You’ve chosen your cage and chosen its place in the house. You might now be staring at this huge thing and wondering where on earth to start with filling it up. A well set up rat cage will provide a safe, but interesting home for your ratbags. There are some affiliate links in this post, marked with an asterisk.
Rat Cage Substrate
The first thing you’ll need is a good substrate. The right substrate is down to personal preference (of both you and your rats), and you might have to try a few before finding the best option for you.
Cardboard: Cardboard based substrates use recycled card cut into squares or strips. It’s dust-free, making it safe for rats, and makes for excellent nesting material. The absorbency level can make it smelly faster than other substrates, but it’s very easy to clean up. Popular options include Finacard* or Green Mile*.
Wood Shavings: Any wood shaving used in the cage should be dust extracted and heat treated. Avoid anything with added scents, and be careful using shavings if your rats are prone to respiratory issues. The most popular options are Bedmax* and Littlemax*. Never use pine or cedar.
Hemp: Chopped hemp is becoming very popular as a substrate. They’re low in dust and very absorbent, but can be messy. The most used hemp bedding in the UK is Aubiose*, which is also what we use at Rattie Ratbags.
Fabric: Some owners use fabric like fleece or towels at the bottom of the cage. This cuts down on mess, but can become very smelly very quickly, and means the rat doesn’t have any substrate to dig in. It’s reusable but will become chewed. Many rats will pull up the fabric to use as nesting material, or insist on spending most of their time underneath the fabric floor cover instead of on top of it. It can be a good option for rats with poor mobility. Most people use old towels or pieces of fleece, but there are commercial options too, such as Vetbed*.
Newspaper: In the UK, all newspapers use safe inks, so you can use newspaper for a cheap option. Absorbency is poor, however, and this will become smelly fast.
Teabag Bedding: Teabag based bedding* is a nice, soft option, and lovely for nest building rats.
Paper-Based Bedding: Paper beddings are soft and absorbent. They can be dusty, so be careful to choose a low dust option, and to avoid scented options. Popular choices include Carefresh*, Pure Comfort* and Back To Life*.
Rats should never be kept on sawdust, as it isn’t safe for their respiratory systems. Straw and hay can be used in small amounts but isn’t great as a sole substrate. It quickly becomes smelly. If you use either, make sure they are very good quality.
Rat Cage Accessories
Filling a rat cage can be great fun. A well set up rat cage will cater to a rat’s natural behaviours with toys and accessories designed to add enrichment.
Running: Rats love to run, and some might enjoy a wheel. A wheel is a great way to offer your rat exercise during the hours you don’t allow them to free roam. Remember, a rat wheel must be at least 12 inches in diameter. The most popular wheels are the metal, silent wheels by TicTac.
Try not to clutter the bottom of the cage with too many things either, leaving space for your rat to run.
Climbing: Rats are excellent climbers. You can offer climbing options in lots of ways. Branches, ropes and nets are very great fun for rats to climb and balance on. Branches can be bought, or brought in from outside. Branches from outside should be cleaned and dried first. Ropes designed for parrots, or from dog toys are great. Parrot toys and wine racks also offer good climbing.
Balancing: Balancing is good for building a rat’s agility skills. Ropes, perches and small ledges are a good way to offer places for your rat to hang out and practice its balance.
Gnawing: Some rats are big chewers. Offering interesting chew toys might save your hammocks and cage base…
Nuts in shells, parrot toys and wooden chews are good for gnawers.
Nesting: Does, in particular, enjoy constructing nests. Offering nice soft materials, like strips of fabric, tissues or bits of card. You will need to change this frequently. At Rattie Ratbags, our girls enjoy being given a full tissue box. They drag the tissues out, stuff them into their bed, and then either chew the empty box or use it as a hide.
Sleeping: Your rats will need somewhere to sleep. Offer a variety of options, such as hammocks, hidey boxes, or containers attached to the sides of the cage.