“Can we get a hamster, please?” For parents of young children, this is a common question. Small animals such as hamsters, gerbils, and guinea pigs are popular choices for a child’s first pet. Before deciding on a small animal as your child’s first pet, parents should consider the pros and cons. Some of these pets can have short life spans, which might be distressing to a young child. They are not as affectionate as dogs and cats, something your child should also be prepared for. And of course, cleaning their cages can be a big commitment for a young child, and adults may have to take on that responsibility.
If you decide that a small animal is the right choice for your child, here are a few tips to keep in mind. Small animals are delicate and can be injured by careless handling from small children. A scared animal could also bite or scratch when stressed. Children younger than 7 may have difficulty handling such pets and should be supervised by adults to avoid injury or escape (More than a few hamsters have gone AWOL after being taken out of their cages by unsupervised young children!)
Can’t decide on which small animal is the best fit for your family? Here are some facts to keep in mind:
Guinea pigs: Active and social, they are happiest when paired with another guinea pig. Easy to handle and seldom bite.
Rats: Intelligent and trainable, some rats also enjoy cuddling. Also do best in pairs. May urine mark their territory.
Hamsters: Do well living alone and in small cages. They are nocturnal and have a relatively short life span.
Gerbils: Active, entertaining, and social, gerbils do well in pairs. Children should be taught to never hold them by their tails.
Mice: Easy to care for and social, mice do best in groups…make sure males and females are kept separated to avoid breeding.
For more information on caring for small pets, click HERE.