Author: Dianne Cook, LVT
Updated: June 6, 2023
Let’s face it, small mammals have garnered a reputation for being destructive. In reality, most of the destructive behaviors small mammals express are simply a way of them communicating that something in their environment isn’t working.
If you’re like most pet owners, you desire to provide your regal rabbit or glamorous guinea pig with the happiest, healthiest life possible. 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?
Before we take a look at some of the best toys for redirecting destructive pet behaviors, let’s start by developing a better understanding of what these behaviors are and why pets exhibit them in the first place.
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 Behaviors?
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 chew at the bars of their enclosure as a coping mechanism for boredom and a lack of better options.
Top Toys and Accessories for Redirecting Destructive Behaviors in Small Pets
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 following list of Enriched Life toys and accessories provide a great way to keep your pet engaged and can help redirect their natural behaviors in a positive, purposeful, less-destructive way.
Bamboo Ball Pit
The Bamboo Ball Pit is designed to provide your little loved one with multiple layers (and many hours) of playing, exploring, and chewing fun. The woven lid for the ball pit can easily be removed. Better yet, allow your little chewing machine the challenge of gnawing his way inside. Sprinkle your pet’s favorite pellets or healthy snack bits inside the pit to keep their mind on foraging and off of more destructive pursuits!
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.
Small rodents including rats, mice, hamsters, and gerbils are all expert burrowers and nesters. The Burrow Box was designed with these industrious architects in mind. Featuring all-natural corrugate and paper, this item features a variety of holes to crawl in and out of.
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!
While not the flashiest item on this list, a litter pan is an essential addition to the habitat of small pets. This is especially true for rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, and other small pets that can be litterbox trained. If you observe that your furry friend has a tendency to “spray” in their habitat, position the litterbox strategically in the spot where this happens most frequently.
The Rolly Teaser offers a novel way to encourage your pet to work for their food. An adjustable opening allows you to control the flow of pellets and increase the “difficulty” as your pet becomes more accustomed to the products. Rabbits and ferrets especially enjoy the challenge of using their front legs to access the food inside the Rolly Teaser.
Similar to the Rolly Teaser, this item is designed to add a beneficial challenge to mealtime for pets. Utilize the adjustable opening to control the flow of food for your pets. The Wobble Teaser is appropriate for all small pet species. Guinea pigs, in particular, love the act of nudging loose their favorite pellets.
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. Among many interactive features, the Play Place 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 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.
Tumble ‘n Toss
When it comes to enrichment, interactive items are our absolute favorites. That’s why we love the Tumble ‘n Toss. In addition to the unique shape and multiple layers of materials, this sturdy item is great for the heavier chewers in your life. Add your pet’s favorite treats for a healthy and interactive foraging experience.
Apple Twig Tree
Foraging is one of the healthiest and most natural behaviors small pets can engage in. This instinctual behavior is practiced by all animals in the wild and provides mental and physical enrichment. In addition to being adorable, the Apple Twig Tree provides the perfect canvas for feeding healthy fresh foods like greens and species-appropriate veggies.