Q: I am hoping you can help us with an issue we are having with our two pet rats, Molly and Cuddles. We have had them for almost three months now, so they are approximately 5 months old, I think. We have a large, three-level, wire cage for them, and keep it in our living room so they will always be near us. When we first got them, I tried to do what the books suggested on training them to use the same corner of the cage for the bathroom. It seemed to work OK, at least for a while. There were even times when they were running around loose, and would come back to the cage to go. But within the last month, they have changed that. Now they go over to a corner of the cage, back up and try to pee out of the cage. They even do that from the third level, which then sprays it out farther. They usually sleep in a tissue box on the third level, and just come out, walk over to the corner and pee. Too lazy to go “downstairs.” I have a plastic mat under the cage, but it doesn’t always catch all of the pee, so it ends up on the carpet. I even tried putting a towel on the top shelf, thinking they wouldn’t pee where they sleep, but they just move it over to pee. This is making our living room really stink! How can I get them to go back down to the bottom level, where the bedding material is, to pee?
Another issue: They dribble pee on us when we are playing with them. Molly does it more than Cuddles. It’s usually just a little, and I’ve gotten used to it, but it’s still gross. I read that they do that when they are in heat, but how can that be every day?
A: It sounds like a retraining session is in order. When we begin training any kind of pet there is a lot of positive reinforcement — they receive hugs, kisses, happy words from their human and lots of treats. But once they’ve achieved the desired goal, all of that goes away. We all know that rats are very smart little creatures and it doesn’t take long for them to decide that peeing in the litter box is only worth the trip if there’s a snack involved. Fortunately for you, the retraining will go very quickly once the positive reinforcement begins again.
There are also a couple things you can do to contain the mess when your rats don’t quite make it to the litter box. My favorite cage accessory is called a shelf guard or corner guard. It’s a 3-inch high strip of plastic or powder-coated metal that mounts on the inside of the cage and creates a barrier in the corner. The lower edge is usually rounded inward slightly so the pee stays in the cage.
The other option is to mount a corner litter box in your rats’ favorite bathroom corner and fill it with litter. Most rats will use this box as a second bathroom, but some will spend a huge amount of time trying to remove the box from their favorite potty spot. Over the years I’ve tried every other solution you could imagine, but I always come back to these two.
As for the dribbling, unfortunately your rats are simply telling all the other rats in the world that you belong to them. I think most rat owners will agree that it’s a gross way to say “I love you,” but most of us will also agree that they’re worth it.