Small animals are fascinating, and with their fluffy fur and adorable faces, it’s only natural to want to pick them up and cuddle. But that’s not always as easy as it looks. Here are some facts to keep in mind that will help you to develop good small animal handling skills. Give yourself some time and practice, and before you know it, you’ll be picking up bunnies like a pro!
Small animals don’t like to be picked up, and many don’t like to be held. Just because they’re cute as teddy bears doesn’t mean they’re as cooperative. When picking up a small animal, keep in mind that they don’t like it, so make the process as quick and comfortable as you can. Guinea pigs generally enjoy being held and will settle down for lap time after you pick them up, but most rabbits will only tolerate short cuddle sessions. Rather than force them to snuggle, try sitting next to them and letting them hop on and off your lap as they please.
Small animals are prey animals. Their instincts tell them that everything is a potential source of danger, and is probably out to eat them. Before trying to pick up a small animal, try petting them for a minute or talking softly to them. Wait until they’re calm and used to your presence before you pick them up.
Small animals need to have their back legs supported. Rabbits in particular have very powerful back legs, and can injure their spine if their legs aren’t supported properly. And all small animals feel safer with four on the floor. When holding a small animal, be sure they’re supported on your chest, lap, or arm so they feel secure and are less likely to struggle.
Small animals like safe spaces. This includes their cage, and anywhere dark and cozy. If an animal seems nervous, try tucking their head under your arm. You may be surprised at how quickly they calm down! When returning a rabbit to the cage, try to keep their eyes covered or put them in butt-first so they don’t jump for that open cage door.
Small animals startle easily. Yes, they firmly believe everything is out to eat them. Take it slow with small animals, and respect that they see the world differently than you do…literally! Small animals have a blind spot directly in front of their faces, so approaching them from the side lets them know you’re coming. Small animals can also sleep with their eyes open. What!? That’s right. If an animal is looking ultra-relaxed when you approach, try making a little noise or moving some furniture around in their cage to wake them up before touching them.
Small animals can sense your comfort level. Whether you’re feeling calm or anxious, chances are that the rabbit you’re picking up knows it, and will respond in kind. Start with easy, cooperative animals to build your confidence. If you’re feeling nervous, give yourself time to relax before you try to handle an animal.
Small animals enjoy people time. They act shy, but most small animals come out of their shells with regular socialization and really enjoy human interaction. Guinea pigs love treats and petting, rabbits like gentle nose rubs, toys, and exploring, and rats enjoy using humans as jungle gyms! The more you learn about these fascinating critters, the better you’ll be able to communicate and interact with them.
Remember that with enough handling the two of you will become best friends—so take the time to practice those small animal handling skills. It’s totally worth it.