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How to Choose the Right Cage Size for Pet Rats

Nicole Cosgrove

Rats have had a terrible reputation for centuries, but they are intelligent, sensitive, and clean pets that will enjoy a ride on your shoulder as much as affectionately grooming you. So, you’ve decided to bring a new fuzzy pet rat into your home, so the first step should be choosing the cage.

What features should it have, and how large should it be? We’ll walk you through how to choose the right sized cage for your pet rat, whether you have one or three. After all, you want your little friends to be as safe and comfortable as possible.

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How Large Should the Cage Be?

As a general rule, if you have one rat, your cage should be no smaller than 1.5 to 2.5 cubic feet (or 18” x 15” x 12.5”, which is the ideal size and works out to 2 cubic feet). The more rats you have, the larger the cage should be.

If you have two rats, you should increase the size of the cage by another 2 cubic feet, and therefore it should be up to 4 cubic feet at a minimum. If you bring in a third rat, you should increase the size of the cage to 8 cubic feet to help minimize the threat of fighting and to give them enough space for exercising, playing, sleeping, and eating.

How About the Cage Height?

At a bare minimum, you’ll want the height of the cage to be tall enough for your rat to be able to stand up to her full size without touching the top. However, you’ll want something taller than this. There should be enough room for your rat to be able to climb around, and the cage should be no lower than 20 inches or 1.6 feet in height.

What About the Different Levels?

There are cages with everything from a single level to there being three or more levels. Purchasing a cage with different levels will depend on your rat.

One Level

Cages that only have a single level work best for if you have a litter of baby rats or if you own disabled or older rats as they will have some difficulty accessing higher levels.

Two Levels

A two-level cage will work best if you have one or two rats. You can use a variety of items such as tubes, climbing ropes, or ramps as methods for your rats to get around.

Three or More Levels

This type of cage will be the largest and will work for you if you have three or more rats. Like with the two-level, you can provide a combination of toys, hammocks, ladders, and other climbing equipment to help entertain your rats.

rat cage levels
Image Credit: Fiona Henderson, Flickr

Bar Spacing

How wide the bars are is an essential part of choosing a cage and will depend on the size of your rat. You need to be sure that the bars aren’t too wide apart, or your rat will either escape or might get her head caught, which could lead to injury or death. This is especially important if you’re buying a cage designed for a larger animal, such as a rabbit cage.

The safest bar spacing is 0.4 to 0.6 inches wide as this is small enough to keep smaller rats in. This includes females and younger rats.

If you have larger rats, you might be able to go up to 0.8 to 1 inch, but just be aware that if a rat is able to fit her head through an opening or space, she’ll be able to escape.

Vertical or Horizontal Bars

You’ll find some cages with horizontal bars and some with vertical or a mixture of these two. The best cage will have primarily horizontal bars as they will allow for easier climbing for your rats as well as a more convenient way to attach toys and objects to the bars.

Cage Material

You will find rat cages in a wide variety of materials and colors. Some of the more common cage materials available are plastic, galvanized wire, wood, and powdered wire or metal. You’ll obviously want to avoid anything that your rat can chew holes in, particularly plastic and wood. You’ll also want to stay away from wire cages that are not coated as you’ll be dealing with rust and corrosion.

The best material for your rat cage is enameled bars as they are tough and durable and will withstand gnawing and rust. You can also consider galvanized metal cages, but they won’t be as easy to clean. You’ll want to be sure that the bars have not been painted with any kind of toxic paint. Some rat owners will even coat their own bars with pet-friendly paint, and this way, you can customize the color as well as the durability and safety of the cage.

Bottom of the Cage

rat in cage
Image Credit: Skatyazaych, Pixabay

Most cages tend to have deep plastic bases that many rats will chew on. This is even more likely to occur if there are raised areas or ledges that are easy for them to access and chew. Your options are either finding a cage with a smooth base that has minimal objects or shelves that they’ll be able to latch onto or finding a cage with a coated metal base. These might be expensive and hard to find, but worth it if it keeps your rat safe.

You should avoid any cages with wire on the bottom of the cage as your rat may injure herself or develop bumblefoot (ulcers or bumps on the foot that are pus-filled).

Access for Cleaning

Another consideration for any cage is how easy it is for access, particularly for cleaning. You should have a cage with a front door that is large enough to fit both of your hands holding a rat. There should also be doors on each level if you have a multi-level cage.

You should be prepared to clean the cage at least once a week, although it is preferable to clean it twice a week. You’ll need a cage that can be lifted off of the base for easy access or one that has a tray on the bottom that can slide-out for easy clean-up.

Accessories

Some cages will come with nothing but the cage and maybe a few ramps or ladders. Others might have food and water containers and several fun additions for entertainment, such as hammocks. Of course, you can also purchase these items separately and add them in yourself.

What to Avoid

We’ve gone over how to pick the right cage for your rat, but what should you avoid?

First of all, you should keep away from hamster or mice cages as they are generally far too small to house a rat or multiple rats.

Glass tanks or aquariums are also on the definitely not list as your rat will have limited ability for climbing, and the ventilation will be quite poor. This can also lead to your rat suffering from a respiratory disease due to constantly breathing in urine and feces odors.

As previously mentioned, no wire mesh-type bottoms on cages as you don’t want your rat developing bumblefoot.

You should absolutely avoid anything with sharp edges that might cause injury.

Wood objects are not only easily gnawed on, but they can also soak up urine that can’t be adequately cleaned.

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Conclusion

Your rat will be spending most of her time in her cage, so finding the right cage for her is of the utmost importance. Make sure it is large enough but with smaller spaced bars, so she won’t escape or injure herself. Spending a little extra on a large cage made with enameled metal and metal base is worth it in the long run. Keeping your rat safe, healthy, and happy should be a breeze if you start by following these steps and find her the perfect cage.


Featured Image: Kirill Kurashov, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.