by Dr. Kristin Valdez
Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital
In addition to spending time with your pet and socializing him or her, did you know that small animal enrichment is vital to your pet’s well-being and even longevity? Small animal enrichment is key to making sure your pocket pet or small mammal will have a happy and fulfilled life.
Enrichment needs vary depending on the type of animal, but here are some general guidelines.
Small Animal Enrichment—stimulate all five senses
In the wild, mammals often have varied environments. Most mammals that we keep as pets would be prey species in the wild; they are hunted, rather than being the hunter—the big exception being ferrets. Just like humans, mammals have five senses: sound, sight, taste, smell, and touch—all of which need to be stimulated. The Animal Store offers a wide variety of treats, toys, bedding, and hides for all small animals. Stock up so you have a variety to choose from, and change your offerings frequently to keep your pet from getting bored.
It’s important to note that loud noises can stress out small mammals. In the wild, loud noises can signal that a predator is nearby; it makes them fearful and encourages them to hide. Gentle sounds are best.
You can stimulate your pet’s sight with a new place to hide or new foods or treats that are visually appealing.
Taste and Smell Enrichments
To help incorporate smell and taste stimulation, offer a variety of vegetables that are safe for your pet (check out our care sheets for specific suggestions), or herbs that are safe for mammals, such as organic rose hip, chamomile, and lavender.
You can incorporate other interesting smells into your pet’s environment, such as:
- the scent of another animal of the same species on a towel you place in the enclosure
- your smell—by placing a shirt you have worn in their enclosure (remember, your pet may chew on or soil the shirt, so choose an old one)
- other smells, like a drop of eucalyptus or other essential oil on a cloth. Do not keep essential oils in the enclosure for more than a short time, as they can be very powerful and potentially cause respiratory issues if left too close to your pet’s nose for too long.
You can challenge you pet’s sense of touch by including things such as a timothy hay bungalow, a hay mat, or even using fleece bedding when playing with your pet. Timothy hay bungalows—Oxbow has a great one—also provides a great new hiding place. For hamsters or guinea pigs, offer fluff or fleece or even tissue paper that they can use to help make a nest. Change these materials frequently to keep their habit clean and provide different sensations for your pet.
Pocket pets include:
- short-tailed opossums
- Siberian chipmunks
- sugar gliders
Small mammal pets include:
- fennec foxes
- guinea pigs
- prairie dogs
- Richardson ground squirrels
- Virginia opossums