10 Easy Steps to Reduce Odor Problems
No, rats are not smelly animals. They are actually very clean and most have no natural body odor at all. (Males can have a slight musk.) Rats do NOT have strong odors like mice and hamsters can have. However, these are animals' whose clenliness relies on their environment. An environment that is not kept clean, uses accessories that hold odors, or doesn't fit in with rats' habits can lead to smelly rats. (And build-up of ammonia can make you and your rats ill.)
Here are some tips to preventing and controlling odors in your cage and on your rats:
- Do not use cages with uncoated wires. Galvanized or bare wire holds odors and they are nearly impossible to get rid of. Keep your rats only in an aquarium or cage with coated wire.
- Do not use mesh floor/pull out pan style cages. Walking on the litter reduces the ammonia buildup GREATLY. If you have to use the pull-out pan style cage, litter will need changed 2 to 3 times as often.
- Use litter that stays dry doesn't smell bad. This is sort of obvious, but rats smell like their litter. If their litter is dirty, the rats will smell. Also if you use a litter that you don't like the smell of (like many paper based litters), your rats will take on those unpleasant smells. Aspen litter has a very pleasant smell and works well mixed with corn cob litter to keep the cage dry.
- Beware of wooden/cloth/paper/cardboard accessories. These things can quickly stink up the cage, especially if your rats have a wooden nest box or a hammock. I recommend using an igloo-style sleeping house or other plastic home with no bottom section. Any paper, cardboard, or cloth you use in the cage must be changed at least 3-4 times a week to keep the odors down.
- Keep the sleeping/living areas clean. Rats pee where they sleep (sometimes on each other). If they sleep on solid shelves, they end up in puddles (YUCK!); if they have mesh shelves, they will use each other as pillows. The best solution to this is to provide shredded paper as bedding (separate from the odor-controlling litter) and change it every other day. That way, the rats are always sleeping on clean bedding.
- Try a litterbox. Litterboxes encourage rats to use the same spot for their "business" and can minimize walking in soiled litter or "using" high traffic areas. Litterboxes need changed at least twice a week (or twice as often as changing litter that is in the whole bottom of the cage).
- Clean cages well. At least once a month, use a strong jet of water (like a hose or in the bathtub), to wash away dried urine and shed hair. Scrubbing alone works on aquariums but not on wire cages.
- Use odor-reducing cleaning supplies. Vinegar can be used in cleaning pet cages, and it helps get rid of lingering odors. Alternatively, you can use supplies in pet stores made specifically to take care of pet odors (ferret supplies work best). Follow the instructions, and rinse well.
- Try a diet change. Dog food and fruit are two food items that can increase odor problems. Stinky food = stinky rats.
- Add a couple drops of vinegar to the water bottles. Apple cider vinegar can help neutralize some of the waste odors inside rats' bodies. Two drops for 8 oz. water is plenty. Alternately, there are products made to add to small animals (esp. rabbits) food and water supply that does the same thing.
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