by Dianne Cook, LVT
Let’s face it, small mammals have garnered a reputation for being destructive. The truth of the matter is that most of the destructive behaviors small mammals express are simply a way of them communicating that something in their environment isn’t working. Luckily, with some patience, understanding, and the aid of engaging, species-appropriate enrichment items, you can generally redirect your little loved one’s less than desirable actions in a positive way.
What Are Some Common “Bad” Behaviors in Small Mammals?
Many pet parents consider destructive behaviors to be “bad,” but using the word “bad” to describe a small mammal’s actions is a bit of a misnomer. “Bad” implies that your small friend’s behavior is somehow willfully wrong. Despite the fact it may seem like your animal chewed up your new shoes out of spite, the reality is they were simply expressing one of their natural, intrinsic behaviors.
Regardless of how you choose to label your little one’s troublesome chewing practices, however, the most common destructive behaviors reported by pet parents are:
- Inappropriate chewing – chewing on things they “shouldn’t”
- Excessively digging at carpets, litter boxes, or the corners of their enclosure/environment
- Biting/rattling enclosure or play yard bars
In this article, we are focusing specifically on physically destructive behaviors (like those listed above), but it is important to mention that hormonally driven behaviors, like aggression and humping, are also considered undesirable by many pet parents. Having your pet spayed or neutered and working with a trusted veterinarian is the best way to limit these types of behaviors.
Why Do Small Animals Resort to Destructive Behavior?
Think of a time you were bored. Can you imagine how amplified that boredom would be if you were forced to sit in the same room day in and day out, eat the exact same meals, and interact with the exact same items? Now imagine what it must be like for your beloved pet. The truth is that humans are not the only beings who experience boredom. As naturally active and inquisitive species, our small furry friends are just as likely to find themselves in a dull and spiritless mood, especially if their environment isn’t providing enough meaningful stimulation.
Despite generations of domestication, small mammals are still very much driven by four instinctual behaviors:
If your little one is not provided with an ample pet-proof environment filled with interesting items that are safe to chew on and explore, the next best option is for them to make their own fun. Unfortunately, when our small furry friends are left to their own devices, they often choose to destroy important, meaningful, or hard to replace items, or chewing at the bars of their enclosure in an attempt to occupy their time.
Best Enrichment Items for Redirecting Destructive Behavior
In addition to providing your little one with the largest living space possible, as well as plenty of daily play time in a well-supervised, pet-proof area, the best thing you can do is make sure your fur baby has a variety of species-appropriate enrichment items on rotation to keep their bustling brains busy. Though far from an exhaustive list, the Oxbow Enriched Life items below are a great way to keep your pet engaged and can help redirect their natural behaviors in a positive, purposeful, less-destructive way.
Designed to engage the natural foraging behaviors of small mammals, forage pots offer a unique way to support your pet’s natural playing, exploring, and chewing instincts. Fill the inside of the all-natural, tera cotta pot with pellets, hay, or fresh produce and watch as your little one figures out how to get to their favorite goodies.
This fun, garden-themed activity center engages your pet’s natural playing, exploring, and chewing behaviors. Each of the rattan balls are secured to the box with string and can be left in place as a unique challenge for your pet, removed and played with separately, or replaced with other Enriched Life items. Hide your little one’s favorite food or treats amongst the shredded paper to encourage digging and exploration.
Similar to a popular toy for human infants and toddlers, the wobbly ring stack features removable wooden play disks and a semi-circular bottom to provide hours of fun and engaging entertainment. You’ll be amazed how quickly our kiddo figures out how to remove the rings from the base and fling them around the room!
These engaging items both offer a novel way to encourage your pet to work for their food. Each product has an adjustable opening to control the flow of pellets, allowing you to increase the “difficulty” as your pet becomes more accustomed to the products.
As burrowing animals, small mammals love to root and tunnel. This fun, interactive maze is custom designed for use with Oxbow’s Enriched Life accessories and features a rooftop hay feeder and a removable roof. By adding new enrichment items and changing up the layout, you can easily keep your pet interested and engaged.
This uniquely engaging enrichment item offers multiple ways to stimulate both your little one’s brain and their physical prowess. It also serves as a wonderful way to encourage bonding and interactive play with your little one. Hide pellets, treats, or veggies in and around the cups to encourage foraging, or use the cups without the base to hide treats throughout your pet’s enclosure.