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Rat Cage Setup: How To Create The Perfect Rat Cage

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Rats need at least two cubic feet of living space. In the cage, they need bowls for water and food, toys, places to hide and sleep, calcium blocks, stairs, and other accessories. The most recommended cage type is hard metal cages.

If you decide to adopt or buy a rat as a pet, know that it requires time and commitment. 

You also have to care for it and provide adequate living conditions. They need certain conditions to grow physically and mentally. 

Rats need to exercise their physical, cognitive, emotional, and social abilities to stay healthy.

They also need strong cages made of hard material as they constantly chew to grind their teeth.

In this article, you will learn about the best rat cage setup, what accessories rats need, how to make DIY toys and accessories, and more.

Pet Rat Cage

Pet rats are kept in metal cages. The best habitat for pet rats is one with a lot of space. Rats need space for daily exercise, moving, and exploring. The larger the habitat, the better for the rats. Cages prevent rats from escaping, keeping them safe.

When looking for a cage for your pet rats, pay attention to the following:

  • Cage material
  • Size

The cage has to be big. Rats need space to explore and move. Most cages on the market are unsuitable for rats.

Avoid the following, when choosing a cage for your pet rats:

  • Easily chewable materials.
  • Large gaps between the bars (the rats can escape).
  • Small cages.
  • Bad ventilation.
Pet Rat Cage

What Material Should a Rat Cage Be Made Of?

Rat cages should be made out of metal. This allows the rats to chew on the bars without destroying them. Wooden cages or weak plastic cages are a no-go for pet rats.

Always choose the following when buying a rat cage:

  • Cages made out of hard materials like metal or hard plastic.
  • Cages that are well ventilated.
  • Cages that have small spaces between the bars – the distance between the bars should not be more than one and a half inches.

Metal cages are also properly ventilated, so your rat does not sit around in the smell of rat urine all day or get sick.

Cages that have both horizontal and vertical bars are preferred. This way, you increase its exploration space (rats climb horizontal bars) and make sure your pet doesn’t escape. 

If the rat’s head can pass through the bars, the rest of its body can as well.

Metal cages also make the best habitats because you can hang your pet’s accessories on them, such as hammocks, toys, stairs, etc.

What to avoid in rat cages:

  • Terrariums and aquariums
  • Plastic containers
  • Wooden cages
What Material Should a Rat Cage Be Made Of
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Terrariums and Aquariums

Terrariums and aquariums are designed for fish or reptiles that don’t move too much and don’t need space.

Rats love to explore, climb, and jump. Aquariums and terrariums do not offer enough space for these activities.

Even if you buy a large aquarium or terrarium, it will still be too small. They don’t have enough vertical space for pet rats.

Another disadvantage of these terrariums and aquariums is the lack of ventilation. As they are made with walls and not bars, air does not circulate and ventilate properly. Rats are known for their fragile respiratory system and need air circulation. 

These habitats are permanently humid and favor the development of bacteria and fungi. Rats will overheat in a terrarium or aquarium.[1]

These enclosures are also difficult to clean and sanitize due to their corners. Urine and feces will accumulate, and bacteria will grow, risking the health of pet rats.

Downsides of terrariums and aquariums:

  • Difficult to clean.
  • Not ventilated properly.
  • Not enough vertical space.
  • Fragile – they can break easily.

Plastic Containers and Wooden Cages

Both plastic containers and wooden cages are made of easily chewable materials that pet rats can escape.

Like terrariums and aquariums, plastic containers and wooden cages promote the development of bacteria and fungi. They absorb urine, creating a humid environment. 

In addition to this, both enclosures are bad for ventilation and illumination. 

Rats need sun, but not direct exposure. They do best with at least eight hours of dim light a day. Prolonged exposure to strong light shortens their life, and direct sun exposure can cause skin problems, blindness, or cancer.[2]

Downsides to plastic containers and wooden cages:

  • Easy to chew on.
  • Difficult to clean.
Rat Cage with Plastic Containers and Wooden Cages
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How Big Does a Rat Cage Need to Be?

Rats need at least two square feet of space. They need space to eat and drink, defecate and urinate, sleep, and move around.

Rats are active animals, especially when they are young adults. They like to explore, move, and climb, and a small cage cannot provide these benefits.

They are also clean animals. Rat owners can teach their pets to use the litter box. 

Even if you fail to teach your pet to do so, rats don’t defecate and urinate where they eat or sleep. You need extra space to allow your rats to separate their activities.

Multi-Level Rat Cages

Multi-level cages are the most recommended. They must be at least as wide as they are tall and contain platforms, stairs, and ramps to allow rats to move between platforms.

If you have several rats, it is advisable to choose ferret cages. They are larger, more spacious, and have more levels. 

The disadvantage of ferret cages is that the distance between the bars is not small enough for baby rats, young rats, or dwarf breeds. They can escape easily. 

Breeders recommend this type of cage for adult rats of normal size.

A larger cage is always better, but if you do not have this possibility, try to offer at least a 2x2x2 feet (60x60x60 cm) two-level cage for a pair of rats.

Related: Are Rats Good Pets?

How Big Does a Rat Cage Need to Be

What Do Rats Need in Their Cage?

Rats need the following in their cage: bedding, toys, calcium blocks, litter box, food bowls, and water bowls. Depending on the size of the cage, you can also add stairs, hammocks, houses, or other hiding places.

Rats need a lot of accessories in their cage to enrich their living environment. They need the following items:

  • Bedding
  • A litter tray
  • Food bowl
  • Water bowl or bottle
  • Toys
  • Hiding places
  • Places to sleep
  • Calcium block

Bedding

Rat Cage Bedding
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Rats have preferences when it comes to bedding. What is good bedding for some is bad for others.

Choosing the right bedding is important for your pet rat’s health. If the bedding is dusty, it can cause breathing problems.

Avoid the following types of bedding:

  • Cloth
  • Fleece
  • Cedar
  • Pine
  • Clay cat litter

The right bedding is also important for you. Some types of bedding need changing more often, such as cloth bedding. Materials such as fleece retain moisture and can enhance the smell of urine.

Some beddings are toxic to young rats, such as cedar and pine.

Clay cat litter does not make great bedding because it is dusty and can cause gastrointestinal upset if your rat ingests it.

The cheapest is to use shredded toilet paper or tissues. They are safe for rats, even to chew and ingest.

Litter Tray

Rat Cage Litter Tray
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Even if you don’t want to teach your rat to defecate and urinate in a litter box, it should still have a dedicated place for this activity. 

With time, your pet gets used to eliminating in the same spot.

The most recommended litter trays:

  • Rectangular litter trays for cats.
  • Corner litter boxes for rodents or ferrets.

Food and Water Bowls

Food and Water Bowls
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Food and water bowls are essential accessories in a rat cage. They must be made of non-chewable and non-toxic materials.

You can use bowls and special bottles for water[3]. Rats often like to play or wash in their water bowls. Do not use deep bowls as babies can drown. You have to clean them constantly as rats defecate in them at times.

Water bottles are best as rats can’t flip them or poop in the water. The water still needs to be changed often.

If you decide to use water bottles, have at least two of them to make sure your rats have another water source in case one of the bottles gets damaged.

Toys

Rats love toys. They are curious animals that like to explore and try new things.

The best toys for rats are those made of wood or cardboard. Rats can chew them without the risk of suffocation or choking.

The most popular rat toys are:

  • Parrot or ferret toys[4]
  • Wooden blocks for chewing
  • Puzzles where you can hide food
  • Tunnels
  • Ropes
  • Suspended bridges or platforms

Hiding places

Rat Cage Hiding places
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Rats are nocturnal animals that stay in hiding most of their lives. Provide your rat with many hiding places to support their natural behavior. 

These hiding places also become the spot where your rat sleeps and spends most of its time.

You can buy wooden houses for rodents, or you can make your own from pots, cardboard, or plastic boxes.

Place To Sleep

Rat Cage Place To Sleep

Rats sleep an average of 12 hours a day, divided into several naps. In order to have a peaceful sleep, they need hidden and comfortable sleeping places.

You can purchase hammocks and hang one or more at each level of the cage. You can also buy tents where several rats can sleep together.

You can also make your own DIY hammocks or make a bed out of a plastic box wrapped in fleece. Make sure you pin the fleece down because rats like to pull and chew their bedding.

Related: How & Where Do Rats Sleep?

Calcium Blocks

Another useful accessory in your rat’s cage is calcium blocks. These are not essential, but they can help rats grind their teeth when they have nothing else to chew.

How to Set up a Simple Rat Cage

For a simple rat cage setup, you need a cage of two square feet, a hammock, bedding, a hiding place, a place to defecate and urinate, food and water bowls, and other accessories.

Here’s how to set up a simple rat cage:

  1. Start setting up your rat’s cage by placing the bedding in the cage. You can use shredded toilet paper. 
  2. Then put a rodent house, a pot, or a cardboard box in one of the corners. 
  3. Place some fleece in the hiding place. This keeps your pet warm and absorbs urine. Change and wash it twice a week.
  4. If the cage is big enough, add stairs and passages so your rat can explore.
  5. Hang a hammock and bird toys from the cage ceiling, but make sure your pet rat can reach them easily. You can also add some toys where it sleeps.
  6. Place the litter tray in one of the corners of the cage.
  7. Place the food and water bowls in the opposite corner of the litter tray.
  8. Clean the cage completely and disinfect it twice a month.

How To Make DIY Toys And Accessories For Rats

To make toys and accessories for your pet rat you can use:

  • Cardboard boxes
  • Paper bags
  • Wood
  • Nuts
  • PVC tubes

Cardboard Boxes And Toilet Paper Rolls

Rat Cage Cardboard Boxes And Toilet Paper Rolls
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Cardboard boxes and toilet paper rolls make some of the best and cheapest toys for rats.

  • You can create small holes in them and hide treats; rats like to forage.
  • You can connect several boxes and create a room network in which rats can hide and explore.
  • You can attach several rolls of cardboard with two pieces of rope and create stairs or bridges for rats to climb.

Do not use cardboard with ink or sticky labels on it, as rats will chew it and become intoxicated.

Paper Bags

You can give your rats paper bags as toys. They love to hide and tear them apart. Make sure they don’t contain ink or sticky labels.

Wood

Wood and sticks are great and cheap toys for rats.

Make sure the wood is:

  • Unpainted.
  • Not chemically treated, including without pesticides.
  • Nontoxic.

Willow or apple wood is suitable for rats.

Nuts

Walnuts are woody and make a great toy for these rodents. Rats chew their way to the core to eat it. 

Walnuts are high in fat and should be given to rats in moderation (as treats).

PVC Tubes

Rat Cage with PVC Tubes
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PVC tubes are almost impossible to chew, being made of hard material. They make good hiding places for rats.

Place a PVC tube on each level, and watch your rats having fun.

FAQs

Can I Use a Tank as a Rat Cage?

You can use an aquarium as a rat enclosure, but vets and breeders do not recommend it. A tank or terrarium is difficult to clean, causing bacteria growth. It cannot be properly ventilated and keeps a permanently humid environment. Rats are at risk of becoming ill with these enclosures.

What Kind of Cage Does a Rat Need?

Rats need at least two cubic feet per animal. The cages must be spacious and made of hard material. The best are the metal ones with a space between the bars of no more than half an inch.

About Iulia Mihai (DVM)

Dr. Iulia is a certified veterinarian with more than 10 years of experience in the field. With extensive knowledge of diet, care, and medication, she helps Misfit Animals provide readers with accurate knowledge on technical topics.

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