Best Substrate/Bedding/Litter for Rats

By Small Furries - May 07, 2019

There are so many different types of small mammal substrates out there it can be hard to work out which one will be the BEST for your Rat especially as some can be toxic! 

You will usually have 3 types of substrate in your rats cage which include:

Substrate - Material that covers the floor

Bedding - Nesting Material inside the beds

Litter - Potty Litter for your Litter Tray!

Substrate is the material your rats will spend their whole lives turfing out the cage! It will cover most surfaces and is there to generally soak up urine and provide a loose and safe material your rats can exhibit natural foraging behavior in.

It should be dust extracted and unscented as well as absorbent and non toxic.

✔️ Safe Substrates

Dust Extracted Shredded Cardboard

Dust Extracted Paper Substrate

Self Shredded Newspaper or Newspaper Pages

Hemp Substrate

Aspen Wood Shavings 

Yesturdays News Cat Litter

Kiln Dried Pine Shavings

Coconut Husk 


✔️ Trusted Brands

  • Back2Nature
  • Eco Bedding
  • Yesterday's News
  • Aspen Supreme
  • Megaspread
  • Snowflake Supreme
  • Kaytee
  • Cellu-Dri
  • CritterCare
  • Littlemax
  • Bedmax
❌ Hazardous Substrates

Cedar Wood Shavings

Self Shredded Paper

Untreated Pine Shavings

Any material that frays easily 

 I use Pillow Wad Eco Nest Dust Extracted Shredded Cardboard for my main substrate.

Using this substrate means helping the environment, recycling and you rarely have to do any washing! Unfortunately shredding your own cardboard or paper ( especially if you are using a machine ) is too dusty, although some people shred newspaper by hand which tends to create less dust. 

Newspaper pages can also be used as a substrate but can get smelly quickly and may leave your rats covered in ink! Usually shredded cardboard or paper that is sold specifically as animal bedding has had the dust extracted ( don't ask me how! ) and is definitely less dusty! 

The shredded cardboard that i use has an unusually nice woody smell to it which lasts a couple of days after cleaning out! One of the downsides to using shredded cardboard is that it gets absolutely everywhere, it ends up in the bathroom and in my clothes!

 If you used it as a general substrate and have a cage with out any built up sides, you'll find a pile of it on the floor by morning. Another is that it can get expensive, unlike fleece, you cant re use it and will have to buy a bag every month! Saying that, it's definitely my preferred substrate :) 

Many people use fleece lining in their cage as it is the least likely to cause respiratory problems due to the lack of dust, but unless you have very well behaved rats ( do they even exist?! ) then they will likely be chewers and if they are anything like mine, the fleece will barely make it to 24 hours!

 Fleece can only really be used for potty trained rats as it gets wet and soiled very quickly and thin fleece does not do a good job at soaking anything up!

Fleece looks the most aesthetic and clean but the reason behind this is the fact you have to constantly wash it ( in non scented washing powder/liquid ) and that can become a chore when they decide to pee everywhere!

 I think cages filled with fleece are absolutely beautiful but beware of strands of fabric getting wrapped around little rat feet as this can cut off circulation which could lead to amputation.

 If you decide to use cloth or fleece as actual bedding material it will need to be washed more frequently, depending on how many rats sleep in the area. 

By using only fleece in your cage you are limiting their natural behavior to burrow. Rats absolutely love digging an running around their cage with pieces of bedding,setting up their own little bed! 

Ensure they always have a supply of tissue or paper they can rip up and chuck around, the other alternative is a dig box which can be filled with sand, soil or shredded paper, just make sure its safe, clean and free from any chemicals or diseases.

 Pellets are a very popular choice among rat owners and they can also be made from recycled paper but are much larger and harder than pieces of shredded paper and much less comfortable than fleece.

 The most popular brand is called Yesterdays News ( which is actually a cat litter! ) and it is great at absorbing urine, although the pellets tend to disintegrate if not replaced after a few days.

The only downside to pellets is the fact they aren't very aesthetic and probably aren't overly comfortable but they are reasonably cheap and easy to remove when cleaning.

Aspen Bedding is the main
 type of wood shaving that is safe for rats, although pine can be used if it is kiln dried. It is especially chosen for the limited amount of dust that can be found and the actual wood itself is safe for rats to chew on as it does not contain toxic phenols. 

Kiln Dried Wood Shavings have the toxic phenols removed whilst being treated and although people argue as to whether or not its actually safe the general consensus is that it is OK to use. Again, its messy like the pellets and shredded paper but its 100% safe. 

Kaytee is a good brand to use if you decide on aspen bedding because they specialize in processing their substrate to remove all dust. 

Some wood based bedding's like cedar contain toxic phenols , which give the wood a really nice smell and aid as an insect repellent but are very dangerous to rats. Annoyingly, cedar shavings are the cheapest bedding options but also the most hazardous!

 Because of the dangers in this wood, they are never dust extracted, so as well as being toxic to rats, they can also give them respiratory problems! 

Bedding is the material youll be placing in their hide outs or their beds. Whilst many people just use the substrate in the beds, some substrate can be too hard and uncomfortable, such as Yesturdays News Cat Litter. 

If you intend on using the substrate for the bedding you may want to opt for a more comfortable substrate and use it for both!

 You may also want to use loose substrate for the floor and fleece for the beds, but this may get smelly quickly as some rats are too lazy to get up and use their potty and may pee where they sleep! 

If this happens, make sure you frequently clean out your rats beds and wash ( with  non scented washing powder/liquid ) the fleeces when they start to smell.

If you use Fleece as your main substrate you should provide some kind of loose bedding for your rats to re arrange, this allows them to exhibit their natural behaviours of nesting and foraging. 

This also gives them more freedom with their cage and allows them to move things around until they are comfortable.

You may want to provide a bed/hide out at the bottom of the cage with no substrate which gives them a cooler area for them to lay if they are too hot, however they may fill it with bedding if they choose this as their preferred sleeping space!

A fun enrichment idea is to attach an entire toilet roll onto the side of the cage, giving them something to do and allowing them to pull off as much as they need to make their beds warmer or more comfortable. Alternatively you may want to provide a cardboard box with lots of bedding materials.

Litter is the last material you'll be consistently purchasing, it will need replacing weekly depending on how frequent your rats go and how well they are potty trained.

 If you spot clean the cage ( when you pick up the poop from the potty everyday ) your litter will last longer and your cage will smell less! See my Step by Step Guide on Potty Training Here!

You may also use your substrate as a litter although it tends to work better if the material is different which helps your rats tell the difference! 

Litter can also be purchased from your pet store or online and many different brands like Kaytee do a good litter ( this is the one i use! ). Like the Substrate and bedding It must be dust extracted, unscented, absorbent and non toxic.


Small Furries 2019 Extended Diploma in Animal Management 


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