It’s a common misconception that rats smell bad. In reality, a rat on the right diet in a well set-up cage smells very little. If your rats are overwhelming you with the stink, here’s a quick troubleshooting guide to work out why.
What they eat can have a real impact on how a rat smells. Make sure you’re offering a healthy diet. We’d recommend a homemade mix or a mix from Rat Rations.
As well as their main diet, treats can have also have an impact. A little fresh vegetable is good for rats, but when offered too often it can cause stomach upsets and contribute to bad smells. A diet high in protein is also likely to cause issues with stinky rats. Eggs and chicken are great treats but should be given sparingly for this reason. Rat kittens need a higher protein diet, so they are likely to smell much worse than adult rats. Don’t worry, they will grow out of it!
Cage Set Up
Poor setup can increase the likelihood of rats who smell bad.
What substrate are you using? The substrate in the base of the cage needs to be absorbent, to help soak up urine without adding stink. Fleece is a poor choice, as it allows the urine to sit in the base tray, getting yucky. Instead, opt for a proper substrate, that is properly absorbent.
Many starter cages include plastic shelves, but this can be a major culprit of stink. Rats love to wee on flat, smooth surfaces. The urine sits on the shelf and dries, leaving that distinctive ammonia smell. Take out any plastic shelves and swap them for hammocks, ropes, and perches. This will cut down the smell and provide a more active cage for your rats.
Litter training rats helps too, but only with the right litter. Like substrate, look for good absorbency.
Many rat owners actually over clean their cage. It seems logical that cleaning the cage every few days would combat the smell, but actually, this can make the problem worse.
Rats have very sensitive noses, and they communicate a lot through smell. A cage that is cleaned too much won’t smell right to them, so your rats will scent mark everything and end up making the cage smell even worse.
Instead, try doing a daily spot clean. Wipe up any spillages, move any stray poos to the litter tray and remove anything that’s getting really horrible. This might mean changing litter trays or removing any extra bedding you’ve given, like tissues or paper. Cardboard gets stinky fast, so swapping cardboard items every few days is a good idea. By doing this, you keep mess and smell to a manageable level for you, but you’re not emptying the whole cage, so there’s always something that smells of them.
With this method, you can leave your deep clean to once every couple of weeks. Some owners manage to go to three or four weeks before deep cleans! You can read about cage cleaning here, but this is your chance to give the bars a good clean and swap out all the toys and cage furniture.