All rats should be allowed to express natural behaviours. Behaviour refers to the way that an animal acts. An important type of behaviour that an animal expresses are those that are instinctive (what they would typically do in the wild). Enough space, proper shelter and housing, as well as company of the animal's own kind, encourages the expression of natural behaviours.
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act outlines how people must take care of and act towards animals in New Zealand. The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), the Police and SPCA work together to make sure people in New Zealand follow these laws.
Under the Animal Welfare Act, all animal guardians (owners) are responsible for making sure the welfare needs of animals in their care are met. Learning about the Five Domains helps us to understand these welfare needs and how we can make sure we provide these. One of the Five Domains is Behaviour. In this section you will learn about this domain and how you can make sure your rats receive the exercise and enrichment they need to express their natural behaviours.
Rats are very smart and love toys.
Look for rope and wood toys, as many plastic toys can't stand up to chewing by a determined rat!
Simple items like large cardboard mailing tubes, crumpled paper, paper bags, and cardboard boxes can also make wonderful toys.
You can find lots of ideas looking online or in pet stores.
It’s best to rotate your rats’ toys weekly – this will keep things interesting for your rats.
Always make sure the play is not only fun, but also safe for your rat. If the rat doesn't want to play one game or seems a bit scared, try something else.
Pea fishing This is a great game, especially on hot summer days. Take a fairly flat dish (a paint roller tray works really well). Pour in some lukewarm water, add some frozen peas and place the tray on a flat surface (put a towel underneath in case of spillage). Then add rats and watch them dive for the tasty treats!
Some water loving rats will be brave and jump right in. Others may just perch on the side and grab the peas with their hands. Either way, it's great fun for them and great fun for you to watch.
Boxes of fun: Get a whole pile of different sized boxes from the supermarket (muesli boxes work well also) and place them randomly on the floor of a rat proof room. They have a great time sniffing the new smells, running through the random tunnels made by the pile and playing in the boxes.
Cat feather toy: Rats love to chase around a feathered cat toy. Move it around in fast zig-zag and large circle movements – remember let your rat catch it now and again. It's hilarious to watch them try and attack it, pounce on it and stalk it. This is great exercise for them too and even the squishiest, laziest rats usually show interest in it. Just remember not to leave the feather toy lying around where the rats can get it unsupervised.
The human jungle gym: Sometimes there's nothing more entertaining to a rat that you. Rats love to explore and climb all over you. Whether it's shirt diving (watch out for those sharp nails!), shoulder riding, running up and down your arms, playing with and grooming your hair or biting those socked feet! Rats can find us humans very entertaining.
Chase the hand: This game is especially popular with young rats although there are the occasional older ones that still like it. You can use your hand to gently play wrestle with a rat, tickle their tummies and chase them with your hand.
Piñata for rats: This is a great toy idea, and it's cheap and easy. Wrap a few strong-smelling treats in some paper towels and bind it with string. Hang as many as you like throughout the cage. Another version is to take one toilet roll tube, add some treats and then scrunch up the edges of the toilet roll to close it. Tie some string around it; tie the string to the top of the rat enclosure and….voila! One slightly harder-to-get-into piñata!
Treat balls: These balls are a big hit! Rats are very crafty, and you'll have a great time watching them work out how to get as many treats from the ball as they can for as little effort as possible. They are made for cats but are small enough for rats to use. They have an adjustable opening, so you can change it to suit whatever treats you are putting inside.
Bird & dog toys: Cotton rope toys are great for rats to play on and climb. They can be found in the dog and bird sections of the pet shop. The bird section has stiff rope perches which rats enjoy walking along, and the dog section has chew/tug-of-war toys which can be hung and used for climbing. The rats will probably chew on the rope!
Shelves & ledges: Rats enjoy multiple levels in their cages. A few products that can add levels are movable platforms, hanging baskets, hammocks, tubes and tents.
Igloos: There are several types of igloos available for rats from most pet stores; however, if you want to get creative, you can also make houses out of ice cream containers, lunch boxes or larger food storage containers. Then of course you can always throw a full tissue box in the enclosure to provide hours of nesting fun and a temporary house to sleep in and then destroy!
Climbing accessories: Rats love to climb. You can outfit their enclosure 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 shop. Take care to not use climbing toys in the cages of elderly or ill rats.
In the wild, rats forage and dig. Giving your rats a digging box is a safe way to let them indulge in this natural behaviour.
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 mould 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 enclosure, you will have to clean it and replace the soil regularly.
This is a very simple and cheaply made run through toy, although it does require basic sewing skills.
Rats love hammocks! There are so many ways to make them and use them differently for variety. Here are a few simple ideas:
The basic hammock: Cut off an old jeans leg, thread two pieces of rope through it and tie up in the cage. Or use an old face washer or cut a piece of tough fabric to size, punch holes in each corner, and feed through some rope/string/shoelaces to tie it up. You could also attach it to the cage wire using safety pins or curtain hooks for easy removal for cleaning.
The pocket hammock: Cut a piece of tough fabric to size. Fold it over so that the top covers 3/4 of the bottom. Sew up the sides. String/hook it up in the cage. The rats can lounge on top, or burrow inside the pocket when it gets cold. Ideal in winter when made from warm fluffy polar fleece.
The cot shelf: Cut two pieces of wooden dowel and indent the ends to exactly fit your cage like a bird perch. Cut a jeans leg, or sew two hems along the edges of a piece of tough fabric. Feed the dowel through and attach to cage.With the fabric pulled tightly it will form a shelf, left loose it will form a hammock.
Lofts: Cut off an old jeans leg, feed two pieces of rope through and tie them relatively close together in the cage so that the jeans leg stays hanging open and the rats can climb inside. Alternatively, punch four holes in the top part of the jeans leg and tie it up with rope. You could even close in one end of the loft to make it more snug.
The slippery dip: Cut a piece of tough fabric so that it will reach from a higher shelf down to a lower one. Tie it to the shelves to it is tight. The ratties can climb up it and slide down it. A nice change from a ladder or ramp.
The rat pouch: Cut a tough piece of fabric to size. Double it over so the top covers 3/4 of the bottom and sew up the sides (you may want to make the overlapped bit wider so that it hangs open when hung up). Attach string to the two top corners and hang it up on the cage wall. The rats can climb in for a hanging hidden nap.
Snuggle Sacks: These can be sewed from calico or fleece, or simply use a fabric shopping bag or old sack. Sit the rat sack on the floor of the cage and attach a hook to the top so that it holds the entrance open for the rats to get in. These are handy for placing underneath ladders and ramps. The rats will love sleeping and playing and wrestling inside it.
One thing to consider: when you're making your rats a hammock, make two - it's always handy to have a spare when the first one is in the wash or they chew it to shreds!
Rat teeth grow constantly and although they ‘brux’ (grind their teeth together) to keep them down, rats also love to gnaw.
No matter how many chew toys you offer them, they often get more enjoyment out of chewing things they shouldn't (like your furniture, toothbrush, pencils, etc). However, most things are safe for rats to chew, as their mouths are designed not to ingest gnawed fragments.
Here's a few chew toy ideas for your rats: