Most small animals are confined to their enclosures for the majority of the time, so we need to pay special attention to provide enrichment. The goal is to help reduce boredom, avoid behavioural and health problems, as well as provide mental and physical stimulation. The following are ways to implement tactile stimulation within the small animal’s enclosure:
- Provide multiple levels in the cage — this will allow the animal to see things from different vantage points, as well as encourage climbing and jumping. Examples of these include:
- Wooden or plastic blocks
- Provide deeper bedding for burrowing
- All small animals need a place to hide:
- 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)
- Offer different sized cardboard boxes- some animals will use this to hide in, make a nesting area, or to simply chew and shred
- Provide tubes (empty toilet paper rolls, PVC piping) for them to hide in and run through. This is a favourite for most small animals!
- Make hammocks available for the animal to lounge or hide in. It should only be an inch or two off the floor of the cage. These can be made out of recyclable material such as old jeans or shirts (avoid materials with fringes, sequins, embroidery, zippers or buttons)
- Most small animals love dust baths which can be offered a few times per week. Specially formulated dust can be purchased and placed into a low dish within the cage
- Some animals love digging — provide organic soil in a box for them to do so
- Some small animals would find enjoyment in a water bowl. Ferrets, in particular, enjoy washing their faces in water, but they would also be entertained and mentally stimulated by fishing ping pong balls out of this water bowl as well
For more information on Enrichment for Birds see ASPCA Webinar
It is important to consider the species-specific needs when introducing any of the above. Not all will be appropriate or enriching for each small animal. For example, a rabbit would not benefit from having a hammock in its cage, but a ferret or chinchilla would.