7 Easy DIY Rat Toys to Enrich Your Rats’ Lives

by Alison Blyth
7 DIY Rat Toys

As every pet owner knows, our adorable friends come with a price tag: vets’ bills, food, cages, bedding etc. Toys can be another expense if we buy them ready from a pet store. Fortunately for our bank accounts, rats don’t need pricey toys. A bit of ingenuity, a lot of cardboard, and a few treats can keep them just as happy. Here are my top seven DIY rat toys (all tried and tested by the horde).

Important: Some of these activities require use of a craft knife or other tools – this should always be undertaken or supervised by an adult.

1. The digging box

Digging box for rats

What you need:

Basic version:

Fancy version:

  • A plastic storage box
  • A piece of drain pipe
  • Tools to drill or cut a hole in plastic (must be done by an adult taking appropriate safety precautions)
  • A block of coconut mulch
  • Cheap edible plants like mint, basil, pea shoots, cress

Rats love to dig, but the trend for cages with flat floors and fleece liners means they don’t always get the chance. Making a digging box for their playtime lets them express their natural digging and burrowing behaviors.

One of the great things about rats is they don’t need fancy things to be happy. One of my most popular digging boxes at the moment is a big cardboard box, where we’ve put the empty paper bags that their litter is sold in. It couldn’t get simpler, but the horde adore it – they’ve chewed their own entry and exit to the box and into the bags and they love rummaging and burrowing around. It’s a pretty reliable place to find an awol rat curled up for a snooze.

However, like castles, digging boxes can be as fancy as you want to make them. For something more permanent than cardboard and scrap paper, try this.

  1. Take a plastic storage box and low down in one side, make a hole to fit a piece of drainpipe through.
  2. Take a block of coconut mulch (this is sold in DIY stores, garden centers and pet shops), and dampen it to bring it up to size. Add this to the digging box and plant the edible plants (or their seeds if making pea shoots or cress. Obviously, it is VERY important that you only use plants that are safe for rats to eat and avoid plants that could be toxic).
  3. The drain pipe should now lead somewhere under the substrate.

When ready, let the rats play – they may be a bit wary of it at first, but after inspecting it for a day or so, they should leap in. They’ll rip up and eat the plants pretty quickly, but even after they are gone, digging and burrowing will still be popular and you can replace the plants as needed. In both simple and fancy digging boxes you can bury treats for extra interest.

Pro tip: If you use a damp coconut mulch substrate to plant edible plants, make sure no mold grows and change the substrate before any problems develop. Dry substrates like paper and cardboard should be changed regularly if the rats pee on them.

2. The castle

What you need:

  • Several cardboard boxes of different sizes
  • Strong tape such as packing tape
  • A pen knife or craft knife

Rats love to explore. They also love houses and disappearing inside things. What could be more fun than their very own multi-roomed castle to explore?

  1. Take a selection of cardboard boxes such as shoe boxes, boxes you get at the store, etc.
  2. Build these up into a series of “rooms” by placing them next to or on top of each other. If you don’t have suitable boxes, you can also use stiff sheet cardboard cut and folded into shape.
  3. Once you’ve decided how to arrange the boxes, cut holes so rats can get in and out of the castle and between the different rooms.
  4. Then use tape to secure the boxes in place.
  5. Place the castle in your rats’ play area and let them run riot. I often find a rat asleep in our castle and it is also their favorite place for stashing treats and important bits of paper.

Pro tip: think about access when designing your castle layout – you need to be able to get your arm into any part of it, otherwise rats WILL go and sit out of reach when you want to put them back in the cage. My castles have detachable sections, opening fronts or roofs that lift up or off so I can ransack it whenever I want!

3. The tunnel maze

What you need:

  • Long cardboard boxes or tubes
  • Wide drainpipe
  • Fabric tubes

Rats are great at solving mazes and love to burrow, so an excellent toy for time out the cage is a DIY tube maze.

There are lots of different materials you can use in a maze – the only limitations are they must be safe for the rats, large enough for a rat to move down comfortably, and have enough openings that a rat can get out if it wants. Outside the cage I use a combination of fabric tubes designed for rabbits and ferrets and long narrow cardboard boxes. Inside the cage I use wide bore drainpipe.

It’s entirely up to the owner how complex or permanent they want to make a maze. Personally, I arrange my boxes and tubes into patterns, but don’t join them together. That way I can change the layout every day which gives the rats something new to explore.

4. Paper towel piñata

Pinata DIY toy for rats

What you need:

  • Sheets of paper towel or regular paper
  • Some dry mix or rat-safe treats
  • Coated garden wire to hang the piñata

Rats are particularly motivated by toys containing food and these add interest to their day and allow them to use natural foraging and puzzle solving behaviors.

  1. Place a sheet of paper towel on a flat surface and put half the food in the middle of it.
  2. Place another sheet on top and add the rest of the food. Bring the corners and edges of the paper up so the towels form a bag with the food inside.
  3. Wrap one end of the garden wire around the top to close it up tightly. You should now have a closed bag of layered paper hanging from the wire.
  4. Attach the other end of the wire to the cage roof or walls. Remember to tuck the ends of the wire in on themselves so there are no sharp bits, and remove the wire when the rats have pulled the paper down.

Pro tip: You can use any type of rat-safe paper for this. The softer it is the easier it is for the rats to rip open. Using thicker paper and dividing the food between more layers makes the game more challenging.

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5. The newspaper wand

What you need:

  • A sheet of rat safe newspaper
  • Scissors

Rats like to play games of chase and pounce with cat wands. However, they also like to destroy them, and that can add up to a lot of wands over a rat’s life time. This is an ultra-low cost alternative.

  1. Lay the sheet of newspaper on a flat surface and fold into along the longest axis until you have a long strip approximately 1 inch (2 – 3 cm) wide.
  2. Tightly twist the first 4 inches (10 cm) of one end into a handle. Using scissors, cut lengthwise along the folds from the other end, stopping just short of the twisted section.

You should end up with a series of long strips of newspaper hanging from the “handle”. Play with like any other wand.

6. The dry mix cracker

Toilet roll cracker toy for rats

What you need:

  • The cardboard tube from inside a toilet roll
  • Dry mix or rat safe treats
  • Rat-safe paper

This is a variation on the piñata that rats can run around with.

  1. Place the cardboard tube at one side of a sheet of paper and roll it up.
  2. Twist the end of the paper roll to seal one end of the tube.
  3. Drop the food into the middle of the tube and twist the other end of the paper shut. Hand to rats.

Pro tip: If the rats lose interest before opening the cracker, use thinner paper or smellier food.

7. Self-service bedding

What you need:

  • A roll of unscented toilet paper
  • Wire, string or chain to hang it up (optional)

This is the simplest DIY rat toy possible but amazingly popular.

Take a roll of unscented toilet paper (I use the plain unbleached recycled stuff) and hand it over to the rats. They’ll pull it, chew it, and generally make an unholy mess – but they’ll love it. Advanced options include placing the roll on the roof of the cage and feeding one end through the bars so the rats can pull on it, or hanging it up inside the cage (if you do this, make sure the rats can’t get tangled up in whatever you use to hang it).

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Diana September 21, 2018 - 5:51 am

These seem easy enough to make that even I could do it lol! I’ll definitely try some of these!

Lou July 2, 2021 - 4:23 am

Brilliant, thank you for these fab ideas. I’ve just made a piñata! I going for the toilet roll next!

Monika July 3, 2021 - 1:40 pm

Glad you like them 🙂


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