Rat Health Care & Information
Housing, Accessories & Substrate
When you go looking for rat cages, forget the word 'rat'! Most decent cages for rats are actually labelled rabbit, chinchilla, ferret or even parrot. If you ask for a rat cage in many pet shops, you are likely to be offered a starter kit cage which is barely even suitable for a hamster, although things have got better in recent years! To get a rough idea of approximate suitable minimum requirements for cage size for rats, you can use the rat cage calculator but basically you are looking at approximate requirements of 2 square foot per rat. Rats live happiest in anything from pairs to small groups of up to around 4-6. Many people do keep larger groups, but from experience 4-6 seems the most harmonious for hierarchy and relaxed groups. If you have too many rats in a group, one can easily 'disappear' into the background as an underdog and not get the full attention and also problems can occur with alpha rats, particularly when there is a change of hierarchy going on.
Everyone seems to have different requirements for the perfect cage and sometimes this can even depend on the group of rats you wish to house in the cage down to bar size or rats that chew or rats that throw all their bedding out!
The general points to consider: -
The below is not meant to be a definitive guide, just a guide of the most commonly used and reviewed cages and some I have personal experience of.
I have put links to places to buy online on my Links page.
Metal based cages
Size 70cm x 44cm x 35cm
The Critter 1 is suitable for either 2 young or 2 old rats as it is single story so ideal for the older rats to not risk injury as they become more unstable with old age and for young rats as it has good access and helps with taming your new rats. The babies would soon outgrow a Critter 1 so you would need to consider a larger cage, but the critter 1 also makes a good hospital cage and can be easily packed away. A mesh base for use with chinchillas should not be used with rats so can be discarded. (the extra door on the front is one I've added so I can stack these cages.
Size 70cm x 44cm x 70cm
The Critter 2 is basically double the height of the Critter 1 and is ideal for 2-4 rats. It provides two main levels and an additional shelf and does come with a ramp for the bottom level although for younger fitter rats, this is not necessary and I only re-add the ramp when I've older rats I'm worried about getting injured from falling/climbing. There is a door on the bottom level, although you may want to customise this slightly and turn the door around as from new it opens inwards (good strong pair of pliers does the job!) and I always add a second door on the top level as I stack my cages and it's easier to fill the food bowl from a little door rather than lifting the whole top and risking escapees! Again there is a wire mesh base intended for chinchillas that should be removed.
Size 70cm x 44cm x 105cm
There are bigger cages in this range as well, the Critter 3 is effectively 3 Critter 1's stacked on height, but still on the same footprint. Personally I'm not so keen on this cage because although you could effectively add another couple of rats over the Critter 2, you still have the same size tray at the bottom so it means the cage will require cleaning out more often. I also found this cage more awkward to clean out with the height and access. Again there is a wire mesh base intended for chinchillas that should be removed.
Size 100cm x 50cm x 80cm
The Critter 4 cage has a much bigger footprint and with it's nice easy top opening is an ideal cage. It only has a ramp section in the middle and narrow shelves as was intended primarily for ferrets or chinchillas so you will need to either add some shelves or put in plenty of hammocks to prevent any nasty falls. Again there is a wire mesh base that should be removed.
Plastic based cages
Some of the Ferplast range of cages are suitable for rats, also FOP also make some cages suitable for rats. Savic make nice cages for rats also with my new favourite being the Savic Freddy 2. Also the Marchioro Tom and some of the other cages in their range are lovely cages for rats.
Size: 80cm x 50cm x 38cm
Single level fairly bare cage, which is ideal for kittens as they come out of the nest, nursery cage, old rats and also new skittish kittens before upgrading to a bigger cage. Has a good sized access door on the top, but no other access, so couldn't be stacked. With no shelves, it's easy to add hammocks and other accessories. The mesh is coated and the plastic base is quite deep so bedding less likely to get thrown about.
Size: 80cm x 50cm x 63cm
This is one of my favourite cages for many reasons, although am not quite so keen on the newer version of the Freddy 2 cage as they've replaced the metal bars with a plastic shelf. See left picture for one of mine and right picture for a new style one from Savic.
This cage has plenty of space for 4-5 rats without being cluttered by too much built in. Lovely big front access door with a nice secure locking mechanism. Rats struggle to hide in this cage as it's possible to reach all corners from the door. Like the Ruffy, it has a nice deep base to discourage the bedding from being kicked out.
This cage is the same footprint as the Freddy 2, but has the height of the Ferplast Jenny and Marchioro Tom cage. It comes with 2 plastic shelves and ladder and looks to be a real asset to the Savic range.
This cage has plenty of space for 5-6 rats without being cluttered by too much built in. Lovely big front access door with a nice secure locking mechanism. Rats struggle to hide in this cage as it's possible to reach all corners from the door. Like the Ruffy, it has a nice deep base to discourage the bedding from being kicked out.
Size:A totally new design from Savic that looks to be a lovely cage for rats. Unlike some of the other similar cages, it has horizontal bars, rather than the vertical bars which makes it easier for the rats to climb and also to attach hammocks to. The cage has two main levels separated by a plastic base with an access hole in but the plastic base is available as a standard spare part, so it is possible to split the cage into two cages.
Size: 80cm x 50cm x 37cm
This is a very similar cage to the Ruffy except it has a front door as well as the lovely big top access door but unlike the Ruffy it does not have coated bars. It is ideal for kittens as they come out of the nest, nursery cage, old rats and also new skittish kittens before upgrading to a bigger cage. It is also generally cheaper than the Ruffy to buy and if your rats chew their way out, these bases are quite easy to obtain from Ferplast suppliers.
Size: 80cm x 50cm x 80cm
The Jenny cage is either one you love or you hate. It is suitable for 4-6 rats. It is a lovely big cage and comes with lovely shelves that are easy to remove for cleaning. The top access door is great, but the front and back side access doors are tiny and of limited use apart from maybe slipping food into the cage. The cage has uncoated bars which makes it harder to clean and keep clean.
Size: 80cm x 75cm x 86.5cm
If you have the room for the footprint of this one as it is quite a square one, this is a lovely big cage for rats. It will take up to 9-10 rats, but this is probably too large a group for the average pet keeper. The bars are coated and the access doors both on top and side are great. Lots of space to hang hammocks and put in lots of toys and accessories.
Size: 80cm x 75cm x 161cm
Basically 2 Furet XL's on top of each other with an access hole between them. This can be blocked if there are needs to split the cage into two. It will take up to 17-18 rats, but that is a lot to be living harmoniously in any cage!
Ferplast do have other cages in their ranges that may be suitable for rats, but the above are the most commonly used ones by rat owners.
Size: 82cm x 51cm x 80cm
This cage has become one of my favourites in recent times, although it's downside is that it is quite hard to obtain and even harder to obtain accessories for it should anything break or get chewed. Like the Jenny, it is suitable for 5-6 rats. The access door at the front is a brilliant design with a small door inside a big door so you can choose whether you need small access to put food in or larger access to grab a rat! The shelves it comes with are not so easy to fix, so I've purchased the Ferplast ones instead and added them in. As you can see, plenty of space to add accessories into the cage.
Note: The only company I have found that stocks Marchioro cages is Zooplus but because Marchioro are not UK based, the stock levels seem to be poor. Zooplus do stock a range of Marchioro cages (look under all sections as some of the best are listed under ferret) which would be very suitable for rats, but there are less reviews and comments available of these cages.
Size: 66cm x 45cm x 69cm
This cage is quite a cheap one and is suitable for 2-4 rats. Bars are close so no problems with escapees and it has a nice deep base. It comes with a wheel built in which may need removing for safety as it is one of the wire ones and rats legs can get trapped and injured.
Size: 102cm x 55cm x 82cm
This is another love or hate cage. The cage itself is a lovely size and has a lovely big access door on the top, but the shelves are not very wide (making dangerous drops) and the ramps made of wood so they soak up urine rather well. Personally if I had this cage again, I'd remove all the ramps and shelves and customise the inside myself with either Ferplast shelves or cat litter trays as shelves. The cage would house 8-10 rats, but is not for younger ones as the bar width is too wide and the kittens and small does will be out in a flash. This is one of the cheaper cages on the market.
Size: 81cm x 51cm x 76cm
This cage is ideal for 4-6 adult rats, but the bar width makes it unsuitable for small does and kittens. It has a lovely sized front access door and flatpacks into it's base so makes it ideal as a spare cage or for someone who needs to move their rats about from one home to another. This cage is made of good quality wire and the base seems more solid than most plastic used for bases, so would probably take a really serious chewer to get out!
Size: 76cm x 44.5cm x 143.5cm
This is a lovely big cage and suitable for around 10 adult rats. Like the other SuperPet cages, the bar spacing is wide so not suitable for kittens and small does. This cage also flatpacks for easy storage and transportation. It has wheels to make it easy to manoeuvre for cleaning and also two good access doors on the front.
SuperPet also do several other cages suitable for rats, but these two seem to be the most commonly used and reviewed.
The Brio range come in several sizes and all would be suitable for rats with some customisation.
From Ferplast's website - (bracketed figure is the external size)
Aviaries are suitable for groups of rats from about 4-6 upwards dependant on their actual space. They are another either love or hate type cage and personally I'd not give one house room, but I know a lot of people who love their aviaries.
Size: 100cm (119.5cm) x 54.5cm (175cm)x H 169.5cm (bracketed figure is the external size)
This cage is becoming popular with rat breeders as it is easy to clean with the sliding trays and also has removable dividers to separate rats into 3 areas so it can either be one big cage or 2 or 3 smaller ones making it ideal for breeding does and their kittens. The cage has good access and is on casters so easy to move around.
Note: There are quite a number of other aviaries suitable for rats made by both Ferplast and other manufacturers, but these are the most common and most reviewed aviaries.
Cages such as the Savic Rody Cavia (right), Ferplast Duna and many other similar style cages on the market, are excellent for nursery cages and hospital cages, but are not suitable for permanent living of healthy active rats. Note that some of these do come with the bar width of the sliding top being an inch wide so you may need to cover this with mesh for a nursery cage.
Approximate size: 70cm x 35cm x31cm
Rabbit hutch style cages are sometimes used as rat cages, particularly breeders. They have the downside of being wood so urine soaking in and making them smell and rotting them, plus being wood they will get chewed on, but often they are aluminium lined so this helps to protect them. They also do not provide much in the way of exercise space for rats being single level and no climbing at all but are ideal for nursery cage or oldies.
Their plus side where rats are kept in garage or shed is they provide extra warmth from drafts, while still giving adequate ventilation.
Fish tanks can be used for housing rats, but are not recommended as they do not give adequate ventilation. If you are planning to use a fish tank, it is a good idea to build a cage structure to go on top like the picture on the right, so they can at least climb into an area with plenty of ventilation. Cages are much better for rats though as they allow the rats to climb, where tanks really don't give that facility and it would be hard to customise something suitable as a topper to give them decent climbing facilities.
Apart from the cage, you will need a carrier for your rats. A suitable carrier for a pair of rats, even when they have grown into adults, should be at least L30cm x W18cm x D15cm. Apart from needing the carrier to collect your rats, the carrier is useful for somewhere to put the rats while you clean out their main cage and also should you need to visit the vet or transport them anywhere.
It is better to transport rats by car in a small carrier that is secured or well wedged than a bigger cage because if there was an accident, they would be thrown less distance, and therefore stand less chance of injury.
You can buy the carriers from the online suppliers or most pet shops for around £5-10.
If you are planning on showing your rats in variety or pet classes under NFRS rules, you would need a show tank from them. These are £10 and obtainable from the NFRS and also some of the other regional rat clubs.
There are quite a few choices for bedding for your rats; shavings, shredded paper, shredded cardboard, paper based cat litters, hemp, hay and straw.
Interestingly in the time I have been keeping rats, I have noticed no real changes in their respiratory state based on the multitude of beddings (most of the below) that I have tried but I do find the air cleanest personally and I sneeze less using my current set up of Ecobed, Safebed paper wool in the igloos and Yesterdays News in the litter trays.
Shredded cardboard seems to be one of the cleanest and easiest to use beddings and is also the most environmentally friendly as it breaks down nicely in the compost. Shredded cardboard is dust free, absorbent and cheap to use if you can find a local supplier as postage does make this expensive.
There are currently many suppliers of shredded cardboard and many are listed on the links page.
Personally my choice of rat bedding is the Ecobed bedding, obtainable by mail order by phoning 01584 810717 or take a look at http://www.earthlyenterprises.co.uk for more information - this is cardboard strips and was originally marketed as horse bedding before they recently started marketing the same bedding as pet bedding. Ecobed is quite chunky cut of cardboard, and the plus of that is it doesn't seem to be very easy for the rats to kick out of their cages.
Another cardboard based bedding is Finacard which is a finer, more straw like shredded cardboard bedding. On testing it in comparison to Ecobed, it came in a close second with most of the same qualities I've grown to expect from Ecobed, but because it is finer, it tended to get kicked out the cage more.
I like using Yesterdays News in the litter trays, but the cost of using it for main bedding across 10-20 cages gets a bit steep and would roughly double my weekly costs for bedding.
The price I am paying for ecobed is vastly cheaper because I have storage space and order a pallet of 24 bales at a time which is the minimum for free shipping. Most people who order by the pallet-load are more than happy to sell on single bales to anyone prepared to collect from them and it is becoming more easily available from horsey type outlets as well. If you are unable to obtain it locally and have to obtain it mailorder plus have the room, ring to order a single bale of the horse bedding sized packages as it works out more economical than the PetBed version! Each horse bale is about 2.5’ x 2’ x 1’ in size and weighs roughly 20kg and costs around between £10-15 or so including P&P, where the Petbed versions are much smaller in size and less economical on price.
Pine and Cedar shavings should be avoided as they contain phenols which are unhealthy for rats. Most shavings in UK pet shops are spruce, but if you are unsure, please ask and make sure they are not pine or cedar. Traditionally breeders used shavings for bedding with no apparent problems but shavings have gradually gone out of favour in recent years. USA Articles like the Rat Report one and AFRMA one show why pine and cedar should not be used, but then there are contradictory articles like this one from the Phoenix Zoo that say they are ok so you can make your choice.
Until I changed to the Ecobed bedding, I mostly used spruce shavings from a local mill, which I had no problems with; they were dust free and had no smell about them at all and were sold as horse bedding - from experience of keeping horses in the past, they do have sensitive respiratory systems and require the best bedding going.
A wood based substrate being used by quite a few breeders and pet owners is Bedmax which is a purpose made bedding for horses, but suitable for rats. This is specially heat treated to remove phenols and is less dusty than most shavings.
Shredded paper is fine for rats, although unless tissue paper or kitchen towels, is not the most absorbent. If you use printed paper, it's better to avoid ink with lead in it. Newspapers are usually ok for rats, but they can smell very quickly and also the ink from either newspapers or shredded office paper that is inked, will stain pale coloured rats.
Paper Based Litters
The main three I am aware of are Yesterdays News, Biocatolet and Back 2 Nature paper based cat litter. All three are recycled paper and are dust extracted and state on the packaging that they are 'suitable for small animal bedding'. If you keep your rats in a 'living room' environment, they are cleaner and less aromatic than shavings or cardboard. The main disadvantage of cat litter seems to be the cost. I do not recommend that you use any cat litter that does not clearly state it is made from recycled paper and any mineral or wood based cat litters may be of serious risk to your rats health and even some that say they are paper based are not 100% recycled paper. See this article for more information on other types of cat litters.
Made from virgin wood pulp, this is a newer bedding again like the cardboard bedding has been 'stolen' from the horse world as being a suitable bedding for rodents as well. The Northern Crop Driers website lists more information and contacts for obtaining supplies of Megazorb.
These are hardwood shavings and more commonly used with reptiles so you will find this bedding in small packs in the herp section of a pet shop. They are reasonably absorbent and don't come with the risks of pine/cedar shavings, but would work out expensive if you have many rats.
Hay and Straw
People who keep their rats in outside sheds or garages tend to use hay or straw for extra warmth. The main disadvantage of hay and straw is if the source is not to good, it can bring mites with it. It does not absorb smells or urine well so should be used in conjunction with one of the above substrates also.
Soft Shredded paper bedding
Most people use soft bedding in the nest area, not the cotton wool type bedding, as it can be dangerous to the rats. The shredded tissue paper or J-cloth bedding is available from most pet shops.
Many cage toys and accessories can be found from household throw-aways and DIY stores as well as pet shops.
Igloos - Rody iglos make ideal nests for rats, also the larger domed igloos. These are commonly available from pet shops. Wooden bird nest boxes are OK, but tend to be far more difficult to clean.
Tubes - Ferret tubes are easily obtainable from pet shops, but there are cheaper methods of acquiring tubes. 'Down-pipe' drainpipe (straight, U-bend, T-junction), carpet tubes (carpet shops are only too pleased when you offer to take the cardboard tubes away that the carpets come on!), tubes that certain brands of whisky or crisps come in, tubes that calendars come in - the list is endless! Tubes can either be hung from the top of the cage or left on floors or shelves.
Hammocks - Hammocks can be purchased from pet shops or one of the many online suppliers of rat hammocks or can made from old clothes, baby grows, jeans (makes open or tube hammocks) or any other material you can find. You can also buy ferret hammocks from pet shops. I have found that garden wire or old fashioned curtain rings are the best method of securing hammocks to cages. (No matter how many hammocks you buy and what size they are, you will almost always find all the rats piled into the same one!)
Plant pots/Ice-cream cartons/lactol tins - these can be either hung or left loose in the cage. Rats seem to love playing in plant pots and ice-cream cartons. Old lactol tins and similar make nice little nests for the rat that likes his own bed away from the others!
Tube treats - fill a toilet roll or kitchen roll tube with treats, stuff both ends with paper and see how long it takes for the rat to extract the treats.
Wheels - About the safest wheels on the market are the Wodent wheels, but I have found that whenever I have had wheels in cages, they are ignored, so this is likely to be an expensive waste of money! The only rats that have ever shown interest are young rats of about weaning age, beyond that, they seem to grow out of running in it and either sleep in them or leave their food in them. Be very careful of wire wheels as tails, legs and even necks can get trapped in them when there are several rats trying to run on it at once.
Branches from fruit trees - branches from untreated fruit trees give the rats something to climb and chew on.
Pea Fishing - take a shallow dish and fill with water, put some frozen peas in the water and add rats. Assume they will get the water everywhere in the attempt to fish for peas. Some will delicately fish out with their paws, while others will nose dive into the water to catch peas!
Apart from the above, anything that doesn't have sharp edges and isn't poisonous to eat will make a perfect rattie toy, just expect anything chewable to get chewed! Bear in mind rats do need some space to play and sleep, so don't overfill the cage with toys!
Rats also enjoy out time, exploring or just relaxing on your lap. The exploring is great for exercise and keeping them trim, but do watch out for cables. For whatever reason, rats seem to be attracted to chewing electric wires and can do quite a lot of damage if left unattended. You can buy cable covering from places like Ikea which is like a tube/hose to hide the cables in. Also rats quite often have a favourite hidey hole, places like under or behind the sofa are favourites. A top tip is to get some carpet offcuts and put them in their favourite spots so if they do decide they can't make it back to their cage, they aren't dirtying your carpet. Some people do create ratty playpens and there is instructions on this site on how to make one style of playpen.
Article written by Estelle
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Last modified: February 04, 2009