Tutorial: Play Area for Pet Rats

Hello!  This post is a guideline for setting up a basic play area for your pet rats.

Having opportunities to play outside the cage is a critical aspect of your rat’s well being – experts recommend a minimum of one hour of play time each day.  Rats need to run, climb, and be mentally stimulated, so it’s important to have an area that is both safe and fun.

Step One – choosing an area

Choose a safe place for your rats.  Avoid: objects with sharp end, objects with moving parts that might pinch an unsuspecting toe or tail.  Remove from the area: electrical wires and access to chemicals.  Also be sure there are no escape points – younger rats can fit through holes as small as ½”; mature rats can still fit in spaces around 1”.

Choose the largest area that you can.  Many people use their beds, or block off a safe area in a room.  In addition to spare bedroom play area, I have an air hockey table that works perfectly — It’s high enough from the ground that the rats won’t jump off, the surface can be covered with a thick blanket for easy cleaning, and is large enough to allow for an interesting play environment.

Step Two – Protect the play area surface.

Unless your rats are perfectly potty trained, you’ll want to line the area to avoid urine and feces all over the surface.  I have a thick, old blanket that I use to protect the surface of my table.  It’s soft and cuddly for the rats, and very easy to wash.

Below is a photo of the lined table.

Photo 2

Step Three – Adding Items

This is the fun part – deciding what toys to add in the play area to keep your rats physically and mentally stimulated.

Add items!  In this example, I have a variety of items the rats can crawl on, in, and under.  These items are typically easy to clean (plastic or cloth) or disposable items (cardboard boxes, paper).

Photo 1

Items pictured here include:

Cardboard boxes Hiding / chewing
Brown postal paper Burrowing / shredding
Water dish If your rats will be in the play area for more than an hour, please give them access to water.
Milk crate with hammock Climbing / sleeping
Wine rack Climbing
Running wheel Fun / exercise

If you use a wheel, make sure to get the largest available.  Using a wheel that is too small can force your rat’s back into an unnatural position, leading to spinal injuries.  Wire wheels are not recommended because feet and tails can get stuck in the wires. Pictured here is a 12″ wheel sold by Kaytee; available for about $12.

Fleece Nesting / creating a “cave” by draping
Plastic bucket (tutorial) Hiding / quiet time
Bin with bedding Sleeping / stashing treats / poo area (if litter box trained).  I use Carefresh bedding.
Cinder block For climbing, with the added benefit of helping keep toenails short.
Dig bin (tutorial) Rummaging for treats / entertainment
Paper bag Hiding / shredding

This is only a small sample of the many, many items you can add to a play area!

Photo 3

Here’s my final setup on the air hockey table.  If you look closely, you can see a few rats streaking around!



4 thoughts on “Tutorial: Play Area for Pet Rats

  1. This is awesome! I love the setup you’ve created for them! Good idea with the blanket. I adopted a new pair just a month ago and they do like to poop outside of their cage sometimes. The rat I had before them was very good and never once did it, so it’s just new to me.

  2. Hi, question about the play area: we adopted two very frisky 5 week old males yesterday. They try to jump/leap out of the boxes we have made obstacles in. Are you saying that instead of putting the obstacles in large boxes, put everything on a table? They won’t jump off? I don’t have a small room to close off to make the play area in. Any advice?

    • Hello,

      Rats are definitely capable of jumping from high places (a table or bed), but not every rat jumps. Some are naturally adventurous and some are cautious; it really depends on the rat’s personality. I suggest giving it a try and keeping a close eye on them for the first few play times. Another place that can work as a play area is the bathroom (or even just the bathtub). Good luck!


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