Courtship in Small Mammals

As small mammals become more popular as pets, we are beginning to understand their distinctive behaviors better. For some species, courtship can be a distressing and even violent event.


Courtship in bunnies is quite brief. The female generally secretes an airborne hormone scent, referred to as a pheromone. Once the male detects this scent, courtship behavior may begin. The male and female sniff each other, possibly to make sure of each other's sex and mating receptivity. One bunny then dashes off with the other in hot pursuit. Once they stop playing hard to get, the bunnies stomp their feet and may do a little "dance" by kicking their feet in the air as they run.

Just before breeding, the rabbits begin circling each other and some nipping may occur. This is the point when serious fights can occur if the female isn't too interested in the male. Be prepared to throw a towel over the bunnies to separate them if things look a little too rough.

If all goes well, after the circling and nipping, the male will mount the female. Breeding is completed very quickly. Afterwards, the bunnies will likely begin mutual licking and grooming.


Courtship and mating in ferrets can be a noisy, prolonged and even vicious event. Ferrets respond to the length of daylight and their natural breeding season is from March to August. When the female goes into estrus (heat) and is receptive, the male grabs her by the back of the neck. This usually elicits screams and cries by the female. The male continues to bite the nape of the neck and the ferrets are pressed together. Mating occurs and may last for around one hour. It is best if mating is done in the presence of someone who can separate them should the mating ritual become too aggressive, and a ferret is injured.

Guinea Pigs

In guinea pigs, the female tends to show signs of courtship. The guinea pig in estrus becomes more active and may chase cage mates, both male and female. The receptive female attempts to mount other sows, sways her hindquarters and makes distinctive guttural sounds. She then arches and straightens her back and elevates her hind end.

When mating, the male leaves a copulatory plug as the final portion of the ejaculate. This plug is intended to prevent impregnation by other males despite attempts at breeding. This plug falls out of the vagina several hours after mating.


There is little courtship behavior in hamsters. Since hamsters do not enjoy living with others, the male is placed in the female's cage when she is receptive. As estrus approaches, the female hamster develops a clear, stringy vaginal discharge, accompanied by a characteristic vaginal odor. This odor is thought to attract males, as well as to stimulate males to male fighting, and to keep other females away. At this time, one hour before dark, the male can be placed in the female's cage. After copulation, or if fighting begins, the male is removed.


Gerbils often pair together and mate for life. Female gerbils in estrus become more active but little other courtship is seen. After copulation, gerbils will usually thump their rear legs as a sign of pleasure.

Rats and Mice

These rodents typically do well in harem settings. One male and several females can live and breed together without much fighting. In these situations, courtship behavior and copulation are usually subtle and often missed by owners.