Rat Hammocks

by Anne Fullerton

I make my own -- they're pretty easy to make.

I made this kind first and my rats love it.

Take a large old sock and cut off the toe.  I also cut off the leg part of
the sock because the one I picked was really long.  I was left with the
foot, heel, and a little of the ankle.

Run two ropes parallel to each other, through the wire of the cage.  Tie a
knot at the end so they stay up.  Thread the sock onto the ropes, then poke
the ropes through the far side of the cage and tie two more knots.

That's it!

Same concept as above:  cut a section of leg off an old pair of pants, so
you have a ready-made cylinder.  String it up with ropes or dowels.  I've
never made one like this, but as soon as I have an old pair of jeans I
intend to try it!

Take a rectangle of fabric and sew it so it makes a cylinder.  (e.g. put
the two edges you want to sew together like lips, with the wrong side out.
Sew with a machine or baste by hand.  Turn the cylinder right side out so
raw edges are inside).  String up with ropes like the above hammock.

You can use just about any fabric.  An old sweatshirt, some polar fleece,
jeans, cotton, whatever.  Stay away from terrycloth or any kind of looped
fabric (which can catch toes).  Be suspicious of fabric with elastic or
hanging threads in it for the same reason.  In my experience, my rats
prefer thick or dark fabrics.

I made one of these by cutting a rectangle out of an old pair of
sweatshorts.  I cut a hole in each corner, tied a rope through each hole,
and strung it up inside the cage, open.  Grommets would have been nice, but
I didn't use them.  The rats were not enthused and never used this
hammock...  I'm not sure why.  Could be because a) they rarely went to that
side of the cage anyway or b) the hammock was unsteady.

I know others on the list make more sophisticated open hammocks with
squares of polar fleece, grommets, and nice hanging cords.  Does anyone
have directions for those?


I believe you can purchase hammocks made for ferrets.  They are essentially
like the "open hammock" described above -- an open square of fabric
(usually polar fleece or other soft fabric) supported at all four corners
by grommets & cords with hooks on them, or fabric strips sewn to the
corners.  I've made all my rat toys so I've never bought one -- they cost
between $6 and $13, which is rather expensive...  especially as rats are
big chewers so they could really destroy a hammock in a short span of time

Do a search at www.google.com for "ferret hammock" and you'll find all sorts
of places to purchase them.


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Bedding & Rats : Alternatives & Options

by Anna Dorfman

Most ratters get their very first rat at a pet shop. When they approach a
staffer for help, they are offered (in addition to their $2.99 bundle of
love) a plethora of other small animal items for purchase at the same time.
MOST pet store will recommend a bunch of stuff that is either a) unsafe or
unsuitable for rats; b) overpriced and low-quality; or c) all of the above.
Among these items is bedding. Unfortunately, what is usually recommended --
by pet shops AND many pet rat books -- is not good for the health and
well-being of our pet rats. In other words, they hand you a bag of cedar or
pine bedding and send you home with your new little friend, completely
unaware that you are in possession of a product which has been proven to be
lethal to small animals.

All softwood beddings (which include cedar and pine) contain aromatic
hydrocarbons (phenols) that are toxic. The immediate effects of living in or
around these phenols can include allergic reactions and the triggering of
Mycolplasma Pulmonis-related infections, which can become severe and fatal
rather quickly. It is not merely an issue of "allergies": the phenols
actually get into the rat's bloodstream and damage the lining of the lungs
and trachea. In the long term, extensive damage to the liver can occur. When
a rat's liver ceases to function properly, his/her body cannot effectively
cleanse itself of toxins. The result is a severely weakened immune system
and, inevitably, a very sick rat. There is little chance of repairing the
damage done at this point.

In short, do not use pine or cedar bedding -- no matter what the folks in
the pet shop try to tell you. These beddings may be cheaper and more common
than some of the alternatives, but the trade-off is NOT worth it.

For more in-depth reading on the damaging effects of pine and cedar bedding,
I recommend the following links:
* The Toxicity of Pine and Cedar Shavings / by Debbie "The Rat Lady" Ducommun
* The Problem With Pine: A Discussion of Softwood Beddings / by Elizabeth R. TeSelle
* Litterboxes and Liver Disease / by Marinell Harriman
* Respiratory Toxicity of Cedar and Pine Wood / by Jeff Johnston

So, what DO you use, then?

There are many, many options available when it comes to bedding for pet
rats. To simplify things a bit, I'll break down the list of choices into
four groups: wood, paper, plant, and cloth. Note that this is not an
all-inclusive list of safe beddings, but rather a list of the more widely-used varieties.


1) Aspen. Aspen is a hardwood, and is free of the phenols present in
softwood beddings. It's available in several forms: shreds, curls, and
pellets. The most common is shredded, which is exactly what it sounds like.
The texture is soft and light. Curled aspen is, in appearance, very much
like the pine bedding commonly seen in pet shops. Pelleted aspen (most
often packaged as bird litter) looks a bit like guinea pig food. It has a
wonderful, light scent and is very absorbent. You may feel that the texture
is a bit too rough to use as an allover cage bedding, in which case it can
be mixed with a softer bedding (like shredded aspen) or used solely in the
litter box. When buying aspen, be sure to look for bags that haven't been
sitting on a store shelf for eons, as they may have broken down a bit and
become dusty.

Buying aspen online:
PetSmart (shredded)
PetCo (pelleted)
The Ferret Store (pelleted & shredded)
Pet Food Express (shredded)

2) Sani-Chips. These are teeny-tiny square chips of mixed hardwoods (aspen &
maple). I do not have personal experience with Sani-Chips, but those who
have report they are very absorbant. Read more about them here:


1) Carefresh. Manufactured in Canada, Carefresh is widely available
throughout N. America. The texture is a bit like shredded egg cartons (the
paper kind, of course!). Carefresh is made from sanitized pre-consumer
virgin wood pulp -- it's the stuff that doesn't make it into paper. It can
be flushed down the toilet in small quantities, is readily biodegradable,
and is safe to use in a compost. Carefresh does an excellent job of
controlling odor and is highly absorbent. Some rats, however, appear
to be allergic to something in the bedding (this is rare), so you'd be best
starting off with a small bag to see if it goes over well before you buy
half the factory! I should also mention that some humans find the odor
of the Carefresh itself (it smells like unprocessed wood pulp!) to be
unpleasant. Personally, I love it. It reminds me of the acid free papers
used to make fine books.

Buying Carefresh online:
The Ferret Store
Pet Food Express

2) Yesterday's News. This is a pelleted litter made from recycled newspaper.
Yesterday's News comes in both a larger pellet (good for litter boxes and
mixing with softer bedding -- it's a bit too rough to use as an overall
substrate) as well as a new softer "crushed" pellet, which works great as an
overall bedding. Dust content is very low, and you really don't have to use
a lot of it in the cage pan. I've been using YN for years with my ferrets,
and it is definitely one of the more absorbant products on the market.
[NB:  use of the lemon-scented YN is not recommended with rats.]

Buying Yesterday's News online:
The Ferret Store


1) Corn Cob. This is what it sounds like it is: dried corn kernels. I
actually do not recommend the use of corn cob bedding with rats for
several reasons. Because it is so dry, it can sap a rat's fur and skin of its
natural oils. In young rats, this can lead to a condition called "ringtail",
which in advanced stages can actually cause a portion of the tail to fall
off. Additionally, I have heard a few stories about rats choking on corn cob
when trying to eat it. Aside from these immediate physical risks, corn cob
is also quite a poor bedding material. Any moisture in the underlying layers
of litter will turn mouldy rather quickly, and the odor control is truly sub-par.

2) Critter Country. These are wheat grass pellets silimar to pelleted aspen
in texture and absorbancy. An upside is that they have a delightful scent
(like cut meadow grass), so they are wonderful for mixing with other soft
litters or in for use in the litter box.

Buying Critter Country online:
Pet Food Express


Cloth bedding is by far the cheapest and most readily-available bedding
option for rats, and for some people it works quite nicely. You can use
cut-up old t-shirts, tea-towels, flannel, cloth baby diapers, etc. Just be
sure not to use any looped fabric (like terry cloth) or anything with
dangling threads as a rat's toenail could easily get caught and possibly
torn out. If you use cloth bedding, you will need to change it every day or
two. You can wash them in the machine in the hot water cycle (no scented
detergents, please!) with a small amount of bleach, and simply re-use them.
If they get too skanky for use, just toss them. HINT: fabric bedding works
much better if you've litter-trained your rats.

Anna Dorfman

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