There are as many ways to set up a cage for a rat to deliver a litter as there are rat breeders. Everyone has a personal preference. I’ve incorporated advice from several breeders in creating my current maternity cage setup for a doe who is expecting a litter any day now. The primary considerations in a maternity cage are the safety of the rittens, the comfort of the mother, and ease of cleaning. Only you can decide how to house your pregnant rat, but here are some of my suggestions.
Choosing the Cage
The most important feature of a maternity cage is its ability to keep rittens safe. For that reason, a single-level cage with a solid floor is a necessity. I prefer cages with plastic pans, because a metal pan stays cooler, and the thought of a ritten burrowing through bedding to lay on a cold metal floor makes me nervous. A deep pan is also nice, because it provides some protection from drafts. Certain breeders like to use aquariums for rat maternity cages, but I find glass aquariums are very difficult to keep clean and free of ammonia, which is harmful to rats’ respiratory health.
My current maternity cage is a Superpet My First Home for Exotics cage, with the shelves and ramps removed to prevent a rat from delivering a litter on a higher shelf, then knocking a ritten down to the floor. I like this cage because it is tall enough to provide the mother with some entertainment in the days prior to delivery, and a chance to escape the litter for a few minutes at a time afterward by climbing. The pan is deep enough to protect from drafts, and shelves can be added back in when babies start to climb and play on their own. The only downside is that the tall wire cage may make some pregnant rats nervous because of the lack of privacy. For this reason, I cover the cage with a piece of fleece when delivery is imminent.
Once you’ve decided on a cage, the next step is to choose bedding. The most important consideration, again, is safety. Second is the mother’s preferences: If she doesn’t like the bedding, she may not make a good nest in which to deliver her litter. The third consideration is ease of cleanup; some beddings that meet the first two criteria are difficult to quickly change, which is a problem when you have a litter of mess-making baby rats and only a limited time to clean the cage before the mother gets antsy or the babies catch a chill from being outside their nest.
Never use scented woods like pine or cedar. I also don’t recommend soft, dusty bedding, as it sticks to newborns and can also cause respiratory trouble. Ideally, all rat bedding should be dust-free. It should be easily moved and arranged by the mother during nesting, so hard pellets like Yesterday’s News aren’t quite right, as they don’t make good nests. I haven’t found a perfect maternity bedding yet, but for this anticipated litter I’m using Eco Bedding (made of paper) along with shredded paper towels and strips of fleece. Use the bedding you think will work best for you and your rats, and you won’t likely go wrong.