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The rats freerange in the rat room and I try to give each group at least 30 minutes every evening, with any young and active groups getting up to 2 hours. During weekends I'm able to let them out much more, sometimes for most of the day. No matter how spacious and interesting their cages may be, I don't consider it suitable for them to have to spend all their time in there. As the intelligent and sociable creatures they are, they absolutely love the chance to pelt around and really raise hell. Freerange time is mostly supervised; I usually sit on the sofa so they can come and visit me any time and get plenty of interaction if they so wish. There is a glass-panelled door between the rat room and the lounge, so in theory that will allow me to keep an eye on them whilst doing other stuff - but I really enjoy sharing freerange time and fuss with them.

The rat room floor is littered with a varying selection of toys and things to investigate - a large cat climbing tree, smaller cat scratching posts, wine racks, cardboard boxes, tunnels, blankets, tubes, corks, little stones and balls, and a deep tray or water bowl as they enjoy playing with it as well as drinking and washing. On occasion they get to go pea-fishing in an old cage base and they very much enjoy climbing up trouser legs and pulling off various daring balancing acts.

Pre-move, we lived in a much smaller flat so for freerange we would stretch a collapsible correx "wall" across the length of the lounge to give them plenty of space to ping around in, whilst keeping cables etc out of harm's way. It folded up when not in use so was quite a neat solution, although it did involve pushing all the furniture to the sides of the lounge in order to fit it in! Most of the photos below are from even earlier (2008-10) when we used to freerange in our hall - it was a good enough space, although very cold and drafty unless in the summer months. The rats didn't seem to care but the soft humans couldn't stand sitting in there for very long!

Toys & enrichment

Prior to our move and the blessing of a dedicated rat room, rat stuff was very much threatening to take over our home - it seems to have an amazing ability to be everywhere, no matter how much I tried to define specific spaces to restrict it to.

Currently, most of their stuff lives in Ikea kitchen units in the rat room, plus unfortunately in some other storage areas where they shouldn't be. It's a work in progress, shall we say?! Previously, the hammocks live in a couple of boxes under the cage, most of the in-cage toys in a large 90 litre box, freerange toys in another 90 litre box in the lounge, and add to that a filing cabinet full of general bits plus several other piles and boxes...

I change the layout of the cage most weeks and swap toys and hammocks for new and interesting ones. It's so great to see the gang zooming around happily exploring every inch every time things are in a different place.

I mainly buy things from Fuzzbutt, RatRations, Ratwarehouse, Betty's Beds , although every once in a while I'll also order from Zooplus, Ebay, ECF or independent shops like Northern Parrots. I would prefer to buy things in actual shops as I like being able to see things and compare them but the local petshops are very small and also I prefer not to support them as they all sell animals under highly questionable and depressing conditions. I also make simpler hammocks and tubes myself and have bought a Janome DC-3050 which is a fantastic machine and will go through 5 layers of fleece without breaking stride. I use a Crop-o-dile type eyelet thingy which works really well.

Home-made hammocks and tube Home-made corner hammock (customised by the girls so they can sleep inside it) Weird little cave thing, also home-made Bunch of home-made hammocks Home-made ones (click for larger versions)

The girls have some wooden ledges that I've painted with Plasti-kote enamel paints (child and animal safe). Unpainted wooden toys tend to go smelly fairly quickly but the ratties really love to chew them and wooden toys often come in very interesting shapes and are great for climbing as well as gnawing. The girls like to sleep in plastic houses with several exits, at the moment the Savic Circus and the "Tardis" are firm favourites. I prefer the Tardis as they stuff so much shredded paper into their houses that the Circus's top tends to pop off and clatter around the cage, whereas the top/bottom of the Tardis clips together much tighter. They've also got a large Silent Spinner wheel that they all use to some extent, but we've had a couple of Spinner Queens (Bunk and Fliss) who run in it for hours every night, and Roux does the same with the Wodent Wheel. It's funny how they have preferences like that!

They love fleecy cubes and sleep-tubes but don't tend to sleep in open hammocks apart from when they're very hot in the summer. Dicey has been known to curl up like a little bun in a small ceramic bowl. Elliot's main interest used to be nest making and she built some very impressive ones in her time! She and Bunk could both get a bit obsessive and not stop until there was no more paper. Sometimes they'd choose to build the nest in the litter tray instead. Most of the girls usually can't really be bothered about nests, preferring to squeeze to the bottom of an existing rat pile or just snuggle up in a tight space somewhere.

They really love cardboard boxes - great to sleep and hide in, sit on top of, and chew. Those bendy cotton ropes and rope bridges across the cage are also very popular to balance on, as is jumping from ledges and cargo nets, climb bars, and perch on small ledges to survey their surroundings. They all love to climb and I bought a plastic-coated plate rack from Wilkos that is providing much entertainment. Overall, they're all very active in the cage and use pretty much all of the space when awake.

(much more to follow!)

And, inevitably, things get chewed... Rats do chew. A lot. Anything you don't want customised, keep it away from them! The number of photos below is certainly not representative of what they've actually destroyed, as most of the time it goes straight in the bin. They like it though, so it's really just a different way to enrich their environment :-)


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