Cap­ti­vat­ing al­ter­na­tives

South Waikato News - - OPINION/NEWS - By MAL­COLM AN­DER­SON

It is so ben­e­fi­cial for a child to look af­ter a pet and it doesn’t have to be a cat or a dog.

The whole spec­trum of emo­tions and life’s lessons can be felt when kids love an­other liv­ing thing.

It is great for us at the hospi­tal to see that look of ap­pre­hen­sion turn to a smile when we show them that we are help­ing their best friend and get them in­volved by us­ing the stetho­scope or the light to look in their ears.

Of­ten there is a bit of a bar­rier to get­ting that much-wanted pet, pri­mar­ily be­cause mum and dad are go­ing to be do­ing most of the care and in the case of cats and dogs, may in­herit them when boys or girls be­come more in­ter­est­ing.

I was one of those in­ces­sant plead­ers. My life was con­sumed with want­ing a dog. I got a cou­ple of guinea pigs in­stead, which were great, apart from the fact that the first cou­ple es­caped through the wire mesh. Be­fore these I had skinks, an ant farm, and the school’s gold­fish (which had to be re­turned be­cause it wasn’t sup­posed to come home with me).

Any pet is good for a child and this week we have seen some cool lit­tle char­ac­ters, par­tic­u­larly mice and guinea pigs.

Let’s start with guinea pigs:

These lit­tle guys are very ro­bust. Not much goes wrong with them apart from itchy skin.

They live a good five to six years, weigh about 1kg, are able to breed at two months and usu­ally pro­duce two to four off­spring which are born with hair and teeth all ready to go. Preg­nancy is about 68 days. They are so­cial an­i­mals and ide­ally should live as a pair. And they are very af­ford­able for mum and dad.

There is a lit­tle bit of cost in­volved build­ing or buy­ing a hutch but af­ter that they will eat all your vege scraps along with pel­lets in re­turn for a co­pi­ous sup­ply of small ‘‘raisins’’ on the lawn.

There are two main health prob­lems.

They are very sus­cep­ti­ble to an an­noy­ing lit­tle mite that makes them scratch un­til they bleed so if they’re itchy, treat for mites with a se­ries of not very costly an­timite in­jec­tions or use a sur­face ap­plied med­i­ca­tion.

The sec­ond prob­lem is to do with their un­usual re­quire­ment for vi­ta­min C be­cause they can’t man­u­fac­ture it, so they can get scurvy – it’s not just a pi­rate’s dis­ease. They can de­velop lame­ness with swollen joints, di­ar­rhoea, lack of ap­petite and gen­er­ally be­come de­pressed.

Most com­mer­cial pel­let foods for these guys in­clude vi­ta­min C. You can also ei­ther add it to their wa­ter or use plenty of veg­eta­bles with vi­ta­min C, such as to­ma­toes, broc­coli, spinach and ki­wifruit.

Less com­mon dis­eases in­clude neck ab­scesses and painful swollen feet es­pe­cially when housed in damp con­di­tions or on wire net­ting.

In the win­ter it is im­por­tant to pro­vide shel­ter and ex­tra warmth. A thick sack over the hutch is ideal.

I could stand the sack up af­ter a heavy frost in In­ver­cargill but the guinea pigs were nice and cosy inside.

They make fine pets; very easy to han­dle and a lot less trou­ble than some rab­bits.

Mice are a whole other topic and I think they are won­der­ful.

Peo­ple’s ini­tial re­ac­tion is gen­er­ally one of al­most dis­gust but they are awe­some for kids. They can hold them and watch them, and they love their lit­tle feet and noses. You should see the flu­o­res­cent plas­tic houses and ac­ces­sories you can get for them. One tip though: Try to get fe­male mice. They don’t smell at all, whereas the boys have a very strong scent.

I’ll tell you some more facts about these guys an­other time.

Have fun and check out the smile on the chil­dren’s faces.

We all need to smile ev­ery day.

GUINEA PIG: As pets.

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