Q: For my nephew’s birthday I’m building an elaborate cage for his pet rat. It will be made mostly of pine. My plan is to stain the wood and then use polyurethane to clear coat everything. I would provide my nephew with a bag of lots of little untreated pieces of domestic (Canada) wood (pine, oak, maple, walnut) for the rat to chew on. Do I need to worry about the rat getting sick if he were to chew into the stained/polyurethaned wood that was part of the rat mansion? The entire cage is solid wood, no MDF/particle board, as I was worried the glues used in that could harm the rat.
A: It is difficult to give you a very accurate answer to this question about rats. The problem is, can you be certain there is nothing toxic in the stain and in the polyurethane clear-coat? Is there any chance that a heavy metal is in the stain or polyurethane? Manufacturers of these products do not anticipate them being chewed upon by someone’s pet, so no oversight exists to make sure the product is free of ingredients that may be toxic to rats.
It is wonderful that you are building this for your nephew and his rat. He is lucky to have such a thoughtful uncle. It is likely the ingredients, if ingested by the rat, would be safe; but without knowing the exact ingredients, you are taking a risk.
If you are certain you want to build this, here are my suggestions. Almost all companies provide a consumer “hotline” number you can call. I would contact the company that makes the stain and clear-coat and ask them if they know if their products are safe. Another approach would be to call a poison control hotline (understand that they may charge for this call) and read them the label and ingredients. They may be able to tell you, based on their experience with those specific products, if what you are about to use is safe, if ingested, by rats.