While the thought of restraining a beloved pet can make any caring pet parent a little uncomfortable, knowing how to properly hold and secure your animal is an essential part of pet parenthood. Proper holds prevent your pet, yourself, and others from injury, and can also help greatly in limiting stress while giving medications or Critical Care to sick pets.
General guidelines for safely holding small mammals include:
- Be secure, but don’t squeeze.
- Keep pets close to the body when learning.
- For families, adult supervision is key.
- Avoid heights unless necessary.
Holding Your Pet Securely
Securely holding an animal so they cannot wiggle out of your hands is of utmost importance to their safety, but making sure you’re not holding too tight is just as important. If you’re new to holding your pet’s species, start by simply holding your pet an inch off of the ground. From here, you can adjust your grip to be just right so that they are neither at risk of being squeezed nor at risk of freeing themselves and causing an injury. It will take time and practice, but you’ll get a feel for it. Keep practicing!
Start out by having the animal’s face away from you, especially if you are not familiar with the animal. It’s relatively rare for small mammals to bite out of anxiety or fear, but it’s best to not open yourself up to the possibility, especially if you’re in the beginning stages of developing a trusting, loving bond with a new pet. As you become more comfortable with the animal and learn what their particular behaviors are when they’re picked up, you can have the animal face you.
Supervise Interactions Between Pets and Children
We do not recommend that children (especially young children) handle any animal on their own without clear guidance. When a young person is ready to learn how to handle an animal, adults should educate and explain the importance of holding an animal properly, then supervise while children learn to hold animals only an inch off the ground as described in the second paragraph.
Avoid Unnecessary High Lifting
Don’t lift the animal high from the ground unless necessary. Accidents can and do happen, and falls from high places may cause serious, painful injuries for even the most acrobatic species.
How to Hold Herbivores: Chinchillas, Rabbits, and Guinea Pigs
While not identical, the holds for rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas share similarities. If you have an animal that is frightened, prone to bolting, or is very squirmy, locking one of their front legs between your fingers can be especially helpful in securing them. This, paired with holding them close to your body, will limit how much the animal struggles and can help keep them calm.
This pet parent has fingers placed above and below one of the pet’s front legs. The top finger and palm support the chest, while the thumb sits underneath the animal’s other front leg. They are supporting the animals’ body weight with their other hand. If your pet is prone to kicking or tries to leap out of your hands during this hold, holding their backside only while not supporting their back legs can prevent this.
Note how this rabbit looks uncertain—they might be in a new environment, or meeting someone new. The pet parent is holding the animal close to their body, with one hand underneath both of the front legs. The right hand is available to support the animal’s backside when the pet parent stands up with the rabbit. Also note how the pet parent is kneeling down to the ground for this interaction as a way to stay on the animal’s level, rather than standing up with the animal high off of the ground.
This pet parent is holding the animal facing them, but the animal is still secured with one hand behind their back. The other hand is used to support the animal’s backside.
When it’s snuggle time, you can place your pet on your lap to allow them to feel more freedom. From this spot, you can also mediate interactions between your pet and others who might be present. This pet parent is using their lap to support the animal’s weight while keeping one hand securely on the animal. Their other hand can be used to further secure the animal if necessary or can be used to mediate the interaction between pet and child.
When your rabbit, guinea pig, or chinchilla is more familiar with you, secure lap time can be a good option to strengthen your bond. These pet parents have their pet on their lap and have at least one hand on their pet to quickly secure the animal if necessary.
How to Hold Omnivores: Rats, Mice, and Hamsters
While rats, mice, and hamsters are more agile than the herbivorous species covered here, they still need adequate support and restraint while being held, especially if they are in new, possible stressful situations.
If you have recently gotten your pet or are unfamiliar with an individual animal’s habits, do not handle them with an open, outstretched palm. This can easily allow them to fall from high places, while also opening you up to unexpected nibbles or bites.
New pet parents should start by handling their rat, hamster, or gerbil with both hands. One hand should support the belly and backside of your pet, while the other hand secures the pet in place.
Once your pet has become more accustomed to their surroundings, they can enjoy lap time. First start with a calm, quiet setting, and keep at least one hand on your pet as a reminder to them that they are safe and secure. Your pet will eventually become more confident—at this point, you can allow them to climb and explore while supervised.
This rat is given more freedom to move around without restraint, but the pet parent is still holding them with both hands.
Don’t Get Discouraged! Learning how to hold small mammals takes time. Your pet may not enjoy being picked up and held right now, but with continuous practice, picking up and handling your pet will become a low-stress process for you both.