Training your rats to use a litter box can be a worthwhile experience, especially if you start when your rats are young. Before you can think about training your rats, you need to choose a litter box and appropriate material to use as litter.
There are plenty of commercial litter options available, but they aren’t created equally. Some products control odor more efficiently than others, while some are downright dangerous for your rats’ health.
So, what type of products should you choose? And which ones should you leave at the store? Check out our care guide below.
Which Litter Box Should I Buy for Rats?
When it comes to choosing a litter box for your pet rats, there really isn’t a right or wrong choice. You can purchase a corner litter box from your favorite pet store or repurpose a plastic container.
Some people even use small cardboard boxes, but they need to be replaced often. Thin plastic should be avoided because your rats might chew it and accidentally ingest small pieces.
The benefit of buying a litter box designed for small animals is that they often connect to the cage or have a grate covering the top of the litter box. These traits are useful for avoiding constant litter spills in your rats’ cage.
One thing you will want to think about is the age of your rats and their mobility. Avoid deep litter boxes for babies and less agile rats because they won’t be able to get into them easily.
Best Types of Litter for Rats
Paper pellets are a popular choice of rat litter box material. They’re usually odor free, dust free, and are easy to clean up. Popular brands of paper pellets are Marshall Premium Ferret Litter, ExquisiCat Naturals Paper Cat Litter, and Fresh News.
Kaytee Soft Granule Blend Small Pet Bedding
This product is advertised as bedding, but it works well in the litter box, too! Made from wood pulp, its highly absorbent and controls odors well. Most people who use it with their rats appreciate that the product is soft and has a natural pleasant smell that doesn’t irritate their rats.
Aspen shavings are a great low-cost option that is safe to use in your rats’ litter box. It doesn’t seem to mask odors as long as the first two options on this list, so you might need to change the litter box more frequently. Another common complaint about aspen shavings is that they are messy and difficult to sweep up.
If you’re looking to save money, shredded paper is the most cost-friendly option out there. Before using shredded newspaper or flyers in your rats’ litter box, confirm that they were printed using soy-based ink.
It’s non-toxic so if your rats accidentally ingest some of the ink you don’t have to worry about them becoming ill. Shredded paper doesn’t control odors very well, so you will need to empty the litter box daily.
Rat Litter to Avoid
Cedar & Pine Shavings
You need to avoid using cedar and pine shavings because they emit aromatic phenols that are toxic for rats and other small animals. Long term use of these products has shown extensive damage to the respiratory system and liver in rats.
Scented litters might smell nice to us, but they are a problem for a rat’s sensitive respiratory system and should be avoided altogether.
Clumping Cat Litter
Clumping cat litters shouldn’t be used because it can cause an intestinal obstruction if your rats ingest it. It’s also quite dusty, putting them at risk for respiratory distress.
Corn Cob Litter
Corn cob litter is absorbent, but it rots quickly, resulting in the development of mold. This mold forms new bacteria that could be harmful to your rats. Like clumping cat litter, there is the risk of your rats eating the corn cob litter and suffering from intestinal obstruction or choking.
Litter Box Training Your Pet Rat
Step 1: Find your rats’ preferred spot for litter box placement
Most rats naturally prefer doing their business in one spot, usually in one corner of the cage. Before putting the litter box in your rats’ cage, wait a few days and look to see if there is an obvious spot your rats seem to prefer.
This is where the litter box will have the most success being used. If your rats don’t seem to prefer a spot, you can pick one for them.
Step 2: Put stray poop into the litter box
For the next few days, you’ll need to be diligent about putting stray poop into the litter box. This can be a tedious task, but it’s important for showing your rats where they should be doing most of their business.
Note: It’s normal for rats to continue to urinate throughout their cage, but almost all of their pooping should be done in the litter box when fully trained.
Step 3: Use positive reinforcement
If you catch one of your rats using the litter box, you can help encourage the behavior by giving them some positive reinforcement. It might surprise you, but rats tend to respond quickly to the additional support.
Step 4: Don’t forget to clean the litter box!
It won’t take long for ammonia to build up from urine and feces so it’s important to empty out the litter box regularly. How often you change your rats’ litter box will depend on the number of rats you have and the type of litter you’re using, so use your best judgement to determine the best schedule.
Training your 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.