Physical and Mental Stimulation
Online Veterinary Education Library
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The activities you provide for your small animal serve both as a form of exercise and mental stimulation. In addition to companionship, your little critters need activity for their health and well-being. Most activities relate to their burrowing and chewing instincts. Your pets will play together and individually and are fun to watch when they get moving.
A running wheel is the most important element for exercising rodents. In fact, hamsters run a distance of about eight miles per night. Just be sure to get one that is axle free if your pet has a long tail. Another popular toy is a polycarbonate plastic ball. You place your pet inside the ball and its legs give the ball motion to roll around the room. Animals love the freedom and exercise it provides while owners love that their pet can be outside the cage, but not able to hide or escape around the house.
To help maintain your rodent’s dental health and focus chewing where it won’t do any damage, be sure to keep chew toys in their cage. You can use twigs or wood as long as it isn’t painted or varnished and hasn’t been exposed to pesticides. You can also use small dog chew toys, but avoid those made of soft plastics (because your pet will chew them to pieces quickly) and metals.
Tunneling equipment builds on your pets’ natural burrowing instincts. Although cardboard tubes from toilet paper and paper towels can be used, they will end up being shredded quickly. For a more permanent solution, purchase tunnels made from heavy plastics at the pet store. The color is not important to your pet; only its opacity. Rodents prefer a slightly opaque, versus completely transparent, material. Make sure the diameter of the components is sized appropriately for your pets. Also be sure that the components are easy to remove and put back together, because you’ll need to clean and disinfect them weekly.
To feed your pet’s curiosity, rotate a series of other items in and out of the cage for variety. You can use anything that gives them enough space to crawl in and explore, such as a coffee can or (nonplastic) flowerpot. Avoid items made of soft chewable plastics or they will be chewed to bits.
Playing with you is an important aspect of your pet rodents’ exercise and mental stimulation, as well as companionly interaction. Most of these small animals need daily time outside of their cage. Because they are great escape artists and hiders, you want to keep them busy when they are out of their cages. Use treats to train your pets to do tricks, like stand on your shoulders or head, climb across your body from one hand to another, or jump from hand to hand.
Finally, don’t forget to place some paper towels in the cage weekly to give your pets the materials they need for nesting. They’ll shred the paper and create nests in the substrates or tunneling tubes — a productive activity that keeps them busy and satisfies a natural urge.