Small Animal Enrichment

Small mammal pets, like rabbits, hamsters, and rats, may come in smaller bodies than your standard cat and dog, but their minds still need fun, engaging activities and enrichment to live happy, healthy lives!

Thinking back to the childhood hamsters I had twenty-five years ago; the care routine was often limited to their basic necessities. It was standard to get bedding, food and water receptacles, and one of those metal hamster wheels but that was the extent of my (and my parents’) knowledge of owning a hamster. We couldn’t Google hamster care and I certainly don’t remember going out to purchase books on hamsters either. Many viewed them as simple pets, small enough for a child to care for. I remember the occasional nibbles to our noses which was undoubtedly because we were kids holding hamsters by our face without ever creating any sort of human-animal bond. While we kept their habitats clean and provided chew toys, questions about their mental stimulation and enjoyment linger in hindsight.

Thankfully, our understanding of animal behavior, welfare, and enrichment has evolved significantly over the years. It was ‘easy’ to overlook our small animal pets and luckily, enriching the lives of even our smallest animal pets has become a widely discussed and encouraged topic – and it’s incredibly rewarding for both pets and people!  From providing them with new toys in their environment to simply hiding their favorite treats throughout their bedding – enrichment is all about fun, bonding, and keeping their minds and bodies active!

Small animal pets live in some sort of enclosed habitat, so similar to an indoor only cat, their home is their world! Creating a fun environment that still provides all the necessities for your small animal pet is the best first step to enriching their lives. Enrichment activities support your pet’s natural instincts in a safe and healthy way while engaging their mind and creating something fun and bonding to do together. Enriching the space in which your pet lives doesn’t have to be expensive either, there are lots of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) ideas for toys, foraging, and activities as well as enrichment items you can purchase.

Here are some simple and enjoyable ways to engage with your small animal companion, increase your bond through positive associations and activities, decrease stress, and promote healthy, active brains and bodies!

Anything in their habitat can serve a duel purpose – make sure to use products and toys made from safe, organic materials such as wood and stay away from plastic. Chewing is essential for our rodent friends, so keep plastics out of their home so they don’t ingest it!


Chewing is a natural, instinctual behavior for our rodent pets. All rodents have open rooted dentition, which means their front teeth never stop growing! Having safe things for them to chew is not only essential for their health and wellbeing, but it also provides something fun for them to do.

Provide fun things to chew like apple or willow sticks, hanging chew toys, and providing a rotation of chewing materials throughout their enclosure to keep it fun and new! 

Hide and Seek:

Small animals instinctively seek out hiding spots for security and relaxation.

Provide hiding places like DIY cardboard shelters or specially made hammocks and pouches.

Change up their hiding spots to keep it fresh and engaging!

Foraging For Food Fun:

Stimulate your pet’s foraging instincts by hiding food throughout their enclosure!

Create food puzzles with cardboard or toilet paper rolls – supervise to make sure your rodent is just chewing the cardboard to get to the food and not ingesting it! Wooden and cardboard puzzles also available for purchase. Learn more here!

Dust Bathes:

Dust bathes are essential for a species like the Chinchilla, but many small rodent pets enjoy digging in the “dust”, rolling around in it, or sometimes… they assign it as a toilet! Adding a bath spot can be enriching for all rodents – and we DEFINETLY suggest Googling Chinchilla Dusk Bathes because it is very cute to watch!

Check out reputable animal care websites, like Oxbow, for all sorts of creative ideas for DIY enrichment, food and treat recipes, and to purchase species safe products!

It’s all about engaging our small animal pets with activities that support their natural instincts and mimic activities they would do in the wild such as hiding, running, playing, foraging, and chewing. By incorporating these elements, you can keep your small animal pet engaged, happy, and healthy. 

With the introduction of Our Companions first small animal cottage, Suzanne’s Place, we are more than excited to start implementing enrichment activities into the habitats and daily lives of our small animal rescues. Enrichment not only helps us bond with our pets but also contributes to their mental and physical wellbeing, making it an essential aspect of responsible animal care for our adoptable animals. You can help us welcome these new small animal guests by purchasing a housewarming gift- learn more here!