• Litter Box Lessons for You and Your Pet Rat

    Posted on April 1, 2015 by in Behavior, Intelligence, Litter Box Training, Training, Why rats?

    Despite their small size, pet rats possess a very high level of intelligence. Their clever minds allow them to come when called, learn tricks, know when you’re coming home and, yes, they can even learn to use litter boxes.

    Inside the Cage

    Cardboard trays lined with paper towels make ideal pet rat litter boxes

    Cardboard trays lined with paper towels make ideal pet rat litter boxes

    Make litter boxes out of cardboard trays or shoe box tops covered with several layers of paper towels. Place a litter box in the corners of each level of their cage.

    • Initially, you may find they defecate outside their boxes. If this happens, place additional litter boxes in locations where they’ve chosen to defecate.
    • If you find any feces outside of a litter box, place them into the closest litter box. If possible, do this while your rats are inside their cage so they can see what you’re doing. This helps demonstrate the desired behavior. While doing so, gently and pleasantly say “litter box” or “paper towel” or whatever word you’d like to associate with their litter boxes. You’re not trying to punish them, but rather are calmly pointing out that their poop belongs in the litter box.
    • If you see them start to defecate or urinate in an area other than their litter box, gently scoop them up and place them inside their nearest litter box. While doing this say “litter box” or “paper towel” so, again, they associate these words with their litter box.
    • Whenever you see them using their litter box, praise them. They love positive feedback and it really does help reinforce the behavior.
    • At least daily, replace the used paper towels with fresh, clean ones so there’s no odor build-up from urine or feces. This is extremely important. Your rats can become seriously ill if urine and feces are not cleaned up regularly.

    Outside the Cage

    After they’re litter box trained inside their cage, you can take them out on a sofa or on the floor of a room. Before doing so, strategically place folded up layers of paper towels in key areas. Generally 3-5 paper towels in a stack are a good number to be absorbent enough so that the surface underneath doesn’t get soiled.

    • If your rats are on a sofa: Place paper towels in the corners at either end
    • If your rats are exploring the floor of a room: Place paper towels in each corner of the room as well as any area that looks like a desirable bathroom spot for your rats.
    Sometimes when my rats are with me on the sofa, one of our cats decides to settle in with us. Whenever my rats need to urinate or defecate, they'll lunge at the cat so she's forced to leave. Once the couch is cat free, my rats will privately (and safely) use the paper towels as their bathroom.

    Sometimes when my rats are with me on the sofa, one of our cats decides to settle in with us. Whenever my rats need to urinate or defecate, they’ll lunge at the cat so she’s forced to leave. Once the couch is cat free, my rats will privately (and safely) use the paper towels as their bathroom.

    When bringing your rat(s) out onto a sofa or into a room for the first time:

    • Place them directly onto the paper towels and say “paper towel” even if they don’t need to go to the bathroom. Then you can let them walk around and explore. In most cases, they’ll automatically use the paper towels as their bathroom, especially if they’ve already been trained to do so when inside their cage.
    • In the beginning, if you find they’re not using the paper towels you’ve placed on the sofa or the floor of a room, use the same method you used inside their cage: If they begin urinating or defecating in the “wrong place”, gently move them onto the paper towels and say “paper towel”.
    • Also, same as you did while they were learning to use litter boxes inside their cage: If they gravitate toward using an area on the couch or floor for their bathroom where there isn’t already a stack of paper towels, place additional paper towels in the location(s) they’ve chosen for themselves.
    • Again, always praise them when you see them using their “litter boxes”.

    On Your Shoulder

    If you’re walking around with your rats on your shoulders, they’ll usually let you know when they have to go to the bathroom. They’ll get “antsy” and act as if they want to get off your shoulder. When this happens, simply take your rat off your shoulder and place him or her on paper towels you’ve already placed nearby. If you’re in a room in your home, have a stack of paper towels ready in case they need to use them. If you’re outside your home or in your car, place your rats inside their carrier where you’ll already have a stack of paper towels placed in the back of the carrier. After they do use the bathroom, your rats will be eager to get back on your shoulder and will no longer try to get off.

    Urinating vs. Defecating

    pet rat health, pet rat vet, pet rat vet care, pet rat surgery, about pet rats, pet rats, pet rat, rats, rat, fancy rats, fancy rat, ratties, rattie, pet rat info, pet rat information, pet rat litter box, pet rat litter box training, pet rat behavior, pet rat urine marking, pet rat trainingInside the cage, it can be more difficult to teach urinating in the litter box. After all, it’s easy to pick up “poop” and place it in the right spot to show them how it’s done, but you can’t do that with urine. This is when it comes in handy to observe your rats right when they’re about to urinate. Even though they’re already low to the ground, you can tell if they’re about to pee when they squat and hold still. If they’re not already inside a litter box when beginning to urinate, gently pick them up and place them in a litter box, praising them while they finish urinating.


    It’s so much fun to litter box train your pet rats and, as you can see, it’s also very worthwhile!

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6 Responses so far.

  1. Olivia says:

    Any advice for someone who owns two male rats? As we all know male rats feel the need to mark EVERYWHERE, well in my case they do.

    • Hi There, Olivia!

      One of the best options for eliminating male pet rat marking behavior is to have them neutered. Although not guaranteed, most of the time neutering does stop male rats from marking.

      The second option is to litter box train your rats. As you probably know, urine marking is quite different from normal urination. Even so, you can still litter box train your rats and teach them that all urine belongs in a litter box.

      Usually you can tell when a rat is about to urine mark. After careful observation, you’ll learn to detect when they’re about to walk across an object or surface upon which they want to dribble some urine. Before they get the chance, however, gently scoop up your rat and place him directly on some paper towels you have set up nearby.

      Placing them immediately on paper towels (or whatever you decide to use for litter boxes) works even when they’ve already started urine marking. If you’re not able to catch your rat before he urine marks, place him directly on paper towels as soon as you notice urine marking has begun.

      In both instances, you can use verbal cues that accompany your moving him to a litter box when he’s about to or has begun urine marking. Since I like using paper towels, I say aloud “paper towels” as I’m placing my male rat on the towels. This way, if I observe him about to urine mark and I’m not close by I can say “paper towels” and, once he’s trained, he’ll know what I mean.

      More information on this topic can be found in Litter Box Literacy: The Finer Points of Teaching Pet Rats to Urinate in Litter Boxes.

      I hope you find these ideas helpful. If you need more information or have any other questions, feel free to let me know—I’m happy to help any time.

      Best Wishes to You & Your Rat Boys,

      About Pet Rats

  2. Krystal says:

    Litter box training can be fairly difficult; this is definitely a wonderful post for everyone who needs it. Hahaha I find that the boys have not a care in the world for it; some of them will respect your desire for cleanliness. Others climb to the top of your shoulder and just let ‘er go! LOL

    • Hi Krystal,

      I think part of the trick is making sure we humans are trained to know when they have to go. When my boys (and girls) are out on my shoulder, I can tell when they have to urinate or defecate because they get really “antsy”. I learned to always have a stack of paper towels nearby and ready for them to use as their bathroom. That way it’s easy to take them off my shoulder and immediately place them on the paper towels.

      Hope to hear more from you in the future.

      Best Wishes to You and Your Rats <:3 ~ Jasmine | About Pet Rats

    • Gloria says:

      I have a question about potty training. What type of bedding is used for the rest of the cage when using paper towels in the litter box?


    • Thank you for your great question, Gloria! I just now completed a page on Bedding & Litter where you’ll find the answers to your question.

      Let me know if you need any additional information and I’m happy to help anytime!

      Best Wishes to You & Your Rats,

      Jasmine | About Pet Rats