October 21, 2009
Rats are one of the larger rodents kept as pets and yet many of the cages marketed for them are only marginally roomier than housing for much smaller relatives like hamsters and gerbils.
If you only focus on space for your rat's food dish, water bottle, nest box and bathroom area, you're not seeing the big picture. Rats are active, intelligent animals who need room to explore and exercise, even with daily playtime outside of the cage.
Not yet convinced? Here's what you and your rat stand to gain.
Benefits of a larger cage
Roomier cages offer many advantages that will be enjoyed by both you and your rat:
- Larger cages are one of the most basic types of enrichment you can provide. Rats can become bored and depressed without adequate stimulation. Imagine spending two to three years (the average lifespan of a rat) in a walk-in closet. Even with occasional breaks, life would be pretty dreary.
- With a roomier enclosure, rats can exercise on their schedule, not yours. Rats are nocturnal and tend to be most active in the evening when it may not be convenient to take them out for playtime.
- Larger digs increase the likelihood of peaceful co-existence among groups of rats (and since rats are social animals, they do best when housed together).
- Larger cages are actually easier to clean because they prevent the build-up of waste and allow rats to separate their bathroom area from other activities.
- With the opportunity to express a wider range of natural behaviors, your rats will be happier and it will be easier to get to know their personalities.
Once you've selected the right housing for your rats, you’ll need to determine where in your home they will live. Here are some factors to consider:
Temperature: The typical range of indoor temperatures, from the low sixties to the high seventies (Fahrenheit), will also be comfortable for your rats. Your rat's housing should be located away from strong heat sources such as direct sun, wood stoves, fireplaces and heating vents. Rats cannot sweat when they become too warm and are particularly susceptible to heat stroke.
Don't put your rat's cage in an unheated room, breezeway, garage or other chilly location. Place the cage in a draft-free area (e.g. away from doors and windows and on an elevated surface).
Activity level: Rats enjoy being near family activity and benefit from more attention when they’re easy to see and hear. A family room or living room works well, but make sure your rats have a place to retreat if they need some quiet time.
Lighting: Rats are sensitive to bright lights (after all, they evolved as nocturnal animals), and this is especially true for albino rats. Place your rat’s cage away from brightly lit areas to avoid damaging his eyesight.
- Don't keep your rat' cage in the kitchen or in other areas where food is prepared; this separation will help maintain good hygiene and prevent possible exposure to zoonotic diseases.
- Make sure your rat's cage is safe from other pets who may see him as prey. Cages on the floor are likely to increase a rat's stress, so look for an elevated surface to give your rat a sense of safety and a good view of his surroundings.
- If you have young children, put the cage in an area where you can control access and supervise child-rat interactions.