Author Topic: "Low Maintenance" Cage: Plastic decor and switching to newsprint?  (Read 1248 times)

Offline gawgeouspaws

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 159
This is kind of a two part post, and instead of posting twice I figured I'd just roll it all into one! I got my boys knowing that I'm busier than when I had my last pair of ratties, but I also knew that I could make time for them. And I have. What I'm looking to cut down on is how long I spend cleaning their cage. We all love our rats, and cage cleaning is a responsibility that comes with them. But it's no one's favorite part about them. Thus, the idea of the "low maintenance cage" rolled around. I'm still figuring out what works and what doesn't work, but I'm going to try and document it on this thread.

Part 1: Newsprint instead of bedding/fleece/etc.
Part 2: Plastic cage decor?

Part 1: Newsprint
So, my boys are pretty new; I've had them for a couple weeks now. They're still settling in, still getting comfortable with me. BUT, two of the biggest differences I've noticed between them and my previous pair (my little ladies) is odor and mess. Angus and Mario are both neutered, which I know can cut down on boy rat smell, but they're still a little more... fragrant than the girls ever were. And a lot more poos (we're working on litter training). So, cleaning the cage on time every week is even more of a necessity, and light cleaning/litter box emptying definitely needs to happen every 2-3 days. Plus, they make more of a mess, for some reason. They sleep all day and throw crazy parties at night, I guess!

SO, my solution? Newsprint. Now, I read up and quickly found out that the ink in newspaper can be dangerous for ratties (if it's not soy-based) in addition to transferring onto their coats. I have PEWs so I'd like to keep their little tushies as snowy-white as possible, lol! So, I bought a large pack of blank newsprint from Staples that happened to be pretty much exactly the same dimensions as the base pan of a Critter Nation! One of those lucky coincidences for rat owners, kind of like those cement mixing tubs from Home Depot. This is their first day on the paper, and so far I'm already loving it wayyyyyy more than fleece. Yes, fleece is cute and soft and comes in every color imaginable, but they would destroy it in a matter of days, and it was always dirty. Plus, the constant washing isn't necessarily my favorite. With newsprint, they seem less inclined to chew massive holes in it and tunnel underneath because it isn't soft or warm. Even if they do, it's cheap and extremely replaceable! Every 2-3 days I can reach in, roll it up, and chuck it in the trash without worrying about doing a load of "rat laundry".

Now, I worried that they wouldn't be warm enough without fleece to snuggle in, so I've provided them with a couple of large squares of fleece and a Sputnik full of fleece scraps for them to build a nest how they please. Also, this might just be me, but the blank newsprint is nice and simple. The eye focuses more on the other things in their cage, including them, because the paper is plain cream-white.

Part 2: Plastic Decor
So, following the "low maintenance" theme, I've taken quite a shine to plastic decor in the cage. Fabrics get chewed to bits and need washing, and wood gets irreparably smelly (I still hang wooden bird toys for them though, just for chewing). I love just being able to rinse plastic under hot water, dry it off, and pop it back in. The good thing is that the boys are very attached to their glittery green igloo (they snuggled in it on the ride home after I adopted them), so they've already jumped on the plastic decor train along with me. In addition to their igloo, they have a pastel blue Sputnik, and of course their litter box, which is plastic. They also have fleece/flannel hammocks, but the boys and I like those so much that they're not going anywhere. Oh! And there's also a purple expandable tunnel that the girls loved, and the boys like it too, they just like too poo in it as well. Admittedly, trying to clean poo out of an expandable tunnel is a hassle, so we're waiting until after they're litter trained to stick that back in.

My question is, what plastic decor/toys do your rats fancy? So far, all I've come up with besides their igloo and Sputnik is PVC tubing. I wouldn't want it too take up too much room, so I'd probably just give them a corner piece and a short, straight bit to kind of mimic the expandable tube (only an easier to clean version).

I'm trying to create something that's as easy as possible to maintain for me and still just as fun & cozy for them!
« Last Edit: February 28, 2016, 12:15:29 AM by gawgeouspaws »
currently snuggling mario
rip henrietta, penelope, and angus
came back to this forum again as of 1/23/2017

Offline Vonda Z

  • Posts Too Much!
  • *****
  • Posts: 2220
    • Ratropolis: Life with Rats
Re: "Low Maintenance" Cage: Plastic decor and switching to newsprint?
« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2016, 08:27:29 AM »
I think the problem that can happen with flat paper to line the bottom is that 1. It becomes stinky really fast and 2. they like to pull it/move it/tear it/chew it so it doesn't stay on the bottom. It can also get expensive replacing all that paper regularly. However, it is a very safe bedding and if your rats don't mess with the paper constantly and you change it very frequently, and you are happy with it, then definitely go with it.

I do something similar in aviaries and bird flights (with finches that do not chew/tear paper). I buy kraft paper on the roll and have a roll cutter so I can quickly cut into sheets the appropriate size for my flights/aviaries. I put a stack of 7 days of paper on the bottom and remove the top layer every day. When I get down to the bottom, it is time for a complete aviary/flight cleaning. This works well for birds because their droppings dry out quickly without smell. With rats, it doesn't work as well because pee soaks through the layers so all layers have to be changed at once and my rats wouldn't leave the paper intact and the bottom tray would always end up exposed.

When it comes to plastic vs fabric, I use both. I personally prefer cleaning fabric to cleaning plastic, since all I have to do is throw it in the laundry with unscented detergent and vinegar. I prefer that to scrubbing the little crevices like around the castle "bumps" and such. But plastic is nice because it does last much longer than fabric, that is very true, and I am constantly replacing cubes and hammocks and such. My rats love the sputnik - it is definitely one of the best rat hides out there. However, when presented with a choice of using an igloo or using a wooden hut or a cube - my rats almost always prefer a wooden hut or the cube. I don't know why they have no love for the igloo - maybe it is because of the way the light is blocked out by the wood.

Another plastic item that my rats like are the plastic baskets that can hang from the roof of the cage or be attached to the sides. The drawback to these is that it can be a pain to unhook them, clean them, and put them back - so if you are looking for low maintenance, then baskets may not be the thing.

The interesting thing about rats is not only does what works for one person differ from what works for another - when you get new rats, you often have to adapt and change to the new rats and what works for them. I go through periods of making different types of hammocks - some don't use cuddle cups and others love them, most chew cubes to bits, but I now have one that chews pocket hammocks to bits. Some like one thing and not another. I have had rats that would not use hammocks and needed only hammocks that sat firmly on the floor (cubes, cuddle cups). The type of liners and how they are secured is always in flux depending on what will last and work well with my current rats. And the age of rats plays a large part. Young rats are much more destructive and more likely to mess with liners than older male rats. So rat owners are always challenged to adapt and reconsider their methods as time goes by.

Offline gawgeouspaws

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 159
Re: "Low Maintenance" Cage: Plastic decor and switching to newsprint?
« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2016, 08:58:48 AM »
I think the problem that can happen with flat paper to line the bottom is that 1. It becomes stinky really fast and 2. they like to pull it/move it/tear it/chew it so it doesn't stay on the bottom. It can also get expensive replacing all that paper regularly. However, it is a very safe bedding and if your rats don't mess with the paper constantly and you change it very frequently, and you are happy with it, then definitely go with it.

I do something similar in aviaries and bird flights (with finches that do not chew/tear paper). I buy kraft paper on the roll and have a roll cutter so I can quickly cut into sheets the appropriate size for my flights/aviaries. I put a stack of 7 days of paper on the bottom and remove the top layer every day. When I get down to the bottom, it is time for a complete aviary/flight cleaning. This works well for birds because their droppings dry out quickly without smell. With rats, it doesn't work as well because pee soaks through the layers so all layers have to be changed at once and my rats wouldn't leave the paper intact and the bottom tray would always end up exposed.

When it comes to plastic vs fabric, I use both. I personally prefer cleaning fabric to cleaning plastic, since all I have to do is throw it in the laundry with unscented detergent and vinegar. I prefer that to scrubbing the little crevices like around the castle "bumps" and such. But plastic is nice because it does last much longer than fabric, that is very true, and I am constantly replacing cubes and hammocks and such. My rats love the sputnik - it is definitely one of the best rat hides out there. However, when presented with a choice of using an igloo or using a wooden hut or a cube - my rats almost always prefer a wooden hut or the cube. I don't know why they have no love for the igloo - maybe it is because of the way the light is blocked out by the wood.

Another plastic item that my rats like are the plastic baskets that can hang from the roof of the cage or be attached to the sides. The drawback to these is that it can be a pain to unhook them, clean them, and put them back - so if you are looking for low maintenance, then baskets may not be the thing.

The interesting thing about rats is not only does what works for one person differ from what works for another - when you get new rats, you often have to adapt and change to the new rats and what works for them. I go through periods of making different types of hammocks - some don't use cuddle cups and others love them, most chew cubes to bits, but I now have one that chews pocket hammocks to bits. Some like one thing and not another. I have had rats that would not use hammocks and needed only hammocks that sat firmly on the floor (cubes, cuddle cups). The type of liners and how they are secured is always in flux depending on what will last and work well with my current rats. And the age of rats plays a large part. Young rats are much more destructive and more likely to mess with liners than older male rats. So rat owners are always challenged to adapt and reconsider their methods as time goes by.

Any liner that I leave in their cage gets stinky really fast, so I was looking for something that would be easy to switch out every time it got too stinky. I haven't really reasoned out the pricing in my head yet. I know that this pack of paper is pretty large, and it cost $20 - $30 (?). I go through 3 sheets every few days (two on base pan, one folded in half on shelf). Fleece was less expensive, depending on how much I purchased, but after a cycle or two through the cage it was sporting massive holes. Somewhere in there is some math, lol! And you're definitely right about the rats fiddling with the paper! I put down two layers, and after a night with my crazy boys, the second layer seems relatively unscathed. The top layer is torn up near the mouth of their igloo, presumably for nesting purposes. But that's okay with me!

I see what you're saying about the wood; my girls loved their wooden hide. It was great for sleeping in, sleeping on top of, chewing, and peeing all over. Seeing as the boys' pee is a little more aromatic, I don't know if I'd want something as absorbent and as hard to clean as wood. I also don't know if them being PEWs changes anything. Their eyes are still sensitive to light and dark, but maybe just not as much as a regular rat is? Or maybe they're just snoozy boys who love their igloo, haha!

Oh, and the mention of those baskets reminded me of a vid I watched awhile ago where someone had decorated their entire cage with plastic bins and baskets and bowls from the Dollar Tree! Maybe the baskets aren't the most low maintenance, but they might enjoy a little Dollar Tree bin full of fleece scraps instead of a Sputnik full of them (they pushed them all out anyways). And since posting this I've been considering a flower pot? Like a nice, big terra cotta one tipped on its side. Something that they would hang out in and wear their nails down on.

You're right about how it's different for every rat; my girls hecking loved fleece and 3-tier hammocks and anything that enabled their acrobatic tendencies. My boys are all about finding the most comfortable place in the cage, curling up with each other, and then waking up at 9pm so that they can find the most fun thing to destroy and tear it apart. I also feel that part of what contributes to me searching for this "low maintenance cgae" is that I'm busier than when I had my girls. Henrietta and Penelope tore into their fleece too, but I had more time to take it out, shake it out, and wash it each week. With Angus and Mario, not only is my life busier, but the time that I spend on them I need to be spending with them. They're much less comfortable being handled, so every moment I'm spending cleaning their cage is extra time I could be using to properly handle them and interact with them so that they grow more comfortable with me.

Thank you so much for your response! It was definitely a big help, and that last paragraph was really insightful. Rats are gonna do what rats are gonna do, and it's our job as their humans to give them somewhere fun and safe to do what they're gonna do!

currently snuggling mario
rip henrietta, penelope, and angus
came back to this forum again as of 1/23/2017

Offline gawgeouspaws

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 159
Re: "Low Maintenance" Cage: Plastic decor and switching to newsprint?
« Reply #3 on: February 28, 2016, 09:18:11 AM »
Note: I have noticed absolutely no poos anywhere but the litter box since I moved it to a more well-used corner. Only two poos outside of the box and they were right next to it. So clearly they get the idea. I watched a video on how to litter train rats, and the girl had actually managed to get them to pee in their litter box as well. Every time she saw pee outside of the box, she sopped it up with a paper towel and left it in the box. I definitely think that the paper could help me train them to use their litter box for pee. I can just cut out the pee-stained bits of paper and leave them under the grate in the litter box. When I had them on fleece and u-haul furniture pads, I couldn't tell where they were peeing, but with the paper, I can see where the stains/damp spots are.
currently snuggling mario
rip henrietta, penelope, and angus
came back to this forum again as of 1/23/2017

Offline gawgeouspaws

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 159
Re: "Low Maintenance" Cage: Plastic decor and switching to newsprint?
« Reply #4 on: March 03, 2016, 02:43:03 PM »
Update!

So far I'm absolutely loving using the paper. Yes, I have to change it more often, but it's so easy to just pull out, roll up, and toss it! Just so that people can get an idea of how often I change it, I put it down Friday/Saturday, I believe. The first time it got stinky/torn up/stained enough to replace, in my opinion, was Monday night. I changed their litter box, chucked the old paper, and put down new paper. This all took about 10 minutes. Today's Thursday, so I'm going to clean again. So about every three days.

And the paper is less expensive than I thought! I checked the receipt, and it was only about $7. So very cost-effective, in my opinion (considering how vicious they were with their fleece).

Not much progress on the "plastic decor" front, but I've yet to go out and buy anything. Definitely considering PVC tubes! (also want to buy them another shelf for the CN and maybeeee another Sputnik but overseas shipping is so expensive and I'd want to buy probably the same color as the one I have now)
currently snuggling mario
rip henrietta, penelope, and angus
came back to this forum again as of 1/23/2017