All rats should live in a suitable environment. A rat’s home affects how the rat feels, thinks and behaves. Providing your rats with shelter and a comfortable resting area is one way you can make sure that your rats stays healthy and happy.
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act says that your animal has five groups of welfare needs. These are five groups of things that animals need to be healthy and happy. These five welfare needs are called the Five Freedoms.
Under the Animal Welfare Act, all animal guardians (owners) need to provide these five groups of things for their animals. One of these Freedoms is: Freedom from Discomfort. In this section you will learn about this freedom and how you can make sure your rats have the right environment and shelter they need to be free from discomfort.
Rats can become bored and depressed without enough fun and interesting places to explore and things to do. Imagine spending two to three years (the average lifespan of a rat) in a walk-in-wardrobe. Even with occasional breaks, life would be pretty boring!
For the sake of your rats’ health and happiness, it’s important to provide them with an enclosure that is as large as possible. A larger enclosure provides space for your rats to exercise, as well as giving them plenty of space to run and play with their toys. The more space you can provide, the more opportunities your rats have to express a wider range of natural behaviours – this means happier and healthier rats!
With a roomier enclosure, rats can exercise on their schedule, not yours. Rats are nocturnal and tend to be most active in the evening when it may not be convenient for your family to take them out for playtime.
Larger homes also increase the likelihood of peaceful friendships among groups of rats. More space means they will have areas for time out or breaks on their own; they will not have to compete for space or constantly bump into each other when playing with their toys.
Larger enclosures are actually easier to clean too because they prevent the build-up of waste and allow rats to separate their bathroom area from other activities.
Pre-made rat housing options in New Zealand are quite limited. Traditionally most of the enclosures that pet shops stock are far too small for rats and can be quite expensive. However, some of the newer designs coming in enable you to modify them, by buying extra pieces, levels and compartments that you can attach.
Ask an adult to help you search for enclosures online. You could also contact your local veterinarian, local SPCA or rat rescue who may be able to suggest some good enclosure stockists or design tips that you could then take to a carpenter. With a bit of imagination, you can certainly make your own entertaining, stimulating and spacious environment for your rats!
The base of your rats’ enclosure should be a solid surface. While it might seem like a good idea to have wire floors so that your rats’ waste falls through, serious damage can occur to a rat's feet if they have to stand on wire all of the time. Having their feet constantly pressed against wire can cause a painful condition called ‘bumblefoot’ where your rat's feet may swell and become infected.
To prevent ‘bumblefoot’, you should look for an enclosure that has a solid surface floor. If you have an enclosure that has wire shelves or ramps, you can cover some or all of them with a solid surface to help protect your rat's feet. You can use plastic laminate from the hardware store (commonly sold for kitchen floors) and an adult can cut it to size for shelf covers that you can wipe clean, or pieces of carpet that you wash and dry regularly, you can even use cardboard that can be disposed of and replaced whenever needed.
If your family invests in a good quality enclosure, your enclosure will last for the entire lifetime of your pet rats.
With good care, the enclosure can be used for many more years if you continue to keep pet rats.
Ask your parents or caregivers to help you look for an enclosure that has sturdy plastic if you are choosing an enclosure with a plastic pan, as you will be able to scrub or bleach the pan without worrying about it cracking.
It is even better to look for the metal enclosure components to be powder coated or PVC coated, which will protect the metal from rusting. Keep in mind that PVC coated enclosures are susceptible to the finish wearing or cracking, but they will last much longer than a galvanized metal enclosure with no treatment applied.
When your family are choosing a rat enclosure, take a good look at the way the shelves and doors are organized. The enclosure doors should be large enough for an adult to reach in and take out your pet rats without having to squeeze them through a small opening. The shelves and ramps should be set up or movable so that you can adjust them, in such a way that there are no spots where your rat can feel cornered either by you reaching for them or by another rat in the habitat.
Make sure that the door closure method is safe and secure. A good way to test this is by closing the enclosure door and giving several firm tugs on the bars in the centre of the door. If the door pops open, you can assume a smart rat with enough dedication will learn to pop the door open when they want to come out and play as well.
Some enclosures offer the addition of flip top lids that open the entire top of the enclosure in addition to doors, which provides another easy access point. If you have to reach in to an enclosure and bend your wrist around a shelf to reach any part of the enclosure, remember that interacting with your rat and cleaning that type of enclosure will be more difficult.
Think carefully about the size of your rats, the bar spacing that you will need will depend on the size of the rats that you plan on housing.
The bar spacing of your rats’ enclosure must be small enough for the type of rats you plan to house to not slip through.
An enclosure won't be much good if it doesn't hold your rats in!
Once you've selected the right housing for your rats, you’ll need to determine where in your home they will live. Here are some factors to consider:
Bedding material is used to describe the type of material that is used to cover the bottom of the enclosure.
Rats spend lots of time sleeping and like to hide and sleep in dark, safe shelters.
Rats often have preferred resting sites.
Suitable bedding materials are wood chips (non-pine or cedar), cellulose based chips or shredded filter paper. Recycled paper cat litter is also safe.
Avoid dusty bedding materials such as sawdust, and any bedding which is made of pine or cedar as these can result in breathing and other health problems.
You will need to provide your rats with nest boxes that they can hide in to sleep. These can be store-bought such as large igloos, roll-a-nest beds or log cabin homes.
You might try home-made nest boxes such as a cardboard box (although it may need to be replaced often), a flowerpot or jar turned on its side, or a section of PVC drain pipe (perhaps cover one end). There are many possibilities.
Once you have the bed(s), provide your rats with material that they can make a nest with and set up their beds. Some good suggestions are non-stringy fabric, shredded paper, paper towels or tissues.
Be sure to change the nesting material often. Ammonia resulting from your rats’ wee can be harmful, especially in a small confined area such as a nesting bed.
Rats love to get up high off the ground and lounge around. That’s why hammocks, soft sleeping tubes, and hanging hideaways are a must for all rat enclosures!
Store bought or home-made hammocks and soft sleeping tubes can be hung with safety pins, diaper pins, chains, hooks, or any other method that holds them secure. Lining the hammock or soft sleeping 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.
Nesting material is used to describe the material provided in addition to bedding material, which is given to animals for nest building and nesting behaviour.
Make sure you always provide suitable nesting materials for your rats. All rodents need nesting material to regulate their body temperature and rats also enjoy making nests. Suitable materials are hay, shredded paper, paper strips and paper tissues.
Provide your rats with a variety of different nesting materials to give them a choice over what they use so they can build good nests. Rats enjoy shredding nesting materials such as white tissue paper to create their own nests.
Do not give your rats nesting materials that separate into thin strands such as cotton wool or similar ‘fluffy’ bedding products. They pose a serious risk to rat health and welfare – there is concern that this material can cause harm if eaten and thin strands that form in this material can be difficult to break. This material can lead to a rat becoming tangled up in their bedding and/or the loss of circulation in tangled limbs, resulting in amputation or unfortunately, euthanasia.
Also remember, rats can be litter box trained!
It is a great time saver from cleaning, as well as a money saver, with less bedding to buy. It is well worth any time it takes to train your little buddies.
This works based on the fact that many animals and rodents prefer to keep their home clean and toilet in one area. They like to go where other rats have gone as well.
Below are the basic steps to take to litter box train:
Make sure you keep your rats’ enclosure clean and do not allow urine and feces to build up as this can cause health problems.
Clean out the enclosure regularly once a week to prevent the build-up of droppings and urine.
Clean out your rats’ home/enclosure when they are awake and not in the middle of the day – this is when your rats are sleeping and this disturbance can be stressful for them.
When cleaning out the enclosure, leave a handful of unsoiled clean nesting material behind to keep some familiar smells within the enclosure.