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Rat Care

So you've decided on a rat for your next pet. Great choice! Rats make excellent pets due to their intelligence and social nature. A properly socialized rat can act just like a mini dog, hence my favorite nickname for them: Pocket Puppies! To learn more about what rat ownership entails and how to best care for your new companions, check out the info below.

Bonding with Your Rat

Rats Are Social!

The first thing to know when getting a rat is that you can't get just one! Rats are social animals so they need a friend in order to thrive. No matter how much attention you give your rat, it will not be getting all the social interaction it needs if it is housed alone. Three rats is the ideal amount to start with, as it allows the rats to have more social dynamics amongst each other and provides some choice on who they want to spend time with, but at least 2 is a must. I will only adopt out rats in groups of 2 or more. 

Bonding with Your Rat

All of our rats here are handled daily and temperament tested before being adopted out to new homes. That being said, it may still take time for your new rats to fully feel comfortable around you in their new home. Great ways to build trust includes hand feeding and offering treats. You can entice the rats to crawl onto your hand or arm, or pet them while they eat soft food off your hand such as avocado spread, baby food, or yogurt. Another great way to bond is by carrying them around in a bonding pouch (these can be purchased off places like Amazon and Etsy). 


Free Roam Time

Regardless of the size of your cage, it is important for rats to get free roam time on a regular basis. I try to give all my rats at least 30-60 minutes outside their cage every day, or at least every other day. Carrying them around with you can be fun for everyone, but they should get some time to run and explore as well. One way to do this is by setting up a safe room to let them run around in, making sure dangers such as holes or wires are not present. Bathrooms are a great place for this if you can't use a whole room. Another way is to set up a playpen area using plastic sheets, cardboard, or some other smooth tall surface (rats can climb out if its not smooth). Some people like to utilize a bed with a "rat blanket" laid over it or a table top set up, though clever rats will learn to get off the bed with time.


One of my favorite methods is building a playpen on top of my enclosures, then opening the doors and letting the rats climb up. This method is great for more nervous rats that might not be comfortable lower down, or if you don't have any other rat safe areas set up. 

Check out my videos on free roam time on my TikTok below!

Cagetop Free Roam

Bedtop Free Roam

Free Roam Play

Picking Out an Enclosure

Picking out an Enclosure

The bigger the enclosure, the better. Rats are very active and do best with a lot of space to run, dig, and climb. Ventilation is important because rats have very sensitive respiratory systems, so its crucial to get an enclosure with wire or mesh sides for. GLASS TANKS ARE NOT APPROPRIATE. 

My favorite enclosure is the Midwest Critter Nation (CN) or Double Critter Nation (DCN). They are easy to set up, easy to clean (for their size), and will last forever. One CN can comfortably fit up to 4 adult rats and extensions can be easily added if your mischief grows. There's just no comparing their quality.


My other favorite cage for those wanting a simpler setup is the Prevue 528 cage. It still provides plenty of room for enrichment but is easier to manage and clean due to its smaller size. This cage can comfortably fit 2-3 adult males or 3 adult females.

Enclosure Decor

Enclosure Decor

Once you've picked out your enclosure, the fun part of decoration begins! Having the proper interior setup is vital to ensure proper enrichment and health of your rat, in addition to helping in odor control and reduced maintenance. Below we'll go over the main sources of enrichment that we use and recommend. The photos show an example of our DCN decorated for Halloween!


Rats are terrestrial animals, meaning digging is an important part of their nature. As such, the bottom of their cage should always have a substrate that allows them to dig and forage. For cages that don't come with a deep pan, you can shop for bins that match the dimensions and use them. For the DCN, a cement mixing bin from Lowes or Home Depot fits perfectly and allows a deep level of substrate. At least 4" of substrate is recommended. Fleece is not suitable as a primary substrate and walking on exposed wire can cause damage to their feet. 

My preferred substrate is kiln-dried pine shavings. Tractor Supply sells a large bag for just $7 that lasts a month for all of my enclosures. Other suitable substrates are aspen shavings, hemp bedding, and bioactive soil. Fleece and Paper substrates such as CareFresh are not recommended as they do not absorb ammonia well and have a lot of dust, causing irritation to the rats respiratory system.








Climbing & Enrichment

Shelving & Baskets

For cages that come with removable shelves, it is highly recommended to remove those shelves and fill the space instead with ropes, hammocks, ladders, ledges, and baskets.  Large plastic shelves are often a magnet for pee and hold the smell, creating a stinky ammonia trap and lots of extra cleaning work for you! Any wire shelving needs to be covered because walking on exposed wire can cause a painful condition called bumblefoot.

Dollar Tree has excellent baskets that you can zip tie around the cage. These baskets can then be filled with either substrate or other fun materials like shredded newspaper, old T-shirts/towels, or Timothy Hay. Rats enjoy sleeping in these and are less likely to use them as a potty spot, though they should be checked daily to remove soiled bedding and be wiped down if needed. I've recently switched to using only solid-sided baskets that can hold bedding, as I found cleaning to be much easier that way. But many people love the baskets with texture and holes as well. 


Ropes & Ladders

Ropes make an excellent source of enrichment for climbing as well. Dollar Tree dog ropes are a fantastic cost-effective source of ropes. They can be zip tied together to form links in all sorts of fun shapes and are machine washable when its time to clean them (just beware of drying on hot cycle or some ropes can come apart). 

Wooden ladders, such as those often sold for parrots, make another great climbing source. They aren't as cost effective, but its important to have a variety of textures in your enclosure and wooden ladders have the extra bonus of making great chews as well! Temu is a great source for affordable ladder toys (and other toys!). Wooden objects can be cleaned by soaking in hot water with dish soap and vinegar for 30-60 minutes, then soaked in clean water again, and left out to dry. I clean wooden objects every 1-3 months, as needed. 

Scarf hangers are another wonderful way to add variety to the cage and create fall breakers. Ikea scarf hangers are a favorite amongst rat owners.  Fall breakers are very important to ensure safety of your rats. You can do a "ping pong ball" test, where you drop a ping pong ball from the top of the cage. It should bounce off things the entire way down. If it falls freely in any areas, then your cage needs more fall breakers.  

Hammocks & Hides

Hammocks are a favorite amongst rats as cozy sleeping quarters, so its good to always have at least one or two in the enclosure. They can be machine washed every few days or weekly (depending on how much your rats like to pee in them) with unscented detergent and vinegar. There are plenty of options for buying them, but they can also be made out of old t-shirts and towels for a more budget-friendly version. Temu is my preferred site when choosing to buy. For rats that soil their hammocks too frequently, plastic baskets/bins can be hung up and filled with bedding as an alternative.

Other great hides for sleeping include bamboo huts, Lixit Critter Space Pods, and plain old cardboard boxes! It can be fun to take old boxes and tape them together to make little mansions for your rats to explore and sleep in. 

Lava Ledges / Perches


Last but not least, climbing ledges attached to the sides of the cage can add a lot of enrichment for your rat. These can be parrot branches, small wooden platforms, or my two favorites: Lava Ledges and Dollar Tree peg board shelves. Lava Ledges are great because their rough texture helps keep nails naturally filed as the rats climb and provide a fun chewing surface. Similar to wooden objects, they can be cleaned with a good water/vinegar/dish soap soak, though they often need to soak for longer than wooden objects and sometimes can be difficult to fully remove odor from. Plastic peg board shelves don't provide as much enrichment but are super easy to wipe down and keep clean. Therefore, I like to use a mix of each and swap out lava ledges when they get soiled.



In the photo below you can see pink and yellow lava ledges, several dollar tree baskets (some with towels, others with timothy hay), two hammocks, two wooden parrot ladders, a wooden bird chew toy, several dollar tree dog ropes strung up, two corner litter boxes, and a few cardboard boxes on top of the kiln-dried pine substrate. This is one way we set up our SCN.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Cleaning and Maintenance

Now that your enclosure is all set up, lets talk about the best way to keep it clean! Controlling odor will not only make things more pleasant for you and any family members, but will also be healthier for your rats. Choosing the correct substrate is the first step and can go a long way, but here are some other tricks to keep in mind. 

Check out my cage cleaning video on TikTok here!

Litter Training

Rats can be litter trained! It's actually quite easy and will save you a lot of cleaning time and money on supplies. Amazon, Chewy, and most local pet stores sell litter boxes for small animals. I prefer the triangular coner-style litter boxes or tall-sided enriched life litter box. You'll want at least two - one for the bottom of the cage and one up high - or more if your cage is extra tall. I use 3 in my DCN and 2 in my SCN.

Choose a substrate that is different than their regular substrate. I prefer a layer of corn cob bedding over a layer of pine pellets, but many types can work as long as your rats can differentiate it. If your cage is tall, place several litter boxes at various heights to give your rats options. With proper placement, very little training will need to be done. Every day, collect any loose poops around their cage and place them in the litter box. That's all it takes! Most rats catch on within a week or so, while others take a little longer. My rats are all litter trained and with some groups I only need to change the main substrate out every 3 weeks! With most setups, however, changing the bottom substrate out every 1-2 weeks is best.

Once they're litter trained, I use gloves to remove the top layer of droppings every night to keep the box clean and odor down. Adding a pee rock (smooth, oval, palm-sized rock) will help encourage them to pee there as well, though nothing will stop them from marking around their cage. Its just what rats do! When litter level gets too low, you can do a 80-90% replacement and wipe down the sides. Leaving some old litter in helps remind the rats that the litter box is still their potty spot. 

litter box 1.webp

Spot Cleaning

Spot Cleaning is my term for quick, partial cleans that I do regularly, in between full cleans. Spot cleaning will help keep odor way down and will reduce the amount of work you have to do on full clean day. I only have to deep clean my enclosures once a month! Spot cleaning typically takes 5-15 minutes per cage depending on how thorough you are and how many days between cleaning you go. Depending on the size of your cage and how many rats are in it, spot cleaning can be done every day (what I do) or every 2-3 days. 

Spot cleaning is actually better than deep cleaning because if you clean everything at once, the rats are more likely to overcompensate by scent-marking even more! So by leaving some of their scent and only cleaning some things each time, you actually reduce the amount of scent marking they will be doing, and thus the amount of odor as well. 

Soiled Bedding

Every 1-3 days (depending on the size of your cage and how many rats you have) its a good idea to check any sleeping spots and remove soiled bedding as needed. Regular "spot cleaning" like this will keep odor down and reduce the amount of deep cleaning you'll have to do. 

Wipe Downs

Another part of my spot cleaning is checking for areas with noticeable pee (sides of baskets, cage barring, etc) and giving them a quick wipe down. I use a 50/50 mix of white vinegar and water, which is much cheaper than buying fancy cage wipes, safe, and works great for odor control!


By wiping down more heavily soiled areas every few days, you will reduce the amount of work you have to do during cage cleaning day and keep odor way down. 

Litter Box

As mentioned above, removing the top layer of droppings from the litter box every 1-3 days, and doing a 80% litter change once a week is great for odor control and helps keep the rest of the cage much cleaner!

Deep Cleaning

About once a month I will do a full substrate change, replace all climbing ropes and ledges (as needed), deep clean the bottom bin and litter boxes, and give the bars a full wipe down. The amount this is needed will depend on the substrate you use, how litter trained your rats are, and the level of spot cleaning you do in between. 



Rodent Blocks & Scatter Feeding

Last but not least, diet will have a large effect on the health of your rat. I use both Mazuri Rat & Mouse blocks and Oxbow as my rats' main diet with a handful of Kaytee Supreme Fortified Daily Diet scattered in their substrate for foraging. I chose that seed mix because it is cost effective, but there are many other great choices and it only makes up a small portion of their diet. Blocks are preferred as the main diet because they ensure the rats are getting all the nutrtients they need, while the scatter diet provides variety and enrichment. They love to dig in their substrate to find morsels! Another great option for those who have the time is the Shunamite Diet, a homemade rat food that is as healthy as it gets!


Fresh Food

I also provide fresh fruits, veggies, and greens about twice a week. Fresh produce provides a healthy source of nutrients and vitamins. My favorites to give them are broccoli, squash, carrot, blueberry, and dandelion greens, with the occasional cucumber, apple, and banana. Small amounts of table scraps can be given as well, such as unseasoned meat, noodles, rice, and cereals. 




Pet stores sell all kinds of treats marketed for rats, and they can be great, but expensive! My preferred treats are cheerios, dried banana chips, and gerber baby puffs from the grocery store. They are cost effective and rats love them! Avocado and sugar cereals are also a favorite, but should be fed in moderation due to the fatty content. 

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