Taming a rodent is above all a question of patience. First of all, here are a few key points about rodent physiology and behaviour:
- Social life: Rodents are generally animals that live in large groups, mixing males and females, but this is variable (hasmter and chinchilla are solitary, while mice, gerbils, rats and octodons prefer to be in groups). The notion of hierarchy is present in a variable way depending on the species: for example, rats are hierarchical and territorial animals, whereas mice are rather peaceful animals. Mice are quite calm in the presence of humans, whereas guinea pigs, for example, are very shy.
- Rhythm: the proportion of sleep in the rodent’s life varies according to the species (50% in the hamster, 65% in the rat, 32% in the guinea pig). Some rodents are nocturnal (the hamster and chinchilla sleep all day and are active at night), others are diurnal (the octodon has peaks of activity at dawn and dusk), while others adapt to the owner’s rhythm of life (the rat can be diurnal or nocturnal, depending on your own rhythm).
- Feeding Behaviour: Household rodents generally eat throughout the day with no preferred feeding times. Some, like the guinea pig, emit specific cries at mealtime. It should not be forgotten that rodents tend to hoard food to build up reserves.
- Care: Rodents are very clean animals that devote a lot of time to grooming, a bit like a cat.
Here is a synthetic deciphering of a number of rodent behaviors:
- Positive behaviors:
Yawning and stretching
The games, the antics, the trips to the nest and back.
Meals and food storage in the jowls
The digging of galleries in the chips
Gnawing on the bars of the cage
- Negative behaviours :
The rodent turns around and shows its teeth: it is aggressive and ready to bite.
He raises one of his front legs: he is about to run away.
He flattens himself on the ground and crawls forward: he scans the territory suspiciously.
It emits vibrations to check for the presence of possible obstacles.
He stops, lying on the floor of his cage: he plays dead in the presence of predators.
He stands up on his hind legs, spreads his front legs and swells his jowls: he is ready to fight.
Your rodent arrives home: how to tame it?
When your pet arrives home, don’t rush to play with or cuddle your rodent. Give him time to get used to his new environment (smells, noises) and to your presence. Give him 2-3 days of peace and quiet! Approach the cage quietly and talk to him in a reassuring voice, without raising your voice. Put your hand in the cage so that he gets used to your smell. You can then put some food in the palm of your hand to tame it. Your pet will gradually get closer and this is the beginning of a trusting relationship. Afterwards, warn him of your approach to the cage, by calling his name or shaking the bag of food. This can also be very useful afterwards if he has run away in the house! At the beginning, prefer caresses on the head and neck to caresses on the back. Little by little, you can caress him before giving him a treat or his food.
Good to know: when your rodent starts licking your hand, it means it has confidence in you.
Rodent Handling: What Rodents Don’t Like
It should not be forgotten that the majority of rodents are solitary. Even if they occasionally enjoy company and games, they will always prefer solitude. Don’t suddenly take it out of its cage, you risk being bitten. Avoid as much as possible having your hand in the cage: it is his habitat, he may bite you to defend his privacy.
Even when a relationship of trust has been established, a rodent can be aggressive because it is stressed. This stress is often linked to noise. The animal must therefore be installed in a quiet place. Avoid having it handled by people it does not know, and be careful with children, who must be very gentle.
Rodents, and especially hamsters, hate to be woken up! This gesture will make it very aggressive and if it is repeated, your animal will associate it with your presence and will bite you at each of your approaches. Similarly, the chinchilla is an animal that does not appreciate being caressed, unlike the guinea pig.
So, when taking it out or handling it, always offer your hand so that it can pick up your scent and know that it has nothing to fear. Never grab it by its tail, ears or neck skin: it’s painful! Place your hands in a cupped position and gently invite him/her to climb into your hands. When the animal is in your hand, restrain it as little as possible and let it come and go as it pleases. If the animal is confident, you can even let it walk around on you. However, for small rodents such as hamsters, you must be careful not to raise your hands too high when the animal is inside: it could seriously injure itself if it falls. You can also place it between your 2 hands on top of each other so that it does not fall down.
There are 2 different ways to pick up a small, recalcitrant rodent:
- If your rodent bites you often or if you want to examine it more closely, you can grasp it firmly with 2 fingers at the nape of the neck. This requires a little experience, because you have to be precise in the gesture, under risk of being bitten or injuring the animal (at eye level in particular, if the skin of the neck is too stretched). Reserve this technique for “emergency” cases. You will see your veterinarian use it.
- If you can’t get him out of his cage and you need to clean it, for example, you can push him into a small cardboard box, if necessary using a stick or a cardboard tube to stay away.
- If you need to contain it but it is not aggressive, here is the gesture to adopt :
Remember: if your rodent bites you, wash and disinfect the wound, even if it is not deep. Rodents can indeed transmit diseases to you by biting (pasteurellosis, tularemia, various parasitosis…).