A brown guinea pig and white guinea pig

In most traditional pets, it is well understood that without playtime and things to do, they become restless, bored, and depressed. This is why there are so many pet enrichment items on the market, knowing that a pet’s total wellness isn’t complete without a focus on behavioral or mental well-being.
This same belief is true for exotic pets. In order for them to be healthy and well adjusted, they also need things to do. The Pet Experts at Wheaton Animal Hospital are here to explain the steps to keeping your exotic pet mentally healthy for a lifetime of good health.

Mental Enrichment is Key for All Animals

When we consider reptiles, birds, and small mammals (also called ‘pocket pets’), many of us believe they are exceptionally low maintenance. After all, they’re small and have only the enclosure to adjust to. After you cover the basics like food, the enclosure, husbandry, and veterinary care, what else do they need?

It’s not always understood, but exotic pets experience stress and fear more than the average exotic pet owner may believe. In fact, reptiles do not have the capacity to learn and retain information to store as memory. If they are always behind a glass enclosure, they continue to buck against the glass, in an attempt to escape. This stress is further impacted when they don’t have things to occupy them.

Most birds are not solitary by nature and can become depressed when they don’t have a companion or companions to interact with. Ferrets, guinea pigs, and other small mammals also need social interaction and play as a part of their mental well-being.

In addition to understanding the nature of the species you own, the most imperative aspect of mental health is enrichment and, in essence, play. Pets of all sizes require things to do. From mirrors and bells to wheels and tunnels, each species of exotic pet has certain toys and props that will make them more engaged and give them needed exercise and play.

Signs of Mental or Behavioral Issues in Exotic Pets

For small beings, it can be hard to understand when they are not receiving mental and behavioral health. Their signs aren’t as obvious as the family dog, who lets us know when they want to go out, be petted, or want to play. If you are an exotic pet owner, be on the lookout for the following signs of mental distress in your pet.

  • Acting lethargic
  • Stereotypic behaviors like pacing, licking enclosure, self-mutilation
  • Hiding most of the time
  • Soaking in water bowl
  • Increased (or decreased) tongue flicking
  • Eating excrement
  • Aggression

There are many changes that can take place to your pet’s behavior, but also their physical health. Some of these signs can point to a medical problem which needs to be addressed by your veterinarian. 

Wheaton Exotic Pet Veterinarians

If your exotic or pocket pet isn’t acting like they should, it’s time for a checkup! Small mammals, reptiles, and birds need specialized care and attention to their unique needs. The team at Wheaton Animal Hospital treat a wide range of exotic pets and can help you find the right enrichment to get your pet back on a healthy, happy path.


For additional tips on keeping your exotic pet mentally healthy, please contact us. We are your partner in excellent veterinary care for the most unusual and amazing animal companions.