To Build or Not to Build

Heather Eddy
From the RMCA web site, August 2004

There comes a time in the life of every rat lover when they need to expand the housing abilities of the rat area. You can shop around and find a really great cage for $150.00 or more, or you can build your own. There are many options for cage building. I will try to cover a few of them and their pros and cons.

Aquarium Cages

I recommend a 20-gallon or larger tank. You can upgrade them with tank toppers from the pet store (I've seen a 10 gallon topper for $50), or you can build your own. To build your own you will need to head to the local hardware store with the measurements of the top of the tank you are building onto. You have a few options here. You can get some ¼" PVC piping cut to fit the top of your tank, then get more lengths of it to make a frame for your topper.Cage Topper (Example: four 2' tall pieces for the corners and two 1.5' pieces for the short ends, two 3' pieces for the long sides.) You will then need some hardware cloth, cut to size to stretch over your frame. Next, you need to decide how to attach the hardware cloth to the frame. Screws and nuts are one option. You will need to put a screw on each corner using a large washer on each side of the screw hole (which will need to be drilled into the PVC) to hold the hardware cloth in place. Cap it off with a nut and use a metal file or Dremel tool to round off the end of the screw, or you can use screw caps to protect yourself and your ratties. Once your frame is built and wrapped with the hardware cloth, you are free to put in shelving.

Use your imagination when furnishing your cage: plastic buckets and baskets, corner shelving for the bathroom, scrap wood flats covered with shelf paper and a cut plastic placemat. You can attach the placemat with stick-on Velcro squares. That makes it VERY washable and replaceable. You can hang flat wooden shelving by cutting dowel rods to size and using a special screw that has a metal flap/clamp attached to it to hold the dowel rod (cable companies uses these to hold cable lines in place in/on your home). Baskets and things with handles can be held in place with “C” screws (the kind that are used to hold bird toys onto cages; they are C shaped and have a roller cap in the middle of one side). There are a ton of shelving options in the wire organizer area of your local Wal-Mart type store. Bird perches, dog rope toys, tree limbs, and just about anything else you can think of can go into making a really great tank cage.

With a tank cage you need to make sure to clean it frequently as the air does not circulate well in the tank. This can cause it to stink quickly.

Wire Cages

The choices for building materials are endless, so I will tell you how I made my cage, and provide pictures of other cages so you can see other options.Heather's Wire Cage

I went to Home Depot and got five wire shelving racks for each cage at about $11.00 each. I had them cut two in half for lids and bases. Then I bought two small wire racks about a 1.5' square and I cut them in half with my Dremel. I got two more racks and cut a hole in one side about 4" square for the rats to get through. Then I went to the Container Store and bought a "drawer" for a wire organizer to fit inside each of the cages. I also got the plastic liners sold to go with them to keep small items from falling through the wires. I got the hanging buckets at the Dollar Store, and the corner shelves at Wal-Mart. I put the main frame together with "U"-shaped screws. The shelves are held in place with the same "U"-shaped screws and a couple of long shelf hangers, like thse used to hang things on a pegboard. They are suspended by some toilet chain that I bought in a 6' piece from the hardware store, cut to size with snips, and strung thru "S" hooks. The front is hinged with zip/cable ties. I bought small bungee cords to hold the door closed. The puffs came from the Dollar Store, as did the placemats, which were cut to size, and held in place with zip/cable ties that I threaded through small holes punched in the placemats. These placemats are great because they can be removed to clean as needed. I added some bird toys that were on clearance at PetSmart, and some igloos and waffle houses, a couple cat toys and a load of shredded paper with newspaper lining, and you have two 4' tall cages that are about 2' to a side.

It took me one night to put it all together and cost around $75.00 per cage: more expensive then other homemade cages, but worth it to me for the space they provide. I have seen smaller cages going for more then $150.00.

Jeff's Wire Cage
This image of "Camelot" courtesy of Jeff.
Rat Lady's Wire Cage
This image courtesy of The Rat Lady.
Cube Cage

Cube Cages

These cages are extremely easy to make. You simply get a Sterilite or Rubbermaid container that the cubes will fit in and some cable/zip ties and let your imagination go to work. You can accessorize with everything from pet store bought houses to plastic baskets from the dollar store. With all wire cages it is important to cover the wires that would be under foot for the ratties. You can easily do this with plastic placemats cut to size and attached with cable/zip ties by putting two small slits in the placemat to insert ties. You can use a bungee cord, or a metal clip or anything else you can think of to hold the door closed. These are the lowest cost cages that you can build by hand. Mine cost less then $30 to make.

Sterilite/Rubbermaid Cages

These cages are also easy to make and get parts for. Simply cut out the inside of the lid of a container and stretch hardware cloth or chicken wire over the hole and attach with cable/zip ties through holes you bore into the edge of the lid of the container. All you have to do then is add litter and accessories. Let your imagination run rampant and your ratties and mousies will love what you have done for them.

These cages are ideal for geriatric rats and mice or angels with disabilities (example: can’t use their back legs) as you can make it single level and there are no wires to cause a tangle.

Plastic Tub cage
This image courtesy of Blue Jackal.

Cabinet Cages

Cabinet cages are a bit more difficult to build and take some know-how. To start you need an old cabinet, bookcase, or desk. I have seen them made out of old dressers as well. Clean the cabinet well. Cut openings in the floor of each level for the ratties or mousies to move from level to level, then laminate the floors/shelves with vinyl tiles and shelf paper for ease of cleaning. For the doors you can use a frame of 1’ by 2”s or dowel rods; you can even use pieces of wooden or plastic molding, nailed together, attached with small hinges. You can then stretch chicken wire or hardware cloth over your frame and attach it with staples from a good staple gun. Whenever you use chicken wire and hardware cloth you need to remember to turn sharp edges back on themselves to protect yourself and your animals. You can then decorate at will. Furniture for ratties does not have to be expensive; something as simple as a tree branch can provide hours of fun and be a useful accessory to any cage.

Ratly Manor 1
Images of the Ratly Manor courtesy of Mrs March.

The Grotto
Image of "The Grotto" courtesy of The Dapper Rat.

Cabinet Cage
Image of this cabinet cage courtesy of Mrs Sparks.
Rosie's Cabinet cage
Image courtesy of Rosie’s Mom.

Buying Cages

If you do decide to buy your cage, put some thought into it. Make sure that the bar spacing will not allow your pets to escape. Also make sure that it is upgradeable. You will want to change it around once in a while to keep things fun for your pets.


I would like to thank everyone who let me use picture of their beautiful cages. You can find detailed instructions for each of these cages at the home pages of the donors. Please remember that all of these images are the sole property of the the people that provided them; respect their rights.