Rodents rank as the third most popular pet among families with children, after the dog and the cat. Understanding the behaviors and the needs of this classification of pets will help you decide if a rodent is the right pet for your child.
Gerbils, hamsters, fancy or domestic mice, rats, and guinea pigs are the most popular rodents that children ask for. Many times their classroom teacher will have one or more of the little critters as the class pet. Here are some things to keep in mind about each animal.
Gerbils live 1-3 years, can be housed with gerbils of the same sex in a 2-4 square foot space, and are easy to pick up and handle on a regular basis. Hamsters live 1-3 years and are smaller than gerbils. If not handled on a regular basis both can become defensive and tend to bite. They need a fresh water source, daily food, and shavings in the cage to burrow into and to soak up the urine. These shavings need to be changed out at least once a week and more often if there is an odor. Depending on the age of the child, it may not be a task that can be done independently. Gerbils and hamsters also need an exercise ball or wheel to play with when left alone for long periods of time.
Fancy or domestic mice live nicely in a small cage that is escape proof. These little critters can be quite good at escaping if given half a chance. Their needs include fresh water, food, and clean dry bedding. Mice tend to be social and are happiest if there are two or more females housed together. Males tend to fight and a male/female pair will reproduce more often than the average pet owner needs. Mice are nocturnal so most of their entertaining antics are done in the evening hours or after dark. They do not make a good pet for young children because they are quick and can easily escape the grasp of the younger child.
Rats make very entertaining pets. They live 2-4 years, are very social, enjoy human socializing, and can be trained to do tricks. They require regular handling and more time than the other rodents listed. For a responsible teen that enjoys the challenge of taming and training a pet, the rat might be just the ticket. They require a small space that is secure, fresh water, bedding, and daily food.
Guinea pigs are the largest of the rodents here, although some professionals don't consider the guinea pig a rodent. These creatures are gentle in nature. They are larger than the other rodents making them easier to hold and handle. Guinea pigs rarely bite. They enjoy the company of a same sex cage mate, but will be content alone. The diet of the guinea pig is the more challenging of diets. It includes fresh hay or pellets, fresh veggies, and a clean water source. The bedding also will require a change out at least once a week.
Consider purchasing a rodent from a reliable pet store or breeder. This ensures the pet is healthy, free from disease, and the sex that you prefer. A good pet store owner can give you tips on how to handle the animal in a safe manner for both the pet and the child. The expense of rodent ownership includes the cage, bedding, food, self water bottles, vet costs if the animal becomes ill, and any vitamin or mineral supplements that may be recommended. It is also a good idea to have an exercise wheel or ball appropriate for the size of your rodent to keep them entertained.
Rodents can be fun to watch, easy to handle, and safe to maintain around children. A soft little rodent may be the perfect pet for your child.
Terri Forehand is a pediatric/ neonatal critical care nurse and freelance writer. She has a passion for kids of all ages, especially kids who are fighting against tough illnesses and diseases. Visit her blog and website for more information. She is currently working on fiction for kids. http://www.terriforehand.com
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