Pet Rat Cage Guide | Everything You Need to Know

When you’re planning on getting a pair or small group of pet rats, you’ll need to plan and get an appropriate enclosure for them. Of course, a good and large enough pet rat cage is an essential product. But what kind of enclosure is suitable for pet rats, and how big should it be?

A rat cage for two rats should be at least 8 cubic feet (60 US Gallons). Add 2 cubic feet for each additional rat. The minimum floor area should be 4 square feet (0.37 sq meters). The cage should have a height of at least 2 feet (60 cm). A wire cage is the recommended cage for keeping pet rats.

As you’ll notice, pet rats need to be kept in a relatively large cage. Even larger cages are preferred, especially for small groups of rats, to mimic the natural habitat of rats.

In this article, you’ll learn about the requirements for the habitat of pet rats (including the minimum size), the cage location, and, more importantly, the best rat cages out there.

Natural Habitat of Rats

Fancy or pet rats are relatives of the wild brown rat. Pet rats don’t have a natural habitat since they don’t naturally live in the wild. However, we can learn about the habitat needs of pet rats by understanding the natural habitat of their closest relative, the brown rat.

Brown rats are social animals that live in groups. These groups are based on a hierarchy of dominance. The rats have their territory and will defend it aggressively against other groups. The groups are led by dominant males that mate with multiple females. 

Brown rats originally occupied forests and brushy areas but can also be found in other habitats like open fields and woodlands. They also adapt well to living in human infrastructures such as basements and sewers. 

They dig their burrows in which they rest during the day. Burrows can often be found near bodies of water. These burrows can be found under the ground’s surface and typically have multiple levers and up to two exits. Each burrow will have various rooms for nesting and storage purposes. Most burrows will be next to a preexistent object to provide sturdiness to the burrow, where it is nearest to the surface. 

Guidelines for Pet Rat Enclosures

Minimum and suitable sizes

Minimum size

The minimum enclosure or cage size for pet rats depends on the number of rats you keep. Either way, it isn’t easy to find the ideal minimum size. A lot of reputable websites and resources maintain different standards. 

I will give you more information about the recommended (minimum) enclosure size to determine the suitable enclosure size. I will evaluate this minimum size based on different resources.

Pet rat societies and groups

There are a lot of local and national groups and societies that have formed around the pet rat. The most well-known groups that also have an online presence are:

The National Fancy Rat Society recommends a minimum size of at least 2 x 1 x 1 ft. (60 x 30 x 30 cm) for a pair of rats. The American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association doesn’t give a specific minimum size but recommends getting a cage as big as possible.

Merck Vet Manual

The Merck Vet Manual is a trusted source for veterinary information and has information about all kinds of animals and pets. 

They recommend that individual rats be housed in a cage that is at least 23 sq inches (58 sq cm) for rats weighing 200 g or less and 60 sq inches (152 sq cm) for rats weighing 500 g or more. In addition, the Manual recommends a minimum cage height of 12 to 15 inches (30 to 38 cm).

Animal welfare organizations

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends that you keep a pair of rats in a cage with a minimum size of 2’x2’x2′ (60x60x60cm). However, they recommend that you get the largest cage you can afford.

The Animal Humane Society suggests a minimum cage with a floor space of 12×24 inches (30×60 cm) for a pair of rats as long as the cage is tall.

National regulations

There are strict policies on the minimum size of cages for rats and other animals in some regions. These regulations are primarily for sellers of pets and laboratory animals:

  • Animal Welfare Regulations (England): the minimum area for 1 to 4 rats is 1,350 cm² with a minimum cage height of 30 cm and a minimum cage depth of 28 cm. Higher standards set a minimum of 1,800 cm² (up to 4 rats).
  • Swiss Animal Protection: this regulation sets a minimum surface area of 0.5 m² for two rats and a volume of at least 0.35m³. As an example, the following cage size is given: 100x50x70 cm. 
  • European Convention for Protection of Vertebrate Animals: this convention sets a minimum enclosure size of 1,500 cm². The floor area per rat should be between 200 and 600 cm² per animal, depending on the weight of the rat. The minimum cage height should be 18 cm.

As you can see, there are a lot of different views on the minimum size requirements for rat cages. Therefore, it is difficult to get a clear guideline on the minimum size for pet rat cages. But as a guideline we can state that:

A rat cage should be at least 8 cubic feet (60 US Gallons) for a pair of rats. You should add 2 cubic feet for each additional rat. The floor area should be at least 4 square feet and have a height of at least 2 feet. This minimum size will allow your rats to run, burrow and climb.

Larger enclosures are even better, especially when you plan on keeping more than two rats or intend on breeding rats. Of course, this is just the minimum cage size for a pair of rats. However, if you want to ensure that your rats get an even better experience, you’ll need to use even more suitable enclosure sizes.

Suitable enclosure sizes

Most resources determine the size of a pet rat cage by using the length, depth, and height. But such a measuring method doesn’t consider the total floor area that is or should be available for your pets.

For this reason, I would suggest using a calculation based on the cumulative available running area (CARA). This method is sometimes used for degus, but you can use the same method for other pocket pets.

Cumulate available running area

The cumulative available running area determines the total floor (or running) area by adding each level’s floor area (length x depth). There are also guidelines for the minimum length and depth and the height between different levels.

In the following table, you can find the cumulative available running area for pet rats:

CARA (sq. cm)CARA (sq. inches)N° of rats
Additional guidelines
  • minimum length: 36 inches
  • minimum depth: 20 inches
  • minimum height between levels: 12 inches

These guidelines and the entire method are subject to tolerances. If you can’t find a cage with the exact measurements, you shouldn’t be afraid. Just make sure that your cage matches the CARA as close as possible, or even better, get one that exceeds the measurements.

Enclosure types

There are different types of enclosures available for small rodents. We can distinguish the following types:

  • wire or mesh cage
  • aquarium/tank with a cage topper
  • vivarium (think of an aquarium but for rodents)
  • plastic or tube cage

When you have to decide between these types for your pet rats, you should always consider several factors:

  • cage material (weight, durability, chew-proof)
  • ventilation (including possibility to be drafty)
  • ease of cleaning
  • suitability for burrowing (bedding has to stay inside)
  • suitability for climbing (multiple levels necessary)
  • cost
  • suitability for accessories in the enclosure

Wire or mesh cage

Wire or mesh cages typically have a plastic or metal base and a wire mesh top with vertical or horizontal bars. For example, the following cages are typical wire cages.

  • well-ventilated
  • large enclosures available
  • easy to add accessories
  • lightweight/easy to move
  • low cost compared to vivarium
  • can be difficult to clean
  • bedding can be scattered
  • difficulty to create burrows
  • can be drafty

Tank with cage topper

Tanks with a cage topper are often used for burrowing pets. You can buy this combination in stores and online. The bottom part looks like an aquarium and is usually made of plastic or glass. The top part looks like a wire mesh cage.

  • low cost compared to vivarium
  • lightweight/easy to move
  • bedding will stay mostly inside
  • easier to clean
  • good ventilation
  • burrows possible
  • can be drafty
  • difficult to add certain accessories
  • difficult to find suitable size


A vivarium is made from glass or acrylic with a frame of different materials (even wood). You can think of a vivarium as a kind of aquarium but for small rodents.

  • draft-free
  • large enclosures available
  • easy to clean
  • bedding will stay inside
  • easier to create burrows
  • expensive (when glass is used)
  • heavy/difficult to move
  • breakage possible
  • poor ventilation
  • difficult to add certain accessories

Plastic cages

Most pet stores sell plastic cages or cages with a tube system. You should avoid these cage types at all costs. Rats will chew on plastic and these cages are usually too small to house rats comfortably. Cages with tubing systems might look fun, but they’re only attractive to humans. However, they don’t provide any benefit to rats.

  • draft-free
  • easy to clean
  • low cost
  • lightweight/easy to move
  • bedding will stay inside
  • poor ventilation
  • difficult to add certain accessories
  • difficult to find suitable size
  • rats will chew on plastic
  • difficult to create burrows

Bar spacing

Pet rats can squirm themselves through tiny openings. Therefore, if you get a wire cage, which I would recommend, you should ensure that the bar spacing is not larger than 0.5 inches. 

Enclosure placement and location

It’s essential to place the enclosure in a location where it is safe for your rats and where you can still enjoy them. There are several things you need to take into consideration when it comes to cage location:

  • exposure to direct sunlight
  • natural day- and night light cycle
  • temperature in the room
  • accessibility to other pets
  • exposure to ultrasonic sound
  • placement of the cage itself


Rats are crepuscular pets that are active during the day and night, with a tendency to be more active at twilight (dusk and dawn). The light in the room will guide your rats to adjust their sleeping habits. 

It’s best to keep your rat cage in a room with a natural day- and night-light cycle. Keep it, for example, in a living room where indirect sunlight lightens the room during the day.

However, you should never put the cage in direct sunlight. When direct sunlight hits the cage, it can heat the cage very fast (especially with a real vivarium), which can cause serious health issues.


Rats are comfortable at room temperature and can get health issues when they get too cold or too hot. You won’t have to do anything about the temperatures in most circumstances. Just don’t place them in naturally cold rooms like a basement unless you can provide an ideal temperature (and a natural light cycle).

However, if temperatures get too high, you’ll need to cool the cage down. You can do so by relocating the cage to a cooler room or by using air-conditioning in the room. When you use an air-conditioner or a ventilator, make sure that the cage isn’t located near them as it will likely cause health problems.

If temperatures get too low, you’ll have to make sure that your rats stay warm. You can do so by giving them enough nesting material to line up their nests. Another way to heat the room is by using a heater or heating system. However, don’t place the cage near the heat source, as this can cause severe overheating.


When you’ve chosen the room for your rats, you’ve also got to consider how you place the cage. You should place the cage:

  • on waist level or higher: rats are prey animals and are preyed upon by birds of prey and snakes. Their instinct is to run when they encounter a predator or bite in extreme cases. To prevent scaring your rats, it’s best to approach them from the same level. Ensure that you don’t have to reach from above and that your rats can come to you at waist level (or slightly higher).
  • away from (predatory) pets: cats and dogs are popular pets but can pose a danger to your rats. Especially cats can be dangerous and can claw at your rats when they’re in a wire cage. Even if your cat can’t reach your rats, it can stress your rats to have a cat or dog in their vicinity (for example, a cat lurking near the cage). Never leave your cat or dog alone in the room of the rat cage and don’t handle them in their vicinity.
  • away from heat and cold sources: as I already mentioned, you should keep the rat cage at a large enough distance from natural (direct sunlight) or artificial heat sources (heaters) but also from cold sources (like a ventilation system).
  • don’t place near sources of ultrasound: rats have sensitive ears and can hear ultrasonic sound. This principle is used in pest repellents that use sound.

Examples of unsuitable cage locations

Some locations are more suitable than others to place your rat cage. Here are some “bad” cage locations, although a lot will depend on the particular situation in your home:

  • bedroom: rats are active throughout the day and when you place a cage in your bedroom, they may make noises that wake you up. Besides that, it’s usually not a good idea to put a cage in a bedroom because it can lead to allergies.
  • garage or shed: garages and sheds are usually colder than the rest of the house. Rats can get respiratory infections fast, so you should avoid these cold and drafty places. Also, exhaust fumes from cars or motors are dangerous for your rats.
  • kitchen: this location isn’t suitable because it is unhygienic to keep rats in a room where food is prepared or consumed.

The above locations are also less suitable because you’ll not see your rats as much as when you house them in your living room. However, this can cause issues if you’ve got a cat or dog. In such a case it’s perhaps better to keep them in another room where you still can have enough contact with them.

Tips and Tricks

Now you know what the requirements are for a suitable cage. But I’ve got a few more tips and tricks for you.

  • cage floor: opt for a solid floor made of metal and not a floor made of wire mesh. If the floor is made of wire mesh, your rats will get injured when running on the floor. You can use bedding on the wire mesh, create a solid platform, or use a cage mat made of soft material.
  • secure the cage doors: rats are intelligent and fast creatures. They can escape when the cage door isn’t secured. Also, young children can be tempted to open the door and handle your rats. Handling by young children should always happen under supervision. So, it’s best to use a lock to secure the cage doors.
  • double doors: a cage with double doors makes life a lot easier. It’s much easier to feed your rats and clean the cage.

Best Enclosures for Pet Rats

There aren’t a lot of wire cages that have the necessary minimum size and maximum bar spacing. Therefore, finding a cage with the proper cumulative available running area is even more challenging.

The following cages are the best ones out there:

CageDimensions (inches)Cubic feetCARA (Estimate)
Yaheetech Cage30.3 x 18.1 x 51.2161,100 sq. inches
PawHut Cage31.5 x 20.75 x 59.522.51,900 sq. inches
Midwest Deluxe CN36 x 24 x 6331.52,600 sq. inches

If you’re handy, you can create a custom rat cage that is large enough and has everything to give the best habitat for your pet rats.

You should read our review if you want to get a complete analysis of the best pet rat cages.

Want to Learn More?

If you’re interested in learning more about rats as pets, please read the following informational articles:

  • Is it cruel to keep pet rats?
  • Are rats happy in a cage?
  • Do pet rats need a cage?

If you’re interested in getting rats as pets, you should read our beginner’s guide to keeping rats as pets.