Litter Box Lessons for You and Your Pet Rat
April 1, 2015 by
About Pet Rats 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
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.
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
Inside 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!