Enrichment Ideas

By Small Furries - May 22, 2019

Depending on your budget and how many rats you are housing, the cages we buy for rats are usually huge! Finding things to fill the cage with can be a challenge, but many people simply fill it with hammocks and ropes to bulk it out and fleece to make it look nice, but what can you really give your rat that will benefit them?

Exercise is essential and as rats are prone to obesity you will want to ensure your rat is as healthy as possible.

Running Wheels are a great form of exercise and enrichment, but getting a rat to actually use one is a different story. Whilst 50% of rats will use it as intended, the other 50% will sleep in it, poop in it, chew it to shreds and never actually run on it!

Unfortunately a hamster running wheel will not do, Rats are much larger than hamsters and have a long tail, which doubles the length of them!

A small wheel will damage a Rats tail or spine if it’s constantly being bent up when running so if you cannot get a wheel big enough you may want to opt for the flatter open running wheels.

Tip: Do not feel like you have to take up half your cage space with a wheel, it is not essential as long as they can exercise in other ways.

Exercise Balls are a big no. The Rats hate them and they can do the same damage as a small running wheel can. Even if you find a rat that is willing to climb into a ball they will not be able to just aimlessly run around to keep you entertained like a hamster, this is the difference – you have to entertain them.

The ventilation inside an exercise ball is awful and mixed with the fact rats have poor respiratory systems, its better just to avoid them all together!

Tip: If you have tried to stuff, your rat into an exercise ball with no avail and have one lying around, take the lid off and hang it inside the cage! Once you have filled it with fleece or bedding, it doubles up as a very comfortable bed!

Ladders and Ropes are essential in a larger cage as they help the rats get up and down the cage ( which should be taller rather than wider ) and whilst some cages have built in ladders, it doesn’t harm to chuck in a few more!

Rats love being high up and are very skilled at the tight rope! They can walk across almost any small surface and enjoy exploring anything that seems inaccessible! By tying ropes across your cage, you give your rats an alternative to ladders.

As mentioned in previous blogs, you should be using a cage and not a tank or aquarium and rats will usually use the bars of the cage as its own ladder! Obviously, this does not count for elderly or injure rats and they may need a ramp to get up to levels instead of ladders and ropes.
Tip: You can make your own ropes so easily with old materials! Using three strips of thick fabric, plait them together, tie of the ends and fasten them to the sides of your cage!

Chew Toys – Rats need to regularly chew on things to keep their teeth from overgrowing as they are constantly growing throughout their life!

Lava Ledges are small rat sized ledges that attach to the side of the cage and can be put on all sides of the cage. Primarily they were created to wear down nails, by placing one underneath your rats water bottle it will have to stand on it every time it drinks, meaning its wearing down its own nails without realising!

The reason rats chew is to wear down their teeth, which means they will instinctively chew everything, and lava ledges are no exception! You may need to replace them more frequently if you rats take a likely to them.

As we know, rats love being up high! You have probably noticed they will try get to the highest point of the cage and hang out there! Placing a few lava ledges right at the top will give your rats a place to perch and watch you around the house!

Tip: Place lava ledges on the inside of your cage doors, when the cage door is open, your rats can climb up onto the top of the cage and hang out up there!

Recycled Cardboard is a great enrichment with endless possibilities. I love putting old boxes filled with their bedding and mealworms into my rats cage every now and then, they will spend weeks destroying the box and trying to find all the mealworms!

Although rats love hammocks and will usually be happy sleeping out in the open, they should definitely have their own hiding space away from you! I use wine boxes, either stacking them up or just one at a time, they provide enough shelter and dark for your rats to feel safe and hidden.

Empty kitchen and toilet rolls can be put in the cage, especially when they are babies they will spend hours playing in and chewing the toilet roll!

Tip: Hang a whole toilet roll from the side of the cage and allow them to pull off pieces, as they need it!

Wood can come in all forms, is natural and can be great for them to chew on but remember some woods can be toxic! 

Although it seems easier to just grab a branch out of your garden, its best to buy wood products from a pet shop, as you know they have been treated and does not contain pesticides.

Tip: Most chew toys that can be bought in a pet store can be used for your rats to gnaw on, just be sure to check the type of wood being used before you give it to your rats.

Beds – Rats love sleeping, they are semi nocturnal and although they will change their sleep pattern to yours, you may find they are a sleep (especially in old age) more than you thought!

Any Box is a great choice for a bed as it provides shelter, warmth and darkness and will make your rats feel safe. Rats are prey animals, which makes them skittish and fearful and ensuring you always have a hiding place for your rats will help them feel less stressed.

Cardboard Boxes can be used and replaced every week, they can be filled with bedding, substrate or left without bedding when its summer, and best of all they are free! You can turn almost any cardboard box into a hiding spot for your rats and you can use more than one to create a mini castle!

Wooden Boxes look great but can be very hard to clean, you also have to take into consideration the many woods that are toxic to rats as mentioned above, but they are a nice treat and can make your cage look much nicer compared to old cardboard boxes!

Space Pods are a rat’s favourite sleeping spot, and they will all try to squeeze into one! They are meant to be hung from the roof of the cage and almost act as a hammock but are made from plastic, this still means they need to be cleaned but can be easily wiped down.

Tip: If you have run out of room to hang your space pod, you can turn it upside down and use it as a normal bed!

Hammocks are also another favourite, especially because you can hang them at the highest point of the cage. There are many people that make hammocks for small animals and they are usually relatively priced too! Alternatively, you can learn to make your own! 

Tip: if you find your hammocks keeping being chewed to shreds, buy a plant hanger from a garden centre and fill it will fleeces and materials to create an invincible ( and huge! ) hammock!

Food and Water

Bowls are the usual option for rat owners, but some rats may pee or poo into their bowl. Bowls can also be tipped easily and may not be able to hold as much food as a dispenser.

Tip: Use un-chewable heavy bowls, such as china.

Dispensers can make your life easier when it comes to cleaning, they keep the food clean and contained inside and slowly release the food out as the rats eat it.

Tip: Hang the dispenser slightly higher than the floor, making it almost impossible for them to poop in it!

Water Bottles are the best product to contain water; they are easy to use and clean and cannot be spilt or pooped in! You will find with a water bowl, the water gets dirty very quickly, where as in a bottle, the water is protected and lasts much longer.

Tip: Get a ‘silent’ water bottle, they make no noise and will not keep you up at night!

Other Enrichment

Anything that you can stuff treats into and cover the holes is brilliant for enrichment, the rats will absolutely love trying to get the treats out and it is something productive for them to achieve.

Food can always be used as a form of enrichment in many ways but sometimes it can be as simple as boiling an egg and leaving the shell on for them to figure out! Here are some more ideas for food enrichment:

-       Egg with shell on ( make sure to crack it slightly)
-       Half a coconut with water removed
-       Pumpkin with top taken off and contents left inside
-       Chicken leg tied onto the side of the cage

Digging is another natural behaviour in rats, and ensuring they have substrate and bedding rather than fleece ensures they have access to nesting and digging materials all the time.

Providing your rats with a box of soil can give them the natural experience they need. Coco Soil is the best soil to use as it is safe and contains no harmful chemicals.

Tip: Bury some mealworms to give them something to look for!

Pea fishing is always a fun enrichment to try out! Fill a bowl with tepid water and chuck in a few peas. It is always best to start this from a young age, as rats tend to be frightened of water unless exposed to it early on. They usually just fish out the peas with their mouth or hands but some may completely jump in!

Tip: In summer you can use slightly colder water and frozen peas!

Obstacle courses can be made with any recycled or household objects! You can use a playpen, your bed or make the course inside the rat’s cage! Using treats as a rewarding for completing or finding their way out of a maze can be a lot of fun for them!

Tricks are one of the best forms of enrichment as your rats are actively using their brains and learning. It is also a fun way of bonding, getting to know your rats and helping them trust you too! There are so many tricks your rat can learn; there is no excuse not to teach them something new everyday!


My Cage Contents (2019)

·         Food Dispenser
·         Water Bottles x 4
·         Eco Nest Shredded Cardboard Substrate
·         Ladders and Ropes
·         5 levels
·         Space Pod
·         Plant Hanger Hammock
·         Wooden Bridge
·         Wooden Chew Toys x3
·         Rope Chew Toys x3
·         Wine Boxes x2
·         Coconut Shells
·         Hanging Toilet Roll
·         Teddy
·         Access to roof of cage– Cat Carrier, Pillows and Blankets


Small Furries 2019 Extended Diploma in Animal Management


  • Share:

You Might Also Like