lot of things to climb and hide in. One of the most recommended items for a rat cage is a hammock. A honeycomb hammock for rats is a special hammock that hangs from the top of the cage. It has tiers and little hidey holes for your rat to hide and snuggle in.
Perhaps the most pleasing way to incorporate fleece into your rats’ bedding is to go ahead and use loose bedding over towels for absorbency, and then cut the fleece into strips squares.
Put the strips in the cage and let your rat use them as they want to. Enrichment makes your rats so happy, as does engaging in their innate behaviors. This way, they can use the strips to hide in or to nest in without you having to worry that they’re sleeping in their own pee.
Ask ten rat owners what the right material for bedding is, and you’ll get ten different answers. The best rat bedding is the one that your rat likes best and that you can deal with.
That said, fleece bedding for rats is the most versatile of all the bedding options. You can cut it in a square like a mat to fit the bottom of your pet’s cage or playpen. Put washed fleece over towels to absorb water or urine that gets wicked through. Use it for hammocks or houses, or cut it into strips or squares that are perfect for nesting.
Fleece has many uses for your pet rats. Figure out what your rat likes, and they will be happy their whole life.