Making A Room Safe for Your Pet Rats

It’s so much fun to play with pet rats outside of their cage. They love running around, exploring new territories and being stimulated and enriched by changes in their environment. It’s up to us to make sure any room in which our rats play is safe and tailored to our rats’ specific needs and personal preferences.

Click on any of the links below to be taken directly to each topic:

 

The Top Five Dangers

Danger #1: Electrical Cords

Whether plugged in or not, cords attached to lamps, electric clocks, stereos, TVs, computer equipment, etc, all present serious hazards. While chewing on a cord that’s plugged in, your rats can get electrocuted. Even if your rats gnaw on a cord that’s not plugged in, cords frayed and damaged by chewing are too dangerous to continue to use. Any electrical cords with exposed wiring (due to chewing) need to be replaced.

SOLUTIONS:

1. UNPLUG ALL CORDS: It’s as simple as that. If you choose to unplug, follow-through and make sure that all electrical outlets and cords are completely out of your pet rats’ reach.

~OR~

2. COVER ALL CORDS with plastic or metal tubing purchased from a hardware store or online. Even if you choose to cover cords, you’ll still want to keep an eye out to make sure your rats don’t attempt to chew through cord covers.

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Danger #2: Cracks and Crevices

Cracks under doors, gaps underneath built-in cabinets, screens in windows and heater vents are all very dangerous. Furniture often contains multiple nooks and crannies which can potentially cause injuries to your rats as well as damage to your furniture. Sofas, chairs and mattresses are all inviting hideouts and delightful hoarding spots for adventurous rats.

FURNITURE

Upholstered sofas and chairs – Your rats can easily discover an opening underneath the sofa, crawl into a tight space, (such as the arm of the sofa,) and then you won’t be able to get them out. There’s also the danger they could crawl underneath a couch cushion and get crushed if anyone were to inadvertently sit on top of them.

Mattresses and box springs – Your rats can chew into your mattress box spring and then crawl inside for a little nest building fun. This is another tight spot from which it’s impossible to retrieve your rat.

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Wrap cardboard around the base of a couch to keep rats out. The next step is to cover the entire couch with sheets, blankets and/or bedspreads so your rats won’t be able to get underneath the seat cushions.

Inside both furniture and mattress box springs, there are sharp edges, tacks and other components that can cause puncture wounds.

Loungers/Rockers – If your rat were to get underneath this type of chair, your rat could easily be crushed and killed.

SOLUTION: Remove dangerous furniture or use an old sheet, bedspread or blanket to cover any furniture that could cause injury. Block off any available entrances underneath furniture. For sofas, corrugated cardboard can be wrapped around the base. (see photo on left)

DOORS & WINDOWS

Cracks underneath doors can be extremely dangerous. This is especially true if you are in a room where there’s a door that opens to a garage or to the outdoors. If you think the crack underneath your door isn’t that large, think again. Rats can crawl under doors much more easily than you might think since they’re quite skilled at flattening themselves.

SOLUTION: If the crack underneath your door is wider than ¼”, block it off. You can do this temporarily by firmly wedging cardboard into the crack. A better, longer term solution is to install a door sweep at the bottom of the door so there’s no gap through which your rats can escape.

Sliding glass doors and windows left open with only the screen portion closed still present an easy exit for your rats. They can climb up the screen and to the side and adeptly squeeze through to the edge of the screen to the outdoors.

SOLUTION: Easy! While your rats are free-roaming, leave sliding glass doors closed. Same goes for windows—do not trust that screens will keep your rats inside. They’re too easy to chew or wiggle through.

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The photo on the right shows what’s UNDERNEATH the drawers pictured on the left. These gaps—found underneath almost all built-in cabinets and drawers—lead into the walls of the house.

CABINETS & DRAWERS

Underneath bathroom and kitchen cabinets and drawers there are often gaps where the bottom of the cabinet meets the floor baseboard. These gaps lead inside the walls where your rat would be in danger of chewing on wires as well as getting lost and unable to return to safety.

SOLUTION: Keep in mind that there are openings underneath almost all built-in cabinet and drawers. Feel underneath with your fingers to check for openings and block them off with cardboard or anything else that will keep your rats from climbing into these holes.

Heater vents similarly pose a significant danger as they lead to inside the walls, under the floor and other out-of-reach areas of the building in which you live.

SOLUTION: Block off ANY area you don’t want your rats to go and/or that could cause danger if your rats were to enter.

Danger #3 – Stringy, dangling window curtain or blinds cords, fringe on curtains, bedspreads or blankets.

Rats enjoy playing with stringy things—very similar to cats. If not closely supervised, rats can get tangled, choked or lose circulation later resulting in loss of a limb.

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Don’t let our innocent looks fool you

SOLUTION: It’s best to not have anything with fringe or anything “stringy” in the room unless you’re with your rats and playing with them with the string. For window blinds or curtain cords, you’ll want to make sure they’re out of reach.

Danger #4: Toilets

If your rat were to jump up onto a toilet seat and then fall into the bowl, there’d be no way for him to get back out and your rat would drown.

SOLUTION: Whenever your rats have access to a bathroom, always keep the toilet lid closed!

Danger #5: Garbage cans 

Rats love to get into garbage cans and explore what’s inside. This may result in their eating something that’s harmful as well as their not being able to get back out once they’ve gotten inside a garbage can.

SOLUTION: Either remove garbage cans from your rats free roam room or keep them securely covered.

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Set up your room according to your rats’ personalities:

Chewers

Besides the potential of your rats being injured, electrocuted or poisoned by chewing, your belongings can also suffer significant damage. Chewers will gnaw on paint, wall plaster, wood baseboards, furniture, books, bugs, papers, upholstery, carpet, bedspreads, plants, electrical cords (unplugged or not) and just about anything else they can sink their teeth into.

SOLUTIONS:

  • Use the solutions listed earlier for how to protect cords and furniture.
  • Provide a wide variety of chewing toys (specifically made for small animals) and place them throughout the room.
  • Whenever possible, use behavior modification to work with your rats. This is important especially in the beginning when your rats first start exploring a room. When they chew on something they shouldn’t be chewing on, make a special sound reserved only for when they’re doing something you don’t want them to do. I make a clucking sound in the back of my throat. You can also say their name so they know you see what they’re doing and don’t approve. It’s important to immediately redirect them to chew on something that IS appropriate such as various wooden chews made for small animals or a lab block.
  • Many house plants are toxic to rats if ingested. Keep house plants out of reach or out of the room completely.
  • Dust and vacuum regularly so there aren’t bits of old food, miscellaneous types of paper, bugs or anything else that can end up in the carpet.
  • Cover upholstery and beds with old sheets or blankets. This not only deters chewing but also protects from odors and stains caused by urinating, defecating or marking behaviors.
  • In some instances, Bitter Apple or a similar product can be applied to the area where your rat is attracted to chew. This type of product can be found online and in most pet stores. It works especially well on wood or walls in your room, although not all rats are deterred by this sort of product.
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Vera climbed up a towel hanging on a towel rack and is now looking for a way to get back down.

Climbers

Some rats are expert climbers. They climb curtains, bookshelves, towels hanging from a towel rack, sides of shower doors, and even chest of drawers by using the drawer pulls or handles as a ladder. Once they’ve climbed as high as they’d like, they have no way of getting safely back down.

SOLUTIONS:

  • If you do allow your rats to go onto shelves or ledges (or anywhere high up) you must be right next to them and ready to catch them if they start to fall.
  • Or, better still, close off access to anything your rats can climb up. You’ll get ideas of what needs to be off-limits when your rats initially begin to explore the room. You’ll be surprised at what they’ll find to climb.
  • Create safe climbing areas so they can still use their mountaineering skills. Check out the sloping, fabric-covered climbing wall on the right side of this indoor pet rat playground.

Jumpers

Also common for some pet rats is jumping. Rats will, for example, jump from a table to a bookshelf and then on up onto the next highest shelf. Some rats will attempt to leap from the arm of a chair onto, say, a picture frame. This is dangerous because rats can easily fall from great heights and become seriously injured. Bruising of internal organs, broken bones and even death can result.

SOLUTIONS (Similar to Climbers): If your rats are jumpers, keep an eye on them at all times especially when they first start to explore a new room. After awhile you’ll be able to tell what appeals to your rats the most. Then you can either move around the furniture and any other jump-off areas or you can make sure you’re on hand to assist at all times.

Urine Markers

Most urine markers are male rats. They’ll dribble small amounts of urine here and there, marking their territory.

SOLUTIONS: 

  • There’s a possibility you can use behavior modification and divert their marking behavior. Do this by having litter boxes available outside the cage. Place your marking rat directly into a litter box as soon as you take him out into the play room. This reinforces where you want to see him urinate. Also, if you see your rat about to mark an object in the room, immediately place him in the litter box.
  • Having males neutered can also often help reduce or even eliminate urine marking.

Tips for Making Your Rat Room a Better Place for All

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Build a maze for your pet rats

It’s ideal when the room in which your rats roam is also the room where their cage is located. While they’re out you can leave the cage doors open should they want to return home at any time.

Many rats will go back inside their cage to defecate and urinate. Initially, however, it’s a good idea to place litter boxes in all corners of the room in which they’ll be playing. After awhile, if you find they only use the bathrooms inside their cage, then you won’t need to place additional litter boxes in the room. If you find they do urinate and/or defecate when outside their cage, they may choose to use areas other than just the corners of the room. Whenever you find they use an area as a bathroom, place a litter box there and they’ll get the idea. Also, if you see them just about to urinate or defecate and they’re not in a litter box, gently move them immediately to the nearest litter box.

Before allowing your rats to roam free in a room, it’s important to dust and vacuum and to do so on an ongoing basis. Rats will eat just about anything they find on the floor including bugs, old and moldy bits of food and various types of paper all—of which could cause your rats to become injured or ill.

In general, and especially in the beginning stages of allowing your rats out in a room, observe them very carefully to see what they might start to get into that could be dangerous. Sometimes you won’t even realize something could be dangerous until you see your rat begin to explore an object or area that could cause harm.

Sometimes, I find there’s a part of a room where I don’t want my rats to go and it’s difficult to block it off. When this happens, I place one or more plastic grocery bags in that particular place. That way I can hear the bag(s) “crinkle” when they go into that area and know to either monitor closely or remove my rats right away.

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Helpful Items to Have in Your Rats’ Room

The more items you have for them to enjoy while they’re out in their room, the less chance your rats will get into trouble. Here’s a short list to get you started:

All of the above may seem daunting at first. After awhile, though, you’ll find it’s easy to maintain a safe and fun play room for you and your rats.

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