Pet Rats/My rat Spencer!
Is newspaper good bedding? And do you know if they make a harness/leash for rats? I have lots that a rat probably shouldn't get into with three or more kids around at any given time, two being my own and I'd like to have Spencer out more and able to run more freely esp. since he doesn't use his wheel, like at all, doesn't even sit on it. How do I get him to? He's about 8 months old if that is helpful. I try to have him out at least 4 hours of the day, but he's limited.
There are many good choices for bedding. Newspaper is fine but only if it is printed with non-toxic soy or vegetable ink. The only problem is that it gets soggy when it gets wet and does not absorb odor that well so if you choose newspaper, you should change it out daily. Here is a link to a web page from The Rat Guide that discusses bedding in detail:
They do make harnesses for small animals. You might find them in some pet stores in the ferret section, but you can definately find them online. I recall running across them on ebay a while back. I however advise strongly against using these to take your rat outside. It is far too dangerous in the outdoors, with birds of prey that might swoop down and take him, or insects that would be dangerous if ingested. If you plan to use it inside, do it with great supervision so he is not stepped on by running children. Generally, however, I advise against a harness for rats.
As far as the wheel, it's hit or miss. Some rats adore their wheels and others could not care less. Generally, all baby rats will run wheels because they are so hyper, but some outgrow their wheels as they grow into adults. Spencer obviously does not have the drive to run on a wheel. There is really nothing you can do to teach him.
I think it is great that Spencer gets 4 hours of freeplay each day. That is more than many people give their rats. I don't recommend ever allowing free roam of the house, especially in a busy household with kids. It would be so easy for someone to accidentally step or sit on him or close a door on him. I would suggest supervised play in an enclosed safe room. If you don't have a safe room, you can build a playpen using many large pieces of cardboard you can duct-tape together.
I'm going to also share with you my own idea that I called my "Rattie Penthouse". It's basically 2 or more inexpensive card tables pushed together to make one large table, on which I keep the cage (with door open at all times), and lots of toys, tunnels, boxes, etc. I've used custom-cut plexiglass along all the edges so my rats don't accidentally fall, but they are too smart to jump. I've kept all my rats on the penthouse for years and it's worked out well. I'm attaching a photo of my penthouse so you can get an idea. It doesn't take up that much space either...all you would need is a corner of a room.
Have you considered getting Spencer a male companion? Rats are very social creatures and need another of their own kind to spend time with, regardless of how much interaction we give them. It is never recommended to keep a lone rat. You wouldn't feel as bad not giving Spencer enough attention if you got him a playmate.
I hope this information is helpful and please let me know if you have any other questions.