A clean environment will help to keep your rats healthy. It is essential to do a thorough cleaning of the cage once a week (this varies depending on cage size and number of occupants) and a spot cleaning once or twice during the week. Aquariums will need to be cleaned more often.
Urine in the cage transforms into ammonia, which is very harmful to the rat’s respiratory system. Moist bedding and litter can cause fungus growth. Fecal matter, especially if it is an area where it is getting wet, can give rise to harmful bacteria that can be ingested or even inhaled making your rat ill.
A litter box will help with feces.
A clean cage will also help to make your home environment healthier and odor free. Remember that if you can smell dirty cages it is much more extreme and stressful to the rats living in them.
Step 1. Cleaning (removing visible dirt and debris)
First, spray the cage with water to soften the residue. Then clean the cage by using an ordinary household soap such as dish washing liquid. A scrub brush and pressure nozzle for your hose will help you to dislodge stubborn debris from the cage and accessories. Small accessories can be soaked in a sink full of hot soapy water and scrubbed before disinfecting. This is only the first step in full cage cleaning.
Step 2. Disinfecting (destroying microorganisms or pathogens)
Spray the cage and the accessories with your chosen disinfectant. Let the solution remain on the articles long enough to disinfect them (reading the directions will give the time it takes each particular product to do its job). These solutions can also be used on floors and walls around the cage as long as you rinse them well. After viral outbreaks use a cleaning agent that is specifically a virucide.
Cleaning & Disinfecting Solutions (always rinse well)
- Dish washing soap – cleaner only
- Nolvasan (contains: chlorhexidine diacetate)-Bactericidal and virucidal
- Vinegar (contains: 5 % acetic acid) mildly bactericidal
- Hydrogen peroxide 3% (medical grade) – mildly bactericidal, virucidal, and fungicidal
- Hydrogen peroxide 35% (technical grade) – bactericidal, virucidal, and fungicidal)
- Citricidal (contains:grape seed extract) mildly bactericidal, virucidal, and fungicidal
- Household bleach (contains: 5.25% sodium hypochlorite ) – bactericidal and virucidal
- Parvosol (contains: quaternary ammonium chloride) – bactericidal, virucidal, and fungicidal
- Antibacterial liquid soap- bactericidal
- Spectrosol (contains: quaternary ammonium chloride) – bactericidal, virucidal, and fungicidal
- Oxyfresh (contains: stabilized chlorine dioxide) – bactericidal, virucidal, and fungicidal
*Note: Lysol contains phenols and is not recommended for cleaning cages or accessories.
Step 3. Rinsing
Rinse the cage and all accessories thoroughly. Make sure that you can not feel or smell any residual cleaning solution. This is a very important step. Some of the cleaners can be harmful to your rats.
Step 4. Drying
You can either air dry the cage and accessories or wipe them down with a clean towel. Air drying in the sun is particularly good if you want to make sure all organisms are killed.
The Hospital Cage
Extra attention must be given when cleaning the cage of a sick rat, especially if it is going to be used later to house healthy rats. Meticulous care also needs to be taken if parasitic infestation is involved. In these scenarios, use strong solutions that kill bacteria, fungus, and viruses. After sterilization rinse thoroughly, and sun dry. After an infectious illness any accessories made from wood, wicker, or grass should be discarded. After a parasite outbreak these porous items need to be thoroughly cleaned, sanitized, and not used for any other animals for a minimum of two weeks. Food dishes should be cleaned, disinfected and then run through the dishwasher. Water bottles need to be completely taken apart (be sure to remove the washer) and all parts cleaned and sterilized.
You will want to thoroughly clean all cloth items used for your rat on a regular basis. Change the towels, nest bedding, hammocks, and other fabric items as they get soiled (in-between cage cleanings). Wash with hypo-allergenic soap in warm or hot water in your washing machine. To clean fabric accessories that are particularly soiled, used in a sick cage, or contaminated with parasites add a small amount of bleach or OxiCleanTM, and use hot water. When using bleach or another disinfectant rinse twice to be sure that all chemicals are removed.
Drying these items in the dryer at a high temperature for a minimum of 20 minutes will aid in combating microorganisms and parasitic infestations.
- Avoid perfumed household cleaners
- Spot clean in-between cage cleanings
- Keep a smaller cage for your rats to go in during cleaning
- Always clean in a well-ventilated area away from your rats
- Remove all accessories and clean well
- Spray the cage with water to soften the debris before cleaning
- Be sure all debris is removed before disinfecting
- Leave disinfectant on for a minimum of 10 minutes
- Take extra care with disinfecting hospital cages
- Rinse carefully to remove all cleaning agents
- Dry cage before putting your rats back in
- Use direct sunlight to dry and sanitize whenever possible
- Always sanitize and refill water bottles and food dishes
- Clean nursery cages more often
- Johnson, K. (1996, December 1). Classes of Disinfectants and Their Uses. Retrieved December 18, 2008, from http://www.birdsnways.com/wisdom/ww6eiv.htm#iv.
- Selection and Use of Surface Disinfectants. (2007, June 1). Retrieved December 18, 2008, from http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/ahfss/Animal_Health/pdfs/Biosecurity_Surface_disinfect_Update_b16_June2007.pdf.
- Stouffer, J. (1999, March 1). Vinegar and Hydrogen Peroxide as Disinfectants. Retrieved December 18, 2008, from http://www.michaelandjudystouffer.com/judy/articles/vinegar.htm.
- Vinegar as an Disinfectant. (n.d.). Retrieved December 18, 2008, from http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/mole00/mole00100.htm.