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Socializing Small Animals

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Small animals such as rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, and mice make wonderful furry friends. Since they are so small you might assume that it is okay to handle them from the start. However, like all animal companions, it is important to socialize your small animals appropriately from a young age.

Why is socializing important?

Animals gently handled by people from a young age can learn that humans are friends and companions. Those receiving little handling when young, or roughly handled at any age, may find human contact distressing. Small animals may express this as fearfulness/running away/hiding/aggression.

How to introduce your pet to humans

Provide regular handling (petting, holding), and use a soft voice when in their presence, in order to help both birds and small animals become accustomed to human interaction.

Some animals can find exposure to humans stressful until a positive relationship has been formed. Here are some things to remember:

  • Provide the small animal with regular, calm and gentle contact to slowly allow a bond to develop
  • Handle carefully and considerately, in a confident but gentle manner
  • Reward with treats to help them enjoy your company
  • For nocturnal animals, handle in the morning or evening if possible –this avoids disturbing them in the daytime when they are sleeping

Small animals are able to build close relationships with people and some can even be trained. In addition, they can learn to play with humans as well as others of their own kind. Most small animals enjoy playing, especially when they are young but make sure to take things slow. Hiding food in/under some of these objects can be a fun game to try. Most importantly, you should supervise pets when using toys and objects to ensure there are no small parts that could be swallowed.

Enrichment tool: Mazes

Not only are mazes mentally stimulating for small animals using them, but they are fun for us humans as well, as we assemble them or watch them in use. You can use things such as PVC piping and connectors or from simple paper towel rolls to create mazes. In addition, you can place treats or food inside the maze to further enrich your pet. They will be reliant on their sight (as well as other senses) to navigate their way through the maze.

For more small animal enrichment tips, visit How to keep your small animals mentally stimulated.

Small animals enjoy being held and coming out of their cage to play when they are properly socialized. A little time and patience will lead to a positive experience for both of you.

*This information been adapted from the RSPCA.

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