Have fun with it!
Cages and Cage Set-Up
Hamster Habitrails, glass tanks, and plastic tubs are NOT acceptable homes for rats for so many reasons. First, they are far too small. Rats are very active animals and need a lot of space to run around in and climb on. Second, Habitrails, tanks, and tubs offer poor ventilation from the build-up of ammonia caused by poop and pee. The number one cause of death in rats is respiratory infection and a small environment with ammonia build-up is the perfect recipe for a respiratory infection. Rats are very clean animals and don't want to live in a filthy environment. Small containers really seem more like a means of "storing" rats away rather than providing them with a comfortable environment where they will be happy. As rat owners our desire should be to make our rats happy and no rat can possibly be happy in Habitrails, tanks and tubs. It is surprising how many pet stores sell tiny cages and tanks for rats. It really speaks to how very little many pet store staff know about rats and how interested they are in just making a sale.
We highly recommend that people purchase a very large cage for rats like a Critter Nation. If not, wire cages with metal (not plastic) pans are by far preferred because rats are chewers and can, within hours, easily chew themselves right out of a cage that has a plastic pan. Just ask us how many plastic panned cages we've had to throw away! Wire cages offer ventilation, plenty of climbing opportunities, and better flexibility for "decorating." Space between wires should be between 1/2" x 1/2" (for babies) and 1" x 2" for adults. A double Critter Nation can range in price from $100.00 to $250.00 just depending on where you get it. Shop on-line for sales.
We no longer use Critter Nation cage ladders as we and many other rat owners have had too many rats sustain broken legs, hips, and ankles after they get legs caught in ladders. To compensate for the rats not having ladders to climb up to shelves on, we arrange our Critter Nation cages in such a way that rats can jump down to lower levels by jumping onto igloos or cardboard boxes that are placed beneath the openings and the rats use them for climbing back up to upper levels as well.
Fleece fabric is the best thing to use for bedding on pans and shelving because it's soft and comfortable for rats. Rats like to snuggle under blankets just like people do. Blankets should be washed every 3 days at minimum to keep the cage sanitary and the rats clean. Shake off blankets outdoors before washing them.
Because rats are so active (especially females) they should have a good wheel that is not made of wire mesh because wire mesh wheels can damage a rat's feet and cause bumblefoot (see the bumblefoot article on the Healthcare tab). The wheel shown in the photos here is the large size Silent Spinner.
Rats love to sleep in fleece hammocks so offer at least 2 in the rat's cage and wash them every 3 days at minimum to keep the rats clean.
Because rats are so clean they like to use little pans and it takes about 2-3 days to litter pan train a rat. You train them simply by transferring any poop you see in the cage to the litter pan itself. Be consistent in doing that. In no time at all they get the idea that the litter pan is where you want them to poop and pee. Not all rats use their litter pan exclusively. When they do use the litter pan though it keeps their living space cleaner and makes clean-up far easier for you. Critter Litter is a good safe litter for a rat's litter pan. Litter pans should be cleaned at least twice a week. We clean litter pans by moving them side to side quickly so that litter settles to the bottom of the pan and poop stays at the top. Then we suck up the poop with a Shop Vac and add more litter to the pan as needed. Once every few weeks we scrub out litter pans with a good cleaner in our backyard. Rinse them thoroughly.
Rats like toys so you can put some in the rat cage. Just don't provide anything sharp, tiny that they can choke on, nor hazardous much in the same way you wouldn't give those things to a toddler because they put everything in their mouth. Some bird toys are good. You can get PVC pipe at places like Home Depot. Rats like to walk through them. Just don't get any that are too narrow because a rat can get stuck. It is fun to get creative, but just use good common sense on what is or is not an acceptable item for a rat cage. As rat owners we need to protect them.
Above: Full Critter Nation Cage
Below: Half Critter Nation Cage