Top 20 Safe Woods for Rats (& Toxic Woods to Avoid)

safe woods for pet rats
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Wood is a useful and natural material to use in your rats’ environment. It’s commonly found in many commercial substrates, cage litters, rat toys, and chews. But it’s also easy to source and prepare yourself and provides enrichment for your rats.

So, how do you decide which wood is safe to use? And how do you prepare the wood you’ve foraged to make sure it’s not dangerous for your rats? Which woods are potentially toxic to rats and must be avoided?

It’s natural to be wary and question the safety aspects of giving wood to your rats. But offering rats wood can have huge benefits, and today we are going to give you the confidence you need to be able to make great choices.

Which Are The Safe Woods For Rats?

All wood falls onto one of three categories:

  1. Wood that is safe for rats.
  2. Wood that is safe for rats with some caveat.
  3. Wood that is toxic for rats and should never be given.

So, let’s explore the first two categories. In saying that some wood is always safe for rats, we first must put some general rules in place. These are:

  • Don’t use wood from trees or hedgerows that border fields that have been treated with pesticides.
  • Don’t use wood from dead or decaying trees – or fallen branches unless you are certain which tree they came from.
  • Don’t use wood if you can’t see the whole of the tree (in case there is an issue with the part of the tree that isn’t visible).
  • Don’t use wood that is supporting the growth of another plant (like ivy) or fungus. A light growth of lichen is generally okay as it can be removed with a potato peeler – more on this when we discuss preparing your wood.
  • Don’t use wood from the side of a road, which gets a heavy traffic load as this can be contaminated with chemicals from car exhaust emissions.

The Centre for Animal Rehab and Education lists 89 trees or tree groups that are considered non-toxic for animals in general. For rats, the safe wood lists – much like the safe food lists – vary greatly, and it isn’t easy to know who to believe.

Our researched list covers 20 types of wood that are among the most suitable for rats, including some that are often listed as toxic on rat lists but are not.

Our 20 Top Safe Woods For Rats

  • Apple
  • Pear
  • Willow
  • Hawthorn
  • Bamboo
  • Hazel
  • Birch
  • Beech
  • Maple**
  • Ash
  • Dogwood
  • Crab-apple
  • Lilac
  • Mulberry
  • Magnolia
  • Grapevines
  • Aspen
  • Alder (not red)
  • Pecan
  • Cottonwood

**Sugar and Silver are the types of Maple that are safe to use for rats.

As well as the woods listed, there are a selection of trees where the wood can be used if you take time to prepare it properly. The most useful of these are European Cherry, Plum, and Apricot.

These woods are sometimes listed as unsafe, but some are widely used with rats in the UK, where there’s a naturalistic cage set-up revolution going on at the moment!

They require specific preparation to make them safe, and we’ll look at how to do this in a moment.

Another wood that needs special preparation to be safe is White Pine. It is widely used with rats as a cage substrate but must be kiln-dried to evaporate off the potentially toxic chemicals (phenols) that are naturally released from the wood over time.

Woods That Are Toxic To Rats

Shavings from softwoods like Cedar and untreated Pine release aromatic phenols (the things that make them smell good to us), which can have a toxic effect on the rat’s liver and irritate the airways.

Other woods that are known to be toxic include:

  • Box Elder
  • Yew
  • Red Oak**
  • Prairie Oak
  • Redwood
  • Privet
  • Sage
  • Boxwood
  • Hemlock
  • Laurel
  • Huckleberry
  • Juniper
  • Horse Chestnut
  • Red Alder
  • Orange
  • Red Maple
  • Jasmine
  • Hydrangea
  • Buckthorn
  • Holly

**Any tree with red wood is usually toxic due to high levels of tannin in the wood.

Several fruit trees are potentially toxic if used fresh off the tree and should always be dried out thoroughly (1-3 months) before use. These include cherry, apricot, peach, plum, and nectarine.

Foraging For Wood For Rats

You may be fortunate enough to have some suitable trees in your yard, but if not, the next best option is to see what you can forage from friends. Most trees – and plants, like Bamboo – need to be pruned regularly, and many people have no use for the trimmings.

Another option is to identify a group of safe trees in a safe location and wait for the next windfall. This is a good way to source branches if all the trees are the same species because once a branch has fallen, it’s not always possible to tell which tree it came from.

If you have access to private woodland or know someone who has, you may be able to take a suitable branch directly from a tree. In this instance, always behave thoughtfully, not taking too much or causing the tree to be misshapen.

If you live close to a managed forest, try speaking to the company that manages it. Smaller branches are often sawn off and left behind as waste when trees are felled.

Always source safe wood from a clean location where there is no use of pesticides or exposure to road pollution.

Preparing Branches For Your Rats

  1. If you forage branches, you will need to prepare them before giving them to your rats.
  2. Cut or saw off any thorns (e.g., the tip of each Hawthorn branch), decayed or unwanted side branches.
  3. Give the branch a good soak and scrub in salted water, then rinse. This removes any parasites and small insects.
  4. Dry off with an old towel.
  5. Using a sharp potato peeler, remove any bark that is showing signs of lichen.
  6. Leave to dry thoroughly in a warm, dry place (garage, cupboard, utility, etc.). The drying process can take weeks through to several months and destroys any toxins that may be present in the central greenwood/sap.
  7. For small branches, the drying process can be accelerated in a warm oven.
  8. Once dry, your branch is ready to use.

Maintenance Of Your Wooden Items

Over time, your wood and branches will begin to smell. But don’t worry because this is easy to deal with. Simply leave them standing upright outside – exposed to the weather – for several days.

You can rinse them first if they are dirty or if the season is very dry. Then – once the smell has gone – bring them inside and leave them to dry out for a couple of days before putting it back into the cage.

Types Of Branches And their Uses

Long, thick, and dividing branches are excellent for climbing both in and out of the cage. Climbing is a natural rat behavior and helps to keep your rats fit and muscular.

Discs cut from large branches can make great perches and chew toys. Many variations are available to purchase. These are designed for birds and are perfect for rats.

Bird Perch Stand, Wood Parrot Platform for Cage Natural Wooden Playground Cage Accessories for Small...
  • TOTALLY NATURAL MATERIAL & HIGH QUALITY--- Bird perch is made of natural apple wood. Apple wood is hard, non-toxic and nutritious for biting. Apples wood have a natural texture to grab esaily
  • IDEAL GIFTS FOR YOUR PET--- The natural apple wood is loaded with uneven surfaces that not only provides wonderful exercise and amazing feet massage for your pet but also an ideal place for your friends to chew, play, climb, rest and keep them healthier.
  • EASY INSTALL-- Simply unscrew the bolt, situate the branch at the height desired with a spacer on each side and then tighten it so that the attachment stays in place.
  • ENJOY THE FUN--- Fun to play, climb and rest,relieves boredom and increases activity level, Perch toy provides your pet with a nice and cozy place to play and exercise.
  • SIZE--- The pole length is 3.9inch and the platform diameter is 3.5 to 3.9inch,total length 7.3*7.8inch. Bird Perch Stand providing hours of active fun for your pet bird. I believe that you and your bird will like it.

Short branches make excellent perches, and those made from Java wood come in some interesting shapes. This one, which is grapevine, is great.

Small sticks are great for playful interactions and chewing. They can also be strung together to make an in-cage rope ladder. This bird ladder is suitable for rats.

Prevue Hendryx 62807 Naturals Rope Ladder Bird Toy, Large
  • Naturals toys are handmade from 100-percent natural, sustainable, materials
  • Your bird will benefit from hours of mental stimulation and rugged physical play
  • A variety of natural textures encourages foot exercise
  • Connects to cage easily with quick-link attachment
  • 26-inch long and 6-inch wide

Bamboo stalks add natural texture and interest to the cage environment. You can leave the leaves attached for your rats to enjoy.

using woods in rat cage

The Benefits Of Using Wood In Your Rats’ Cage

  • Wood is an organic material that would be part of the rat’s natural habitat.
  • Wood provides a rich range of textures, smells, and tastes, providing sensory enrichment for your rat.
  • Wood provides excellent opportunities for climbing, balancing, and jumping, giving your rats physical enrichment by enabling these natural behaviors.
  • Wood can be safely gnawed. The process of gnawing not only aids in maintaining a rat’s dental health but is significant to our rats as focused, self-calming behavior. Essentially, a way of dealing with stress.

Frequently Asked Questions About Woods for Rats

Can rats have pinecones?

Yes, they can. You can buy these as part of a pack of natural chew toys for rodents: 

Or you can forage and prepare them yourself. It’s best to forage them when they first fall from the tree. Clean and bake them dry as per the instructions for wood. Use a very low oven for several hours.

Can I give my rats treated wood?

No, wood for rats should be plain and untreated. Wood treatments are full of chemicals that are not safe to be chewed and potentially eaten.

Can I give my rats Balsa wood?

Yes, many rodent toys are made from Balsa wood. It is a safe wood for rats to gnaw but is soft and can quickly be destroyed.

Can rats eat wood?

Rats tend to gnaw and shred wood but don’t usually eat it. They have specialized flaps of skin, which cover the gap between their front incisors and their molar teeth. These have evolved to prevent pieces of gnawed material from being swallowed without intention.

A starving rat might intentionally eat some wood, and small amounts of ingested wood powder would be broken down by bacteria – that digest cellulose – in the rat’s caecum.

Winding Up

Now you can see that rats will appreciate wood in their cage and free roam areas, and you can forage and prepare the wood reliably yourself. You know which woods are safe and which to avoid, so your rats can look forward to lots of safe, woody activities and fun.

Last update on 2023-10-01 / 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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