How to Entertain Pet Rats: 3 Essential Aspects of Rat Enrichment

How to Entertain Pet Rats

Rats are immensely curious creatures. They are interested in everything and very intelligent. That makes them awesome pets, but also means they can get bored easily. One of our jobs as rat owners is to keep those little furry brains entertained.

Building an Entertaining Rat Cage

When we talk about entertaining rats, it’s easy to jump straight to thinking up games that we can play with them when they are free-ranging or new ways to bond. However, many people will only be able to play with their rats for an hour or two a day. Most rats spend most of their time in their cage. That means that the first thing we need to do to stave off boredom is make their cage entertaining in and of itself.

The first thing to take into account when buying a cage is to make sure it is big enough. But space on its own isn’t enough. Too much empty space is dead space. So it is really important to lay out the cage well, not just with the obvious things like comfy beds and litter trays, but with lots of things to explore and do.

Here are items I always include in my cage layout.

Digging Substrate

Rats digging in substrate
Deep cage base made of plexiglass

Rats love to dig. It is one of their most fundamental natural behaviors. They do it to find interesting things and treats, to make nests, and sometimes just for the fun of it. However, the fashion in cage layouts recently has moved towards doing away with deep-based trays full of substrate, and instead lining a flat cage base with newspaper or fleece. That’s just not as much fun!

You don’t have to have a deep cage base to provide a digging area. I’m currently using a number of Critter Nation style cages, which don’t have a base tray to put substrate in. Instead I take advantage of their fully opening front doors to pop a large cardboard box, or the plastic base from an old cage in as a digging box. I fill the box up with a suitable substrate, and the rats can dig away.

Another cunning idea I’ve found is to use long narrow planting troughs – the sort sold for window sills. Drill a few holes round the edge to wire them onto the cage bars, fill with substrate, and bingo! A combined digging box / burrow.

Another popular but more expensive option is using plexiglass to make a deep cage base. To do this, you need sheets of plexiglass cut to size (you can cut them yourself or order precut). Connect the sheets using gorilla tape or aquarium sealant, and voila! You have a sturdy and spacious base for your cage. You can see a video of how to do this here.

Ropes and Climbing Perches

Rat cage setup by Hannah Mathews
Rat cage setup by Hannah Mathews @hannahsrats

Ropes and climbing perches are brilliant ways to fill the dead space in the middle of the higher parts of the cage. Rats are natural gymnasts so they have no problem at all navigating a rope parrot perch. Using ropes in the cage helps the rats keep fit, and allows them to explore all areas of their home.

Tubes and Tunnels

Tubes and tunnels, or as it is better known in the local DIY shop, drainpipe. Rats like to go inside things – it helps them feel secure, and they also seem to like exploring burrows. So I suspend sections of drainpipe about 15in / 40cm long in different parts of the cage.


My rats love paper. They love pulling it into their houses, tearing it up, and making a nest (and then peeing on it because they have no class, but let’s not dwell on that…). Making a nest can occupy a couple of rats for hours so it is a great way to keep them entertained.

I chuck the newspaper in as whole sheets – no need to tear it up, as that is their job. Once a stinky nest has been made, I clean it out, add more newspaper and let them start again.

Tree Branches

Tree branches and twigs make an excellent cage enrichment. They keep rats entertained and active by encouraging climbing and exploration and provide a variety of scents and textures for them to engage with. Rats also enjoy nibbling and gnawing on branches and wooden toys, which keeps their teeth at bay.

If you want to use branches you found outside, first make sure they are safe to use.

Entertaining Your Pet Rats With Food

Food as entertainment and enrichment for rats

When feeding rats there is a temptation to do it the human way – i.e. nicely presented on plates or bowls. But rats really don’t need to be fed like that. They don’t understand table manners (which is why I frequently find a rat head-down in my mug of tea), they don’t watch cooking shows, and having their food provided at the same time in the same way everyday is actually rather dull.

A great way to make our rats’ lives more entertaining is to change up how we feed them. Strategies I use include:

Make Sure the Food is Varied

I feed my rats a mixture of grain based dry mix, and fresh food, which is mainly veggies, with some fruit, and some leftovers, eggs etc.

Although I do sometimes use rodent pellets as part of the dry mix, I never feed just pellets, because although nutritionally balanced, that would be pretty boring.


Bowls have their place in feeding rats. They are a good way to contain messy food, and they are useful if you have oldies, nursing mums or ill rats where you need to monitor their food intake. However, they aren’t necessary for the average pet rat.

Instead, I scatter feed most of the Horde’s food, spreading it around different parts of the cage every day. This encourages them to forage for their food, and spend more time working for it compared to the time spent eating it. That encourages a really important natural behavior (wild animals spend most of their waking lives finding food), and it also helps control their weight.

Another benefit I’ve found to scatter feeding is that it deters bullying and makes it easier for all rats to get their fair share of the food.

When I was using a bowl, certain rats would sit in it, to make sure they got the best bits. But they can’t sit on multiple areas of the cage simultaneously, so rats lower in the hierarchy get a fairer deal.

Kabobs, Pinatas, and Parcels

Rat playing with food on a steel stick

There are lots of other ways of presenting food. As the Horde is currently rather large, I often put in whole vegetables like complete corncobs (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a 200g rat try and climb a brick wall carrying a complete corn cob in her mouth). The scary thing is she managed it. Then she hid the corn cob inside my sofa).

Another option is to make a puzzle or game out of the food, and you don’t have to use expensive toys:

  • Dry mix can be made into DIY crackers, parcels or pinatas with a bit of paper and ingenuity.
  • Fresh veggies are ideal skewered on a kabob and hung up around the cage. The rats then have to seek out their food, climb and work out how to remove it. I use a purpose made steel stick from the pet shop (with wooden chews and bell removed – removing the bell is vital for owners’ sanity…), but I have improvised with garden wire in the past.

Change Things Up

The major concept in entertaining rats in their cage is variety and change.

Every time I do a major clean out, I rearrange the cage layout of the rats can spend time exploring new things.

Every batch of dry mix, and every day’s fresh food is slightly different depending on what I have to hand, so that feeding time always comes with a bit of unexpected excitement.

Each thing is quite minor on its own, but added up, it all contributes to making sure our rats have an entertaining life – even when we’re not playing with them.


What do rats like to do?

Let’s take a moment to think about the activities that rats enjoy in their natural habitat. Domestic fancy rats, specifically the Rattus norvegicus species, are known to dig complex burrows, climb buildings and trees, and travel long distances in search of food. So it’s essential to set up their cage in a way that mimics these natural behaviors.

Creating a space that allows them to dig, climb, forage, and run will give them the mental and physical stimulation they need to thrive.

How do you entertain your pet rats?

Let us know in the comments!

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  1. thank you this was helpful because i am getting pet rats and want to be a great owner and make my rats healthy❤

  2. I take them on car rides with me on errands, like a dog might accompany me. One rat at a time, and their allowed range is both front seats and my lap, which as far as 5 rides have shown, so far they have very very little interest in going further and are easily discouraged.

  3. I have a little 1/2 cubic ft plastic carrier that stays open during ride and they go in and out at will, and closed up and may take a nap if they’re left alone for a few minutes. They’re more than content in there and I offer them water and food through the day as would a dog.

  4. Training: keep their brains stimulated. I’ve noticed that rats are very linguistic. My dog relies on body cues much more, but my rats know phrases. I’ve been teaching some of them to associate the word “yes” with good thing since they were infants, and some are quite eager to please just for the “yes” and the praise and the adventure they get if they go on my shoulder when I ask, for instance. Some only do stuff that I’ve captured but they haven’t yet learned to do on command when I have yogies in hand. It’s about working with each where they are at, but I personally get a lot more our of training rats than training dogs because of how good at language they can be. One of my boys in particular always surprises me. He’s always listening to me, picking stuff up when I don’t notice.

    1. It’s especially cute and surprising (yet expected) when they pick stuff up from each other that I really only intentionally taught the one rat.

    2. Oh yes, rats as such smart little creatures 🙂 It’s always surprising how smart they actually are. Lots of brain in those small heads lol.

  5. You people li e are not saying wh as t you do to control when their are too many ….how about answering that ..

  6. My family’s rats get baths a lot, they’ve taken an interest to swimming in shallow water. They also love toy boats during bathtime

  7. my rats love to run around in an area i made them that has food water toys socks and a exercise wheel which they love they also like it when i place there harness on them and we go on a walk around the house

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