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 they love another living thing. It is such a great thing for us at the hospital to see that look of apprehension turn to smiles 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 wear down (Mum and Dad) in order to get that much-wanted pet, primarily because Mum and Dad are going to be doing most of the looking after, 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 that my whole 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. Prior to 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). But any pet is great for a child and this week we have seen some cool little characters, particularly mice and guinea pigs. So let’s start with guinea pigs: These little guys are great pets and very robust. Not much goes wrong with them apart from itchy skin. They live a good 5-6 years, weigh about 1kg, are able to breed at two months of age (imagine that!), they usually produce 2-4 offspring which are born with hair and teeth all ready to go; and the length of pregnancy is around 68 days. They are social animals and ideally should live as a pair. AND, they are very affordable for Mum and Dad. There are some cool hutches to buy and they will eat all your vege scraps as well as the commercial pellets in return for a copious supply of small raisins all over the lawn. Health problems: Two main ones! They are very susceptible to an annoying little mite that makes them scratch until they bleed. The rule is: “If itchy – treat for mites”. And the treatment is simple via a series of not very costly anti-mite injections or the use of a specific 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! Not just a pirate disease! They can develop lameness with swollen joints, diarrhoea, lack of appetite and generally become depressed. Most commercial pellet foods for these guys are supplemented with Vitamin C. You can also either add it via their water with a health food supplement or use plenty of vegetables that contain vitamin C such as tomatoes, broccoli, spinach and kiwi fruit. Other less common diseases include abscesses around the neck and painful and swollen feet especially when housed in damp conditions or on wire netting. In the winter or when frosts are likely, it is important (like any outside pet) to provide shelter and extra warmth. A thick sack over the hutch is ideal. I used to be able to stand the sack up in the mornings because it was frozen solid from the heavy frost in Invercargill, but the guinea pigs were nice and cosy inside. They are a great pet, very easy to handle and a lot less scrambly and scratchy than some of the smaller rabbit breeds.
Mice are a whole topic in themselves and I think they are great. People’s initial reaction is generally one of almost disgust but they really are awesome for kids. They can hold them and watch them and they love their little feet and noses. You should see the awesome fluoro 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. Have an awesome week from the crazy Andersons crew.