How to Set Up a Cage for a Pet Rat

This post contains affiliate links.

Pet rats are super cute, low-maintenance pets that will bring you a lot of joy. Before you get your pet rats, you have to acquire everything you need for your rats. 

  • Wired cage with a solid bottom
  • A substrate on the floor
  • Bedding or hay for nesting
  • Housing to sleep in
  • Things to hide in
  • Toys and chews
  • Bowls for food and water 
  • Alternatively: Water bottle
  • “Rat toilet” bowl
  • Pelleted food
  • Rat carrier

In the article “How do you take care of a rat for beginners?”, you will find all the information on what a rat needs. This article will deal with individual questions on how to equip the new home of your rats.

How to Prepare for New Pet Rats

You have decided to get rats as pets. Congratulations on this fantastic decision! Rats are my all-time favorite animals because they are incredibly cute, smart, caring, and can become your best friend.

Before you go to the pet store, local breeder, or private seller to acquire your new rats, you need to get a few things to be prepared. 

Get a Rat Carrier

The very first thing you will need is a rat carrier, like this one on Amazon:

The carrier does not go directly in the cage, but you need it to pick up your rats and it’s also a place to put the rats in when you clean their cage. You also need the carrier to transport your rat, for example to the vet.

When you buy a rat, they often put the animal in a cardboard box. Depending on the time, the rat needs to stay in the box to get home, it might chew through the box, so a carrier makes a lot of sense if you don’t want a panicking rat to run free in your car.

Find a Vet for Small Rodents

Check out vets in the surrounding area that treat small rodents such as rats. Many vets specialized in bigger pets such as cats and dogs, so make sure that you already know someone you can go to if you have an issue with your pet rat.

Now it’s finally time to equip the cage.

What Kind of Cage Do Rats Need?

There are several different cage options for your cute fur bundles. 

Rats are larger than mice or hamsters, therefore you will need a bigger cage. They need much more space than you might assume. Rats love to roam around, play, and climb.

You should look for a wired cage with a solid bottom. 

A cage with several platforms is perfect for rats. To avoid spills, you can go for a deep bottom, but that is not essential.

The cage should of course be chew-proof and the doors should close properly so that no rat can learn to open the doors and escape. Rats are escape masters, therefore you should rather go for a more expensive, high-quality cage.

More than one entry point will make it easier for you to get access to the food and water bowl and of course to the rats.

Interior plastic in the cage is not necessarily bad. Rats will chew on the plastic, but as long as they cannot chew their way out, it’s all good.

Here is an example of a very good enclosure that your rats will love:

The cage itself is very solid, and the cage is escape-proof, even for the wittiest rat. The doors open wide, which makes cleaning easier. And the floors offer plenty of space to run around and explore.

What Cage Size Do Rats Need?

The size of the cage depends on the number of rats you own. It also depends on how much your rats run free in a bigger space.

Rats have a natural urge to explore and run around. Life only in a cage is not a good life for rats. Once your hats and you have bonded and trust each other, you should give your rats the possibility to run around in a room without any possibilities to escape for at least one hour a day. If you can stick around, your rats will play with you and you will be able to connect even more with your pets.

The cage size for two rats should be at least 38 cm x 72 cm x 43 cm (15 x 28 x 17 inches). The bigger the cage, the better for your pet rats, but it also means that the cleaning procedure will become more time-consuming.

Make sure that the distance between the wires is not too big. A cage for rabbits is not suitable for rats because if a rat can fit its head through a hole, it is very likely that the rest of the body can follow. 

Where Should I Keep my Pet Rat?

Pet rats have to be kept indoors in a room preferably where you or your family spends a lot of time in. This can be your own room or the living room, for example.

The cage should be placed in an area without direct sunlight or any sudden temperature changes. Normal room temperature is perfectly fine for rats. They don’t need extra heating or extra light, as long as the room has windows for natural sunlight.

What Do Rats Need in Their Cage?

It’s finally time to set up the cage!

These are the things you will need in your rat cage:

  • A substrate on the floor
  • Bedding or hay for nesting
  • Housing to sleep in and to hide in
  • Toys and chews
  • Bowls for food and water or alternatively: A water bottle
  • “Rat toilet” bowl
  • Pelleted food

Do Rats Need Substrate?

Pet rats need some kind of substrate in the cage. The substrate is the material that you put on the floor and the rats can easily walk on it. 

You can use a mixture of different things to keep your rats entertained, or just a single material, which is also totally fine.

You should keep in mind that rats will destroy everything to offer them as substrate. If you give them a towel, this will be the rat towel forever, because the next time you see it, it will be filthy with holes in it.

Paper or newspaper should not have too much ink on it, because the ink can be toxic to small animals and the print rubs off and the rats will chew on the paint.

And if you want to use tissues or anything similar, make sure that it is perfume-free. Rats have sensitive noses. The material you choose should also be dust-free, non-toxic, and easy to walk on for the rats. It should also be absorbent.

These are the things that can be used as substrate:

Newspaper, shredded paper, tissues, toilet paper, kitchen roll, recycled paper pellets, towels, fleece, dry litter, or any kind of substrate for rats that you can buy at the pet store.

Here is an example of a good, absorbent, and dust-free bedding that can be used as substrate:

Do Rats Need Housing?

Do Rats Need Housing?

Yes, rats need different housing options in their cage. 

You should offer your rats various hiding areas such as little houses, tunnels, hammocks, and other areas to relax and sleep. 

You can acquire little houses from the pet store, or use caves made out of (shoe-) boxes. The houses should be made of cardboard, plastic, or wood. Rats tend to create their own ways in and out of houses. Sometimes they are ok which the structure of a house, and sometimes they will create their own way out on the back of the house. 

Do Rats Need Bedding?

The bedding is a material that the rats will use to nest. Rats will build a cozy bed in one or more of the houses with all the materials you provide them with. You don’t have to put the bedding inside of the houses, the rats will do that on their own. You simply have to insert the bedding into the cage. You should use something soft enough that they can sleep on.

Suitable beddings are paper towels, toilet paper, napkins, tissues, kitchen paper rolls, shredded paper, any kind of cotton, recycled paper, or paper pellets. The rats will use anything you offer them, as long as it is soft and big enough to carry into a house.

What Can I Use for Rats to Hide in?

Rats need different places to hide in.

You can use tunnels, hammocks, any kind of cloth, wooden houses, plastic houses, paper rolls, and cardboard boxes. There are many different things you can get from the pet store, but you can also create hiding spots for your rats with things you find at home. You can use your old shoe boxes, cut a hole inside, and voilá you have a great place to hide for your rats.

You can also knit hammocks or potter bowls and caves for your pets. Make sure to only use non-toxic materials.

My rats loved their hammocks and often slept in them. One rat inside, and one rat on top. Here is an example of a hammock for rodents:

Make sure to have a look at the strings every now and then. Rats tend to chew them through and you should fix it, before the hammock comes down with a rat in it.

Do Rats Need Toys?

Rats are extremely curious animals. They love to explore and play. Therefore any kind of toy is welcome for these little furballs. Bored rats are unhappy and will become annoying because they will do anything to experience something. 

You can use ladders, branches, tubes, and tunnels for climbing. You don’t have to stick to toys for rats. They will also love parrot swings and ropes, as well as chew toys that can help your rats to wear down their teeth. 

Chew toys for rats should be non-toxic, unpainted, and untreated. You can use tranches, dried corn, rawhide chews for dogs, or cardboard. 

What Kind of Bowls are Good for Rats?

The bowls for food and water should be made of a sturdy material, which is heavy enough so that it does not flip around when a rat steps on the edge. Plastic is usually not heavy enough. I used potter bowls and ceramics for my rats.

You don’t necessarily need a water bowl. When my rats were still young, they, played with the water and sometimes managed to get the entire floor of the cage wet. That’s when I decided that a water bottle is the right choice for my rats.

When they grew a bit older, they were not that energetic anymore and enjoyed the water bottle for drinking and the water bowl to clean themselves. 

You can try out both and see what works for you and your rats.

Can Rats be Potty-Trained?

Pet rats are very clean animals. They try to keep their cage and themselves as clean as possible and spend many hours every day cleaning themselves. 

It is easy to potty-train a rat. You need one area or a specific spot that you want your rats to use as a toilet. I always used a corner litter tray and filled it up with a different substrate material to make it more obvious that it is a toilet.

When the rats start to explore their new cage, they will drop their feces everywhere they walk.

Collect the feces and put them in the toilet corner. Your rats will quickly understand, that this is the place for their pee and poo. Regularly clean the toilet, but let some feces to emphasize that it is still the toilet area.

Rats will still drop their feces in their nest, but not in other parts of the cage anymore. And you can also let them run free in your room, without worrying about their excretions, as they will prefer their toilet.

Which Food Do Rats Need?

You can offer your rats a mixture of pelleted food, dried rat food from the local pet store, and fresh food every day. 

Rats love fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as dairy products such as cheese, cream cheese, and yogurt.

Rats are omnivores and eat almost everything, but there are also some things they should not be fed such as citrus fruits, stone fruits, onions, garlic, and any kind of product that contains industrial sugar, chocolate, and a few other things.

Do Rats Need a Wheel?

Rats do not need a wheel. They have a convexly curved back and would harm themselves if they ran in wheels. They do need to move around a lot, therefore it is important to offer them a space outside of the cage for at least one hour every day, where they can run around, and explore new things. 

Leave a Comment