The Dos and Don'ts of introducing social animals.
Most rodents are social but there are exceptions.
Basics on Intros
There are many ways to introduce animals to each other. I usually use the split caged method. Some animals at different stages and different genders can be introduced by a 'cold intro'. I will describe peculiarities for each species after I have described the how-to's. The important part of introductions and bonding is smell. Each animal recognizes their friend by smell. This is important to remember when cleaning the cage or tank the new group will be homed in. If possible a new home is best initially even if it is smaller and temporary. You need to eliminate any marking odors the previous tenants have made. I start face-to-face meetings on Saturday mornings as I'm doing cleanings. It allows me to monitor them all day long and separate anyone who isn't bonding.
Always monitor any introduction for signs of fighting.
Remember that even though these animals are social in nature there are exceptions. Not every animal wants to have a friend but you should try. It took me 3 months to bond one pair of Gerbils together but now they are devoted to each other.
Adolescence is a tough time to try and get any of these animals to bond. Prior to that they don't care who is boss. After that they tend to settle down. But during adolescence the hormones are raging and the animals are trying to figure out their pecking order.
This is accomplished by placing the animals into a neutral territory without any prior get acquainted techniques being used. This works primarily with weanlings because they are too young to care and being fresh from mom and the rest of the litter they are a bit scared and there is safety in numbers.
Water Works or Power Grooming
Get the animals wet or sprinkle them with vanilla extract (in the baking section of your grocery store). The animals are so concerned with grooming themselves and whoever else is there they have bonded and shared each others smells before they know it.
Pup and Adult
With some species the adults (not adolescents) will accept sexually immature pups with a Cold Intro or Water Works. See my notes on each species to see if this is an option.
This is the surest method of introducing animals regardless of species, gender or age. It involves separating the animals by something they can't get through to hurt each other but can still smell the other animal. Maybe the quickest is to get 2 metal cages where one can fit inside the other. You place one animal inside the smaller cage. Then place the smaller cage and the second animal inside the bigger cage. There must be room for the second animal to move and live. Take special care that neither animal can reach through the smaller cage and hurt the other.
A little more involved is split caging an aquarium. Get hardware cloth at your hardware store or garden center. I recommend ¼" for any animals that may have pups but ½" is ok when introducing animals that aren’t pregnant or nursing. When I use split caging for temporary birth control the ¼" is needed. I've had to cut the wire to free pups that got stuck passing through the ½" screen to dad. Measure your tank and add 2" to both measurements. Using a pair of diagonal cutters cut a piece of hardware cloth to your measurements. You'll need to cut a 1" square from the corners. Then bend the cloth 1" on each side to a 90° angle. I alternate directions so the left side is folded opposite of the right side and the top is opposite of the bottom. Then set the screen into the middle of the tank and straighten it so it's wedged parallel with the ends of the tank. Sometimes duct tape is needed to secure the screen. Your tank should now be divided in half. You need to have a screen cover and a way to secure the cover so there's no crossing over sides before you are ready. Of course food and water need to be supplied to both sides but no toys. Boredom works wonders. Every day or two swap sides without cleaning - remember we want them to get used to each other’s smells. When they start nesting next to each other by the screen it's time to try a face-to-face meeting. Remove the split but do not clean anything. This is an unsettling time for them. They also need to be reminded of the familiar smells of their friend. If there are any signs of aggression split them again. After a week together you can do a normal cage cleaning.
The Cold Intro of Pups is the easiest and my preferred method of introducing Gerbils.
Next easiest is a weanling pup and an adult male (not adolescent). The males are very paternal and nurturing and will take a sexually immature pup as his baby. Most of the time this type of introduction can be done as a 'cold intro'. Since these animals generally don't get wet using the vanilla power grooming method works too.
Then there is split caging. You can not introduce a group of Gerbils to another group or individual if they are older then weanlings. They have already formed a social group. You can remove individuals permanently but not add. After removing a Gerbil from a group there will be a reordering of the social structure. This may end up with your having to remove more Gerbils if a place for everyone is not found safely. Gerbils are a matriarchal society. The girls rule. So a female being introduced to another Gerbil has to be smaller (if bonding with a male) or the same size (if bonding with another female or a male). For males size doesn't matter as much as the level of maturity.
Chinese, Campbells Dwarfs, Winter White Dwarfs and Roborovski Dwarfs are similar to the Gerbils. Weanlings can be cold intro'd as well as a weanling and an adult regardless of genders.
These little guys are pickier about bonding when past the pup stage. You can temporarily place a male and female together if the female is in heat but you must remove the male before the litter is born. Since they haven't really bonded neither parent sees the male as being the dad. This puts the litter and the male at risk of attacks. So I use the split cage technique to bond my older breeders before letting them breed. I have not had success bonding older same sex dwarves.
While Chinese, Campbells Dwarfs, Winter White Dwarfs and Roborovski Dwarfs are social in the wild they are happy to be kept singly as well as socially in the home.
Syrians are solitary by nature. In very rare circumstances without providing extra space and entertainment a few Syrians will be non-solitary. A well-known Syrian breeder and judge with vast experience and exposure to other breeders said she had 3 out of 5000 Syrians that were non-solitary. That is 0.06% of her hamsters. It's not worth the possible maiming and death of one or more hamsters to find out. They should only be put together under supervision for breeding. Then the pups need to be removed at weaning and separated by gender. Then have their own individual homes by 6 weeks. Visit this page for graphic pictures and story of 2 Syrians kept together too long.
Any of the methods above will work with these animals. Any gender and any age. A word of warning about split caging: they have hands and a very good reach. I have successfully put cages next to each other instead of split caging. I use split caging and water works when I do intros.
This page was last edited on June 28, 2011