A frequently expressed prejudice about pet rats is that they are dirty and smelly. While rats are actually pretty hygienic pets, they do tend to pee and poop all over their cage and sometimes their free-roam area, too.
So is it possible to litter train a rat? If so, what are the steps to litter training pet rats? And how long will it take?
Most of the time, it will be possible to train your pet rats to poop in a litter box. Getting them to pee in a litter box exclusively will be a bit more hit-and-miss, though.
Let’s have a look at the steps to litter training your rat, and find out whether this feat can be successful for your mischief.
Litter Training Rats
Can You Train Rats To Pee In A Litter Box?
The biggest hurdle to overcome on the way to training your pet rats to pee in a litter box is called “urine marking”.
This behavior is deeply ingrained in rats and serves as a means of communication to them.
Pet rats will leave little droplets of pee all over their cage to mark territories and objects1. They even sometimes pee a bit on their cage-mates – this is called “conspecific urine marking” and researchers are still trying to figure out its exact function2.
Females generally mark less than males, but during their sexually receptive phase (oestrus), their urine marking behavior will increase.
If your mischief includes unneutered (intact) male rats, your efforts to train your rats to pee in a litter box will probably be unsuccessful. Unneutered bucks show the most urine marking behavior, and it’s not possible to train them to lose this instinct.
By neutering your bucks, you can expect urine marking behavior to drop to below 20% of what it was before3. Still, you won’t manage to make them stop this behavior altogether – and the same goes for the females in your mischief.
While many internet sites will tell you that’s it’s possible to train your rats to pee into a litter box, I’ve yet to meet someone who has really succeeded at this.
But by following the litter training steps, you can encourage your rats to do most of their “big pees” in the litter box – just manage your expectations and be aware that urine marking will still occur in other spots in the cage.
Anecdotally, it can help to use neutral, unscented cleaning products for the cage (best is pure water with a splash of vinegar). If you don’t complete erase your rats’ typical smell after each cage cleaning, they are less likely to mark extensively.
Can You Train Rats To Poop In A Litter Box?
Most rats can be trained to poop in a litter box, to a certain degree. Accidents will probably still happen, but they’ll be infrequent.
Sadly, some individuals are immune to litter training, and no amount of effort on your part can convince them otherwise. But for the most part, rats can be trained to poop in designated spots. They are extremely smart pets, after all.
Rats will naturally choose pooping spots that are separate from their food. Often, they will seek out corners of the cage to do their business. This is an observation that we can utilize when it’s time to litter train.
How Long Does It Take To Litter Train A Rat?
Usually, it will take your rats a couple of days to get the hang of it. To really solidify their litter training, allow for ample time – at least a couple of weeks – before you assume that they are fully trained.
Young pups can take longer to understand, especially if they are not in the company of older and already litter trained rats. Again, some rats will never take to litter training, and that’s okay!
4 Steps To Litter Training Your Pet Rat
1. Set up many litter boxes
To start with, you’ll want your rats to understand the correct behavior expected from them. In this case, you want your rats to pee and poop in a litter box – the best way to encourage this is to get them to do just that.
To do this, you’ll want to have many, many litter boxes in their cage – so they’ll have a high chance of getting it right. Place a litter box in every corner of the cage, on each level. If you’ve noticed spots where your rats tend to pee or poop, make sure you place a litter box there.
The litter boxes should be large enough for the rat to comfortably be in on all fours, and it should be easy to get into (especially if you have older rats).
Use a different type of bedding for the litter box than for the rest of the cage, to really set the “clean” and “dirty” areas apart.
2. Keep the litter boxes “dirty” and the rest of the cage clean
During the first few days of litter training, you’ll need to check the cage frequently – multiple times per day.
Take any droppings that ended up somewhere in the cage; and place them inside a litter box.
Use gloves when handling rat poop and wash your hands after!
Be very consistent with this step, and don’t get discouraged if it takes your rats a while to catch on.
Keep doing this until you notice that most – if not all – droppings end up inside a litter box.
3. Reward – Don’t reproach
If you happen to see a rat poop or pee inside a litter box, reward them!
Tell them they did a good job and offer a small treat, such as cheese occasionally, or their favorite foods.
You won’t always be there when it happens, as rats are often active during the hours that we sleep, but if you do notice the behavior, it’s good to encourage it.
If you catch a rat doing their business outside a litter box, don’t reproach them.
Some people will tell you to then move the rat inside a litter box, but I find it’s best to completely ignore unwanted behavior and focus on re-enforcing the desired outcome.
4. Remove litter boxes
Once you notice that your rats will consistently poop in their litter boxes, wait at least one more week before making any changes. Then, you can start removing excess litter boxes, one at a time.
Wait 2-3 days before removing the next litter box.
In the end, there should still be at least one litter box for each level of the cage. It’s possible that your rats will need more than that to keep up with the good behavior.
When you are removing the boxes step by step, you will notice which boxes can easily be removed and which ones lead to “accidents” when taken out.
Training rats to use a litter box isn’t the quickest task, but it can be done if you are patient and don’t mind putting in the extra work. With this in mind, some rats will prefer to do their own thing, and that’s fine too.
Don’t try to force litter training, it will only add unnecessary stress to your rat’s life.
1. Peden BF, Timberlake W. Environmental influences on flank marking and urine marking by female and male rats (Rattus norvegicus). J Comp Psychol 1990;104:122-130. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2364657/.
2. Grant EC. An Analysis of the Social Behaviour of the Male Laboratory Rat. Behaviour 1963;21:260-281. https://brill.com/view/journals/beh/21/3-4/article-p260_5.xml.
3. Price EO. Hormonal control of urine-marking in wild and domestic Norway rats. Horm Behav 1975;6:393-397. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1222940/.
Nina has a degree from the Veterinary School in Zurich, with a special focus on microbiological research. Nina has a passion for sports, nutrition and the outdoors and she loves all pets, but rats have a special place in her heart. When she’s not working or reading and writing about all things related to pet health, she loves to travel and surf.
As a small animal veterinarian, Nina is your go-to expert on pet health and nutrition.