Habitats for Rats - Cages Versus Aquariums
Which is best?
Part of the fun of getting new rats is setting up their new home! The type of home you get for your rat depends on your situation - living space, available funds, and general environment. There are two main kinds of rat housing that are the best to use. These are wire cages and aquariums. You can get both of these at your local pet store and many times you can find them for great prices at yard sales or flea markets. Or, if you go with a wire cage you can build your own. The first thing to consider is the environment of your house. Is your house drafty? How much space do you have? Do you have other pets that may harm your rats?
Aquariums, or fish tanks, will be best if you have drafts in your house or other pets that may harm your rats. The solid walls will keep the draft off of the rats, therefore keeping them from getting sick. Other pets, such as dogs, cats or ferrets will not be able to nip a rattie tail or paw through the glass. Just be sure to keep the aquarium where it cannot be easily knocked over.
Aquariums are also great for babies that can often walk right through cage bars that may be too wide. The high walls also help to keep litter inside the cage. Be sure to get a securely locking lid with good ventilation for the aquarium. Rats are great escape artists and will find their way out of a loose fitting lid.
Though aquariums can be good housing they still have their problems. They usually need to be cleaned more often due to ammonia buildup and poor ventilation. They can also be hard to clean if they are very large. Two adult rats should have at least a 20-gallon aquarium... the more rats you have the bigger the tank should be. Which brings up another disadvantage since the bigger the tank is, the more expensive it will be and the harder to clean.
Cages tend to be the best alternative for most rat owners. They get plenty of ventilation due to the bars and, depending on how many rats you have, only have to be cleaned once a week. They are also space savers. Rats like to have many levels in their home and tend to sleep in the highest corner they can find. This allows you to get a tall cage and can fit easily into the corner of the living room or bedroom. Cages can be decorated easily with hanging baskets, tubes, hammocks, litter pans, ropes, and other miscellaneous objects. Plus ratties love to climb up the sides of the cage and run up the different levels.
Cages are easy to find. You can usually pick up a decent one at your local pet shop, yard sales, or flea markets. Just make sure your rats will not be able to squeeze through the bars - if the head can go through the rest of the rat can, and will, follow! Martin's Cages are very highly recommended - easy to clean, made just for rats, and affordable. The bar spacing is perfect even for young rats and the wire floor spacing does not need to be covered. There are many sizes and designs to choose from to make your rat's palace a place they love. Martin's Cages also makes aquarium toppers, so if you have an aquarium and wish to have a cage on top of the aquarium you can order from their stock or have one custom made.
There are some things to watch out for with cages. Make sure there are no wire floors or levels with spacing big enough for rat feet to get caught in. If the cage you want has large-gapped wire floors you can cover them with needlepoint canvas, plastic carpet runner, or even linoleum tiling. Wide-spaced wire floors catch the back feet of the rats and can break a leg or foot. They have been said to cause a problem known as bumblefoot, which is when sores develop on the bottom of the feet from walking on the wire, although through experience and discussion within the forums here we have concluded that it may also be caused by solid floors as well. It has been discussed that urine left standing on the shelves may cause irritation to the rat's feet as they walk through the pee puddles, thus possibly causing bumblefoot in the long run.
Make sure that you get a powder-coated or other type of coated cage. Galvanized wire could be bad for rats as they may get zinc poisoning due to chewing on the bars or licking their feet after walking on the wire. Galvanized wire also tends to rust easily and begins to smell bad after a few months no matter how much scrubbing and bleaching it gets. Whether you choose an appropriate aquarium or cage, a happy home makes for happy rats!