Rat Cage Buying Guide
A rat cage can be one of the biggest expenses in owning a pet rat. Unless you allow your rats to free range (see below), they're going to be spending a good deal of their lives in a cage, which is why it's important to do some research first. Think about it -- if you were house-hunting, you wouldn't buy the first house the realtor showed you, would you? I'd hope not! No, you'd look around to try to find the best home for your particular situation. Just think of this Guide as your own Rat Cage Realtor.
Some rat owners choose to give their rats free roam in a specific area of their home rather than keeping them locked in a cage. Free-ranging is not for everybody, especially if you have other pets that could potentially hurt your rats.
If you allow your rats to free range, you'll have to rat-proof the area you give them access to. This means keeping all electrical wires and other dangerous objects, such as things that could be harmful if ingested, out of reach. Also look out for holes they might escape into or out of.
Even if you allow your rat to free range all the time, it's still a good idea to have a cage for them to return to when they're tired or scared. It's a good idea to return them to their cage if you're going to be leaving the house, or if you'll be having visitors that aren't used to rats.
When it comes to rat cages, the general rule is that bigger is better. The minimum size for a rat cage is two square feet per rat. Keeping in mind that rats are social creatures who should be kept in pairs or groups, the smallest cage you should even consider buying would be four square feet. Ideally, you're going to want to go for the largest cage you can manage.
However, a giant cage is useless if much of the space is wasted. If you have a tall cage, be sure to utilize the height by adding lots of shelves and hammocks for the rats to jump and play on. Shorter, wide cages can also work, but remember that most rats love to climb. However, long single level cages can be ideal for those rats who have difficulty climbing, such as older rats or ones with hind-leg paralysis.
Shelves: Solid or Wire?
The two main types of cages available come with solid or wire shelving. Solid shelving is safe and comfortable for ratty feet, although it easily collects urine and must be cleaned regularly. Wire shelving is good in theory, because it allows all waste to drop to the bottom of the cage to prevent the animal from constantly walking in it. However, wire shelving can irritate the bottom of a rat's foot, and in some cases can even trap a rat's foot, causing injury. Cages with 1" by 1/2" wire mesh shelves are especially prone to this.
To prevent injury to their pets, many people choose to cover the wire flooring. Mesh needlepoint canvas can be wired to the shelf with twist ties, providing a softer walking surface while still allowing urine to pass through. Kitchen tiles can be cut to size and secured to the cage shelves, instantly transforming them into solid shelving that can be easily wiped down. Alternately, you can cover the shelf with newspaper or fabric, as long as you make sure to change it whenever it becomes soiled.
What About Aquariums?
Some people prefer aquariums over wire cages because it keeps litter from being kicked out of the cage. However, their solid sides keep air from being circulated as freely as wire cages, which means that litter odors will build up more quickly, requiring frequent cleaning. Aquariums also trap in heat, which can be dangerous in warm climates.
There are a number of "tank toppers" available, which are basically wire cages that can be set on top of an aquarium to provide an extra level. Not only does this give more living space, but it allows the rat to receive fresh air, as well as giving them wires to climb on.
Aquariums are preferred for nursing mother rats, as there is no danger of the babies escaping through the bars. Having a tank topper allows the mother a place to go to "get a break" from the babies.
Martin's Cages vs. Superpet
The two main brands of rat cages are Martin's Cages and Superpet Cages. Martin's Cages can be ordered directly off their website, whereas Superpet cages can be found in many pet stores, and also ordered online through stores such as PetSmart.
Superpet cages are often praised for their aesthetic value -- colorful solid shelves and coated bars. The shelves are rearrangeable and the entire cage collapses down for easy transport and storage. They often feature several large doors for easy access.
However, most Superpet cages are made for ferrets and have 1" wide bar spacing that some smaller rats, such as young rats or females, can slip through. Some people also report difficulty in removing the shelves.
Martin's Cages is a family-owned company widely praised for their customer service. They will often customize, and one of their rat cages, "The Ruud Cage", actually came about by the suggestion of one of their customers. Martin's rat cages have 1/2" wire spacing, meaning they're safe for rats of any size. Although they offer both galvanized and powder-coated versions of their cages, the powder-coated is recommended, as chewing galvanized wire can make a rat sick.
Since Martin's shelves are wire, most people choose to cover them. Assembling the cage for the first time can be difficult -- many people choose to put them together using zip-ties rather than the provided c-clips. Soaking the clips in water prior to assembling is also said to help.
Of increasing popularity in the rat owning community is the trend of homemade cages. Homemade cages allow you to customize a cage to your own needs, and in some cases can be cheaper than buying a cage.
Cabinet cages are the most common homemade cage. They are made by taking a bookshelf and cabinet and adding doors as well as ramps between levels. Some people also choose to make homemade cages by adding wire to a homemade frame. Homemade cages bring out a person's creativity.
Making Your Decision
There is no one perfect cage -- every person and every rat has a different opinion about what makes a good rat cage. To find the best cage for your individual needs, it's best to look at as many cages as you can, in person if possible, as well as finding out what other people say about their cages. Sites such as the Fancy Rats Product Review page and the Better Holes and Garbage Great Cage Page can be excellent places to get a second opinion.
Once you've settled on a cage, you can submit your own review.