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Rat Care for Beginners: How to Create the Perfect Rat Cage Setup

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I’ve worked as a pet-care consultant for over six years and love rats.

Do Rats Make Good Pets?

I’ve worked as a pet-care consultant for over six years, and I can tell you that rats have never been the most popular animals in the store. An example of the average conversation between a customer and me would sound a little something like this:

“Oh my God, are those rats?

“Yep.

“That’s disgusting! Who would want rats as pets?!

“They make wonderful pets.

“You must be INSANE!

That’s a good dose of daily ignorance that I come across during my work hours. People will venture into the pet store looking for a new addition to the family and find their way to my side—the small animal department. At first, everyone notices the rabbits and only the rabbits, but when it becomes apparent that rabbits need more than just food and water every day, they begin to look for less demanding pets.

As they meander about, they come across the small rodent section and stop cold. A cringe breaks the corners of their mouths at the sight of playful baby rats scampering about their cage. Gross! In the next moment, they find themselves swooning over the adorable dwarf hamsters that paw and nip at fingers venturing too close to the bars of the cages.

Does it make sense? No. Will it ever change? Probably not. But for those who would wish to set aside their stereotypical view of the common sewer rat crawling up out of the toilet and eating the baby, here is a detailed professional care sheet on the pet rat, also called the fancy rat.

"A Rat's Poem"
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"A Rat's Poem"

1 / 6Why People Should Love and Not Hate Rats

Contrary to popular belief, rats are not the swarming, vicious rodents of movies like "Ben and Willard." I was very pleased when Disney’s "Ratatouille" came out because, for once, these poor, little critters were not the hunch-backed, red-eyed villains of most other cartoons and movies featuring rats.

Rat Toy Warning

Never give your rats thin plastic or anything treated with lacquer, perfume, glass or tile cleaner, or oil. Use common sense. If it is safe for a toddler, it’s probably safe for your rats, too.

Rat Food and Water Requirements

Of course, you’ve got to feed and water your rats! Choose a plastic water bottle (available in almost all pet stores), preferably a clear one so you can see how low the water level is. Do not get a glass bottle as these are easily shattered. Always attach the bottle to the outside of the cage, or the rats will chew it apart in hours.

Happy Rat Ownership

Everything you’ve just read is from my own personal experience. Talk to several rat owners and find out what it’s like to have them. Hop online and check out articles and pet care websites, or go to the library and pick out a few good books. There is a lot more out there to learn, and you should have fun doing it!

Always have a vet’s number available, and remember to pay attention to your rat's needs. You and your rat should live a long, happy life together. Happy rat ownership!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions? Comments? Complaints?

Vivi on August 05, 2020:

I have a baby rat, wild caught, and he's been with us for a while, I don't have another rat, So I would like to know, if I should get another, just for my baby rat, or is he's just fine on his own?

Josh on July 01, 2020:

when letting them out should i make sure they cant get under for example my bed or sofa?

Stephanie Vickers on March 19, 2017:

I agree with all this information I have had rats all my life I currently have 4 males Oscar, Felix, Scot, and Zeke, and one female name Sparkles. They are a lot better pet than my brother's gerbal Clover she is always trying to run from us when we have her out and bits us once and a while.

Fallon on October 31, 2016:

HI, loved the poem and the article good stuff thank you, I love my ratties, they are awesome. I did alot of research when I bought them and I read alot of things that says any wooden shavings can be hazerdous to their lungs. exspecially aspen. Have you heard that as well at all since this article?

Rhiannon on July 30, 2016:

I agree with one thing and that would be NEVER KEEP ONE RAT ALWAYS TWO! I recently got my first every rat and, I thought that if I only got one it would bond with me not another rat. But lupin quickly became depressed, and lonely no matter how much attention and entertainment I provided. And in the end he died from stress related issues, most likely caused by his loneliness. I would advise getting two or more happy and healthy rats, and if they were more attached to each other than I, I wouldn't care as long as they are happy and healthy.

Dash on May 30, 2016:

I have been round rats all my life,

I agree the bottom of a wire cage can be cruel I use paper on the bottom so they walk on solid ground =)

my two rats are ozzzy and annie =D

Izzy the Rat Lover on January 02, 2016:

Great hub overal. Didn't agree with anything you said in particular. Just got two new rats today (boys): Solo and Ewok.

Some One Who Loves Rats on August 15, 2015:

Someone said to always have two rats, never one? I disagree. Having more than one rat makes them bond more with each other than with you, plus twice the mess :). Having one makes him/her bond more with you. Now, if you have only one rat, you should take him/her out at least everyday. I take mine out 2 or 3 times a day for at least 15 minutes. It is very important to get them used to there surroundings, inside and outside of their cage.

TK on August 04, 2015:

This says the bars on a wire cage should be no more than "an inch and a half" apart. This is WAY too far apart! A fully grown rat could easily get through that. I wouldn't go more than half an inch. A cage designed for a ferret or rabbit likely has the bars too far apart for rats, just as a cage for a hamster is likely way too cramped.

I would also suggest a glass bottle, plastic has so many chemicals in it. Plus how is it going to get shattered?? Refill with new water every day and thoroughly wash the bottles/bowls/etc. at least once a week. I would NEVER use bleach because it is so toxic, you can't always know that you definitely got all of it off. I use hot water for light cleaning and a natural, gentle dish soap for more thorough cleaning. Unless you have some sort of virus spreading through your rats, there is no need to use bleach or anything strong like that.

Just don't use any kind of wood bedding, period. Rats have VERY sensitive respiratory systems. In fact, many rat owners don't use any kind of bedding as even the paper/cardboard stuff like CareFresh can be a problem. I personally put a towel down on the plastic tray bottom, making sure it goes over the edges so that the top metal part will hold it in place. This is better for their little lungs, easy to clean, prevents them from chewing on the plastic tray (unless they chew through the towel, obviously), and prevents any bedding from being kicked out of the cage. I also think it's fun to be able to swap out colors. I use paper pellet cat litter in the litter box (no clay or fragrances). Sometimes I will put some CareFresh in their little igloo when it's cooler, but they also like to nest in bits of fabric or washcloths.

Half a grape per rat once a month is a little extreme. I do strongly agree with:

AT LEAST TWO RATS, never just one.

DO NOT breed them, make sure you keep the sexes separate at all times.

Rachel on February 13, 2014:

Thank-you for your post! Rats are wonderful, sweet, affectionate pets. I also can't help but be dismayed by the ignorant people that tell me my rats are gross. They must not realize that people carry way more diseases than any pet rat!-thanks again:)

Tiffany on February 04, 2014:

the two things I disagree with - you didn't mention fleece as bedding, and glass water bottles are MORE sanitary than plastic ones and last a heck of a lot longer I've been using glass for years!

Druidess Epona on October 02, 2013:

To the author of this page: You might want to consider pulling back a bit on the 'tude. I have faced my share of "rat discrimination," but this isn't the way to win them over. People (rat-loving people, to boot) come to this page for information on proper care and environmental enrichment, not a ranting diatribe. If a non-rat-lover stumbles to here by accident, their opinion on rats isn't going to be changed by your insults.

Raven on March 19, 2012:

Wire floors are not proven to be the cause of bumble foot, and as long as they have soft spots(like that bed), the base is hard plastic (like she said), and overall the cage is kept clean, there should be no problems. If you are really worried about it though, you can always put wood or sturdy fabric over the wire platforms to keep them from walking directly on it.

Jess on March 20, 2011:

I have always used wire cages and never had a problem. The wire is powder coated and it is only on the shelves. The bottom of the cage is flat and plastic. My rats have never had foot issues.

Kelsey on January 19, 2011:

No no noo! The last picture with the ratties on the wire floor is a big no! Rats should never have wire flooring like that. It can give them sores on their little feet! It is extremely not safe for them and should never be used.

eveliens from SK on September 13, 2010:

Nice hub. I think you've done a really good job of covering all the rattie basics.

koko(kolby) on August 10, 2010:

thanks for the advice i was thinking about breeding the rats when i got them but the tips have helped me realize that i might get an overload of a lot of baby rats ps:that little couple up in that pic up there looks pretty happy just the way things are (lol)


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