If your child is asking for a pet and you are not ready for the commitment of owning a dog or a cat, then another option is to look into owning an exotic pet. For kids, I would recommend starting with a small mammal. Many of them can be easy to handle, interactive, and gentle. They are also easier to care for and less expensive than reptiles.
Here are my top 3:
Guinea Pigs: Guinea pigs make great pets for children. Most of them are easily trained to enjoy handling and rarely bite. They also get to know your routines and will vocalize (squeal with excitement) for treats and attention. Their ability to hear a bag of veggies being opened anywhere in the house makes them endearing companions!
Lifespan and Care: They live for 4-8 years and prefer to live in groups, so we recommend getting a pair of guinea pigs so they don’t get lonely. Their diet consists of Vitamin C enriched guinea pig pellets, fresh hay, fruits and veggies. They also love grass, dandelions and clover so treats can be inexpensive! A large well-ventilated cage is needed with places to hide for each guinea pig. Weekly to bi-weekly cleaning is needed to keep their cage clean.
Rats: Contrary to what you might initially think, rats make wonderful pets. They are affectionate, social and can also be trained to do tricks! Most rats love to be held and will love interacting with you and with your children- even hanging out on the child’s shoulders. Rats also love toys and children will have fun watching them play with simple toys like tunnels (made from toilet paper rolls), exercise wheels, balls, and chew toys (for their teeth).
Lifespan and Care: They live shorter lives than guinea pigs- only about 2-3 years. They also like living in groups, and we recommend getting a pair. Their diet consists of a rat-specific pellet food and fruits, veggies and hay as treats. They also need a large, well-ventilated cage that needs to be cleaned weekly to bi-weekly.
Rabbits: Rabbits can make wonderful, affectionate pets, and can be a little less work than the other small mammals because they can be litter trained. However, it is important to note that some rabbits don’t like to be picked up, and furthermore, they need to be handled with care so their back and hind legs aren’t injured. So for young children who want a pet to carry and cuddle with, a rabbit might not be the answer.
Lifespan and Care: Rabbits can live to be 5-15 years old. Depending on the breed; they can weigh as little as 2.5 pounds, or be as large as 16 pounds. They will need a housed in a large cage with a litterbox. Their diet consists of unlimited fresh hay, with rabbit pellets and fresh leafy greens given in small amount daily. Rabbits require exercise daily and will need a “bunny proofed” area of your home to roam. Rabbits love to chew so their exercise area can’t have any access to electrical cords, furniture, indoor and outdoor plants, etc.
Veterinary Care for small mammals: Regular veterinary exams are recommended to check teeth, weight, and nutrition. We also recommend spaying and neutering your small mammals to prevent certain cancers and to help with overpopulation.
In closing, it is important to note that small mammals can be a great addition to your family and make a great pet, but they do require a good deal of upkeep and gentle handling! For these reasons, adult supervision is required at all times. Small mammals are pets for the whole family, and everyone should be involved in their care.
Written by Acadia Veterinary Hosptial