Rats are intelligent animals that need to keep their minds working and enrichment activities to stimulate them. Digging comes naturally to rats and many people have made dig boxes for their pet rats.
I have seen a lot of dig boxes posted throughout the web and the instructions in which to make them state to use "organic" or "untreated" potting soil. I have searched everywhere and haven't found a potting soil I was comfortable letting my ratties have access to. All I could find was organix Miracle Grow. I associate Miracle Grow with the same stuff that I use to sprinkle on my houseplants which clearly says to keep out of reach of children and pets. Obviously I was not going to buy it, even if I could not see anything on the label that indicated it could be harmful. It just didn't sit easy with me.
|Eco Earth Compressed Coconut Fiber
So I checked out the pet stores and found Eco Earth by Zoo Med. Its a compressed coconut fiber expandable substrate found in the reptile department of my local Petco. Its made with eco-friendly renewable resources and naturally absorbs and breaks down odor and waste products (which is great for all those little ratty poos!). You can purchase this loose or in a brick. I bought the brick because it was cheaper and made the same amount (7-8 liters) of substrate which was the same as the bags of loose coconut fiber.
I also found that growing cat grass and birdseed is super easy in this "soil". I had purchased a bag at Petsmart, called Redi Grass for only $2.99! It contains only grass seed (one or more of the following grass seeds: barley, oats and/or wheat), and vermiculite. And just as the package promised, this stuff started sprouting within three days!
To make the dig box, I used a black plastic dish pan I bought at Walmart that is 16"L x 14"W x 6"H. I simply mixed the substrate and water as per the directions on the Eco Earth package, right in the dish pan. I set it out in the sun to dry for a day. Then, after the cat grass had firmly rooted, about 5 days later, I transfered it to the dig box. Within 2 days not only had the cat grass grown even higher, but it also became more rooted to the coconut fiber substrate too!
On play day, I set the dig box on the floor in my bathroom (where I usually let them have free range time), and threw in some Kaytee Fiesta Rat and Mouse mix for them to seek out (I had gotten it when I adopted Aniston and I do not agree that it is a healthy everyday diet so I save it for treats such as this). The boys had a blast and I feel so comfortable that what I have made this is not only fun, enriching for their intellegent little minds, but also safe!