I hear from a lot of rat owners with questions and complaints about cages. Most of the time they are first time pet rat owners and they bought a cage (or made a cage) that later was not a good choice for their rats. Because your rat cage will be one of the most expensive things you buy for your pets, it can be pretty upsetting to find that it stinks to high heaven or your rats have chewed through it or even have been injured in it.
Professionally Designed Cages Are Best
The cage your rat lives in is VERY important for their safety, health and longevity. Choosing the appropriate cage is vital for their happiness, especially because they will spend the majority of their waking hours (at night) playing, exploring, chewing, peeing and pooping in there. I never recommend homemade cages because they are usually made of less desirable materials and can present safety and sanitary issues. Good store bought rat cages are made with all the needs of your rats in mind. The best are made of wire and metal simply because rats chew up wood and plastic… and whatever they are chewing on needs to be natural and not treated with chemicals that can harm them. Also wood cages can absorb rat urine in the walls and flooring, which has a strong ammonia smell, and that smell can irritate their very sensitive respiratory systems and cause an upper respiratory infection. Metal bars need to be powder coated to be safe for rats and a lot of hardware cloth sold at DIY stores is not coated and often has sharp edges when cut.
Bar Spacing for a rat cage should not be wider than 1/2″, as smaller rats can escape through bars that are wider. Cages designed for larger pets such as ferrets usually have 1″ bar spacing that young rats and smaller females can easily slip through.
Cage Size Guidelines
The cage you choose will depend on how many rats you are going to house in that cage. General guidelines are 2 cubic feet of space per rat, with a minimum of 2 rats housed together. To make sure the cage you are considering is the appropriate size, you can use a cool online tool, the Ratty Corner Cage Calculator. Just put in the dimensions of your cage and it will tell you how many rats you can house in it.
Too small of a cage is harmful for the well being of your rats, however too large of a cage can cause some issues too. Some instances of rats becoming “cage bound” have been observed in rats that are housed in too large of a cage. Cage bound rats can go from being very social with humans to being anti-social; hiding and running away when you try to take them out. Some people have even reported getting bitten by previously friendly pet rats after being housed in a much larger cage. No one really knows why this occurs, but there is speculation that it is because the rat (evolving as a prey animal) feels exposed or insecure in the large space. The solution to that is to clutter up the cage as much as possible with hidey holes, boxes, tunnels, cubes and hammocks to make the rats feel like they have lots of safe places to hide.
Another thing to consider when deciding on a good cage is that wild rats are tunnelers, not big climbers. So though your ratties do love to climb around, your pet rats have the instinct to tunnel. A cage with a lot of floor space and with a litter pan at least 2-3″ deep is best for tunneling. They also do well with a wood store bought bedding as it absorbs the urine smell well and that helps the ratties’ lungs to stay healthy.
So be careful when you are choosing your rats’ cage and you and your pets will be happy with your choice for a long time to come.
For more info on rat care, housing, bedding and diet, check out this post on Rat Care
This is my main cage. The Triple Critter Nation.