Q&A: Cage Cleaning

In case you didn't already know, you can email me your questions to askratwhisperer@gmail.com. I'd love to answer them here on my blog and if there is something I don't know, I would be happy to find out :) My first Q&A comes from Deanna who writes:
"Hello! I found your awesome ratty blog from The Rat Forum, and I was wondering if you could give me some pointers on cleaning the rat manor, or keeping the urine odor to a minimum between cleanings. I'm a new rat owner, and my three young girlies stink up their cage so quickly! I've been fully cleaning their cage and accessories in the shower every 3 or 4 days, with daily spot cleaning, but their cage already reeks by the end of the day. I use aspen bedding, but I think they are peeing up the top level the most. Is it necessary to fully clean the cage so frequently? I figured since you have two of these cages, you might have found a more efficient way to go about this. Or am I doing it right so far? I don't mind cleaning the cage much, but I was hoping there were some simpler methods to make for less frequent full cleanings. Some kind of vinegar solution to wipe down the top levels perhaps? I'm scared to try anything like this without being assured by an experienced rat owner that it won't destroy my girls. Anywho, thanks in advance if you have any tips for me! Very nice blog, and your ratties are extremely adorable. :)"
First off, thank you so much Deanna for the lovely compliment on my blog and ratties! I think they are pretty freaking adorable myself, LOL! And thank you for taking the time to send your email. :) DEEP CLEANING As far as cage cleaning goes, I usually only do a deep cleaning once a month. That's right- only once a month. My deep cleaning consist of completely disassembling the cages and rinsing them in my shower. With my daily and weekly cleanings, I have no odors! I use diluted bleach, rubber gloves, and a rag to completely wipe down all the bars, mesh floors and ramps of the cage, as well as wiping the bottom of the cage inside and out. Then I rinse it all very well, then wipe it all dry with an old bath towel. All the cage toys, bowls, litter boxes, hammocks, etc get cleaned as well. The toys and other plastic items soak in a bucket of diluted bleach water while I am cleaning the cage in the shower. Soft items, such as hammocks and fleece scraps (used in the hanging basket beds) get sent to the laundry (so its good to have backups!). This is the most time consuming cleaning. It can take me over an hour per cage as I like to really scrub it good. DAILY CLEANING For daily spot cleaning, I simply wipe the bars, floors, and ramps with baby wipes. Just regular ol' baby wipes. Every day. Old pee is very smelly pee, so it helps to wipe down everything daily so nothing is sitting. And nothing is smellier or stronger than old pee on fabric! I also give the hammocks and fleece scraps a sniff test. Yup, I get my nose right into them and see if they are getting smell. Once in a while the girls pee in their plastic hanging basket bed so the fleece scraps get smelly. If this happens, I simply send them to the wash early and wipe the inside of the bed with the baby wipe to freshen it up. I can also tell if my ratties have been laying or sleeping in pee by sniffing them. Male rats have a wonderful, natural sandalwood-like smell to them, when they haven't been "marinating", or sleeping/laying in their own urine. Lady rats have a sweeter scent to them, almost like a very faint grape soda smell. If either smells like wee, then I know to clean out all the bed areas...and perhaps give the ratties a bath. So bottom line for daily cleaning just wipe down the cage with a baby wipe and do a sniff test. I don't like using vinegar directly on the cage as I think its just too powerful smelling. Baby wipes are mild enough for ratties' sensitive noses, but also strong enough to clean up urine (after all, they are used to clean baby bottoms!) If you are really concerned about possible toxicity or fragrances, you can purchase unscented baby wipes. This cleaning takes just a few quick minutes, and I usually do it in the mornings when I am refilling water bottles and refilling food bowls. WEEKLY CLEANING Every Saturday, I do my weekly cleaning of the cages. This is not as intensive as the deep cleaning, but requires a bit more time than a normal daily cleaning, maybe about half an hour per cage at most- and that might be an exaggeration. This is when I change out the litter and cage covering. I use Planet Petco paper pellet cat litter or Yesterdays News to cover the bottom of the cage. I found it to be the least dusty and very odor absorbent. I buy paper pellet cat litter because of two reason: 1) its cheaper than paper pellet litter marketed towards small animals or ferrets and 2) if it can help with cat pee, the most potent urine there is, it can certainly help with my ratties. I purchased a mini sweeping brush and dust pan set from the dollar store than fits inside the cages to sweep up and dump the majority of the cage bottom litter. Then I use my little shop vac to vacuum around the sides and any bits of paper pellet litter left behind. Then I clean out the litter boxes completely. In the litter boxes, I use Kaytee Soft Granule bedding. I just vacuum out the boxes and replace it with fresh bedding, about 1 1/2 inches deep is all you really need. The shop vac is a HUGE time saver! You could wipe down the bottom of the cage and the litter boxes with each changing if you wanted...sometimes I do, other times I don't, depending on how messy they were to start with. I can definitely tell when I have forgotten to do a weekly cleaning or did not have time to, as that is when things start smelling funky. Usually its just a dirty litter box than needs cleaning. Somethings I have learned from experience to keep the smell down are: 1) Fleece lined shelves, while nice and comfy on a rat's feet, are major stinky-stinker-uppers. I had them once before and found that while they made the cages look colorful and happy, I was not only wasting a lot of money because my rats would chew them up, but I had to change them out every single day. Clipping them into place and changing them out was getting too time consuming and I just didn't find them worth it anymore. Now I just make sure my ratties have nice soft hammocks and fleece scraps in their beds that are smaller and easier to change out. Don't stress out about Ulcerative pododermatitis, a.k.a 'bumblefoot'. Bumblefoot is seen more in rats that are overweight placing continued or excessive pressure on the feet, trauma, or minute abrasions from rough or irregular cage flooring, or rats having a genetic predisposition. It is also thought that the use of pine or cedar shavings used to cover cage floorings may play a part. If your rats walk around on rough "chicken wire" or other galvanized wire mesh then yes, they are placed at a higher risk to get bumblefoot, but the Petco Rat Manor, as with most other small animal cages now-a-days, are powder coated to prevent this. I have yet to ever have a rat with bumblefoot. 2) If your ratties tend to dirty up their litter boxes too fast, purchase a pooper-scooper. This is nothing more than a plastic spoon clearly labeled "POOPER SCOOPER", LOL, that is used to scoop out the ratty "raisins" from the litter boxes. Some weeks it seems my ratties dirty their litter boxes up faster than others so if the litter boxes are looking especially disgusting, I just scoop out what I can. This helps keep the smell down too. 3) Keep a bottle of distilled white vinegar and water solution in a spray bottle and a roll of paper towels close by. Use it to wipe down any surrounding surfaces around the rat cages. Try to do this when they are NOT in the cage, breathing it in (I let them have free range time in the bathroom while I do it). You'd be surprised how much stink is NOT coming from the rats' cages at all, but the surfaces around them. I have my cages on a table, up against the wall, in my bedroom. I wipe down the wall and the table about every other day as its amazing how much pee gets outside the cage (this happens when the rats back up into a corner to urinate while on the second floor or one of the shelves). If this becomes too much of a problem, you can invest in urine guards that attach to the cage (I am thinking of getting some myself). 4) And lastly if all else fails, keep an opened box of baking soda near the cages to help absorb any airborne stink particles, LOL. I hope this helped answer any questions you might have had regarding keeping your rats' cage(s) smelling fresh and clean! Feel free to comment with your suggestions on how YOU keep your cages stink-free :)