Housing Your Rat
Making a home for your rat is a relatively simple task. His toys and bedding are inexpensive and easy to replace. You can find them along with the water bottles and heavy ceramic food dishes you will need for your rat's cage at a local pet store. As long as you stick to a regular cleaning schedule, you will find that your rat's cage does not become malodorous.
A 15-gallon aquarium makes an adequate cage for a pair of rats, but it's better to buy a 20-gallon tank if you have the space in your house or apartment. You can also choose to keep two rats in a wire cage that's at least two feet square, but find one with a solid bottom and sides made out of small-mesh wire netting. Rats can get their feet caught in gaps anything larger than a half inch square. Many chinchilla or ferret runs that seem ideally spacious do not meet this criterion.
In recent years many rat owners have campaigned against pine and cedar shavings – formerly popular rat beddings – because these beddings contain phenols that can irritate the sensitive upper respiratory tracts of small rodents. The American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association recommends several pine and cedar alternatives, including hardwood shavings (like aspen shavings), paper products made from short tissue fibers, pellet beddings, ground corn cobs and other natural fibers.
As long as you give your rat some extra material for his nest you will only need to line the cage with 1/2 to one-inch of your bedding of choice. Torn paper or clean rags make good nesting materials.
You will need to clean your rat's cage once or twice a week, depending on how large the cage is and how many occupants it has. Ammonia from urine can build up quickly in an aquarium so many breeders recommend a daily spot cleaning to remove urine-saturated bedding and feces.
Rats are very active and intelligent. They can turn almost any object into a toy and will make good use of all of the extra climbing materials you give them. You can put cardboard boxes, wooden ladders, large PVC pipe fittings, clay flowerpots, empty oatmeal containers and any number of other semi-indestructible entertainment items in your rat's cage. Remember that your rat will try to taste all of these cage additions so stay away from anything coated in plastic or paint.
But before you surrender all of the floor space in the cage to these cage extras, remember that you need a heavy ceramic dish for your rat's food. Most owners feed their rats dry lab blocks, but no matter how clean pellet food seems you must still wash this dish with soap and hot water when you change the bedding in the cage. Supply your rat's cage with a hanging water bottle, too.
The Cage Location
Rats have very sensitive ears and it may be stressful for them to live in a room that's always chaotic and noisy. At the same time, you don't want to banish your rat to an unused spare bedroom that no one visits. Pick a family room that gets a decent amount of foot traffic but doesn't have a television blaring in it 24/7. Keep your rat's cage on top of a dresser, away from drafts and direct sunlight.