How to Conquer the Rat Smell

By Small Furries - June 03, 2019

Rats themselves do not smell, they do not release anything that smells and the majority of the time the reason they smell is because they are not being looked after properly.

This article is a collection of ways you can reduce smell, keep your cage ammonia free and ensure your Rats are healthy!


The most common reason for smelly rats is the lack of cleaning in their cage. A full clean should be carried out at least once a week, removing all bedding and substrate and disinfecting the cage floors and bars. However, you want to refrain from cleaning them out too frequently as they have a tendency of peeing on anything that does not smell like them!

A smelly rat cage is likely down to urine, faeces, ammonia build up or left over food! Ammonia is extremely bad for their little respiratory systems and bad for yours!

Spot cleaning can be carried out which means removing faeces or soiled bedding every day, this ensures there is nothing laying around that could potentially smell but also leaves the dry, clean bedding so the rats do not feel the need to urinate on everything again!

Many people think bathing their rats is the answer but it is highly unlikely it is the rats themselves that actually smell and more so that they have been laying, where they are urinating. Again, keeping the cage clean will prevent this from happening.  Rats groom themselves constantly keeping them extremely clean (cleaner than humans!) and in general should not smell.

Females usually do not have any kind of smell whereas males can sometimes have a subtle biscuit like smell to their coat. Some males produce buck grease on their back, which helps hair flexibility but can make them look dirty and oily, this grease is normal and should not be washed off! As males, get older and their hormones even out, the amount of buck grease should decrease.


Every bedding you can possibly use for rats has its own plus and down sides and one of the down sides to some bedding is that it is not absorbent.

Beddings such as fleece and materials are great at soaking up urine but do not diminish the smell and can become smelly very quickly if not frequently washed. Fleece gives an aesthetic look to your cage but is not very practical!

Cardboard, Paper or Wood (Aspen Only) have great absorbency and can sometimes have a nice woody smell to them, which masks any lingering smell of ammonia. Although paper based beddings have great absorbency, they can be very dusty. Shredding paper yourself should be avoided as there is no way to remove the dust but many pet shop beddings specialise in extracting dust so it should be hard to find an overall great bedding at your local pet shop!


Rats can also be smelly if they are sick, for many reasons. For example, a urinary tract infection can smell absolutely awful and your rat should be taken straight to the vet for antibiotics immediately if you find their urine a strange smell or colour.

Burst Abscesses can leave a bad smell in the cage and on the rat, it is highly unlikely that an abscess would grow and burst without you even noticing it is there, but be sure to check your rats over if you can smell infection in the cage.

As rats age they can suffer from many life threatening things, such as Hind Leg Degeneration. This is when their back legs (for many reasons including arthritis, paralysis or kidney failure) fail to work anymore and they struggle to get around, over time, the HLD will worsen until they have little to no movement. Rats with HLD or any kind of movement restriction ( large tumours ) are unable to groom themselves and will also refrain from moving a lot meaning they could be sleeping where they urinate, causing them to smell like ammonia or faeces. Cleaning an ill rat out every day, with a burst abscess for example, will help prevent infection and keep them clean.

Potty Training

You will not believe how many rat owners are not aware that we can potty train our smart little rats! Before Rats I kept hamsters, whom I also potty trained, so when I got rats I presumed they were the same.

Potty Training your rats ensures most of their faeces and urine are going into one place, which makes spot cleaning every day much easier! Depending on how well your rats potty train, and how messy they generally are, you may be able to decrease the frequency of how often you do a full clean too! (Saving you money and time).

Air Purifiers

I hope that you have read my Complete Guide for New Rat Owners and know that Rats have very sensitive respiratory systems. This means you cannot spray perfume, light candles or incense in the same room as them, this also means it is very hard to get rid of any lingering ammonia smell!

Fortunately, air purifiers exist, and whilst I have never had to buy one, most rat owners who have smelly rats swear by them! They keep the air you and your rats are breathing clean, whilst leaving a nice subtle smell that does not damage your rats in any way!


There are many other steps that can be taken to ensure the smell is at its minimum such as ventilation. Rats should never be in direct sunlight, nor should they be in a direct draft, which makes it seem impossible to let fresh air and light in! Position your rats cage the other side of the room from the window, this means they should be in the shade all day and will not be affected if the window is open.

Candles are not completely useless; in fact, some candles smell stronger when they have not been lit! Buy a strong smelling candle but do not light it, the smell of the unlit candle should be strong enough to leave a nice smell in the room.

Plants are always a great addition to any room, they provide our rats and us with oxygen and flowering plants can leave an amazing smell in the room! Be careful which plants you use and never allow your rats near them unless you have checked they are safe!


Small Furries 2019 Extended Diploma in Animal Management


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