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Cage Bedding & Litter

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Choosing the litter and cage bedding for your rat’s environment is important. Whatever product you decide to use be sure that you change it often to keep your rat healthy. The build up of ammonia and fecal bacteria can be extremely harmful to your rat’s respiratory system. Occasionally rats will be allergic to certain types. If this occurs then try different products until you find one that does not cause a reaction. In cases of severe allergies cloth (old T-shirts, towels, etc.) can be used as a substitute for conventional bedding. Although there are many excellent choices there are also some that are dangerous for your rat.

Cage Bottom Bedding Choices To Avoid

Cedar or Pine

Aromatic cedar and pine are choices that you want to avoid. Unfortunately they are usually sold in pet stores right next to the rodent supplies. Tests have shown that the phenols (aromatic hydrocarbons) that are found in these softwoods may adversely affect the liver of rats and other small animals (Keeble and Meredith, 2009). These aromatic hydrocarbons are what makes the litter have the strong scent, which covers up the odors of urine. That strong scent combined with the ammonia from urine build-up can also adversely affect the sensitive respiratory tract of rats and other small animals, and is therefore not recommended to be used. It is the oils containing these phenols that you find in many household cleaning products like pine-fresh and pine-sol.

The use of aromatic pine or cedar may affect your rat’s health in several ways. Long term inhalation of these chemicals may compromise the rat’s immune system making it more prone to the development of respiratory problems resulting from mycoplasma. It has also been shown in the laboratory that the phenols in these softwoods can alter the levels of the liver enzymes in laboratory rats.

Clay Cat Litter

Clay cat litter is too dusty to be used to line the entire bottom of a rat’s environment. Use only small amounts of large granule, non-dusty, non-clumping clay litter in litter boxes.

Corn Cob Bedding

When wet, corncob bedding tends to rot and grow mold causing an unpleasant odor and an increase in bacteria within the animals environment. If you opt to use corn cob on the cage bottom then keep in mind that it has to be changed often. Corn Cob is best used in the litter box itself.

Preferred Cage Bedding Choices

Shredded Paper

Shredded paper can be used for your rats bedding. It must be changed often as it tends to get mushy when wet. Make sure that if you use shredded newspaper that it is printed with non-toxic soy or vegetable ink. Keep in mind that light colored rats will end up with dirty looking fur from the ink.
One of the recommended manufactured shredded paper choices for litter is Eco-bedding TM . It is made from 100% recycled paper. It is also highly absorbent, and dust free preventing irritation to the respiratory tract.

Aspen

Aspen is a very good choice for bedding. Being a hardwood, there are no toxic phenols in it making it a safe choice for your rat. The only problem with aspen is that it can be messy and difficult to vacuum.

CareFRESH

CareFRESH is made from paper pulp. It has the appearance of shredded gray egg carton material. Rats seem to like this product although some owners complain about its odor being unpleasant, especially when wet. It also tends to be dusty.

Pellet Bedding

The most popular used pellet bedding is Yesterdays News. It is manufactured from recycled newspaper and was originally intended to be an alternative cat litter. Many pet owners use it satisfactorily. The one problem with yesterdays News is that it does tend to crumble and get dusty after it has been wet and then dried out.

Other pellet bedding products on the market are made from different materials such as compressed aspen, wheat grass, and cellulose fiber (Cell-sorb Plus).

Cloth

Cloth is a useful alternative to conventional cage bedding especially if the rats, or their owners, have allergies. Old clothing, fabric diapers, and fleece make good choices. Be sure to use cloth that does not unravel easily. Long strings can get caught around the rat’s appendages and cause injury. This is particularly a concern with babies and young rats.

Wash the fabric bedding with a hypoallergenic laundry detergent using warm or hot water. Occasional washing with a small amount of bleach is fine as long as the load of laundry is washed again using detergent only or put through two rinse cycles. If you can detect any bleach odor after washing then please run them through another complete cycle. Refrain from using perfumed fabric softeners which can irritate a rat’s respiratory tract.

Cloth used in nest boxes will need to be changed more frequently if you have rats that urinate in their beds.

Litter Boxes

Keeping litter boxes in your cages will help with maintaining overall cage cleanliness. Rats are, for the most part, easily trained to use a litter box. Some suggested litters are soft corncob litter, crushed walnut shells, Swheat Scoop, and certain cat litter products. When using any cat litter products make sure to avoid those with deodorizers, clumping agents, and dust. If using clay litter be sure to choose the large granule litter (which is usually the least expensive) and avoid using the dust litter found at the bottom of the bag. Bedding materials can also be used in litter boxes as long as it is not the same type that you use on the cage floor. Using a different material in the litter box will help the rat differentiate between its floor and its toilet area. Finding the corner or spot in the cage where your rats usually toilet and placing the litter box or boxes there can make for easier training. Rat’s can further be encouraged to use the litter box if you leave a bit of soiled litter and a few droppings with which to scent while training. Place your rat(s) in the litter box to show them it’s there, and offer them praise and healthy treats when they use the litter box. During those times when they do not use the litter box remind them by saying “No” and gently sit the rat in the litter box along with the droppings you picked up and placed in there.
Unfortunately most rats will not urinate in their litter boxes regularly. But even if it only catches the feces it is still a great aide in helping your rat’s environment stay cleaner. For more information on training refer to this article.

Litter & Bedding Figures

  • Fig. 1  Photos of Litter and Bedding

Cage Bedding & Litter Links

Posted on June 17, 2003, 13:44, Last updated on August 12, 2010, 11:40 | Environment


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