Now that you're all caught up on the awesome warm fuzzies, I can dive into our dilemma. It started last week when Pfunk and I staged a major odor intervention. The awesome cage that Kelsey gave us has two levels. The rats love it and end up hanging out on the upper level most of the time. The only potential problem with the upper level is that it has a wire floor, which can cause a foot infection called bumblefoot. So Paige and I bought plastic placemats and cut them to size to fit the upper level. We then put cardboard over the mats.
This worked fine for a couple weeks until Falafel built a nest in one of the corners of the upper level. She hung out in the nest a lot, and took to both peeing and sleeping in that corner. Since Tabouli likes to do what Falafel does, she was hanging out there too. Pretty soon the rats, the cage and the apartment started smelling like pee. The pee would pool up in that corner and didn't have a chance to dry before she was already sitting in it. So much for the books that said rats won't "eliminate" and sleep in the same corner.
Hence the intervention. We ditched the solid plastic mats (and wet cardboard) entirely, re-lining the upper level with plastic cross-stitch mats (recommended in a rat care book). The cross-stitch mats still protect from bumblefoot, but allow urine to drip through. We then installed a litter box on both levels. We installed the litter box on the upper level in the corner Falafel had been using because we read it helps to put the litter box in a corner already used as a toilet. We also read that it helps when litter training rats to put the litter box in a corner and occupy all the other corners with other things. So "downstairs" in the cage, we have a litter box, nesting house, food dish and water bottle in each of the 4 corners.
We then gave the rats baths and introduced them to their newly reconfigured cage. Five days later, the cage definitely smells better than it did. BUT, there have been a few glitches. First, the rats chewed up the corners of the cross-stitch mats in less than 24 hours (see below). They don't seem to be ingesting the plastic, just chewing, but I worry they will eventually chew themselves into this small island that is safe from bumblefoot, surrounded by a sea of treacherous wire floor. Secondly, they don't seem to be taking to the litter boxes. I did what the literature said and placed as many "raisins" and wet bedding into the litter boxes as I could to help them make the connection. We also bought different litter for the boxes than the litter/bedding we use on the bottom floor in hopes that would help.
But Falafel just seems to want to reclaim that corner as her own. She sits in the litter box, just hanging out, not going to the bathroom. One day she took the pieces of litter (they look like little pebbles) in her mouth one by one and tossed them overboard. I put the litter back in. The next day, I'd see her kicking the litter out of the box with her hind legs. Again, I put the litter back, figuring she'd catch on eventually. When I came home and find any "raisins" outside the box, I toss them back in. We tried putting the rats in the litter box if we caught them going outside the box, but I'll admit that's been hard to actually do.
But today Falafel staged a full fledged mutiny while we were at work. I came home and found all of the litter on the floor outside of the cage, or elsewhere in the cage, just a few pebbles actually still in the litter box, rolling around pathetically. I took a photo of the litter strewn floor, emailed it to Pfunk with the subject line: "Falafel's verdict". Inside the email it said, "Falafel's verdict on the litter box? A big 'Fuck you!'".
Oh yeah, I almost forgot. While they are not using the litter box, someone (I suspect Tabouli) has been peeing in the Freshie bowl (the food dish we put fresh fruits and vegetable in).
So anyone in cyberspace have any advice? Are our expectations too high? Falafel and Tabouli are only two months old and we've only had them a few weeks. So we are still getting to know and trust each other. Any tricks that have worked for you? Maybe they are bored? We have a wodent wheel and igloos currently en route to our home to help with that.