Rats make wonderful pets. They are smart and cunning, affectionate, and they need a lot of attention. They also need a lot of space. The recommendation is that each rat needs a minimum of 2.5 cubic feet of cage space. But there is so much more that needs to go into your decision about the right size cage.
Rats need bedding and space for hiding places, hammocks, and things to climb on. They need room for their food and water and space for bathroom needs. All of these factors need to go into calculating the size of your pet rat’s cage.
Whether you buy a cage or make your own, you need to make sure it is big enough. If you don’t know exactly how much space your rats will need, you can use a pet rat cage calculator to help you find the right cage for your rat.
Finding the Ideal Cage for Your Pet Rats
There are many different kinds of cages for pet rats. The most common basic store-bought cage has a solid plastic bottom and wire sides and top. Other popular store-bought cages include multiple levels with ladders, ramps, or tunnels. Homemade pet rat cages can be made from vinyl-coated wire shelving and plastic storage bins, among other options.
Regardless of what kind of cage you decide to get, it has to be big enough for all the accouterments your rat needs to be happy and healthy. Let’s look at some of those must-haves for your pet rat before examining what type of home would be best for them.
Rats need a combination of loose bedding and absorbent materials. A combination of towels underneath aspen shavings or paper works best, and cut-up fleece strips provide additional nesting material. Rats need room to nest and burrow to stimulate their natural instincts. Such behavior is normal for rats in the wild and should be encouraged.
Toys and Enrichment
Pet rat cage accessories are not a negotiable item. The only question is what kinds of toys and activities your rat will like.
- Digging Box
A must-have in your rats’ cage is a digging box. It can be as simple as a box or plastic container filled with paper or other loose bedding, but your rat will like it better if there are also some toys or treasures like beads for them to find. The digging box needs to sit on something, so this is when one of those multi-level houses would be great.
- Hammocks and Ropes
Hammocks are another must-have accessory. Rats like to relax in them or hide in the pockets of a honeycomb hammock. The good thing about hammocks is that they hang from the sides or top of the cage, so you don’t have to take up valuable floor space. Ropes also can hang from the ceiling or be made into ladders between levels or hammocks.
- Tunnels and Other Hiding Places
Rats love to hide in small spaces. Tunnels can serve double duty as a small hidey-hole and a way for your rat to get exercise. Like hammocks and ropes, you can use tunnels as a means for your rat to go from one level to another, or you can let them rest on the ground.
Rats love to chew on untreated wood, plastic, and cardboard. They love to shred kleenex, paper towels, and plain butcher paper or paper bags. They like shiny toys like large plastic beads or buttons. All of these items need to go someplace. This is when a multi-level cage would be better than a simple cage.
A litterbox is not a rat necessity. Without one, rats will simply select a part of their cage to use for their business. However, your pet rat cage will be a much nicer place if you can litter train your rat. By litter training, your rat will have a consistent place and material to use for their potty needs.
Training your rat to use a litterbox is easy and will allow you to have some bonding time with your rat. It is also much easier to keep a litter pan clean than it is to have your rat potty in their bedding.
Food and Water
Rat cages need a place for food and water dishes or bottles. Ceramic dishes do well because your furry friends can’t tip them over, but little metal bowls that clip to the sides of the cage are also a possibility. Another option is bin feeders, which also clip to the cage’s sides, but they can lead to over-eating and obesity.
The best water bottles are the drip kind that is standard in all rodent cages. These are good because they are a closed bottle that keeps your rats from soiling their water with food. Also, they save space by clipping to the sides of the cage.
Additionally, rats love scavaging for food and treats, so be sure to scatter or hide their dry mix or fruits and veggies so they can engage in those natural rat behaviors.
Store-Bought Rat Cages
It is far easier to buy a rat cage than it is to build your own. However, if you have more than one rat or want to give your rat a lot of space to climb and play, the upper range of cages can be expensive. A starter rat home costs approximately $40-$50, and a deluxe cage can cost upwards of $200.
- Basic Rat Cages
These are great rat cages for a beginner. Typically they are a plastic bottom with wire or vinyl sides and lids. Some have just one door on the side, while others also have a door on the top. These basic cages are usually only one level, so bedding would sit in the bottom along with toys and tunnels, and you would make levels using hammocks, ropes, and other hanging toys.
Sometimes there is a platform or half shelf in these cages, which makes setting up a feeding area easy. Otherwise, you will have to clip them at the bottom of the cage, making things cluttered.
A basic rat cage also makes an excellent travel cage for bringing a new rat home or going on vacation with your furry friends.
- Mid-Tier Rat Cages
Mid-tier cages are a little fancier than the basic ones. These cages are two-level cages with ramps or tunnels between the levels. Like basic cages, these can have doors on the sides or the top (or both). These cages are nice because you can put sleeping/nesting and food areas on the top level and fill the bottom with loose bedding, toys, and the litter pan.
With lots of vertical space, you have extra room for the hammocks, swings, and ladders. You can turn multiple levels of hammocks and ladders into a fantastic playscape for your rat. These are perfect cages for single rats or a pair.
- Deluxe Rat Cages
Deluxe cages are like five-star hotels as far as rats are concerned. They are complex multi-level structures often set on wheels, with doors on every tier for easy access and cleaning. Tunnels, ramps, and ladders offer exercise between levels.
Bedding can go at the bottom, and there is enough space on each level for a variety of enrichment. The digging box can have a permanent home, as can food bowls and water bottles. There is ample room for all kinds of tunnels, hammocks, and rope, plus little hiding places. If you have two or more rats, these are the best kinds of homes.
Homemade Rat Cages
If you want a DIY option and don’t mind a little bit of work, make your rats a custom homemade cage. They can be as complicated as using vinyl-coated metal shelving cut into pieces and formed into a cage with a plastic storage bin.
An easier way to make a homemade cage is to use some already made shelving units like a bookcase or cabinet. You can cut holes for movement between levels, and use wire or clear plastic for doors.
There are scores of beautiful examples of homemade cages out there. Simply do some research, evaluate your DIY skills, and have fun making the perfect home for your pet rat.
Saying that rats need 2.5 cubic feet of cage space is easy, but you cannot just take that guidance and run with it.
You have to consider how many rats will share a space. You must take into account your rats’ needs for bedding, food, toys, and enrichment. Rats need to be able to climb and hide and run and burrow. They need varying heights, textures, and things to gnaw on. They need an environment that will encourage their innate rat behaviors, not stifle them. All of those things require space.
The best cages for pet rats have multiple levels with tunnels and ramps. There should be adequate space for bedding, places for food and water, and lots of variation in height for your rat to explore and rest.
You can buy a rat cage or make your own. Think about how many rats you have, do you expect it to change in the future, and you’ll find a solution that suits you and your pets. Just make sure your furry friends have plenty of room for everything they need.