Because rodents are so small and easily frightened, they need to be handled gently. Until your pet becomes familiar with you, scoop it up with a paper cup or small flower pot to remove it from its cage and give it enough support. Once socialized to you, scoop up your pet with one or two hands (depending on its size), making sure to support its bottom and back, and hold it close to your body to make it feel safe. This is particularly important for chinchillas, because too much handling can cause “fur slip,” which is shedding of patches of hair from rough handling.
To train your pet to become familiar with you, use treats as a reward mechanism. Begin simply by feeding them treats so they become familiar with your scent and hands. Over time, your pet will begin nuzzling your hand and allow you to pet it. At this juncture, you can begin picking it up by hand for short periods of time. Move slowly and be gentle. Talk to it softly so that it gets to know your voice and will be calmed by it. Gradually, increase the length of time you spend getting your pet comfortable with handling until it can be moved from its cage without evoking fear or stress.
Please note: Do not pick up rodents, except for mice, from their tails as it can cause permanent damage.
Rodents are inherently clean creatures who practice their own daily grooming to keep their coats clean. However, there are two animals that need some extra attention.
- Guinea pigs need to have their coats brushed regularly to keep them clean and remove loose hairs. This will help prevent hair loss. Long-haired guinea pigs should be brushed daily.
- Chinchillas need dust baths once or twice a week to keep their fur clean and well groomed. You can purchase commercial “chinchilla dust” that is usually made of fine volcanic ash. Pour enough dust into a deep box you can place in your cage that allows the chinchilla to roll over in the dust. Leave the dust box in the cage no longer than about an hour to make sure the dust cloud fully dissipates.