Dig Boxes For Pet Rats: Safe Materials, Sizes And What To Put In

Rat owners find them to be a great source of joy. Given that they are one of the most active pets out there, pet rats are fun to deal with.

As they are always on the go, they need a range of toys to keep them entertained.

If you have just bought a rat, you might be wondering why people have dig boxes for pet rats. This guide will assist you in this regard.

Digging is a natural urge that a rat cannot resist. Whether they are wild or pet rats, they love to dig. This is where dig boxes come in handy. A dig box can encourage healthy digging behavior in pet rats, all the while keeping your house safe from a potential mess. 

Dig boxes are neither expensive nor hard to make. With just a few simple materials, you can make them on your own. So, in this article, I’ll go over the steps to creating safe dig boxes for your pet rats, along with some other information you might find helpful.

Do Pet Rats Like To Dig?

Whether the rats are wild, domesticated, or pets, digging seems to be an instinct and natural behavior for every rat. So, pet rats enjoy digging very much. It fulfills both their curiosity and their innate urge to burrow.

Rats naturally prefer to remain in holes that allow them to feel safe. It aids in keeping them safe from dangers like predators, harsh lights, and other unpleasant sensations. Moreover, the rats may keep their food in the caves for days when they cannot go foraging for it. 

All rats turn to burrowing and digging continuously and at varied frequencies all day. And according to research, even lab and domesticated rats share such features.

The same is valid for pet rats. Because of this innate instinct, they will also dig and hide their food. It’s true for any other rodent you may have as a pet.

Rats typically exhibit characteristics that are comparable to those of their wild ancestors. The fundamental impulses of a wild rat essentially hold even if you keep them as pets.

So, like all other rats, pet rats enjoy digging and burrowing. They mainly do it to build nests and collect goodies and intriguing objects. Besides, they occasionally dig just for pleasure.

Any surface they may physically travel across and into is an excellent place for your pet rats to dig. The bedding is soft and portable. So, it is typically their ideal target. 

However, it would help if you did not leave your rats unattended. Otherwise, they will attempt to dig into items including your sofas, mattresses, and other locations.

The rats have a natural propensity to dig burrows in areas with convenient access to food. So, don’t be surprised if rats try to locate and explore the place where you put your food.

Therefore, if you allow your pet rats to roam freely within your home, they will dig up practically anything.

Well, your rats might be well-trained, and you love them. But it’s better to put them in a cage. Otherwise, any accident might happen once their innate desire to dig takes over.

That being said, you cannot dismiss or disregard their instincts. To maintain their general health and well-being, you must make provisions for them to dig safely.

So, making dig boxes for your pet rats would be best. 

Reasons To Make A Dig Box For Your Pet Rat

Now, in case you are wondering whether or not your rat needs a dig box, I just want to clearly state that they most definitely do. Here are some reasons why you should consider a dig box: 

Mental Enrichment

Rats are naturally inclined to dig as we’ve just stated. It’s like an itch in their brain that they just have to take care of. And just like itching an itchy spot, it’s quite comforting for your rat to indulge in these normal biological behaviors. 

Pet rat relaxing on a small dig box
Look at this happy pet rat relaxing in a tiny dig box!

Just like us, rats get stressed, bored, and feel a number of other negative emotions. Especially, if you have a single pet rat, it can get quite lonely for the little guy.

And they need something to let all that stress out. A dig box can be the place where they do that. 

It’s always important to remember, that pet rats shouldn’t live by themselves. They do need another companion of the same species, so they can keep living healthy and happy.

Only our company, no matter how hard we try, is enough. 

Save Your Sofa And Carpet

Your rat will dig, whether you have a dig box or not. So, in the absence of a dig box, they will most likely choose the sofa, your carpet, or some other soft surface.

So, not having a dig box might ruin all of these. 

Unless you want your little friend vandalizing your expensive pieces of furniture, you might want to consider getting a dig box. 

Physical Activity 

Even if your rat is not a compulsive digger, they should be encouraged to act out their natural instincts as much as possible.

And you already do that in a number of ways. Some hide treats to emulate the feeling of foraging, and some install a wheel in their cage for running. 

The same goes for digging. Encouraging your rat to dig in certain spots of your house allows them to have some physical activity.

This prevents obesity, improves their health, and reduces the chance of diabetes. Hence, allowing them to live a longer and higher quality life. 

How To Make A Safe Dig Box For Pet Rats

You can buy a dig box for your rat from the market. However, it is best to make one at home according to your preference.

As you love your pet the most, you can make the safest place for your rat to keep them away from harm. So, here is a step-by-step guide for you to make a safe dig box for pet rats:

Step 1: Pick The Correct Box Size

A crucial step in the procedure is selecting the correct size for your digging box. The box must be big enough for your pet rat to fit easily without touching the walls. Yet, it must not be so big that your rat could hurt themselves, struggling to get out.

You will have to measure your rat to get a precise estimate of the box size. However, you may also create a variety of proportionately sized boxes.

Besides, if you have multiple rats, you might want to think about building a more extensive digging area for them to play in.

Step 2: Cut Pieces

You would require four wood pieces to construct the box’s sides. Your rat’s size will determine the dimensions.

To create the box, cut the components to the required lengths.

You can also use cardboard to make the digging box.

Step 3: Build The Box

Now, you must put together the box after cutting all the pieces. You have to first pilot-drill the back and front panels’ corners.

After that, join the sides with these panels using construction adhesive.

However, before drilling pilot holes and attaching the panels, check the corners with a carpenter’s square. It will help you ensure they’re 90 degrees. 

Step 4: Make A Doorway

After constructing the fundamental box, it’s time to carve a doorway through which your rat can enter and leave. Your rat must be able to pass through the gate with ease.

Make a cut on one of the box’s side walls with a saw about four to five inches from the bottom.

After that, smooth any jagged edges near the hole using a file or sandpaper.

Step 5: Add The Lid

Attaching the cover to the digging box is now necessary.

Your rat can comfortably burrow to its heart’s desire with the lid in position without ruining your house.

To secure the top, screw the cover into place. 

Step 6: Fill With Suitable Fillers

The primary purpose of a digging box is to give your rat the delight of digging. So, you must fill the box with coco fiber, soil, shredded paper, and so on.

However, stay cautious not to add anything sharp or poisonous to the container.

Only add things that are safe for your rat to nibble and crawl.

Step 7: Pick A Spot

Choose a location that is simple to get to and has little crossing foot traffic. Given that rats may dig quite a lot in a short period, the amount of room you have available for this pastime is also crucial.

Additionally, consider how much sunlight the area receives. Enough sunlight is necessary since the rat requires adequate lighting to see effectively while playing.

How Big Should A Dig Box For Pet Rats Be?

The ideal size of a dig box for rats depends on several factors. However, eighteen inches high and twelve inches wide might be perfect dimensions for your first dig box. 

There are different things to consider while determining the perfect size of your rat’s digging box.

The following are some of the factors to keep in mind when deciding on the ideal dig box size for your pet rat:

  • Your Pet Rat’s Size

Not every rat is of the same size. So, the first thing to consider while making a dig box for your pet rat is knowing the exact size of your rats.

First, measure your rat’s length from the nose’s tip to the tail’s root. Then you can calculate the box size by multiplying that number by two.

Remember, your rat must feel comfortable in the box. So, it would help if you did not make a small-sized box where it can not move and dig freely. 

  • Amount Of Soil

The box ought to be big enough to hold a sizable proportion of sterilized potting soil. The rat can quickly jump in and out without feeling imprisoned.

Moreover, the box must be high enough too. 

It will help prevent your pet rats from splattering dirt all over the place!

Furthermore, you may have to add a little water from time to time to wash away the dirt. So, making the box higher is necessary.

  • Additional Things You Want to Put in

The more things you are planning to put in your dig box, the bigger the container has to be.

You may want to add plants, papers, etc.

However, whatever you keep in the box, remember to make the box large enough for your little pet to move around comfortably.  

For example, you can even create a whole playground inside their digging box. You can add bridges or tubes, like this one or this one, both on Amazon, and other platforms to create an obstacle course.

This way, your pet rats can do more than digging inside their box!

How Deep Should The Dig Box Be For Rats?

If your dig box is not deep enough, your rat will soil up your carpet or flooring. And you really don’t want that. Also, if it’s too deep, the rat will be stuck there. And that can be a traumatizing experience, discouraging them from using the box in the future. 

15–18 inches seems to be an ideal size for most pet rat owners. But, do consider the size and jump capability of your rat.

Put the soil in and then place your rat inside the box. Then offer some treats so he tries to jump out. This way, you can check if the depth is okay. 

Also, don’t fill up the box with too much dirt. This will kind of make using a deep dig box useless.

Remember that the depth of the soil should not be enough to bury your pet rat or make it difficult for them to get out once they reach the bottom. 

Just enough for them to dig out at their heart’s content!

What Should I Put In A Dig Box For My Pet Rat?

Shredded paper and cards, pine flakes, shredded hemp, and coconut fiber compost are all excellent substrates to put in a dig box. Some might also add a few plants or other things to entertain their loving rats.

Soil or sand won’t work as a quick fix to make your rat happy. You must provide your little pet with a few different fillers. It will make its experience as secure and enjoyable as possible. 

You can choose the material you want to use. However, there are several things to think about before you do.

The substrate must first be soft and mild enough to prevent damage to your rat’s claws. 

Second, it needs to be sufficiently absorbent to clean up the mess your rat might make. Again, your rat might also nibble or bite.

So, remember to put the things in the digging box that are okay for them to consume.

Pet rat in a small gift box
This pet rat is in a gift box instead of a dig box, but look at that adorable face!

Well, most rats enjoy tearing up paper. Simple brown paper bags work nicely for both shredding and fun. You can use paper crumpled into a pleasant, though fleeting, ball.

Your rats will undoubtedly enjoy diving, hiding, and burrowing in a plastic container or box packed with shredded or crumpled paper. 

Just avoid newspaper or any paper with ink on it. Pet rats will dig and chew everything, so it’s more than natural that they’ll do that with paper.

The ink used in newspapers or other paper is not suitable for consumption, especially for pet rats!

Besides regular paper, you can also make a comfortable place for your rats out of paper towels and tissue. Again, try folding or wrapping paper in several layers around their favorite food.

It will keep your rat occupied for a long time as they have to shred and unwrap the treat. Try out various soil and box depths to see what works best for your rat. 

Where Should You Put The Dig Box?

The best place to put the dig box is somewhere they already like to dig. If you see your pet rat digging in some corner of your carpet, keep the dig box there. They will know what to do when they go to that spot for digging. 

For rats that don’t dig or don’t have a particular favorite spot for digging, encourage them by hiding some treats in the fillers.

If you are using paper, then sprinkle in some of their favorite, dried snacks, so it encourages them into digging! 

If you are using some sort of soil, then you can add some live mealworms.

Whatever you do, make sure to treat your rat the first few times they use the dig box. This will encourage them to come back due to positive enforcement. 

Can You Plant Plants In The Dig Box?

If you are using soil for the filler, then of course. In fact, it would be better for them to emulate an outdoor environment.       

But be careful about what sort of plants you plant in the dig box. Some plants can be poisonous to rats. Crocus, Chrysanthemum, Ivy, etc. are poisonous to rats. 

On the other hand, some safe plants include – 

  • Wheatgrass
  • Cilantro
  • Fennel
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Parsley
  • Basil

They are not only safe but also can add nutritional benefits to your rats’ diet. And not to mention, you harvest some of them for yourself too.

So, you’re getting fresh herbs while your rat gets an awesome dig box! 

Here’s a video from Emiology on how you can make a planted dig box for rats:


Pet rats don’t necessarily require expensive toys to be content!

So, one of the sweetest things you can offer is to make a dig box yourself. You have now learned how to make dig boxes for pet rats.

Besides, we have also discussed what you can and can not put in the box to keep your rat safe from danger.

So, don’t hesitate to make a fun place for your loving pet and give them the pleasure of exploring. Thanks for reading through. Hopefully, you have found this article helpful. Have a fantastic day!

If you’re looking for other alternatives to entertain your pet rat, check these pet rat games that you can play with your pet rat!