Digging Box

by Kathy Bakken
from the November/December 1995 Rat & Mouse Gazette

One of the unsung casualties of rat ownership and indulgence is the common house plant. With a rat's instinctual need and obsession with burrowing, that poor ficus in the corner is an easy target. While it is impossible to ever tell a rat what to do or that anything they do is wrong, it is possible to convince them of fun alternative activities.

My solution to the plant slaughter is the simple Digging Box. It can be made from dozens of different types of boxes and containers, but my particular box is an antique wooden crate picked up at a swap meet. The box should be deep enough to contain a healthy amount of sterile potting soil; my crate is 18 inches deep and 12 inches wide. This makes it easy for the rat to jump in and out without feeling trapped. It should be high enough so that the digging fiend doesn't throw that dirt right over the edge. I fill the box about halfway with potting soil and lightly water it - the rats seem to prefer the soil to be slightly damp. A small handful of rodent mix tossed in about once a week provides the extra incentive to get in there! After a while you may notice some of the seeds actually sprouting in the soil - a garden fresh bonus for that ambitious pet!

Fortunately, the ratties seem able to discern a difference between the Digging Box and their bedding, so the dirt rarely has to be switched out. The only cleaning I do is to remove seed shells from their tunnels!

It may take them awhile to figure out why you keep throwing them in this dirty box, and this is where little treats buried in the dirt can help. To entice the rat into the box, place a favorite treat such as a pine nut on top of the soil. Gradually, over a period of time, bury a pine nut deeper until eventually it's fully covered. This will help encourage the activity that can seem so destructive when there's a blooming plant nearby, but becomes hilarious when it's a rattie doing what he does best in the box you built just for them!