Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rat Care: Litter box training a rat and other small pets

In my last rat care post I talked about different litters and bedding for rats, and I mentioned litter box training rats, and I was asked by Animal Gram how to do this. 

So here goes:

First thing to do is find an appropriate litter box. There are quite a few options:

A corner litter pan meant for small pets: 

You will find these in the small pet aisle. They are nice because you can buy ones that lock to the cage and can't be moved around by the rats. The only downsides to these are that if you have lots of rats in the same cage, you might not be able to find one big enough, so you may need to get two. But if you just have two or three rats in a cage, these litter boxes will work great.

A low-sided cat litter pan:

These are great, have plenty of room for rats which work great if you have a big group. They can be cheaper than the corner litter pans meant for small pets. Generally a cat litter pan for rats can be purchased for five dollars or less. The only downside is that to lock it to the cage you will have to be creative. You can cut holes in the litter pan and zip tie it to the cage with reusable zip ties (otherwise it will be difficult to remove for cleaning), or you can use binder clips. Or, your rats may not even be interested in moving it around so you may not need to go the trouble.

Plastic containers:

Many people use shallow plastic containers or drawers. This can be done for as little as two dollars. Just make sure that it is large enough and that the sides are not to high or to low, so that the rats can easily get in it, but won't be kicking litter and nasty stuff out.

To litter box train the rats:

So once you have your litter box, find the corner of your rat's cage where they go the most. Place the litter box in that spot.

Next you want to clean the cage and place some of the droppings in the litter box so that the rats know that this is the place to go. 

Everyday clean up all messes that are outside of the litter box (which should be done everyday anyway). Clean the litter box too, but make sure that you leave some droppings in the litter box. Once the rats are fully litter trained you will be able to completely clean the litter box regularly. 

 Tips and tricks:

Make sure that the litter/bedding in the litter box is different from the rest of the cage, otherwise the rats will not figure out that they are supposed to use the litter box as opposed to the rest of the cage. A good option is to put litter in the litter box and put down fleece everywhere else since the fleece is absorbant, easy to clean, cheap, and machine washable.

Remember, that rats will never be 100% litter box trained, as they will always mark their territory. A litter box trained rat will do the majority of their business in the box, but generally they will still leave some out of the litter box.

Also remember that while most rats learn fast, it still may take some time so be patient. Generally though rats seem to get the hang of it pretty quick. For instance I litter trained a rat at the shelter in about a week, although this isn't the case for every rat.

Animal Gram also asked me about litter box training rabbits. Litter training a rabbit works fairly similar to training a rat. You can follow all the instruction above, and you also need to:

Make sure you locate the hay either right next to or inside the litter box. It may sound weird but rabbits like to eat while they do their business. Putting some hay inside the litter box during training and putting the rest into hay racks that can be accessed from the litter box is best.

Also remember that it can take time, some rabbits learn quickly, but other rabbits may take a long time to learn it. It also helps to have the rabbit spayed or neutered (reduces marking and spraying )which I generally recommend anyway.

Oh, and with rabbits you don't have to put down fleece or anything. You can just leave the bottom of the cage or pen bare. Although a blanket, towel, or bed for them to cuddle up in is nice.

For other small pets:

Ferrets: follow the same instructions for rats

Guinea pigs: Guinea pigs can be maybe 50% litter trained, but generally they mostly go wherever they like litter box or no litter box. What many guinea pig owners do with homemade cages (the best kind of cage for a guinea pig by the way) is to create to sections: one for eating with their hay food and water, and one for sleeping playing, etc. Generally guinea pigs do their business where they eat, so most of their business will be in the eating area.

Chinchillas: I rarely encounter Chinchillas at the shelter so I don't have much chinchilla experience, but I am pretty sure that they can be litter box trained.

Mice, gerbils, and hamsters: I have heard a few people say that hamsters can be litter box trained. In my opinion some hamsters can, but most don't really respond. And don't even bother with gerbils! Mice, hamsters, and gerbils, all need a thick layer of bedding throughout their cage anyway, so there really is no point to litter box training. Hamsters generally contain their business to one area, which is why some can be litter box trained but since they need bedding throughout the cage anyway, a litter box won't make much of a difference.


  1. This is such useful information that I have never thought of before (not being a critter owner). I think animals are easier to train than children! :) Martha

  2. I know with Munchkin that having the litter box definitely keeps things cleaner and tidier. And he's so cute sitting there in his litter box, eating his hay, taking care of business...
    Love and hugs,

  3. Thanks for answering my questions. I guess you just have to keep showing them where they should go and they catch on - makes sense. I'm with Martha on this one; sounds easier than kids.
    -Animal Gram