Other Furry Friends
When you’re considering adopting a furry pet and bringing it home to your family to enjoy, there are a few options to choose from. Besides dogs, cats and rabbits, there are a some furry and very cuddly pets to consider which are more compact, easier to care for, affordable and don’t require as much attention. Small pets are a great option for younger children and a great way for the child to learn responsibility, says Dr. Jennifer Graham, assistant professor at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. To decide which small animal might work for your family as a pet, you should do as much research as you would when choosing a larger pet. Obviously this website is a good start in accessing information on rabbits. Some of the most popular small pets, such as hamsters and guinea pigs, might look similar but are very different in terms of their needs and how they interact with kids. But if you’re looking for small pets that require less interaction and are just fun to watch, a gerbil or even a chinchilla might be right for your family. When deciding on a small pet for your family, consider these six options — some traditional and some unusual — and before you welcome the right pet into your home, keep in mind that each one has unique needs and characteristics.
Guinea pigs may be in the same rodent family as hamsters, but their demeanor couldn’t be more different. These rodents are gentle and have a sweet disposition, which makes them less likely to bite. Plus, they can be sociable, which means they won’t mind being handled — as long as they are held properly — and they won’t mind if young kids want to interact with them. These cuddly creatures are ideal for a kid who is just learning to take care of a pet because a guinea pig is less likely to get frustrated with its young caretaker. Consider getting another guinea pig as a companion, however, so the pet won’t get lonely. Guinea pigs have a longer life span — around five to seven years — than hamsters do, and they require more time and effort because of their bigger appetite for lots of hay and vegetables. This bigger appetite can make guinea pigs messier than other small mammals, so you might have to clean their cage more frequently as well.
This classic small pet is easy to care for and can even be trained to use litter, but hamsters can be rather nippy, and small breeds (females in particular) can be quite aggressive, warns Dr. Katherine Quesenberry, an exotic-pets expert at New York City’s Animal Medical Center. This makes some hamsters difficult to handle; Dr. Graham recommends getting a larger breed such as the Syrian hamster, which is more likely to adapt to being handled. A hamster should also be kept in a cage that is roomy, with tunnels and nesting areas for sleeping, but make sure you can clean the cage easily. A hamster will typically live for about three years, so consider how much your child will want to interact with it: If you think she will lose interest in caring for the hamster, these years might seem long, but they could also seem too short if the pet dies, giving your child her first exposure to death. Unless your child has experienced the loss of a family member or friend, the experience will undoubtedly be upsetting, though it can also provide the opportunity for an important life lesson. “It can be sad but also a way to introduce the idea that everything dies,” Dr. Graham says. “You can be there as your child goes through the experience.”
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A rat might not be the first pet on your list, but “they make some of the best pets for small children,” says Dr. Graham. “Rats can be calm, laid-back, not as nippy as other small mammals, and they can be handled a lot.” They make ideal pets if you want your child to develop a strong bond with a pet, because they are interactive and able to learn tricks, such as retrieving objects and navigating mazes or obstacle courses. Since rats enjoy interacting with people and things, providing a number of toys and accessories, from ropes to paper-towel rolls, will keep them happy and occupied. Rats are also easy to care for and require a standard rodent diet of food blocks. However, like gerbils, rats have a short lifespan ranging from two to three years.
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Mice also have a short life span ranging from 1 to 3 years on the average. The are quite easy to keep. They are the smallest of this group with bodies that are only about 3 inches long, with a long hairless tail. They are also social and females do well in pairs or small groups (males tend to fight if kept with other males). They need a relatively small cage, minimum 12 by 18 inches (and 12 inches tall), although a larger cage is recommended if you have more than a pair. Mice can become quite tame if handled regularly but are small, fast and can be skittish so are not the best candidates for human interaction. However, they are low maintenance and quite active and playful, so they are entertaining to watch.
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