Do Rats Really Smell or is it Down to Owners?

Despite the reputation of their wild relatives, fancy rats make incredible pets for adults and children alike. They’re highly intelligent animals and have characterful personalities which are both adorably affectionate and entertaining.

Companion rats are best kept in same sex pairs or groups and can live up to three years. They are sociable and easily build strong bonds with their owners. They are curious and love to learn, interact, play and explore.

Whether you already own rats or you’re considering their suitability as potential pets, the first thoughts as to the downside of keeping rats is the smell.

Do Rats Really Smell?

Rats are in fact incredibly clean animals. They frequently groom themselves and should not smell. If you are encountering problems with your rats smelling or you’re concerned about this as a potential problem, rest assured it can be avoided.

Smelly rats are most often caused, unintentionally by insufficient care and cleaning. The so called smell is usually ammonia from their urine which can be quite pungent when left for long periods.

Reducing Pet Rat Smell

It is possible to reduce rat smells through simple actions. As given appropriate housing, bedding and cleaning, you shouldn’t experience unpleasant smells from your pet rats.

Choice of Rat

Generally, male rats are more a culprit for smells than females. Male rat’s urine is much more potent and they tend to scent mark around cages meaning the urine can be anywhere and on anything! This makes daily cleaning much harder to manage. However, female rats tend to use certain areas and their urine is not as strong smelling as males.

Therefore, keeping female rats might be the best option to reduce smells. Alternatively, if you already have male rats, the best solution is to have them neutered, as this will help significantly reduce scent marking.

Litter Training

As mentioned before, rats are highly intelligent and can be trained! If you train them from a young age to use a litter tray it can help avoid the wide distribution of urine and mean you can easily clean one area of the cage daily, keeping rat smells at bay.


Rats need appropriately sized housing that is safe and offers sufficient ventilation. Avoid using glass tanks as cages as the ventilation is extremely poor and not only will this increase the potential for smells but can actually cause major health problems for your pet rats.

Respiratory diseases are extremely common in rats where they are confined to a cage with poor ventilation or inappropriate bedding and substrate.

Choose a rat cage that is at least 50cm x 80cm, by 50cm in height. However, go for as large a cage as possible so they can exhibit as many natural behaviours as possible.

Provide a litter tray to help encourage them to use a specific area for their toilet.

Preferably, opt for plastic cage accessories and avoid wooden toys as wood easily absorb and retain smells.


How often and how thoroughly you clean your rats cage, is the key to reducing rat smells. Just like if you let your cat or dog urinate all over your house, if left for long periods it would start to smell!

Each day, ideally undertake a partial cage clear, clearing out the litter tray of toilet area of the cage and replacing with fresh substrate.

On a weekly basis, fully clean the cage by taking out all of the contents, disinfecting the cage and contents, then replacing with new substrate and bedding.

However, be aware that rats like their home to smell like them so if it now smells too clean, this will ignite the urge to remark everything in the cage. They will make it their mission to urinate everywhere until it smells like home again! Therefore, be sure to leave a handful of unsoiled clean nesting material behind to keep some familiar smells within the cage. This will help reduce the need for scent marking or over urination, as rats will do this if their scent is not present.

If you use hammocks and other accessories which easily absorb urine, these will need to be regularly replaced to improve cleanliness and keep smells to a minimum.