Small Animal Senses

Most small animals have the same senses that humans do, but they vary in intensity.

Viewed by most other animals as prey, small animals have highly developed sensory organs that enable them to sense and survive danger. For the most part, small animal senses are much more fine-tuned than those of a human and, in some cases, have evolved beyond our own five. Small animals with whiskers, for example, use them in a fashion similar to how humans use their fingertips.

Following is a summary of how small animals rely on their senses for survival and protection from danger.

  • Sight: Hamsters, with their large protruding eyes, are nearsighted. Their wide angle of vision is due to their lateral positioning.
  • Hearing: The hamster compensates for her nearsightedness with a heightened sense of hearing. They are able to hear a wide range of sounds, including ultrasonic frequencies, which allow them to communicate without other animals hearing them.
  • Smell: Equipped with an acute sense of smell, hamsters are able to distinguish each other by scent and, if handled often, also can recognize their owners by smell. But be careful: If your hand smells like another hamster or food, their protective instinct may be to bite, so it is important to wash your hands before handling your hamster

Guinea Pigs:

  • Sight: With eyes on the sides of their heads, Guinea pigs can see in front of them and to their sides, without having to move their heads. Guinea pigs also can distinguish between the primary colors.
  • Taste: A guinea pig’s sense of taste and smell is very highly developed. They use smell to communicate with each other and can taste whether things are good or bad for them to eat.


  • Hearing: A gerbil’s sense of hearing is so highly evolved that it can sense the slightest motion nearby, or hear a sound as subtle as the flapping of an owl’s wings.


  • Sight: Like hamsters, rabbits have large round eyes located on the sides and upper part of their head. Each eye can see more than a half of a circle, enabling them to see in every direction at the same time. Rabbits can see moving objects from very far distances and will flee at the first hint of danger.
  • Hearing: A rabbit’s hearing is its most vital sense. The rabbit is able to get a sense of its surroundings by detecting sound waves that bounce off of objects in its environment.
  • Smell: With 100 million scent cells, rabbits have an excellent sense of smell.
  • Taste: Like humans, rabbits have the ability to distinguish between sweet, sour, bitter and salty tastes. This is due to the thousands of taste buds located in the mouth and pharynx. In the wild, rabbits are able to distinguish between toxic and non-toxic plants, but pet rabbits can lose this ability, so be aware of the types of plants you have in your house.
  • Touch: Rabbits have nerve endings over their body and are sensitive to touch. Rabbits do enjoy being petted but it is important to move slowly and never approach them from behind, as they will interpret this as a predatory attack.