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Housing

The cage

  • Housing for rats should be made from materials that are easy to clean, resistant to chewing and gnawing, and impervious to liquids (so that urine and faeces are not absorbed). Commonly used materials include hard plastic, stainless steel, and glass. Check that the lid fits firmly.
  • Purpose-built cages of hard plastic are available from pet shops at reasonable prices. They usually provide a box for sleeping and nesting and living quarters. Some provide for additional space if needed.
  • Wooden cages are not recommended because they may be gnawed, are difficult to sanitise, and may absorb urine, which creates unpleasant odours.
  • Mesh floors are not recommended because the mesh can cause foot injuries.
  • Ensure that the cage is big enough to accommodate both the rat(s) and furniture comfortably. A minimum size is 80 centimetres × 40 centimetres × 40 centimetres high.
  • Viewing is best from the sides, not the top, because rats are inquisitive creatures and they like to see out.
  • Provide a sleeping box and good hiding places in the living area. For example, cardboard tubes provide good tunnels and are easily replaced, and opaque non-toxic jars can be cleaned easily.
  • Food containers should be gnawproof. Overhead-rack types are best because they reduce wastage and do not get contaminated by faeces. Containers that attach to sides are also acceptable because they reduce spillage.
  • Heavy-duty pottery containers may also be used, but as they can be more easily contaminated by urine and faeces, you should change the food in them daily.
  • Open water dishes are not recommended because of possible contamination by faeces, which leads to disease. The water in them can also be easily spilled, leading to dehydration in the rat and an increase in moisture in the cage. Sipper tubes and bottles attached to the sides of the cage work well.
  • Provide objects for gnawing, such as a small bark-covered log from an apple tree. Select logs carefully because many garden trees are poisonous.
  • Rats need stimulation, so include exercise toys, such as exercise wheels, ladders, plastic tubes, and boxes of different shapes.
  • Do not house male rats together because they may fight and severely hurt or even kill each other.

Bedding

  • Line the cage with untreated wood sawdust or shavings 2–3 centimetres deep, kitty litter, or shredded plain paper but not newspaper because printing ink may be harmful to the rats.
  • The sleeping box should contain shredded plain paper, such as paper towels or tissues, or cotton wool (although this is not suitable for breeding because it may entangle newborns' limbs).

Cleaning

  • Clean the cage two to three times a week, using rubber gloves, a scrubbing brush, dishwashing detergent, and water. Rinse it well and dry it.
  • If cages are not kept clean, such irritants as ammonia, moisture, and bacteria rise to harmful levels, predisposing the rats to illness. Good hygiene practices reduce both the risk of disease and the smell.
  • Disinfect cages and furniture twice a month with a weak bleach solution (10–20 millilitres of bleach per litre of water), leaving them to stand for at least fifteen minutes in the solution.
  • Clean water bottles and tubes daily with detergent and water and disinfect them weekly with a weak bleach solution. Soak them for at least fifteen minutes and rinse them well.

Environmental factors

  • The optimum temperature range for rats is 18–29°C. Keep their cage out of direct sunlight.
  • Rats prefer a light cycle of twelve to fourteen hours of light and ten to twelve hours of dark.

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