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.