Small furry animals like hamsters and chinchillas often fall within the “see no touch” spectrum of pets because they look irresistibly adorable, but most folks don’t know if or how they should be handling these fragile little furballs. Although they don’t have the cognitive abilities of dogs or cats and are generally less expressive, pocket pets should not serve as just furry ornaments to be admired through the grilles of a cage. With time and lots of patience, you can forge a bond with your critter and even teach them things you never thought they’d be able to do.

These nocturnal creatures are loners that love to eat and store food (in their cheeks), so you can let your hammy get accustomed to your scent by holding a treat in your hand before carrying her. “Associate handling with good things by rewarding your hamster,” says Dr Sarah Wong from Mount Pleasant Animal Clinic (East).

Easily stressed from prolonged periods of handling, bonding time should be kept to twice daily sessions of 20 minutes each in a quiet environment. “Carry them below knee height so that if they jump when frightened, they won’t hurt themselves,” says Dr Grace Heng from The Joyous Vet. However, hamsters will bite when they are in a bad mood, so avoid disturbing their sleep in the day just for play.

Ways to bond:

  • Playtime is a great way to bond with your hammy so use your hand as a treadmill; connect toilet rolls to form a tunnel maze for your hamster to run through; and/or make a paper pit out of toilet paper for your hamster to dive into.
  • You can let your hamster climb onto you, but stay close to the ground to avoid injury from a possible fall.

Within the world of pocket pets, rabbits are possibly the most sociable. Much like how a dog gives you puppy eyes when you’re eating, your bunny loves it when you share your food with her. Rabbits love to eat and this social activity is one way to build trust. “A minimum of 15 to 30 minutes of interaction twice a day is ideal,” says Dr Wong.

Although bunnies enjoy the occasional snuggle for short periods, activities should mostly take place on the ground as they are extremely fragile. “Paw-rents should get down to the same level as their bunny for better interaction,” says Dr V-Lynn Song from Monster Pet Vet.

When you play games with your bunny, it not only allows you to connect with her, it also prevents boredom and encourages exercise.

Ways to bond:

  • Train your rabbit with one-word commands such as ‘come’ and ‘in’ (to get her to go into her cage). Give the command, followed by her name. Reward her when she follows through.
  • If you have enough space, allow your rabbit to “chase” you. Run across the room, and then call her to you.
  • Lie on the ground and let your rabbit hop on and off your body for 15 minutes. She may even lick your face!
  • Share a fruit or salad with your bun. “Hand-feeding your rabbit different kinds of food can reduce fear of handling. Of course, salad fed to rabbits should be washed, and free of sauces and seasonings,” shares Dr Wong.

For more tips on how to bond with your little critter, flip to Together Time (pg 60) of our Oct/Nov 2017 issue!