Being in constant confinement within adequate space and very little enrichment can be stressful and detrimental to an animal’s health and well-being.
We need to provide sufficient cage space to allow for the animal to fully stretch out, dig, burrow, and play with toys.
As we know, exercise is an important factor in keeping us healthy. The same is true for small animals. Allowing them to explore and run around a larger area not only provides them with physical stimulation, but also includes mental stimulation as well.
Therefore, on occasion, a safe environment outside the cage, such as an exercise pen, can be provided in order to decrease these negative effects, such as stereotypes. For more information, see Animal Assessment-Recognizing Stress.
Outside the Cage
When giving a small animal a physical enrichment opportunity outside its cage, it is important to remember to:
- Have proper supervision
- Have food and water made available
- Ensure the room or exercise pen is escape-proof and secure
- Ensure that the area is safe: free of things that can be chewed or ingested, on a non-slip surface, and away from young children, predators, other animals
- Provide a hiding place for the animal to retreat to (e.g. igloo, box)
Toys are another great option. Items such as balls, empty tin cans, chewing blocks, paper bags, and crumbled newspaper are good entertainment for them. They also love things that they can carry, push, bury or hide. Toys can be placed on the floor of the enclosure, but can also be safely hung from the cage as well. Ensure that the toys are large enough not to swallow.
Rabbits in particular need to be brushed regularly to remove excess fur and to prevent matting. This activity also provides human social interaction.
Several species such as bunnies, rats, pot-bellied pigs, and guinea pigs enjoy agility. Agility offers both physical and mental stimulation and encourages bonding and social interaction for the participating individuals.
For more information, see Rabbit Basic Education-Training (rabbit jumping)
Another resource: https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/rabbits/behaviour/agility
Inside the Cage
There are also ways to keep them physically stimulated while in their enclosure:
- Exercise wheels are enjoyed by most small animals. In order for them to be beneficial, the size of the wheel must be appropriate for the species
- Providing multiple levels in the cage will allow the animal to see things from different vantage points, as well as encourage climbing and jumping. Examples of these include: branches, boxes, platforms, ramps, wooden or plastic blocks
- Deeper bedding for burrowing will promote digging and tunnelling for some small animals
- Introduce a variety of materials to allow them to create a nesting area in their habitat. Nesting material is different than bedding. This could include cotton squares, toilet paper, shredded newspaper, cut up pieces of t-shirts and towels (avoid materials with fringes, sequins, embroidery, zippers or buttons)
- Provide tubes (empty toilet paper rolls, PVC piping) for them to hide in and run through. This is a favourite for most small animals!