One of the reasons small animals are so popular with children and adults is they're easy to handle which means lots of snuggling opportunities. Not all small animals enjoy handling though so if you're looking for a small pet that you want to get up close with and cuddle, make sure you look for an appropriate species and breed.
Small and Toy Dogs That Snuggle
Obviously you can't have a list of the best animals to snuggle with and not include dogs! Many small and toy size dogs are very affectionate and enjoy bonding with their humans. However, the "snuggle factor" varies by breed so if you're looking for a small, cuddly dog, choose one that is known to be affectionate. This is especially true if you have children as many small breed dogs do not enjoy being handled as much as others do. Early socialization and using positive reinforcement is the best way to bring out the affectionate side of any small breed dog. Some small dogs that were bred to be loving companions with people of all ages include the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Bichon Frise, Maltese, Pomeranian and the Shih Tzu.
Cats Can Be Affectionate
Cats can be aloof or they can be silly and affectionate, or many times they can be both depending on what the cat's mood. If you want to have a cat that makes you feel loved and enjoys snoozing in your lap and being petted, there are some excellent breed choices that are known for being more cuddly and people-focused than others. Many of these breeds also don't do well alone so make sure you know the breed's personality and have a lifestyle that can accommodate its needs.
Rabbits Are Cuddly
An excellent pet for someone who wants a soft, easy-going companion, rabbits can be very cuddly and affectionate. Some breeds are more amenable to handling and cuddling than others. You can also choose a smaller breed if you don't have as much space or an area for an outdoor hutch. If you want a rabbit breed that enjoys human interaction a lot, look at the Lionhead, Rex, Netherland Dwarf, Himalayan, and English Lop.
Guinea Pigs Enjoy Being Held
Guinea pigs are very similar as far as pet care to rabbits and they thrive on affection. In fact a Guinea pig won't be happy if he or she doesn't get daily cuddling from you, or another Guinea pig or rabbit. Guinea pigs are known for rarely nipping or biting and for having gentle dispositions. Not only will they enjoy sitting on your lap and spending time with you but they make an adorable trilling, whistling noise when happy that will melt your heart.
Lizards That Enjoy Handling
Many potential pet owners may be horrified at the idea of snuggling with a lizard, but surprisingly there are several species of reptiles that actually enjoy handling. Their owners might even describe their scaly best friends as cuddly! With all of these species, if you start early and work on taming them, they can become very amenable companions.
- Bearded dragons, for example, are very docile and owners enjoy placing them on their shoulders to hang out or even cuddling on their lap on the couch.
- Another small lizard species that likes handling is the leopard gecko who comes in a slightly smaller size than the beardie making them easier to care for.
Rats Can Be Cuddlers
Rats get a bad rap and are considered by some to be a scary animal but the truth is they are very intelligent and outgoing pets. Rats bred specifically to be pets are nothing like their wild counterparts. Rats enjoy and crave interaction with their owners and can happily sit on your shoulder or your lap and some even enjoy cuddling with your other pets. They are easy to care for and can be housed with other rats if you have room for multiple small pets. The one big downside to rats is they only live about one to two years.
Parrots Can Socialize
Birds often are not thought of as affectionate, but any parrot owner can tell you about how intelligent birds can be. Many species are not good choices if you want a lot of interaction and cuddling but there are a few that can be extremely affectionate if well socialized. In fact these species, as well as other parrots, can develop behavior problems if you don't interact with them enough and have complex emotional lives.
Lovebirds are known for being very affectionate to their owners but this usually comes after a lot of work taming and socializing them. Otherwise they can be nippy so they're a great choice if you have previous bird experience and have the time commitment to work on taming your bird.
Cockatiels and Budgies
Cockatiels and budgies are two small parrot species that are very popular pet bird choices. They're loved for their small size, which makes them easier to keep than some larger parrots, and with some initial work on your part to tame them, they can be very social and affectionate.
Conures are strikingly beautiful parrots that are a good midway choice between the smaller and larger parrots. They also have a reputation for being so affectionate that they can take a snooze in your lap. In fact they have such a strong need for interaction that they're not a good choice if you're not committed to spending a lot of time being with them.
Cockatoos are a fantastic choice for an owner who wants a very interactive and affectionate parrot. However, they are best for experienced owners as these birds do not do well without a large amount of stimulation and can engage in feather picking behavior and other undesirable behaviors. They also are known for being very loud and can live up to 70 years. If you have parrot experience and the ability to provide for this special bird's needs, a well-socialized, happy cockatoo enjoys cuddling and lots of physical interaction.
Snakes That Like Contact
Snakes are another reptile with some species having a reputation for enjoying human contact. Not all snakes enjoy being handled and some can get quite large but there are a few popular pet choices that are quite happy to "hang" with you.
- Ball pythons, which get their name from their tendency to curl themselves into a "ball", will quietly do so in your hand or on your lap. No doubt they do this to enjoy the warmth from your body but unlike other reptiles, they are fairly calm and will relax in position, whether that's on your shoulder, around your arm or on your lap.
- Popular pet snakes that are smaller and similarly content to be handled include the corn snake and king snake.
Sugar Gliders Are Social
Sugar Gliders are very social animals who do best when kept with other gliders. These small marsupials not only love interacting with people, but can happily sit inside your jacket pocket as you go about your business in your home. They do however require you to work on taming them in the beginning otherwise they will be skittish toward handling and cuddling. Another drawback to sugar gliders is they're illegal in some states and even in states where they are legal, you may find it hard to find a veterinarian well versed in their care.
Ferrets Are Cuddly
If you want a pet that is not only cuddly but consistently adorable and funny, ferrets are a perfect choice. Ferrets are social and need to be with at least one other ferret to be truly happy. If you work on taming them when they are young, they will bond closely with you and will want to spend daily time with you. When it comes to cuddling, they do have two drawbacks. One is that they are extremely playful and active so they're not likely to snuggle quietly for long periods of time. The other is that young ferrets can be nippy because this is naturally how they play with one another. Another drawback to having a ferret is they are illegal in certain counties, cities and states.
Hedgehogs Can Be Affectionate
A possible choice for a small cuddly pet is the hedgehog if properly socialized and tamed. Hedgehogs can be very nervous around people and will curl up tightly in a ball in self defense. However, hedgehog owners who work with their pets find them to be extremely affectionate and loving pets. They're a good choice for an adult owner who has the time to work on acclimating their pet to them and wants an unusual pet they can interact with that doesn't require a great deal of room. You may also have difficulty finding a veterinarian for your hedgehog so look for one first before deciding on getting a hedgehog.
Teaching a Small Pet to Cuddle
With all of these pet choices, it's important to remember that every animal is an individual and that some may need more time and work to enjoy cuddling with you than others. While every species is different, the steps to tame them are generally the same.
- For species that are not naturally drawn to people like dogs and cats, work on getting them used to your presence without handling them.
- Sit quietly next to them and read while tossing them a treat. For example this could be a sprig of millet for parrots or a tiny piece of fruit for a Guinea pig or rabbit.
- You can speak in a soothing, relaxed tone of voice to get them used to you and pair that with treats.
- Do this for at least one full week before attempting any type of handling. Once the animal is relaxed in your presence and isn't moving away from you, you can work on slowing bringing a hand in closer to them. Most animals are more comfortable with you keeping your hand low and bringing it close to them rather than reach over and down which is intimidating.
- If the animal is calm with your hand in their cage or aquarium, repeat the first step with just remaining their quietly or speaking in a gentle tone of voice for a few days until the animal isn't showing stress by the proximity of your hand.
- You can work on slowing bringing your hand in closer while pairing it with a species-appropriate treat until you are able to touch gently the animal.
- For example with a parakeet, your goal is to have your palm right under their feet so that the bird will step up onto it.
- With a lizard it will be to place your hands gently underneath it so that you can lift it up by supporting the body and feet, or in the case of a snake the head and body.
- A rabbit, Guinea pig or rat will need to feel their body and lower limbs gathered up gently so their bodies are not hanging loosely which could make them anxious.
- Always consider when working with a small animal that your size will be intimidating to them and that you need to support the weight of their body when lifting them so they do not feel at risk.
- Learn about an animal's body language and respect the signals that they give you. Most animals when frightened or nervous will freeze, nip or show other clear physical signals, as well as vocalize, and the more you know about an animal's behavior the quicker you can alter your behavior to reduce your pet's stress and help them become more eager to be with you.
Finding the Best Cuddling Pet
Everyone has different tastes and some people are drawn to cuddling the soft and furry pets while others prefer more exotic snugglers like snakes. There's definitely a small affectionate pet out there to meet your tastes! Just be sure to research your new pet thoroughly and understand that many popular pets do need some time and effort on your part to help them become the loving pets they can be.