Small pets can be an ideal option for children when dogs or cats are not an option; they can also help parents assess their children?s readiness for the responsibilities of primary caretaker of other types of family pets who require more time and commitment. Parents should be actively involved in the decision about what types of small pet to get, because children can be unrealistic about how much responsibility they are prepared to take in the long term, after the novelty of having a new pet has worn off.
Children who express an interest in ?cuddly? furry pets can get much more enjoyment than you might expect from pet rodents. They learn to recognize and trust their caretakers and they appreciate human affection. Children who establish bonds with small pets benefit from the important lessons that all animals deserve humane treatment, even those that we ordinarily view as vermin when they are feral, such as rats and mice. Small reptiles can also be good choices as first pets (or as alternatives to larger species), but parents should try to help their kids make realistic choices based on the type of relationship they express an interest in establishing with their pets. Some small pets are more interactive and physically robust than others; some are more playful; some sleep all day and then make a lot of noise being active all night long. Some small pets can be allowed out of their cages with less supervision than others, and some can be litter-box trained much more easily and reliably than others.
Hamsters and gerbils make good small pets, but hamsters tend to sleep all day and
Pet Mice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
runaround at night whereas gerbils tend to mirror your schedule and sleep roughly when you sleep. Both become very tame when they are properly socialized and handled, but gerbils need more attention than hamsters, especially if you have only one. Hamsters can sometimes be a little grumpy about being woken up during the day and may bite as their way of saying they don?t want to be disturbed. Unlike hamsters who don?t necessarily need company, gerbils become lonely by themselves. If you decide to get a pair of hamsters or gerbils, you will want to avoid opposite-sex pairs because they breed very easily; you will also want to avoid getting two females because males usually get along better. Still, you should get pairs of the same age, when they are juveniles, or just get two males from the same litter. A lone female hamster would be ideal for kids who can be expected to spend time with their small pet but who might not yet be up to the task of caring for two new pets.
Contrary to what many people think, mice and rats alike both make perfect small pets. In fact, a pet rat is typically more interactive and friendly as pets than some cats. Both rats and mice are better off with a companion, but mice can be happy by themselves as long as they get regular human attention. Mice recognize and trust their caretakers and will eagerly come to the entrance to their cages hoping to be picked up and given some attention. They appreciate food treats and will happily take many small pieces of brown paper bags (about the size of 1 or 2 postage stamps) from you, one at a time, run off to stuff them into their sleeping areas and come back for more. Mice won?t play games but will run on your hands as long as you let them walk from one to the other. They require close supervision out of their cages because if you put them on the floor, they will want to explore areas where they could easily disappear. Rats bond very closely with their caretakers and will actively play with your child, taking turns chasing and being chased. They will often relieve themselves mostly in a confined portion of their cages as long as the rest of the cage is kept clean for them, but mice relieve themselves wherever they happen to be and often without stopping whatever they are doing at the time.
Guinea Pigs are docile and responsive companions.
Ideally, parents should allow their kids to select the type of small pet they want, but they should exercise the parental ?veto? power to exclude pets that require more vigilant maintenance than their kids are likely to keep up with over the projected life of the pet. You would also want to veto pets that are easily traumatized by anything but very gentle handling, depending on the way your child expects to be able to play with them. Beyond those types of concerns, you should let your kids pick the type of small pet to which they seem most drawn and you should help them understand the differences in their required care so that they can make the best possible decision.