Playtime and socializing are an essential part of being a small animal pet parent. As with everything when it comes to your new pets, start gradually. Once you’ve let your new furry friend adjust to their new home then you’re both ready to have some playtime!
Whether you are going to just sit together and cuddle or let them roam a bit on their own, always make sure your space is ready and safe for playtime. Put away anything you don’t want your pets to get into or chew on like electrical cords, and keep loud noises to a minimum, close open windows and doors so they do not escape.
When picking up your new pet, use both hands and be sure to support its bodyweight. Be gentle but firm, holding its feet against your body, and take care when you put it back down on the ground. Always supervise young children to make sure they are handling them gently.
Have toys, tubes and a hidey place available to them, as well as a few small fresh treats.
DO go slowly with socialization. Start with sitting beside them and letting them sniff you – once they get used to you, you can start to pet them and eventually pick them up. Try limiting initial handling to a few minutes at a time.
DON’T ignore signs of distress. A scared bunny may cower, squeal or grunt and thump the ground with its feet, while a nervous guinea pig might wee on you, and a frightened hamster may try to bite. If your pet displays any of these behaviors, put them back in their habitat and try another time. Be patient and in no time they will be interacting and snuggling.
Tips for introducing companion pets
Most small pets except hamsters are social and need a companion. In a perfect world, you would be adopting your rabbits or guinea pigs at the same time. The smoothest transition is likely with littermates, previously bonded pairs, or babies, but that may not always be an option. Neutered males and females often make great pairs, as does two females, but we would advise against more than one male cohabitating as they can become aggressive or compete for resources.
When you bring your companion home, do not put them straight in your other pet’s habitat. Once again, it is very important to move forward gradually!
Start by placing two habitats near each other so they can adjust to each other’s presence without feeling threatened. Allow them to swap scents by putting a bit of bedding from each habitat into the other.
Then you can progress to physically introducing them in a neutral space, like a different room than they are used to or a playpen, without lots of distractions in the environment. Provide them with places to hide if they are nervous, but with two open ends so they don’t get cornered. And offer them some fresh veggies as a distraction and so they may associate positive feelings with each other.
Keep these initial introductions supervised and short, around 15 minutes, you can gradually build up the duration as long as they remain happy together.
At every step on this process, make sure to monitor their behavior closely! Look for signs your animal is happy. These are the clues you need to see to progress to the next step. Look for behaviors like grooming each other, squeaking to each other, sniffing each other, spending time close together and ‘popcorning’ for guinea pigs or binkies for rabbits. These are good signs! Don’t be alarmed if your rabbits try to mount or chase one another, this is to be expected and as long as the other doesn’t become aggressive they are ok.
If your pets show no signs of aggression and have taken to each other, then you get the green light to allow cohabitation. Just make sure their habitat is large enough for two or more. The bigger the better!