Author Topic: Litter Training  (Read 578 times)

Offline stkmw02

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Litter Training
« on: May 04, 2017, 11:17:07 AM »
I've searched the forum and found a handful of posts on this topic without much feedback.  I'm hoping to get more information collected, not only for myself but to guide others interested in litter training.  I've included my litter training experience with previous rats, but put my current problem in bold.

My first rat was completely litter trained when I adopted her, no accidents until she was ill toward the end of her life (litter in the pan, Aspen bedding in the cage, free roamed).  She was trained in a laboratory environment first.  She was also trained to perform certain tasks/behaviors on command/routine.  All using positive reinforcement and behavior modification/substitution methods.

The next two were rescued untrained, but caught on to the litter pan within a few weeks (litter in the pan, Aspen bedding in the cage).  These were an older bonded pair of females who still had frequent accidents in the bedding.

The next adopted rat trained within a few days (litter in the pan, CareFresh bedding in the cage, free roamed).  She was a large adult female previously housed in a plastic tub with multiple other rats at a breeder facility.  She was AMAZINGLY consistent considering she also free-roamed (we put an extra litter pan in the room but she would still return to her cage to potty).  She also learned certain tasks/behaviors on demand/routine within days.  Incredibly intelligent, best rat I have ever known.  Barely any reinforcement beyond verbal raise and petting was required.  She was pregnant when we adopted her, which we did not know at the time.

Her babies trained quickly as well, accidents during their first few mobile days as they explored the cage, but quickly catching on and remaining trained unless illness or old age became an obvious cause (litter in the pan, fleece scraps in the cage, solid plastic shelves).  We reinforced positive potty use with treats if they returned to the pan during out-of-cage play time (they did not free roam as there were too many to monitor safely).  We also cleaned the early accidents multiple times a day as noticed, and placed any poop in the pan.  The accidents in later life became an issue with the plastic as urine seemed to corrode the material and left stains and stench that was difficult to clean. However, regardless of age and illness, those little ladies rarely had accidents with poop outside of the pan.

Our current rat is still training.  Initially, she was in a laboratory facility in an isolated cage with corn cob bedding.  When she moved to the science classroom, they introduced small pans of litter to each cage and placed the "raisins" in it to encourage use.  Of the four rats in the experiment, Snow was the most consistent in using the litter.  However, as the cage was so small and the pan small as well, there were frequent accidents in the bedding.  Once we moved her to the new cage with no bedding (fleece lined shelf and litter pan), she seemed to consistently use the litter pan.  We introduced Margalo, a very young female, and now both girls are struggling with training.

The shelf lined with fleece and the solid metal shelf are never accident areas.  The wire mesh flooring, however, is.  The ladies droppings fall into the pan below, so it isn't a major issue for them, but the continuous cleaning and smell is a problem for us.  Also, they have started to push behind the litter pan and potty in the corner rather than in the pan itself. I thought of three possible solutions.
1) purchase a different litter pan or adapt the existing litter pan to secure it to the cage and prevent them from pushing behind it (they may still have accidents in other areas of the first floor of the cage).
2) fill the pan below the wire flooring with litter and accept the accidents, but adjust to minimize odors.
3) cover the wire flooring with fleece to see if it will deter accidents and encourage use of the litter pan (this would also make me feel better about their feet, I have never used an open wire floored cage before).


I am open to other suggestions!!

Offline Michael C

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Re: Litter Training
« Reply #1 on: May 04, 2017, 05:56:18 PM »
That looks like a cool cage but the wire grated floor seems to be an issue for a lot of owners. If poop and pee is just falling through the grate and landing on the bare pan underneath, pooling and drying out in the open, it's going to smell a lot more than if the pan were filled with bedding. Loose substrates like aspen shavings, recycled paper pellet cat/ferret litters, carefresh, etc. will help a lot with odors.

 I've seen a few different solutions for dealing with the wire grated flooring. I read about one person who covered the grate with peel & stick tiles. They left one corner open with the grating exposed and trained their rats to use that opening as a litter box. This type of flooring would need to be wiped clean quite often to keep it sanitary and clean smelling. I think that bare floors that allow urine to puddle might be just as bad as a wire grate, though.

This video talks about your cage in detail. The owner removed the grate entirely and put a loose substrate in the shallow pan. The loose bedding gets pushed out the sides of the cage a bit but it's better than having them walking on the grate all of the time.

Here's a different video and it looks like this person was able to put the plastic pan on top of the grate and she's using a fleece liner. She doesn't really describe how she made it work and you can only really catch glimpses of it at a couple points.

As for the litter pan, if it's not secure enough to keep your ladies from getting behind it, you might consider a different style. The litter boxes that I use are similar to the Ware Lock-n-Litter that you reference in your other post. They're very secure. Also, if you put a rock in the litter box, it encourages the to use it for peeing and it adds weight so it's more difficult to push around.

Also, I'm a bit nervous about Snak Shaks. I know a lot of rat owners use them and I'd love to hear their opinions. The thing that I don't like about them is that they're made of softwood sawdust. There is some evidence that softwood shavings can cause respiratory and liver problems for rats. I don't know whether or not Snak Shaks might also cause these problems so I've just avoided them entirely. Like I said, I would love to hear others' opinions about them.

Offline BigBen

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Re: Litter Training
« Reply #2 on: May 04, 2017, 09:31:00 PM »
Instead of a Shak Shak, I'd give them a woven grass hideout if I wanted to splurge, but rats will be just as happy with a cardboard box (cut an entry-hole or two in it) or tissue box.  Large round oatmeal boxes and half-gallon milk cartons also work well.

All these toys are inteneded to be chewed on, and the rats will gnaw them into shape.  Several of my rats have preferred cardboard boxes to igloos, hammocks, and other fancy hides.  How long to leave a box in the cage is up to you.  Some people leave them till the rats completely destroy them, others toss them as soon as they get smelly.  Beware of over-cleaning, however--rats like their surroundings to smell like themselves, so always leave an item or two in the cage that they have worked on, or else you run the risk of inspiring them to new and unprecedented efforts to get the clean off.

As far as litter training is concerned, putting the litter box in whatever corner the rats have already decided to use will save you a lot of grief.  And again, when cleaning, save a bit of the used litter to put in the cleaned litter box, so that they remain accustomed to the idea of doing their business where they're supposed to.
What is a rat?  King-sized love in a pint-sized package.
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Offline stkmw02

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Re: Litter Training
« Reply #3 on: May 05, 2017, 04:22:34 PM »
Thanks for sharing those videos!  They definitely gave me some ideas for how to test different materials in different areas of the cage, which might help with the litter training and just improving their comfort in general.

I think I might start by filling the pan with litter, then lining half of the wire floor with fleece covered cardboard or something to minimize the "free pee" space as a trial. lol 

I am so glad to learn about this rock idea.  I wasn't quite sure if it would work with females as well as males, but I will definitely give it a try!

It's interesting, when I last owned rats the Snak Shaks were their favorites and they devoured them faster than I could supply them (hiding under the tiniest remnants of the hut as if it were still shelter).  I liked that they could play in them and gnaw to keep their teeth in check.  Out of habit, I purchased the assorted sizes for the cages and hadn't considered that they could be a danger to the rats since I haven't been following rat trends recently.  I won't be buying more and will look into replacements for them.  I'm reluctant to use plastic though, as a previous rat developed an obstruction due to plastic debris build up and I've been paranoid about it since.

Thank you so much for the suggestions!  This forum is incredibly helpful

Offline stkmw02

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Re: Litter Training
« Reply #4 on: May 06, 2017, 01:52:57 PM »


We're giving a fleece covered bottom shelf and pee rock a try. To help with the food and water mess, I put a clear cutting board in that corner.  I'll replace the Snak Shaks shortly and will see if the litter pan is no longer an issue since the fleece is under it. Here's hoping!

Offline Michael C

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Re: Litter Training
« Reply #5 on: May 06, 2017, 03:14:39 PM »
Fingers crossed that the solid fleece covered floor will help with the litter training!

Also, placing an absorbent layer underneath the fleece will help keep smells down a little longer. I've read of people using everything from towels, washable incontinent pads, to Uhaul furniture pads (recycled denim fiber) to absorb the moisture that wicks through the fleece.

Offline Been to the Mountaintop

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Re: Litter Training
« Reply #6 on: May 07, 2017, 08:56:31 AM »
Another common place for ratties to pee and poop is when they are going up and down a ramp between levels. We ended up putting a litter pan underneath each ramp.
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