Preparing for Owning Rats

The cage.

There are really two main types of good housing available for your rats. One is the ‘bird cage’ type and the other is the ‘aquarium’ type. Specialised rat cages in either of these forms should be readily available from your local pet store. Obviously larger pet stores will have a larger selection of cages to choose from. Whichever type of cage you choose, make sure there is enough room for the number of rats you will be buying. Rats need room to move around just like we do. A couple of things need to be taken into consideration when deciding on which type of cage to choose from.

The ‘bird cage’ type of rat cage is great for the little boogers to climb around in and yahoo around like mad rats. You can easily hang ropes, ladders, hanging toys and other such fun stuff off the bars. Ammonia build-up from their urine deposits are not as big an issue as it would be for an ‘aquarium’ type. However you must make sure that the cage is in a draught-free environment and that they have adequate warm stuff to sleep in if the weather is cold. When selecting a wire cage, make sure unwary rats can’t get their head stuck between the bars and that it’s not going to kill them if they chew on the bars. Another issue with wire cages is the fact that anything you put in the cage (ie litter, food, bedding), will most likely be tossed out all over your floor.

The ‘aquarium’ type of rat cage is good for containing all their mess. Although it is harder to hang fun ropes and ladders and things, it can still be done if the roof is made of wide enough wire mesh. Never keep rats in aquariums with glass lids as not enough air will circulate. Due to the fact that not as much air will be circulating through the cage because of the glass sides, careful attention must be made to ammonia levels in the cage. Some people have to clean out their aquarium cage every day in order to keep the ammonia levels under control. Ammonia build up can cause your rats all sorts of respiratory problems and their standard of living to become shocking. Aquarium cages are good for draughty areas, as the glass sides will keep the draughts out, and the wire top to allow the circulating air in at acceptable levels

Cage Placement

Cages should never be placed in direct sunlight as the heat would be very distressing for rats and may even kill them on hot days. It should be somewhere in the house where a lot of activity goes on so that the rats don’t get bored from lack of human contact and excitement. If the cage is at about chest or eye level, the whole family can watch the rats and the rats can watch you back! Having the rats in a room with air conditioning could be a problem as it may cause them to develop respiratory problems if there is rapid drops or rises in temperature.

Learn before jumping in the deep end.

Although rats are fairly easy animals to care for, it is wise, and indeed essential to learn about the needs of your new pets. Basic knowledge in handling, feeding and caring for your rats will ensure that both you and your rats live a happy life together. It is also worth learning about the illnesses that rats can get so that you can catch any problems early and avoid possible disaster. Many resources are available for potential owners. Most pet stores will stock at least one, and sometimes a range, of books on basic rat care. Most libraries should also stock some of these books. Tons of sites on the web can also provide a wealth of information from rat owners all over the world.

Feeding your rats.

Rats need healthy and balanced diets in order to stay in top condition. They should never be fed much fatty or sugary foods, as this will cause them to become obese and develop such health problems as diabetes, and tumours. Your rat will enjoy such treats as carrot, brocolli and lettuce. In fact most vegetables are safe to feed to your rat. Feeding them too much protein can cause problems such as hair loss and scabbing, although a small amount of protein in their diet in the form of dry dog biscuits or the odd cooked chicken bone is good for them. Male rats tend to need less protein than females, and hence are more prone to problems from having too much. Very young rats and nursing mothers benefit from a little more protein in their diets. A mix of pellets, lucerne chaff, corn, large seeds, dry dog biscuits and fresh fruit and veges is a healthy diet for most rats.

Providing entertainment.

Rats are very intelligent and active animals and they can become bored and develop health and personality disorders if mental stimulation is not provided. Playing with your rats can alleviate some of this boredom, but what about the times they are in their cage? Providing toys for them to amuse themselves with is the solution obviously! Pet stores can can stock a wide variety of of toys which may be suitable. Be careful that anything you give them does not have small holes they can get stuck in, contains toxic materials or will harm them if they chew on it (and chew on it they will!). Bird ladders, ropes, hammocks, tubes, perches, flavoured wooden blocks – you name it, your rat will probably have fun with it. However there’s really no need to buy tons of expensive toys. PVC piping, natural fibre ropes, hammocks made from old jeans, empty ice cream buckets with holes cut out of them and any other creative uses you can put ordinary items to will be much appreciated by your rats. A fun game for your rats is to put frozen peas into a dish of water.. they will do anything to get at those peas! This provides them with quality fun time, and you with a gutfull of laughs.

Cage litter

There is not really an absolute ideal litter to use in the cage. Different people prefer different solutions to providing their pets with an absorbant and odour eating litter. Newspaper should not be used as the ink may be toxic, and clay cat litter should never be used as a rat can become seriously ill from eating it. A few different brands of cat litter are available on the Aussie market which are suitable to different degrees for use in rat cages. Max’s, Light n Easy, Natty Cat and Breeder’s Choice seem to be the main choices. Max’s is RSPCA endorsed and is made from rice hulls. It smells ok, but tends to be dusty and this may aggravate or start respiratory problems, especially in an aquarium type situation. Light n Easy and Breeder’s Choice are recycled paper litters. This may suit some rats and not others. Some rats may get sneezy or coughy with these brands, however they are quite absorbant. Natty Cat is my choice for smaller scale rat owners – it is pellets made from lucerne and not only smells nice itself, but controls odours quite effectively. It is super absorbant and is -wonderful- for the garden after the cage has been cleaned out. All of these brands are available from supermarkets, and it’s basically at your discretion which brand/s you choose.

The sleeping arrangements.

There are many types of bedding and sleeping houses available. Don’t use newspaper as bedding, for the same reasons as outlined above in the litter section. Rats should be provided with something to sleep and hide in. Ice cream buckets work well for young animals, however as they grow up, the ice cream bucket will probably spend most of its time upside down as they flip it over easily. Constructing your own wooden house is not too difficult. Make sure that anything you construct has adequate ventilation. Pet stores can stock a good range of rat housing from wooden ones to plastic. Keep in mind that any house you get that is made out of wood will soak up the rat’s urine and may become a health problem and/or deteriorate. Plastic houses are more durable and easy to clean. Bedding should be provided for your rats for comfort and warmth. Unscented, unbleached toilet paper does this job well, but remember to change the bedding often (sometimes it must be done every day), otherwise your rats may develop respiratory problems from ammonia buildup.