How To Litter Train Your Rats (in 4 Easy Steps)

how to litter train a rat
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In today’s article, we are going to show you how to litter your rats in 4 easy steps. You might be wondering “Can rats be potty trained?” and it’s a great question. Sadly, we can’t just give you a quick “Yes” or “No” response, but we promise you’ll discover the answer as you read.

Something You Need to Know Before Potty Training Rats

Rats are smart – really smart! They are easy to train to do pretty complex tasks using positive reinforcement (rewards and treats). So, litter training should be a breeze, right?

In terms of training a rat to use a litter tray to poop into – yes – this is easy, and we’re going to tell you how in just a moment. Getting a rat to wee in a litter tray is much harder, and we’ll come back to this towards the end of the article.

Equipment You’ll Need To Litter Train Your Rats

A Suitable Plastic Tray

The first thing you will need is a low-sided plastic tray that will fit into a corner in your rat cage. You can repurpose a suitable food container or similar. However, this will be easy to tip over, and many people like to use a corner litter pan designed for the purpose.

We’ve used this type of litter box with our own rats for many years and found them durable, easy to clean, and impossible for the rats to tip over. 

Ware Manufacturing Plastic Lock-N-Litter Pan for Small Pets, Colors May Vary
  • Simple, secure locking design pan
  • Made of stain and odor resistant plastic
  • Low entry plus extra high back
  • Attaches easily to an cage wire and easy to clean
  • Measures 12-1/2-inch width by 8-1/4-inch depth by 6-inch height

Always choose a litter tray that would be large enough for a guinea pig or small rabbit, rather than one designed for a hamster.

Hot tip 1: Match the type of tray to the place you are going to put it. A corner tray is designed for a corner and these can be used higher up the cage as well as on the cage floor. A flat cat litter tray is great to cover a shelf and a planter makes a good hanging toilet in the rafters.

A Suitable Litter

A question we are commonly asked is:

“What is the best litter to use when litter training rats?”

The litter needs to be:

  • Different in texture to the substrate on the floor of the cage.
  • Absorbent.
  • Good for odor control.
  • Unscented.

There are plenty of good litters that fulfill these qualities, but we would recommend a pelleted, paper-based cat litter because it doesn’t create dust when wet, and it is highly absorbent and good for odor control.

Our favorite is Yesterday’s News Unscented Cat Litter as it is clean, absorbent, eco-friendly, and has no added perfumes that could irritate your rats’ sensitive respiratory tracts.

Purina Yesterday's News Non Clumping Paper Cat Litter, Unscented Low Tracking Cat Litter - 30 lb....
  • One (1) 30 lb. Bag - Purina Yesterday's News Non Clumping Paper Cat Litter, Unscented Low Tracking Cat Litter
  • Absorbs 3x the moisture by volume than traditional clay-based litter. Delivers effective odor control
  • No added fragrance. number 1 veterinarian-recommended eco-friendly cat litter
  • Designed for low-tracking with no small particles. Soft paper pellets offer a non-toxic litter option
  • 99.9 percent dust-free formula. Works great for kittens as well as adult cats

Disposable Gloves or a Plastic Dessertspoon

These are needed during the process of litter training, to move droppings into and out of the litter pan.

Litter Training A Rat In 4 Easy Steps

The following steps will lead you through how to train your rats to do their droppings in the litter tray. 

Step 1: Observe Your Rats

Left to their own devices, almost all rat will choose a specific area of the cage to do their droppings. This is often one corner of the base of the cage, though it can sometimes be on a shelf or other piece of cage furniture. We had one group of rats who always went to the toilet in a planter hanging from the roof of the cage!

Before you begin, observe your rats’ behavior and note where they usually go to do their droppings. If you aren’t sure, look to see where most of the droppings are when you go to clean out the cage. There may be more than one preferred spot.

Step 2: Place the Tray(s) and Add Poo!

  • Take one litter pan for each area that your rats are using do defecate.
  • Fill the base of each tray with a layer of litter around half an inch deep.
  • Attach the litter pans to the cage to cover the places your rats have chosen to do their droppings.
  • Using your gloves or spoon, pick up some droppings from around the cage and sprinkle them on top of the litter.

Step 3: Reward the Rats

Because you have begun by using their familiar spots for toileting, it’s likely that your rats will naturally go into the pans to do their droppings. Some rats are better at this than others. You can encourage them by rewarding the behavior when you see it.

Choose a high value treat like a shelled pumpkin seed, a sliver of cooked chicken, or a smear of malt paste. If they need encouragement, you can even sprinkle some treats into the tray itself.

As rats are a species who practice coprophagy, this is not unhygienic for them, and the process of eating may stimulate them to go to the toilet.  

Hot tip 2: Be patient and reward success often. Never punish rats when they don’t get it right – this will just make them scared of you and ruin your relationship. Instead, you can try to think of ways to help them succeed

Step 4: Cleaning Up

If your rats quickly get the idea, you can leave the tray in place until you need to take it out for cleaning. Some owners like to do daily cleans by removing most of the poos from the tray using gloves or a spoon.

However, this isn’t necessary unless you are doing it to reduce odors for your own comfort. Litter trays can easily be left for a week or so, then removed and fully cleaned out.

Don’t use strong-smelling cleaners on the tray – your rats need it to smell familiar, and strong smells will put them off using it. While your rats are learning, always remember to add back in a few poos from around the cage each time you do a complete change of the litter.

What About Litter Training Rats To Urinate?

If rats are so clever, why won’t they use a litter tray to wee in? The first problem is that unlike training a dog or cat, rats are very active at dawn and dusk, wee frequently, and you are not always around to train them. 

However, some pointers will make it easier for you to try advanced litter training if you are up for the challenge. 

  • Rats almost always pass urine soon after they wake up. 
  • Some rats will wee in their beds, but many will leave the nest and wee in an area very close by. 
  • If you can identify your rats’ usual places for urination, you can adapt the steps above and place a litter pan for your rats to use.
  • Place a few litter boxes around the cage so that all beds have one close by.
  • Try placing some finely shredded paper over the litter to begin with and lifting your rats out of bed and into a tray when they first wake up. 
  • Reward the rats generously when successful. 
  • Don’t over-clean the area at first. Leave some smelly urine-soaked paper to encourage them to reuse the pan. 

Hot tip 3: Don’t try to lift a sleeping rat. They may get a shock, misunderstand what is going on and bite you out of fear. 

Winding Up

So, now you can see that rats can be potty trained, and you have all the information you need to try this with your rats. We wish you every success and hope that you enjoy the training process, which can help build your relationship if you remain calm and positive. 

Last update on 2023-06-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

About author

Alison has been living with rats for the past 22 years. She researches and writes within the international rat community. Author of The Scuttling Gourmet and Ratwise Membership, she has recently launched the Ratwise Store and library.

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