Loving rats is the easiest and most enjoyable part of having them as pets. But like with any kind of animal, rat care is not all sunshine and roses. Pets cost money, create extra chores, and can be destructive. But since life is so much better with a pet — rats specifically — I’m willing to put in the effort.
Over the years I used many different items, systems, and stores that helped make my rat responsibilities a little bit easier. These may not all work for every owner, but I want to share some of my favorite tips for rat care. Consider and even consult with your veterinarian on some before you decide what to try.
As helpful as they are, this article is about thinking beyond typical pet supplies and pet stores. Figure out how non-rat items can work for you. IKEA, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Target, and Amazon are filled with items that can be used to enhance your rat care and save you money. I’ll give examples throughout the article.
Fleece: Rats are notorious chewers. Their love for destroying fabrics has no bounds, which is why I constantly replace the fleece I use to line the pans of their Double Critter Nation (DCN) cage. But buying new fleece all the time can get expensive!
Tip: IKEA sells two different fleece blankets that are large enough and cheap enough to cut up for pan coverings. The VITMOSSA comes in gray and measures 47 by 63 inches. If cut in quarters, you can get four small-sized DCN pan coverings or two large-sized pan coverings if cut in half. The best part, it only costs $2.49! The THORGUN costs only $3.49 and is a bit thicker. It also measures 47 by 63 inches. Its color options change periodically. Make sure to wash the blankets before use. And use any fleece that has gotten too holey as spare blankets in the hammocks or igloos.
Bonus tip: My rats love going under the fleece, which defeats my effort in keeping them from peeing directly on the pans. So, I try to create “pockets” with the fleece that my rats can hide in. I use two pieces of fleece laid on top of each other, then I fold the top piece ¼ to ½ way down and then tuck the sides of both pieces under the pan to keep them secured.
Prescriptions: Medications from a vet can be extremely expensive. One reason the cost is so high is because most vets charge a “filling fee.” Most clinics don’t have the room to store the amount of medication needed to qualify for bulk discounts. They also have to ensure proper storage and take a hit if the medication expires. The cost of this gets pushed to the pet owners.
Tip: You have the right to get your rat’s prescription filled somewhere else. Besides online prescription stores like PetMeds or Chewy.com, places like Walgreens, CVS, and grocery store pharmacies will fill most anything humans also take. The GoodRx app can also help you find the cheapest price of a medication. I spend only $4 a month at my grocery store pharmacy on a medication for my dog, instead of $45 at her vet clinic.
Many compounding pharmacies also have a pet division that caters to owners, and some even ship out of state. I order all compounded meds from Roadrunner Pharmacy in Phoenix, which ships for free.
All of these places will require a prescription from your veterinarian, however, so do some research and let your vet know where you want your medications filled.
Broken Space Pod: Space Pods (also known as a Savic Sputnik) are an amazing invention and beloved by rats. These are easy to clean and stand up to rat teeth better than a hammock. Unfortunately, the three plastic latches that they hang from tend to weaken and break. It only takes one of them to break to keep it from hanging properly.
Tip: For under a dollar, a ¾- or 1-inch mini spring clamp from Home Depot or Lowe’s can keep a broken Space Pod latched securely. They are even strong enough to hold the weight of several rats.
Tips To Get Organized
In a perfect world, every inch of my house would be thoroughly organized and never messy. Unfortunately, that’s not my current reality. Not yet anyway. I’m slowly working to organize every room in my house, including our utility/rat room. I already have tons of ideas for turning it into a picturesque place of functional storage, but until I have more time and money to make all my dreams come true, I started with the most attainable ideas first.
Hammocks and Bedding: Almost three decades with rats has left me with a “ton” of rat stuff. All the old and seldom used supplies are kept in bins in the garage, but how do you store the most-used items?
Tip: A small bookcase, cabinet, or dresser near the cage works great for hammocks and other cloth bedding. I bought an ALEX drawer unit from IKEA specifically to store hammocks, hooks, ramp covers, and towels. I’ll be adding more storage to it in the future.
Small Supplies: I don’t know about you, but I have a decent amount of supplies, snacks, and cleaning items that I need to access regularly. But how do you keep them organized and in reach of the cage?
Tip: Get a multi-level cart on wheels. I only had a small, skinny space next to my rats’ cage, so I got the VESKEN from IKEA. It’s plastic so it’s cheaper than some of the larger metal ones, and it’s working great so far.
Dishes: Have you accumulated a lot of rat dishes, water bottles, and medications/medical supplies? Most of these things are best kept in or near the kitchen, but they can take up a surprising amount of room.
Tip: Designate a kitchen drawer just for your rats. A utensil organizer from Target or Amazon works great for storing water bottles, small dishes, and non-refrigerated medications. And a recycled glass baby food or yogurt jar is perfect as a syringe holder.
Minimizing Bad Potty Habits
I’m often asked if rats stink. Well, they are indoor pets that go to the bathroom; of course, they do. But the extent to which rats stink is largely dependent on the owner and how often the cage is cleaned. It’s not feasible to clean it every day, but there are ways to keep it from getting nasty.
Using The Litter Box: If our rats always went potty in a litter box, the cage would absolutely stay cleaner. But if yours are anything like mine, they use one maybe 50 percent of the time.
Tip: Get a pee rock or pee stone! This can be a large (clean) stone or rock from your yard or garden. Maybe it’s because of their marking instincts, but rats (males in particular) love peeing on a rock and placing one in the litter box helps lure them there. Just make sure to scrub the rock weekly.
Wire Floors: Leaving wire floors uncovered is one of the quickest ways for the cage to stink. Dried urine builds up quickly and can reek of ammonia. It will also rust the bars over time, even ones that are powder-coated. Dried urine takes a lot more effort to clean off. Exposed wire can also lead to injuries, especially if the rat has hind limb problems.
Tip: Cover floors with plastic drawer liner, held in place with zip ties. It’s super easy to clean and can be wiped down throughout the week. You can find it at places like Costco, Lowe’s, Home Depot, and IKEA. If one side is textured, make sure you secure it in place with the smooth side up.
Scooping Poop: Removing stray poops around the cage and scooping the litter box daily minimizes cage smell. Undesirable chores like this need to be as easy as possible.
Tip: Keep a scooper and a small trash can with a lid and foot pedal next to the cage. I keep my scooper in a small plastic container lined with a Ziplock bag in my storage cart.
Bonus Tip: Leave a few poops in the litter box as a reminder to your rats where these belong.
Helping Seniors: Some seniors rats find it difficult to get in and out of the litter box, especially if they have arthritis or other hind limb issues. But it doesn’t always stop them from trying.
Tip: Place a brick or a large flat rock wrapped in fleece as a step in front of the litter box.
Litter Everywhere: Have your rats ever tipped their litter box trying to get in and out of it, spilling litter and making a mess?
Tip: If the litter box can’t or won’t stay attached to the cage bars, drill a hole on each side of it and use hammock hooks to latch it in place.
Save Your Couch: Our furniture is always at risk of being chewed or pottied on when the rats are on it. But who doesn’t love hanging with their rats while sitting on the couch watching TV? With some care, you can make it a rat playground.
Tip: Buy a waterproof king- or queen-sized mattress cover to protect your couch or bed, and then add some extra blankets on top. I found an inexpensive bamboo mattress cover on Amazon, and it has absolutely saved my couch from being ruined. So either spend hundreds of dollars to reupholster or $25 to $30 for a mattress cover.
Wet Wipes and Paper Towels: Between bathroom accidents, dirty tails, messy eaters, and porphyrin covered noses, there are almost a million reasons why your rat, their cage, or your furniture might need some light cleaning.
Tip: My absolute favorite rat supplies are unscented baby wipes and a roll of paper towels. I keep both of these by my couch and by the cage in the storage cart. Wet wipes in particular are great for spot cleaning the cage in between weekly washes and are safe enough to use directly on your rat. Trust me and just get some!