Small pets can be great for children, offering companionship and entertainment, while at the same time providing the means for children to learn about responsibility. However, think carefully about introducing a pet into your family – even a small one requires care, time and attention and before you give in to the begging of your child, make sure he or she understands that the pet is not a stuffed toy which can be abandoned when other fun beckons: impress upon your child the commitment necessary to take on a pet and that they are responsible for the health and happiness of their new furry friend.
That said, you must be prepared to take on the brunt of pet care and management – even older children will often have to be reminded of their responsibilities and ultimately, it is up to the adults to supervise and teach children the safe and correct handling of pets.
What Kind of Small Mammal is Best?
The type of pet you choose is very important. To some extent, this is dependent on the age and maturity of your children. It can also depend on your circumstances – for example, if you live in a downtown apartment with no garden, rabbits or guinea pigs would not be suitable whereas mice and rats or even birds might be better.
Below are some guidelines as to age-appropriate pets:
Whatever you choose, make sure your children understand the basic rules of hygiene, such as washing hands before and after handling the pet. In addition, animal droppings, old food and soiled bedding should be cleaned and/or replaced fresh daily.
Rabbits are one of the most popular pets, due to their cuddly appearance. However, depending on the individual and the handling it has received from young, rabbits can also exhibit territorial aggression, dislike being handled, kick, scratch and only interact on their terms – much like many cats. Remember that they will need time out of their hutch for exercise and also lots of stimulation and interaction.
Note also that rabbits can become aggressive towards each other upon reaching sexual maturity, particularly males. Some people believe that guinea pigs can make good companions for rabbits whereas others believe they should only be kept with company of their own kind. Unlike other small animals, rabbits have similar requirements to cats and dogs, such as being vaccinated annually and neutered. Rabbits live an average of 7-8 years but can reach 10-12. Re-homing centres are often an excellent source of finding a suitable pet with a nice personality.
Also known as ‘cavies’, these rodents can be shy and scare easily. However, they are larger and more robust than rats and mice and also slower in movement, so they make ideal first pets for young children. They are very sociable and should be kept with company, although if you keep a pair, make sure it is of the same sex!
They live for 4-7 years.
Despite many people’s aversion to rats, these engaging little rodents make very loving and entertaining pets. Highly intelligent, they can be trained to perform tricks and they enjoy being handled. Unfortunately, they can be predatory towards mice so do not keep these two types of mammals together. Again, if you are going to keep a pair, make sure they are of the same sex.
They live for 2 -3 years.
These cheeky, mischievous, curious little rodents make enchanting pets. However, mice – particularly males – do give off a distinctive musty odour which can be very off-putting so remember to take that into account when considering a mouse as a pet. Again, always make sure that a pair is the same sex. Never pick up a mouse by its tail, despite what you might have seen in films and cartoons.
They live for 3-5 years.