Your rats will be spending a lot of time in their cages. You need to add accessories that will make your rats comfortable and secure. Another very important reason to provide cage accessories is to keep them occupied. It has been proven that mental stimulation actually can increase intelligence.
Fortunately there are many ways to outfit a rat cage to turn it into a comfortable and interesting environment using both home made and store bought items. When shopping at the pet stores check out the accessories for other animals besides rats such as ferrets, chinchillas, birds, etc. Even the local hardware store and the dollar store can be a source of cage accessories. Creativity is the key to setting up a happy and safe environment for your rats.
Beds and NestsRats spend quite a bit of time sleeping and lounging around. Warm cozy beds and lofty sleeping spots are both equally important for your rat.
Warm and cozy bedsYou will need to provide your rat with a nest box that he can hide in to sleep. You can find items at the pet store such as large igloos, chinchilla bathhouses, roll-a-nest beds, ferret ball connectors, roll-a-nest balls, and log cabin homes among others. On a more creative side you can use plastic bowls turned upside down with a large hole drilled in it, 4” PVC pipe, sturdy cardboard boxes, and even plastic storage boxes with holes notched into them. There are many possibilities.
Once you have the bed/s provide your rat with material that he can make a nest with. Some rats are very avid nest builders and will enjoy setting up their beds. Some good suggestions are non-stringy fabric, CareFRESH bedding, shredded paper, paper towels. Etc.
Be sure to change the nesting material often. Ammonia resulting from urine can be harmful to the rat especially in a small confined area such as a nesting bed.
Lofty loungesRats love to get up high off the ground. This is one of the reasons that so many companies and individuals are offering hammocks, soft sleeping tubes, and hanging hideaways. Hammocks are a must for a rat cage. They come in many sizes and styles. You can purchase cozy fleece lined hammocks, ones with pockets, or lightweight lounge hammocks. Many pet stores offer ferret cage accessories, these can be used and are particularly good for larger rats. One of the advantages to having a wire cage is that it provides a good place where you can hang these versatile beds.
Making your own hammocks and soft tubes is easy. If you sew it is possible to really go all out and design fancy ones. If you aren’t able to sew you can fashion hammocks out of towels, scrap fabric, cloth place mats, cloth diapers, or old clothes. Tubes can be fashioned from pant legs cut off and hung within the cage.
Home made hammocks and soft tubes can be hung with safety pins, diaper pins, grommets, chains, hooks, or any other method that holds them secure. Lining the hammock or soft tube with a towel after it is hung will allow you to change the surface without having to change out the hammock in-between cleanings.
Hard tubes can be bought in the ferret section. These tubes connect and hang with chains. They come in different colors and are transparent so that you can view the rat. PVC pipe and drainage pipe will also work and can be drilled and hung..
ToysRats just want to have fun so provide them with things to play with. The best toy they will have, of course, is you. Interaction, hand wrestling, training and play time out of their cage with you are the most important activities that your rats can have. During the times that you are not around though, other toys will make the rat’s life more fun.
WheelsAn exercise wheel is a great cage accessory if your rat will use it. Typically females are more inclined to be wheel runners, but that isn’t always the case. Some males will use them, too.
Be sure to provide only a non wire wheel to prevent injury such as the plastic Wodent Wheel or one of the solid metal type wheels.
Treat ToysTreat toys are always a big hit. You can find toys that hold treats at your pet store such as hanging treat balls, the Bunny Ka-Bob, Boredom Busters, the Pick-a-Peanut, and the Bounce Back Pet Rat toy.
For a simple home made treat toy you can put treats in a small cardboard box and watch as your rats busily demolish it to get their treat. You can also attach fruit or hard treats with holes drilled into them to a large binder ring and attach it to the side of the cage.
ClimbingRats love to climb. You can outfit your cage with such things as ladders, ropes, wooden bird branches, and climbing tubes. You will find many good climbing toys in the ferret and bird department of the pet store. Take care to not use climbing toys in the cages of elderly or ill rats.
Digging BoxesIn the wild rats forage and dig. Giving them a digging box is a safe way to let them indulge in this natural behavior.
To create a digging box all you need is a plastic box, such as a litter box for cats or a low plastic storage box, and a bag of sterile potting soil. Make sure the soil has no fertilizers or other additives.
You can add seeds to grow oat grass, wheat grass, millet, rye, or even use birdseed. Add enough moisture to grow the grass, but not enough to cause fungus or mold growth. Assorted rocks and a PVC tunnel partially buried create an even more interesting environment. For fun you can hide treats in the digging box for your rat.
Your rats digging box can either be in or outside of the cage. If you leave it in the cage you will have to clean it and replace the soil regularly.
Cage FlooringIf your floors are made from wire mesh you should cover most, if not all, of the floor with something to protect your rats’ feet. Too often rats get sprains or breaks from getting their feet caught in the cage floor. Having a floor that wire spacing is ½” x ½” will help to reduce injury. The other problem with wire floors is that it can aggravate bumble foot if your rat is predisposed to it.
There are many good options for making the cage floors safe. One very good one is linoleum (non-glued for easy cleaning) cut to the size of the floor. It cleans easily and looks attractive. Other floor covering options are placemats (cloth or plastic, needlepoint canvas, and non-stick rubber shelf liner.
Cardboard, plywood, and carpet are all poor flooring choices. These are too hard to keep clean and can not be wiped down.
Feeding & Water BottlesRats are free feeders and require a constant supply of food. Food dishes need to be heavy and low so that they can not be spilled. Two other options are food dishes that mount to the side of the cage and food hoppers that dispense food. Any wet or perishable food should go in a separate food dish.If you have rats that stash their food be sure to not overfeed them and remove any perishable food before they begin to decompose.
Water is the most important thing your rat needs. Always make sure that clean water is available. Do not put water in an open bowl. Your rat will either tip it over or fill it up with bedding. There are several good types of water bottles. Most mount on the outside of the cage with a sipper tube that fits in-between the bars. If your rats have an open cage it may be necessary to protect the top of the plastic water bottles from chewers. You can do this by putting an empty can or a small plastic bowl over the top of it.
Multiple water bottles are a good idea so that if one bottle leaks or is empty they will still have another to drink from. When using an aquarium you can get a water bottle holder that hangs from the side of the cage and protects the water bottle from chewing. Always make sure that the bottle’s seal or gasket is in place and that the bottle does not drip. Be sure to clean and sanitize the bottle thoroughly each week.
Shelves & LedgesRats enjoy multiple levels in their cages. A few products that can add levels are movable bird platforms, hanging baskets, and level sized ferret hammocks. Ferret tubes connected together can be attached to the side (both inside and out) or top of the cage and used as a way to get from one platform to the next. You can also cut coated wire shelving to size and attach it to the cage using wire ties.
Another good idea is to use wire baskets. The tiered baskets that hold fruit can be suspended from the center of a large open cage. For smaller cages wire baskets can be attached with cable ties.