This article covers all you need to know before purchasing your new rat cage. The cage is probably the most important item you’ll buy for your rats – certainly the most expensive – so, it’s vital to have plenty of information before you decide. A good cage can last you and your rats for many happy years.
Today we’ll look at everything from how much space your rats need and where to place a cage in your home, to which features are essential and which are much less significant than you might think. Then we’ll discuss the pros and cons of 6 of the best rat cages on the market.
But before we do that, let’s think about how many rats you are buying a cage for?
- Rat Groups – Let’s Do the Sums
- So, How Big Should a Rat Cage Be?
- What About Using Hutches or Plastic Bins for Rats?
- Important Things to Consider When Choosing Your Rats’ Cage
- 6 Great Rat Cages & Their Pros and Cons
- Best Large Rat Cage – Midwest 162 Critter Nation
- Best Small Rat Cage – Midwest 161 Critter Nation (Single Unit With Stand)
- Robust, Easy-Care Rat Cage – Ferplast Ferret Plus and Rat Cage
- Good Budget Rat Cage – Kaytee My First Home Habitat
- Best Wide Barred Rat Cage – Kaytee Multi-Level Habitat
- Best Temporary Rat Cage – Savic Ruffy 2
Rat Groups – Let’s Do the Sums
Rats are small and gregarious. You might think you are getting a pair of rats but be careful; many rat owners catch GMR (Get More Rats) a condition that is extremely hard not to succumb to! New pet rat owners will typically begin with either a pair or a trio.
This can work well while you are getting used to sharing your home (and your heart) with your rats, but at some point, one of two things will happen:
- You will love them so much that you just want more.
- They will start to grow older and, not wanting any of them to end up living alone, you will think about bringing new babies into the group.
So, even if you have a will of iron and resist all GMR urges until your babies are older, you’ll still want to look for your next pair before there’s an urgent need for company when your first rat passes.
For all these reasons, and because of their boundless energy and explorative behavior, it is highly recommended that you get a cage that is big enough to comfortably house at least four rats.
So, How Big Should a Rat Cage Be?
Rats are active explorers and foragers, who naturally climb, run, jump, balance and dig. It’s easy to see why a cage capable of meeting these diverse physical needs would have to be large in comparison to the body size of the rat.
There are various cage calculators for rat cages available online. Most people think that about 0.06 cubic meters (2 cubic feet) is the minimum space needed for one rat, but that all rat cages should be large enough to house at least four rats.
So, your first criteria for selecting a suitable rat cage is that it is at least 2.4 cubic meters in size. The dimensions used to measure size are the internal width, depth, and height of the living area. Any unusable space – such as a peaked roof or under-floor storage area is not included.
What About Using Hutches or Plastic Bins for Rats?
While standard rabbit hutches are unsuitable for rats, an indoor wooden hutch can be purpose-built and adapted into a great pet rat habitat. The same space requirements apply.
- They are warmer for rats who are kept in adapted garages or sheds.
- They have fully opening front doors and drop-down kick guards, making them easy for access and cleaning.
- They are well ventilated if plenty of mesh is used. Front panels and roof advised.
- They have deep kick guards, which keeps mess to a minimum even with deep litter.
- They provide an enclosed living space, which provides comfort and safety to rats (who are naturally wary of open spaces).
- They allow less bright light to enter the rat’s living area, which is great for a species who adapted for twilight.
- They are neat to stack, so excellent for ratteries and multi-group households.
- The cost of purchase is usually high (as they are not available ‘off the shelf’).
- They need to be modified with rat-safe waterproofing varnish (to enable cleaning), internal hooks (to hang furniture) and metal edging (to protect from chewing).
- Thought and care need to be taken to enable behaviors such as climbing and balancing.
Plastic tubs are sometimes used to house rats but are generally thought to be unfit for purpose. It is almost impossible to adapt them to allow for a rat to engage in the full range of natural behaviors, and if they are adapted, stacked and so on, access then becomes a big issue.
- They are cheap and easy to purchase.
- They can be easy to clean out.
- They need to be modified with mesh walls and roof to provide enough ventilation, essentially creating a plastic walled cage.
- Plastic can get overheated and smelly in hot weather.
- Plastic is easy for a rat to chew through.
- They are rarely big enough to enable the inclusion of even a basic selection of cage furniture.
- The smaller size (well under recommendations) does not allow enough accessories for the expression of natural behaviors.
Courtesy of Ryan James Casey
Important Things to Consider When Choosing Your Rats’ Cage
Cost Versus Expected Durability
The rat cages we will review range from less than $100 to over $250 and while price often reflects the size of the cage, it can also relate to quality and extra features. Some of these features are essential, while others are less important.
Any metal part of a rat cage should be coated to prevent deterioration and rusting. Base trays are particularly likely to rust and are often made of plastic to overcome this issue.
However, plastic can get chewed, so either way, base trays should be replaceable or able to accept a replaceable plastic tray over the top.
Metal bars need to be robust, as they will have to withstand hammock clips, cable ties, climbing, and gnawing. Plastic parts should be hard and thick as some gnawing is almost inevitable.
Features like internal shelves are less important as many owners end up removing these anyway to provide a more open, active and interesting setup.
Ramps are unnecessary for young and fit rats who love to climb and will often choose the cage bars or a rope over a ramp, but they are worth hanging onto as some older rats appreciate them.
A solid, good quality rat cage often lasts for many years, so can be worth the extra investment. However, when you bring your first pet rats home, you can’t really be sure that you will need the cage to last for several generations.
Some people are allergic to rats, while others will simply stop keeping them because their circumstances change. You might even find their short lifespans too difficult to deal with.
From this perspective, it is worth considering a cheaper starter cage before you invest in a long-term rat palace. The smaller cage will come in handy for the times when you inevitably need to house groups of rats separately – quarantine, introductions, sickness and so on.
Security – Keeping Your Rats Safe
Whether you’re thinking about the bar spacing or the plastic base tray, it’s essential that a good rat cage can keep the rats safe and unharmed. Wide bar spacing (anything over 1.5cm) can allow smaller rats to escape.
Some rat cages also have wider bar spacing in specific areas, such as where the roof meets the side bars. So, make sure you check the whole cage for possible escape routes.
Plastic base trays can be chewed, and a determined rat can create a new ‘door’ in one overnight chewing session. It’s less likely that a rat will chew to get out of its cage if you only have either males or females.
Escaping from the cage can lead to injury, loss or even death. Electrical wiring might be chewed, or other pets may injure or kill your rats. They could even find their way outside.
Some cages have wired bases designed to allow waste material to drop through the bars into cage litter underneath. This is completely unsuitable for pet rats and if you buy this kind of cage you will need to modify it.
Rats need a loose substrate on a solid base for digging and foraging for food. They can also damage their feet if they get caught when moving quickly over the wire. So, make sure the grill can be removed or covered with a large plastic tray, such as those sold for the base of dog crates.
Access – Getting to Your Rats Easily
There are some lovely cages on the market which are spoiled by small doors. Having easy access to all corners of the cage is essential to be able to get to your rats easily. Large doors are particularly useful when you are trying to:
- Socialize and confidence train new rats.
- Help rats who are sick or injured.
- Spot clean corner litter trays or change hammocks.
- Get larger accessories into and out of the cage.
- Move large quantities of substrate (litter) in and out of the cage.
Fully opening front doors are excellent for all the above, but they can cause issues when hanging ropes and hammocks as there are fewer anchor points.
Some people overcome this by leaving one door on each level shut and fixing accessories to it. Another approach is to hang ropes and branches across the full width of the cage only.
You can then use the doors to place perches and water crocks, which make use of the internal space without preventing the doors from opening.
Access – Cleaning Out Your Cage
Regular cleaning is an essential part of looking after your pet rats, and the easier it is for you, the more you can enjoy the process. Look at the cage as someone who will need to strip it bare, clean out digging and sleeping areas, reach into corners, remove trays and so on.
From the bars of the cage to the shelves and accessories, everything will need to be cleaned thoroughly every couple of weeks, with spot cleans in between.
How will the design of the cage affect this? Are the bars powder coated and easy to wipe clean? Do the trays slide out? Are the shelves easy to remove and replace?
How the Cage Might Impact Your Home
Firstly, you will need to decide where you will place the cage in your home. This may affect the size of the cage you buy, as you may need to fit it into an alcove or between other pieces of furniture. The design of the cage should also look attractive to you.
Ideally, the room you choose should have some natural footfall as rats like human interaction, even if just in passing. Equally, they should be protected from excessive noise, which is stressful, especially during the day when they need to be able to sleep.
However, rats can be very noisy themselves during their active periods, which are mainly in the evening and early morning. Housing them in a bedroom may not be the best idea, though some people can habituate to the noise.
If you do intend to put the cage in your bedroom, then a wireframe on a plastic base will generate less noise from the rats moving through it, than all metal. Using plastic shower curtain hooks, rather than metal clips, to secure furniture can also reduce noise.
You might also want to consider the flooring in your chosen space. Carpets can be damaged by wheels and cage feet rusting, and there will inevitably be some shedding of litter and food from the cage, which is much easier to sweep up from a hard floor.
Very few cages come with adequate kick guards to allow for the use of deep litter without shedding. However, it is easy to purchase pre-cut, made-to-measure Plexiglass panels that can be fixed to the cage for this purpose.
6 Great Rat Cages & Their Pros and Cons
Best Large Rat Cage – Midwest 162 Critter Nation
This excellent rat cage is an adaptation of the Ferret Nation, with the addition of horizontal bars for climbing and narrow (½”) bar spacing. The result is a versatile cage with many excellent features and problems that can be overcome with a few straightforward modifications.
The habitable space is 36”(w) x 24”(d) x 48”(h) divided into two connected sections. This makes it suitable for anything up to about 10 rats. It can be used as sold, or as two individual cages, or without the middle divider for a more open and active setup.
The cage is made entirely from powder coated metal except for the base trays, shelves, and ramps. It is robust and (usually) well-made click and fit design, but where any of the pegs are not entirely straight, putting it together can require a little hammering into shape.
Underneath the living quarters is a storage area which can be useful for keeping rat supplies. This can also be adapted to hold a Plexiglass tray, perfect for holding deep litter as a digging substrate.
The cage is on castors (with locking brakes) but these are easily removed if you prefer a static cage. It’s recommended that you leave the castors off until the end of construction as you may need to exert a great deal of downwards force to click the cage sections together.
Like most small animal cages, this one comes with a full set of shelves and ramps. This is more suited to animals who do not climb as well as rats, for whom they just waste cage space that could be used for more challenging furniture.
Rats will naturally climb up the cage bars to get around the cage, and this provides excellent exercise. It’s advisable to remove all the ramps and possibly one of the shelves, though you may want to add a ramp or two back as your rats enter old age.
The double opening front doors on both levels are excellent for access and cleaning and have sprung locks which are easy to operate with one hand and are very secure.
The main problem with this cage is the shallow plastic base trays with no kick plates. This is significant for rats, who will kick litter out of the cage when digging. It can easily be overcome with one of two modifications:
- The deep Plexiglass base tray mentioned above, which sits on the under-cage storage shelf and removes the need for the lower level floor completely.
- 6” Plexiglass kick plates added to the cage around the middle and bottom base trays. Plexiglass can be ordered cut to size
There are companies who make deep aluminum base trays to fit this cage. However, these trays can be extremely noisy for both you and the rats, and they succumb to rusting over time as they aren’t coated. But these are a potential modification if you also sound-proof them, which is easily done.
Best Small Rat Cage – Midwest 161 Critter Nation (Single Unit With Stand)
Everything written above for the 162 Critter Nation applies to the 161, other than it is only the lower section of the two-tier cage. This makes the cage somewhat limited in terms of height and provision for climbing behavior.
However, it’s a really great place to start for your first rats and can be upgraded later by adding a top section (sold separately) when you decide it’s time to expand their habitat. The cage will suit 2 to 4 rats very nicely.
This cage would be greatly enhanced by adding a deep Plexiglass base tray to allow for deep litter and digging. This will also increase the height of the cage to improve the potential for climbing, balancing, etc.
Robust, Easy-Care Rat Cage – Ferplast Ferret Plus and Rat Cage
This UK rat cage is an excellent lower cost rat cage with a ton of great features. It has coated horizontal bars for easy cleaning and climbing, with a narrow (½”) bar spacing. The cage is attractive with the bars being a deep green color.
It’s easy to construct and just as easy to dismantle, making it portable for holidays as well as being big enough for long term living accommodation. At 31.5”(w) x 19.5”(d) x 27.5”(h) it will easily house 2 to 4 rats with the space used wisely.
It has the advantage of only coming with one shelf and ramp and being robust enough to use without these if you’d prefer a completely open setup. Also included are a useful corner litter pan, a useable hammock and an ‘over the bars’ dish that is useful for giving an open water source.
The true beauty of this cage is the fully opening top, which gives complete access to the cage from above, making handling your rats and cleaning out much easier. There is also a large front door, though the clips on this do require two hands to open and close.
The whole cage is easy to maintain and clean out, with a base that’s deep enough to contain litter well and robust enough to deter all but the most persistent chewers. Providing items to gnaw within the cage should ensure the cage has a long and useful life.
From personal experience, we can recommend this as a well-made, well-designed rat cage for a small group if you don’t want to go down the large, all-metal cage route.
Good Budget Rat Cage – Kaytee My First Home Habitat
If you are looking for a readily available, cheap, transportable rat cage for holidays, a holding cage for quarantine, or have a very limited budget for your primary cage, the My First Home Habitat has plenty of potential.
The habitable space is 30.5”(w) x 18”(d) x 30”(h), which will house 2 or 3 rats well if you make good use of the space. To do this you will have to sacrifice some or all the shelves and all the ramps. Used as sold, it’s very limited in terms of adding interesting and useful furniture.
Using a shelf or two will increase the stability of the cage but place them thoughtfully so that you can easily reach them to wipe them clean, and to prevent reluctant rats from hiding in difficult to reach corners.
The bars are horizontal for easy climbing and spaced at ½”, which is suitable for all rats. However, they aren’t powder coated so will tarnish quickly, hold smells and eventually rust. The bars are thin so can easily get bent out of shape.
There are two opening doors on the front panel that are a reasonable size and providing you use the cage on top of a unit of some sort should allow good access to the inside of the cage. Larger items would have to go into the cage via the base.
The cage is easy to clean out, as the base detaches completely, so litter can be tipped straight into a bin. Spot cleaning can be done through the front doors.
The plastic base of this cage is deep and should prevent most of the fall out from rats digging in the cage litter. It does, however, have the disadvantage of being chewable and as such presents a potential for escape.
Many rats do live in plastic-based cages quite happily without chewing. Providing lots of in-cage gnawing opportunity (wooden furniture, branches, perches and nuts in shells) will also offer a good alternative to the ardent chewer.
Best Wide Barred Rat Cage – Kaytee Multi-Level Habitat
We thought we’d review at least one wide barred cage, though these are unsuitable as the only cage for anyone who just wants one main cage for one group of rats. This is because the 1” bar spacing is too wide for juvenile rats and small females to live in the cage without the risk of escape.
There are many wide bar cages on the market, which are mainly sold for ferrets, and with features such as wire floors, wire shelving/ramps, and vertical bars they often need massive modification for rats to be able to use them safely.
So, we chose the Kaytee Multi-Level Habitat because this doesn’t apply, and because, unlike many wide barred cages, it has the horizontal bars that are so necessary for rats to climb. At 24”(w) x 24”(d) x 40”(h) it is a surprisingly roomy cage.
The bar spacing is problematic, but the bars are coated and will be easy to clean and maintain. The base tray is deep enough to contain cage litter and is on castors for ease of movement, though the castors are removable if you prefer a fixed position.
However, the base doesn’t provide a huge surface area so other areas of cage litter may be needed, depending on how many rats you have. Deep cat litter trays could be zip tied to some of the shelves to facilitate this.
Once again, the funky ramps aren’t needed and just take up unnecessary space. The spiral slide is particularly unsuited to rats and best removed.
The cage has good access with two large front doors and one on the top of the cage, all of which makes cleaning and handling easier. It’s straightforward to assemble with a click and fix system, though some people report it as awkward. No tools are needed.
Best Temporary Rat Cage – Savic Ruffy 2
When you keep rats it is really useful to have a small temporary holding cage to use for quarantining new babies, doing introductions, raising a litter, separating if you need to feed a rat differently from the main group, giving medication, or housing a sick or disorientated rat.
At 31.5(w) x 19.5(d) x 15(h), the Savic Ruffy is an excellent size for this purpose. No rat should be kept permanently in a cage of this size, but when a smaller, single level cage is needed, it really comes into its own.
The build is extremely robust with a tough plastic base and thick, coated bars. The bar spacing is ½”. There is a robust and extremely secure catch on the single rooftop door. The door is a good size that allows easy handling from above.
Accessories included with the cage are a large water bottle and hanging tube, both of which are suitable for rats.
This cage is extremely easy to clean and will last for many years with care. When not in use it’s easily stored away by dropping the base into the upturned wire top.
We hope that you have enjoyed our guide to what to look for in a great rat cage. Our intention is that you will now be able to work out which cage will best suit your needs – and, of course, which will give the most benefit and enrichment to your rats.
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