vetty's on the edge

Whew! I promised in my last post that I would share a lot of goodies about the rats’ new cage when it was finished, and finally, after a month of work, it is. Like many of my projects, I thought it would be a quicker and easier process than it was, but I’m really pleased with the result–and more importantly, so are Ari and Vetty. Their old cage was perfectly nice, but not ideal–it never really looked like it belonged in our living room, they scattered food and bedding all over the floor, and we had to hide all their “stuff” (bins of food, medicine, extra liners, bedding) underneath a tablecloth. It wasn’t very efficient, or very pretty:

As I said in the last post, I was inspired by a DIY hamster cage I found on Pinterest (and sadly couldn’t find attribution for). While on a road trip to San Antonio to visit some friends, we stopped at the Austin IKEA and picked up a white EXPEDIT 2×4 bookcase, 4 CAPITA legs, two orange KASSETT boxes, and six METRIK handles:

I wanted to add legs to the bottom for three reasons: to make it look more like a real piece of furniture and less like a bookshelf; to make it easier to vacuum around; and to raise it further out of the cat’s reach. I decided it would be easiest to do this first, before the whole thing was assembled. Instructions come with the legs, but it’s really easy; you just mark where you want them to go, screw the plates into the bottom of the unit, and attach the legs. (Pro tip: you don’t need to drill pilot holes since the unit is made of pressboard, but do drill just a tiny bit to get through the laminate on the outside–it’s difficult to get the screw through it otherwise).

You can adjust the legs if you need to, so that it’ll sit straight, but our floor was level and it wasn’t necessary.

Once the legs were installed, I started putting together what I could of the unit. It’s simple enough, like most IKEA products.

One thing I like about the IKEA EXPEDIT rather than other, similar units is the very thick outer edge–it makes it look more substantial and less cheap, I think. But I digress. I had to put holes in the second and third floors, since the rats would have to travel between them. I decided on a 5×10″ rectangular hole out of a corner of each floor. If you do something similar, note that I put the holes on opposite corners when it was assembled–if you stack them, it’s possible for a rat to fall three stories, which could easily be fatal.

I’m not going to lie, cutting the doorways out was a huge pain. I can’t use a jigsaw or circular saw in our condo because of the noise. I can get by with the miter saw as long as I’m quick about it, so I cut into these as far as I could with the miter, then cut the rest of the way with a Dremel cutting disk. It took forever, but it worked. Before installing the shelves, I wrapped them in white vinyl contact paper, making sure to cover the cut edges securely. This is so no moisture (stray water or urine) can soak into the wood where it isn’t covered by laminate.

Next it was time to make the doors. I bought eight-foot lengths of pre-primed MDF molding, 1.5″ wide, and used the miter saw to cut 24 equal pieces with mitered ends. Then I used flat L brackets to connect the pieces.

I made sure they fit into the spaces, sanding them down if necessary, before stapling in the wire mesh. I used 0.5×1″ hardware cloth, 16-gauge, because if I ever get baby rats again, they can wriggle through 1″ spacing. I was very careful to file off any sharp “nubs” so the rats couldn’t cut themselves on the exposed edges. Once the mesh was attached and the holes for the handles were drilled, I spray-painted the whole doors–hardware and all–with Rustoleum Specialty Appliance Epoxy in Biscuit (IKEA’s white is not precisely white, it’s slightly off). Back when I restored their first cage, I called Rustoleum to ask about whether their products were animal-safe. They assured me that the appliance epoxy was safe once fully cured, and advised me to let it cure for around 10 days before letting the rats near it. The appliance paint is very hard, so sharp rat teeth can’t even chip it. I think I went through 4 cans painting all the hardware for the cage, including the large wire screen for the back. (Sorry for the phone photo–I put this picture on Facebook and it was quicker that way!)

While we’re talking about animal safety–several people have raised the very good question about the chemicals in IKEA’s products. I learned through my research that IKEA voluntarily manufactures to the highest emissions standards in the world (Germany’s) and has very little formaldehyde in their pressboard–less than what’s found in the drinking water of many cities (!). So I felt comfortable housing my rats in their furniture. You might not, and that’s OK. It’s an individual decision.

Anyway, on with the show. Once the doors dried, I installed the handles and put them in place with small hinges. To keep them from swinging in too far, I epoxied stop blocks inside each door, with small rare-earth magnets set into the blocks to help keep the doors shut (the magnets latch onto the L-brackets on the doors). For extra security, I installed a hook-and-eye latch on each door, under the handles to keep things from looking cluttered. I also put in two long wooden parrot ladders, which I painted with the appliance epoxy to keep them nice and fresh, and this is what I had when that was done (again, terrible phone photo):

At this point the structure was done–I just needed to furnish it! I spent three nights sitting at my dining room table with Star Trek playing, diligently sewing three sets of everything so I could wash them and have replacements ready when the girls inevitably chew through things. I also made sure those storage boxes were nice and stocked–the left one with bedding, cage liners, hammocks, and toys, and the right with food, treats, medicine, and chew sticks. Are you ready for the big reveal?


Are you sure?


Here it is! (Complete with a Perler bead Spock made by a friend and a cute picture of Jimmy and Mitzy cuddling.) It’s so nice and easy to clean–the doors open all the way so I can get into all the crevices:

Let’s do a floor-by-floor tour, shall we? First, the top floor (aka “Fun and Naps Land”):

On the left is their current favorite snoozing spot, the three-tiered hammock I call “The Pagoda.” Vetty has staked her claim on the middle bunk, leaving the lower one for Arial. They love to hide treats and shreds of paper in there to play with while they’re napping. Their beloved Wodent Wheel is on the right, where Helvetica has been running basically nonstop since the move, and some wooden chew toys up front. (I may have taken the clapper out of the bell because they were keeping me awake, haha.)

The second floor (aka “Food and Lounge Land”). Here they have the papier-mâché egg chair I made (more on that in a second), food dishes, a tube (just a plain shipping tube I covered with a scrap of matching fabric and water-based glue), some wooden toys, a triangle hammock Ari likes to sit in while she eats, and their water bottle.

The egg chair is just paper, painted with regular craft paints and sealed with a layer of water-based glaze. I used a scrap of orange fleece to make a cushion, then poked a hole through the side and secured it to the screen with a zip tie so they can’t tip it over. Vetty likes to sit in it while she eats her blocks, it’s cute!

The bottom floor is the home of everything messy. On the left is a dig box, just a dollar-store basket filled with shredded tissue paper and little toys (ping-pong balls with holes so they can carry them, mostly). They like to get in and root around. In the middle is a “cuddle cup,” basically a small version of those round dog beds, that I made. In the right corner is their litter box. Pro tip: when moving litter-trained rats to a new cage, it helps if you don’t change the litter when you move it the first time. That way, they can smell where they’re supposed to go. You can clean it out after a couple of days, once they’ve got the hang of it.

They love the dig box. That paper stayed in the basket for approximately fifteen minutes–now it’s distributed all over the floors and hammocks.

The cuddle cup is mostly “extra paper storage” right now, but occasionally gets slept in. So what happens when you add rats?

They were a little baffled by the open doors and checked out the edge very cautiously (I stood by in case they misjudged the distance, but they’re smart enough not to fall).

Vetty was reassured by her old wheel, though she didn’t approve of how clean it was.

Ari scoped out a soft place to snooze first, as is her M.O.

They were both very interested in coming up to the edge for a treat. Exhibit A is Helvetica above; Exhibit B is Arial below:

All in all, I’d call it a success! There’s enough space for them to get a good run in, lots of stuff to keep them entertained, and plenty of nice napping spots. It looks way better in our living room, and the storage keeps things organized. I’ll keep you posted as it evolves or if problems crop up, but for the time being, the rats and I are content.

Bonus: an eagle-eyed reader pointed out to me that in the picture from this old post, I look less like a Rick Moranis clone and more like the offspring of Moranis and Zachary Quinto. I’ve always thought Quinto was super cute, so I have weird feelings about this, but she may be right.

Tall, somewhat-awkward twentysomething design addict exhibits magpie-like hoarding tendencies and an uncanny ability to say precisely the wrong thing in uncomfortable situations. Enjoys laziness, food, animals that aren’t food, rearranging furniture while husband is out of the house/sleeping, attempting to garden for about 6 weeks at the beginning of every summer, purchasing own weight in design magazines, revamping Goodwill clothes/furniture, the French word for “grapefruit,” appallingly bad movies, indie music, CB2, spelling n’ grammar, books where people fall in love and then something terrible happens and it looks like they won’t ever see each other again but then wait! everything turns out okay, Pepsi One, watching other people play interesting video games, Scrabble, midnight baking, fall, canceled television shows (see: Arrested Development, Pushing Daisies), DIY blogs, Harry Potter, rainy days in the summer, trenchcoats, every color except Pepto-Bismol pink, vintage chairs, Wikipedia-hopping.


Comments (31)

  1. Hi, Kate!
    I’ve stumbled upon your blog by accident while browsing the web for ratty toy ideas.
    I share your love for little fuzzlets. I currently co-habitate with four rat boys, two gerbil girls, an africant giant land snail and my boyfriend :)
    I try to spread the love for fancy rats. So far I managed to successfully infect my immediate family. So my sister keeps six rat girls. My mom and dad, who my sister lives at, are rat smitten, too :)
    I’ve never posted a reply on a blog before, but your rat mansion is so wonderfull that I really, REALLY needed to leave a few words of praise.
    I think you did an awesome job! On the cage and all its insidez. My favorite is the egg chair!
    I love all the thought you put in the form itself and on the color scheme as well.
    I think your rats are lucky to have you as their landlady and live a very happy life :)
    (from Ljubljana, Slovenia, architect, designer, font lover and lover of all things beautiful – also with hoarding tendencies 😉

    P.S. I love the names! :)

  2. I love this! Have been having the hardest time trying it get together a wooden cage as it’s been a dream but this is amazing. Quick question, not sure if you’ll receive it though. How did you attach the wire to the back? Did you just staple it to the back frame or did you make a big door type thing for the back. Thanks

    1. Hi Melanie! I just stapled the wire to the back. I made very sure that none of the cut ends were in a place where the rats could touch them. It’s not the prettiest, but the back of mine was always going to be to the wall, so it didn’t bother me! Hope it helps!

      1. Hi, Yes that helps heaps. I wanted to do one like yours but they were all out of the cube cupboard so I have had to get a different cupboard. But will still look great. Thanks for the inspiration =)

  3. This is lovely! You have officially inspired me to make an Ikea hack cage similar to this, but for hamsters instead of rats. Cheers.

  4. Hi!! This cage is amazing!! I’m trying to make something like this for my darling ferret Oswin!! How did you hang the hammock from the ceiling though? It looks so awesome and I love the colours so much!! 😀 thnx

    1. Hi Danielle! I installed some eye screws (just push them into the ceiling and twist until they’re screwed in all the way) and then used shower curtain hooks through the grommets to hang the hammock. You could also use safety pins rather than shower curtain rings. Thanks for stopping by, I hope it helps!

  5. Where did you get the small white dishes near the egg? Also, where did you get the tiny little hamper with the shredded paper? I really love this idea. I am hoping to do the same for my rats.

    1. Hi Madison! So glad you like it! I got the white dishes from Pier 1—I think they usually carry a few different shapes for a buck or two a piece. The little basket for paper I got at the dollar store. I hope it helps!

  6. I am so in LOVE with this cage!!! Everything about it, the size, the colors, design, all of it.
    I’m wondering how it looks after them living in it a while. Have they damaged the cage structure? Is it as easy to consistently clean as you thought it would be?
    I’m so glad I came across this, I have two boys almost 10 months and they would love a new cage like this!

    1. Hi Hannah! So glad you liked it! My ratties unfortunately passed away last year, but their cage held up very well until the end. It was VERY easy to clean—much easier than the one they had before. The doors needed a little touch-up paint when I gave it away, but nothing major! I’d still recommend it :)

  7. I LOVE this cage! Seriously one of the coolest and most creative things I’ve ever seen! I’m just wondering how and with what did you make the cage liners?

  8. Hi! I am building a similar project as this! However, I have built it all myself using plywood. I was curious, the appliance paint, that does waterproof it correct? Our plan was to stain the whole shelf using some kool-aid because it was the only thing that we could be sure would be safe in case the ratties were to chew through, however I’m trying to find a safe way to waterproof the entire thing! Also, have your rats chewed any of the wood? Or has the paint prevented that? I did some research and it says that the plywood could be harmful If it’s a certain kind, and I have no idea what specific kind it is. I want to make sure that I don’t hurt the rats that will be in it! :( thanks for your time!! :)

    1. Hi Cloe! The appliance paint did do a good job of waterproofing it; we also wrapped the shelves in white contact paper, just to be on the safe side. Our girls didn’t have any interest in chewing the wood or the contact paper, so I can’t say whether the paint helped there! You could call the store where you got your plywood and ask for the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) for the specific plywood—that should tell you if it has any toxic chemicals in it, and it would also likely give you the manufacturer’s information so you could contact them if need be. I unfortunately can’t give much more help than that, as I don’t have any experience with rats and plywood and wouldn’t want to tell you anything that could hurt your ratties! Best of luck and I hope they love their new home!

  9. I LOVE this cage! It is so modern and large. I don’t have any rats because my parents said no but I really want some! I am sorry to here your ratties pasted away…. so sad. If I ever do get rats, I will totally make a cage like yours. I have just one question: in the photo after you attached the legs and were putting the shelf together, there were 2 little wooden pegs. I guess they were for the divider you were supposed to put there. Did you cut them off? Thanks for your time!

      1. Thank you SO much for posting the new link to the updated product… I was searching their site also and becoming very upset about not being able to find the same shelving unit.

    1. Hey Ellie! I hope your folks decide to let you have some ratties—they are great pets :) You’re correct, in that picture I did cut the pegs off after putting them in the holes. You only have to do that on the bottom tier; on the others, since you don’t use the dividers, you don’t have to put in the pegs. Thanks for mentioning the KALLAX, I meant to come back and update this post with a note about that! Very helpful :)

  10. Hey Kate! Stumbled upon this entry while looking for great DIY rat cage options, and yours seems to be the most doable! I recently adopted two little girls and they are currently living in a 10 gal terrarium with high rise attachment. It’s nice enough, but I want to give them a little more space to play around in (that and covering the wire mesh platforms has been a pain in the butt!) Definitely bookmarking this for future reference for when I build my girls new home. P.S. That pagoda hammock is super cute!

    1. This is definitely not large enough for ferrets. Something similar would be fine, but definitely consider a larger cabinet/shelving unit.

  11. Hi there. Thank you for this tutorial. It’s so perfect. I was curious if there’s a tutorial for the egg chair? That thing is awesome! Thanks again.

    & I’m so sorry to hear about your babies. ❤️

  12. I was Wondering how you got the fleece liners to stay in place? Velcro? Snaps? Did they chew through them? Going to attempt this in the summer so the more I know now the better it will (hopefully) go. Thx!!!!

    1. When I’ve seen projects like this before, Velcro seems to be the preferred option. Stick / staple one side to the wood and sew the other to the liner. If they have enough stuff to chew on they should leave it alone, though try and get the Velcro as close to the edge as possible so it’s harder for them to pull up.

  13. Hi, I love this design. Where did you find your wire? I am having a hard time finding 1″ X 1/2″, I can find standard 1/2×1/2 but prefer the astetics of what you used. Thank you, and again great job!

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