Small furries behaviour

How big should their cage be? Why do chinchillas and gerbils need a dust bath. How should I handle my hamster? Do they need a gnawing block? What sort of toys do they like?

In this section we’ll look at:

  • Chinchillas
  • Dwarf Hamsters/Syrian Hamsters
  • Ferrets
  • Gerbils/Mice/Rats
  • Guinea Pigs

Chinchillas

Give chinchillas an indoor enclosure or large cage as they are very active. They need lots of exercise and levels to climb and jump from.

Give them suitable toys too, so they don’t get bored, including cardboard rolls and boxes that they can hide in and chew on. Wooden seesaws, shelters and ramps are available from pet shops. Some chinchillas also like hammocks. 
Do not give your chinchilla any plastic toys – these can splinter and be harmful if eaten.

Let them chew on branches made from softwoods, such as untreated apple or pear. 
Give them a gnawing block, to help them wear their teeth down. 


Make feeding fun: Scatter some food around the cage and hide some in tubes, so they have an interesting treasure hunt. 

Keep some toys stored away: use different ones in different weeks. This helps keep the toys interesting – and also gives you a chance to clean them.
Do chinchillas need a daily dust bath?
Yes. It keeps their coat in good condition. Without it, their fur becomes matted because of oily secretions from the skin.

Choose a dust bath that’s large enough for your chinchillas to roll in. Fill it with chinchilla sand to a depth of at least 4-6cm. Suitable baths are available from pet shops.

Limit their bath time: give it to them for 10 minutes, several times a week. If you leave it for longer, they may leave you some unwelcome presents as they may view it as a toilet. Excessive dust bathing can also cause eye disease.

Dwarf Hamsters/Syrian Hamsters

Give hamsters lots of things to climb on and explore in their cage as they are very active. An exercise wheel is ideal, but ensure it has no spaces between the rungs which could trap and break their legs.

Give them cardboard rolls and boxes to hide in and chew. Add toys made specifically for small pets, such as ladders, plastic tubes, seesaws and untreated apple-tree branches – all available from pet shops.

Give them a gnawing block to help them wear their teeth down. 

Make feeding fun: Scatter some food around the cage and hide some in tubes, so they have an interesting treasure hunt. 

Keep some toys stored away: use different ones in different weeks. This helps keep the toys interesting – and also gives you a chance to clean them.

Keep a deep layer of shavings or potting compost at the base of their cage, as hamsters love to burrow.

When is best to spend time with my hamsters? 
Hamsters are nocturnal: they become active at night. So leave them alone to rest quietly by day. If you wake them regularly in the day, they can become stressed and can bite. Early evening is the best time to handle them, as they are awake and active. 
What’s the best way to handle a hamster? 
Handle your hamster carefully from a young age so they’re used to it and not scared. It also cuts the chances of them biting someone. 

Always be gentle. Use both hands as a scoop. Hold them low down over a flat surface: even a small fall can cause serious injury.

Ferrets

Ferrets are full of fun and inquisitiveness. So give them plenty of things to climb on, play with and explore. Give your ferret cardboard rolls and boxes and suitable small pets toys, such as ramps and cloth tunnels. Drainpipes are ideal for playing in and running through. 

Keep some toys stored away: use different ones in different weeks. This helps keep the toys interesting – and also gives you a chance to clean them.

After all that exercise, ferrets need a lie down – and they like nothing better than a hammock.
Toys and hammocks are available from pet shops and pet supermarkets. 

Create a fun food treasure hunt: Scatter some feed around the cage and hide some in tubes that they can... er... ferret out.

Do ferrets need a bath?
Yes, give them access to a bath of fresh water at room temperature once a week.

Gerbils, Mice and Rats

What’s the best way to handle gerbils, mice and rats? 

  • Handle them carefully from a young age so they’re used to it and not scared. It also cuts the chances of them biting someone. 
  • Always be gentle. Use both hands as a scoop. 
  • Never grab the tip of the tail, as this can cause the tail’s skin to fall away. 
  • Hold them low down over a flat surface: even a small fall can cause serious injury.


Give gerbils, mice and rats lots of things to climb on and explore in their cage as they are very active. An exercise wheel is ideal, but ensure it has no spaces between the rungs which could trap and break their legs.

Give them cardboard rolls and boxes to hide in and chew. Add toys made specifically for small pets, such as ladders, plastic tubes, seesaws and untreated apple-tree branches – all available from pet shops.

Give them a gnawing block, to help them wear their teeth down. 

Make feeding fun: Scatter some food around the cage and hide some in tubes, so they have an interesting treasure hunt. 

Make playtime interesting. Keep some toys stored away: use different ones in different weeks. This helps keep toys interesting for your small furries – and also gives you a chance to clean them.

Give gerbils their own playground. Gerbils love digging, so give them a gerbilarium – a big plastic tank below a wire living area – filled with appropriate burrowing material such as potting compost. This lets them climb, burrow and play to their heart’s content. So they get exercise and stay happy and healthy.

Do gerbils need a dust bath?
Yes. Just like other desert species, gerbils need a dust bath to keep their coats in good condition Chinchilla sand is fine to use and available from pet shops.

Guinea Pigs

Give your guinea pigs a big hutch and run as they need lots of exercise. See our pages on Suitable Environment

Guinea pigs can get easily bored. So give them lots of toys, cardboard boxes, untreated logs and other things to play with and explore. 

Guinea pigs can get scared easily. So they will feel safe in cardboard boxes, large tubs and pots where they can hide.

All these items are available from pet shops.

Make playtime interesting. Keep some toys stored away: use different ones in different weeks. This helps keep toys interesting for your guinea pigs – and also gives you a chance to clean them.