Pet rat questions

So I’m working on getting things ready to bring a pair of pet rats into our home soon, for totnak (age 7) and me. I feel like we’ve mostly got things under control - a nice big airy cage, a good location away from sunlight and drafts, non-softwood litter, a vet with experience with rats, and all that. But I’m still uncertain about some things and was hoping some rat-loving Dopers could help me out.

First, what do yinz use for bedding? I’ve seen recommendations for everything from special stuff made for the purpose and bought at a pet shop, to newspaper and paper towels, to old clothes and rags. (I like the old clothes and rags idea, as it seems softest and also reusable at least a limited number of times.) What do your little ratties like best? How does it work for you?

Second, the cage is in the living room, which was also where we were planning to let the rats have their out-of-cage play and exercise time. We have tubing to protect cables and wires from the rats, and vice-versa. But we also have stairs there, and there’s a small gap where a rat could easily fall down to the basement :eek: A normal baby gate is obviously useless, but will a wide board cut to fit and leaning against the area keep curious little rodents safe? Any better suggestions?

Thanks for any help!

What type of tubing are you using to cover the wires?

We have 2 rats, and we use CareFresh Pet Bedding, and we get it at PetSmart.
I wouldn’t use old clothes or rags, because of the detergents used to clean them. They also would hold moisture, which you don’t want to happen. I buy the cheap, small animal beds every time I’m in there, as they’re great to have on hand…the rats chew them up or soil them, and you can just toss them away, then put in a new one. You don’t want to use newspaper, because of the inks in them.
The CareFresh Bedding is wonderful, and it keeps the cage pretty much odorless!
I can’t say enough good things about it!
When and if you get it, be sure to get the largest size package you can afford. It’s great stuff!

The little things can sure jump, so if you use a board, make sure it’s a tall one. They can climb really well, too, so take that into consideration with whatever you use.
The best bet is to permanently fix the gap!
That’s the best to do, all around.

I missed my ‘edit window’, damnit.
The small animal pet beds at PetSmart (or is it ‘PetsMart’?) look like cute, little doggie beds. The rats LOVE them. Be sure to have one for each…but they’ll probably just curl up in one, together.

Oh man, I loves me some pet ratties! I used to breed blue, rex, dumbo, and tailless rats for a pet store I managed. They are unbelievably fun, affectionate, and really, really smart. They’re like little dogs, without all the annoying things about little dogs! :wink:
I would still have them as pets except I got tired of having a traumatic death in the family every six months. :frowning:
I doubt they’d fall down into the basement–they are, after all, rats. But I’d be inclined to fix the gap with a board or something anyway. Make sure it’s actually fixed in place, if they are curious and can squeeze behind it, they will. Also, keep in mind that even as adults–and I had an agouti rex buck that was close to two pounds–they really can squeeze themselves anywhere their skull will fit.

As far as bedding goes, I loved Carefresh. It’s soft, recycled paper pulp. It’s very absorbent and comfy right out of the bag, which some paper beddings, being pelleted, are not. The only downside to it is that it doesn’t mask odors the way that softwood beddings do, but I was just very diligent about keeping the cage clean and that was that.

Sounds like you’ve got the care and husbandry thing down pretty well, but didn’t mention food–just wanted to put in a suggestion for lab blocks instead of grain mixes. Grain mixes = fat, undernourished rats.

Toys can be pretty much anything (particularly good quality bird toys, they’re pricey but safe) but one thing my guys loved was to take an empty toilet paper tube and a couple of paper towels, tear the paper towel into small squares and twist up peanuts, raisins, yogurt drops, pieces of lab blocks, whatever other treats I could find, then stuff them randomly into the tube with more wads of paper towels. They have to dig in and shred the whole thing apart to find the treats. Rodent fun ensues!

Oh, also, it wouldn’t be the detergent that would bother me about the old rags, that’s not going to bother them and anyway wouldn’t be anything a wash in water and white vinegar couldn’t fix, but the loose threads may tangle around little toes or legs and cause big, vet-bill, and possibly amputation-necessitating problems.

One last thing–most newspapers use soy-based inks, so probably not a health concern, but they do get messy and aren’t that absorbent.

Care-Fresh is good, but Cell-Sorb is pretty much the same stuff at lower cost. (It is an uglier dark grey rather than pale, but it works at least as well.) I prefer those to any other options. They do a good job of absorbing a lot of urine without getting damp or releasing odor.

Don’t get the rats a wheel (unless it is solid plastic and not the standard wire wheel). They get their feet caught pretty easily and they will wrench muscles or break bones if they get caught at speed. I know people who will not even use cages with wire floors–even on the second level–for similar reasons. I have never had problems with wire ladders or upper levels, but (when we first started keeping rats) I removed the lower wire floor from a cage after a rat got her foot caught between the wire and the floor of the bedding container.

Be sure to get toys on which they will gnaw and, if they are not using them, swap out until you find something they will gnaw. Be sure that they get food that they need to gnaw, as well. Then check every few weeks to be sure that the lower teeth are not growing too long. We have had a couple of cases where one rat was ignoring the gnawing foods and toys and her teeth actually grew up to the point where she could not get food into her mouth. At that point, you actually have to have the teeth nipped back. (We were not initially checking them because their cage mates were gnawing away like mad, so we figured that both of them were. After the teeth were nipped, we changed the diet to be sure that it was all tough enough to wear down teeth.)

Rather than a board to protect them from the basement, I would recommend a standing order (ruthlessly enforced) that they are not to be out of their cages, unsupervised, ever. There is no barrier you can put up that will prevent them from going whereever their curiosity leads them and a few minutes alone in a 10 X 15 room will guarantee you a two-day search.

Prepare totnak for their short lifespans. A three-year-old rat is positively ancient. Prepare yourself to either pay for euthanasia or to build your own euthanasia kit. Most times, the elderly rats will simply not wake up at some point, but occasionally they will start suffering and it is not fair to keep them alive in pain just because one “can’t bear” to kill them. You may get lucky and never need to resort to that, but it is a good idea to know about the possibility in advance.

You can come here and get some rats for free if you want. They are just in the walls somewhere. You’ll just have to find them without killing them.

Rat Care Basics web site written by moi, containing way more detail about how I care for my little twitchy nosed critters than you could ever want to know.

For bedding, I use fleece remnants, which can be resued multiple times before the little critters rip them to bits or the urine smell can’t be washed out of them. I like CareFresh, but it’s dusty and got way too expensive. I preferred the similar TekFresh, but that’s difficult enough to get here and probably impossible there. I use Aspen in the litterboxes now, which hits the right combination of price and frequency of replacement for me.

For hole coverage, I’d use 1/2" x 1/2" vinyl coated hardware cloth, assuming you have attachment points.

Wow, thanks for the help, everybody!

Czarcasm, the tubing is flexible plastic tubing, split along its length, that’s sold as babyproofing equipment. I know rats will be able to chew through it, given time; I’m mostly looking at it as a way to buy a little time, so one of the little critters can’t damage itself or the cords in the classic split-second when attention is diverted elsewhere. (I’ve been through this twice with small humans, and I work at a daycare, so my strategy is to treat the rats something like toddlers, just much smaller and with sharper teeth!)

Not sure if the CareFresh/CellSorb stuff is available on this side of the pond, but I’ll check it out. And oops! Never thought about loose threads from cloth things, but I can definitely see the hazard there! I have some scraps of polarfleece that might be fun to give them to lie on sometimes, if they like it - very soft and it doesn’t unravel.

Looking into the hardware cloth. The stair railings are wooden so I think I could attach some inconspicuous hooks fairly easily.

Selkie, I’ve got your site bookmarked! Thanks so much!

I’ll be covering up the wires, fixing that gap by the stairs, and locating some toys for the ratties over the next couple of weeks. Then we should be ready! :smiley:

One more small bit of advice: rats are good at begging and their glee at getting something like a Cheez-it dipped in P-nut butter is a wonderful thing to see. But you do *not *want a fat rat. Make sure your child does not get ino the habit of spoiling his pet too much.