My rats have been escaping from their cage - what should I do?
August 20, 2018 12:17 PM   Subscribe

I have two new rats who have figured out how to squeeze out between the bars on their cage. What should I do?

My two new rats - Cookies and Cream (Pic 1 and Pic 2) are doing great, except they are two little Houdinis who have figured out how to get out of their cage by squeezing in between the bars. Here is the cage. They are currently chilling in a smaller glass tank, but that is not an ideas solution, as it is smaller, and I read online that glass tanks aren't ideal for rats.

I have had them for about 9 days, and last night was the first time that they broke out, as far as I know. I have seen both of them go through the bars to get out, and one of them go through the bars to get back in the cage. They seem to be happy with their current cage set-up, and I don't think they suddenly decided to break free because they are upset about something.

The bars on the cage are about 2cm apart (3/4 of an inch). I think the rats are 2 or 3 months old.

Will they soon be big enough so that they can't fit through the bars any more? Do I need to get a new cage? Is there some way to modify the current cage so that they can't get out. Can I keep the bedroom door closed and allow them to have come and go privileges? Is it okay to keep them in the glass tank?

Any other thoughts or ideas are appreciated. I'll be around if you have any questions to help answer this. Thanks!
posted by andoatnp to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I kept rats for years and always kept them in a glass tank. Never caused any problem for them. Rats can squish themselves like nobody's business, and unless you get a very fine mesh cage, they'll always get out of a cage with bars. And in any event, I'd be worried about them injuring their feet with a fine mesh cage; I had a guinea pig who did that once, and rats are better climbers than guinea pigs.

You don't want to let them have come and go privileges; chances are very good that they'll eat something they shouldn't and it will harm them. You should always supervise them when they're out of the cage. This was a lesson, alas, that I had to learn the hard way.
posted by holborne at 12:27 PM on August 20, 2018

Can you put the cage in a bigger plastic tub? Or just transfer them to the tub? I keep my hamster in one. The sides are too slippery to climb and it's tall enough that she can't jump out so I leave the lid off.
posted by blackzinfandel at 12:28 PM on August 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I can't quite tell how big that glass tank is, but yeah, for two rats you want quite a big tank. I don't recall the volume of the one I used, but I'd say it was about three to four feet long and a couple of feet wide.
posted by holborne at 12:30 PM on August 20, 2018

The glass tank is 20 gallons. If we do decide to keep them in a glass tank, we could upgrade to a larger one.
posted by andoatnp at 12:31 PM on August 20, 2018

Are they girls or boys? Boys can often grow big enough to not break through 3/4" spacing, but 1/2" spacing is best, girls can usually get through 3/4" spacing. Here's a video on how to use hardware cloth to keep rats inside a cage with too big bar spacing.

If you have money to throw at the problem, this is the Cadillac of rat cages, although you might want to add plastic tubs on the levels to contain litter. AmandaLafrenais added concrete mixer tubs with plumbing tubes in them to access the ramps on the top and it looks swank! This one by Prevue should also be okay if you put a plastic tub in the middle, rats must be able to escape wire bottoms because it can give them bumblefoot. Here's a cheaper option with 1/2 bar spacing.

Wire cages are nicer than glass tanks because the ventilation is much better, and rats also love love love to climb around on them, and it's easy to hang hammocks and give them other fun vertical spacing.

You don't want them to have come and go privileges because rats are DESTRUCTIVE. Mine would love to chew power cords. They'll chew the bottoms of doors, dig up carpets in the corners, etc.
posted by foxfirefey at 12:32 PM on August 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

That cage spacing is too big, even for adult rats. When I had rates in college, I initially had a cage with 1"x2" spacing, and this was apparently a lot of fun as they'd weave in and out of the cage as they'd climb up sometimes. Initially I got some 1/4" hardware cloth and put that over the skeleton of the existing cage. Because of the ~2" horizontal gap between vertical bars I wouldn't trust that cage to perfectly contain adult rats.

Eventually, I built a significantly larger cage for my then adult rats. I believe I was able to use 1/2" hardware cloth for the walls (and plastic embroidery mats for the floors). My memory might be off on the timing, but I seem to recall that the 1/2" hardware cloth also prevented the escape of the second 3 (young) rats I later got. On some quick searching, 1/2" hardware cloth seems well recommended for rat cages (powder coated metal being better).

Aquariums aren't recommended for rats. Rats tend to have sensitive respiratory systems, and the lower ventilation of acquarium can complicate this.
posted by nobeagle at 12:36 PM on August 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

Seconding that aquariums aren't recommended for rats for respiratory reasons.
posted by joyceanmachine at 12:48 PM on August 20, 2018

Yeah, aquariums are generally not recommended - unless you change the litter very very often, ammonia from the urine can build up (also you want to avoid wood based litters, there are certain woods that are bad for their respiratory system, although I can't remember off the top of my head.) A really big tank would likely be fine, but if you're buying something it's probably cheaper to get a cage. The cage in a tub idea is unlikely to work - rats can jump at least the height of a bath and half the length of a sofa, so it would have to be a really really big tub since they could jump off the top of the cage.

If you let them run about your room they will pee on everything and chew cables, clothing, bedsheets.... it's great to let them have a run around but it needs to be supervised. I would look for a bigger cage with smaller bars. Try to avoid those metal mesh levels, because of bumblefoot as mentioned, but if that's what you end up with just put cardboard over them and replace it often.

If they are determined escape artists though, a lot of rats can learn to open those little metal tension doors - a couple of mine did - so maybe prevent issues early by getting a clip to hold those doors shut.
posted by stillnocturnal at 1:36 PM on August 20, 2018

Also, those are super adorable rats. They remind me of our first pair (who knew their names and would come when called.) I really miss having rats.
posted by stillnocturnal at 1:38 PM on August 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

Oh my gosh, hello cute rats! I just got a new pair of babies over the weekend myself and they are BITTY.

Once I brought rat babies home and found out the hard way that they could escape through the bars. Luckily I found the little baby in the box spring of my bed! My solution was to get a new cage, and I've never had any escape artistry since then. I got the one that foxfirefey linked above, the MidWest Critter Nation, and I seriously love it. I have the two level, but I've had up to four rats in just the one bottom level and it's more than spacious enough. It's super super easy to clean, rat-baby-proof bar spacing, and on wheels. Highly recommend!

Seconding everyone saying to avoid the aquarium in the long term.
posted by caitcadieux at 2:08 PM on August 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

Hi, fellow rat owner here.

Seconding everyone advising against housing them in a tank - rats' respiratory systems are notoriously delicate, and the lack of ventilation in tanks/tubs has detrimental effects upon them.

I would cover the current cage with wire mesh as a temporary measure, and seriously consider acquiring the large Critter Nation cage linked to by foxfirefey, as your current cage is IMO too small for them. Rat cages should be nice and high to allow plenty of climbing room, and also be kitted out with plenty of hidey-holes, things to scramble up and over, and items to interest them (puzzle-feeders, etc.) - they're intelligent wee creatures who need plenty of stimulation. I would also advise that you give them at least one hour's (supervised) free-roam time per day (I have our two newest rescue lads clambering over me even as I type!), as they'll get bored and frustrated otherwise.

Isamu Rats is a very informative rat care site, as is the 'Rat Care UK' Facebook community.
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 2:27 PM on August 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

That spacing is far too wide even for adult ratties. Rats do need quite a lot of space particularly with height for hammocks and ropes to climb, I think the only way to remedy this is to buy a new cage with smaller bar spacing and look for a bigger space too. There are some good rat groups on facebook and good advice on offer there. Avoid sawdust or capoc fibre bedding and look for something like bed max or back to nature instead. Rats really are escape artists at heart and I would be having words with whoever sold you the cage, if they knew it was for rats.
posted by RandomInconsistencies at 2:31 PM on August 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

P.S. Feel free to MeMail me if there's any rat-related queries I can help with, or advice I can offer!
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 2:50 PM on August 20, 2018

The people I know who have kept rats have either built cages with steel beams and hardware cloth or covered cages meant for other pets with hardware cloth.

Inside the cage, a friend had tremendous success covering wire shelves and making little rat hammocks with heavy-duty binder clips and pieces of fleece or other sturdy fabric from cut-up thrifted/secondhand clothes.
posted by bagel at 7:42 PM on August 20, 2018

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