Oh Boy! Rat Toys!
Photo by Shane Faire
Here are some rattie home decor ideas which have successfully endured the triple test: durability against tiny rattie teeth, cleanability, and the wallet test!
This toy serves a similar purpose to those ferret tubes with the nasty little ventilation slits that catch rat toes, but it is completely safe. If you go check out your neighborhood hardware store, you will find that they have PVC pipe connecters in a wide variety of sizes and interesting shapes. I suggest buying the largest available size that will fit in your cage. At the very least, do not buy anything that the largest rat in the cage could possibly get stuck in. This stuff is practically indestructible and can be sanitized with soap and hot water, bleach solution, or Parvosol. The rats will lie on top of it, use it as a little hideaway while eating a particularly desirable treat, or race through it while playing with other rats.
FERRET CORNER LITTER PANS
You say your rats like hammocks. So do mine. You say your rats eventually chew their hammocks to smithereens. Mine, too. I like ferret corner litter pans much better. You can go to the pet shop and get a ferret corner litter pan with hanging tabs in the back for about half the cost of a hammock, and it will last at least five to ten times as long. When you bring the ferret litter pan home, peel out the stickers, wash it out, and fill it with a heavy- weight bedding (such as BioFlush or Gentle Touch. Has to be heavy so the rats won't make it into "snow"). Then hang it in the highest possible corner of the cage. My rats will jam their bodies into these to sleep until they look like a fur patchwork quilt, with little tails sticking out all around. It's adorable! For whatever reason, they want to sleep as high up in the cage as they can. The ferret pans are easy to clean in much the same way as the PVC pipe connectors. They are also very chew-resistant.
Oh, I love those bird ropes at the pet shops. They are wonderful and the rats love them. But they are, unfortunately, more susceptible to rattie teeth than the previous two toys, and their lifespan is therefore rather limited. Being blessed with multitudinous rodent pals, what am I to do??? My solution is to go back to the hardware store and buy cotton clothesline. It is nontoxic, chewable, fairly sturdy, and can be braided or knotted into wonderful climbing ropes, which I crisscross through the cage for the rats' climbing enjoyment. Make your ropes four or so strands thick, so they are easy to walk on, and knot them at regular intervals. You can even do fancy things like braiding in a piece of domestically produced rawhide, clean untreated wood (perhaps wooden clothespins without springs), and even occasionally a pre-washed piece of sugar cane. You can drill a hole in these or tie a single strand around them and hang 'em high. These are easy to replace, and since I am replacing them regularly, I can change the configuration to keep everyone challenged. It works for us!
Since you're stringing rope anyway, run upstairs or downstairs or whatever and get some of those old jeans legs you have left over from making cutoffs. Surely you didn't throw those away? Oh, good! Now, run two parallel ropes through a nice big pant leg, and hang it high! And if you run out of pant legs, use a nice thick cardboard mailing tube or a sweatshirt sleeve. Congratulations, you have just created a rattie "hang-out" par excellence! A fun variation on the basic hanging tube is an empty, washed coconut shell with 3 holes drilled in it. You can tie it just like one of those rotating tire swings where the tire hangs parallel to the ground. This should be placed just a little out of reach, so it's challenging to get into. A nice treat in the bottom should make everyone curious about this new "nest".
I check the bird section every time I walk through a pet shop. You never know, the bird toys might be on sale. Walk past the ones with the beads and plastic, and stop right in front of the wooden ones. Bird toys are some of the best chew toys for rats, for two reasons: 1) You hang them, so they are challenging to reach, and 2) You hang them, so they stay clean and hygienic and are more likely to be used to the maximum extent. They can be a bit pricey, but I always manage to find a sale or a simpler toy at a reasonable price. Many of these have a nut stuck in them or some other interesting feature. My rats like these much better than hamster chew-sticks.
Happy Dumbo ratty, ULYSSES, surrounded by a multitude of toys! Photo by Cathy Weeks.
OPEN-TOP NEST BOXES
If you have a wire cage with a wire floor (which is not recommended because the wire is so hard on the rats' feet), your rats will need some ways of getting off of the wire until you are able to replace the cage or remove the wire floor somehow. Besides the PVC and the hanging toys, it's good to provide another option for your rats to allow them to spend some time off the wire. I look for small (about 1’ by 1’ or thereabouts) plastic tubs for my rats. Then I fill them with soft beddings such as Sani-Chips, CareFresh, or cut-up clean rags. I place them on the bottom of the cage, because I have observed that that's where they will end up, regardless. This is a nice alternative sleeping place, and is often a preferred hangout during dinner time when a rat wants to eat a favorite dinner component without being seen by the other rats. It is also a nice obstacle when they race around the cage and chase each other.
This is an inexpensive pet shop toy that the rats like. It is plastic and a bit bigger than a golf ball. It looks like a little round plastic cage. You can open it and put a couple yogurt drops or other treats in it, and it provides a challenge to the rats, who will do anything to get at the treats inside the ball. It will usually inspire a tugging match followed by rats racing around the cage with it to keep it away from the other rats. Eventually, they settle down to the business of figuring out how the heck to get the treats out of the ball. It seems to hold their interest quite well. Don't go too heavy on oily or high-protein treats, though--a few in the ball every 2-4 days is plenty, and I have also seen rats play with the ball when it is empty.
STACKING BIN BUNK BEDS
My friend Joannie Lienhart gave me these, so I don't know what they're called in the store, and she has forgotten. Anyway, they are plastic and look like a little solid plastic bin with one side lowered and angled out a bit. They stack. They are just the right size for one adult male rat to curl up in. You might find them in an office supply store or a container store. I like to stack them two or three high and fill them with bedding, and the rats use them just as the name implies--as bunk beds. They get chewed a bit, but seem to be pretty sturdy. They are also easy to wash.
I hope some of these ideas prove useful to you. I would like to thank Joannie Lienhart for her help with the article. Many of these ideas are hers or were improved by her suggestions.