ASK THE VET

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - GARDENING AND PETS - BY CRAIG REILLY Craig is a part­ner in Cedar­mount Ve­teri­nary Clinic, Ban­gor (cedar­mountvets.co.uk). Send your pet queries to tele.vet@hot­mail.com. Craig can only re­spond to ques­tions through this col­umn, and these an­swers can­not sub­sti­tute for treat­ment de

QWe are a fam­ily, with three kids (aged 10, 8 and 5). We both have to work long hours, so I’m not keen on hav­ing a dog or cat. I was think­ing about get­ting them some ger­bils: do they make good chil­dren’s pets? Fred, Comber

AYes, in­deed they do, Fred. I kept ger­bils when I was a vet stu­dent (a long time ago!) and they are crack­ing wee guys. Ger­bils are quick and ag­ile and very young chil­dren might find it quite dif­fi­cult to hold them.

For older chil­dren, or if you can su­per­vise the younger ones to keep them calm and quiet when han­dling their new friends, ger­bils make great pets.

Of course, an adult must over­see the care and well­be­ing of all chil­dren’s pets (that is the law now, not just good ad­vice). It is un­ac­cept­able for younger chil­dren to have sole re­spon­si­bil­ity to care for any an­i­mal, no mat­ter how small.

Re­mem­ber fe­male ger­bils breed from about three months and males from ten weeks, so it is best to keep pairs or small groups of the same sex, un­less you are happy to have an end­less sup­ply of new fam­ily mem­bers.

They need wa­ter, fruit, veg­eta­bles, things to chew on, and are most ac­tive in the evenings.

Most peo­ple house them in bed­rooms, but do re­mem­ber they are dusty, so if your kids are asth­matic it might be best not to al­low them to live where the chil­dren sleep.

The other pet to con­sider would be a Guinea pig.

These guys are big­ger, so do need more area for ac­com­mo­da­tion, but aren’t any­where near as dusty, and make tremen­dous pets, too.

The same rules ap­ply with re­gards to breed­ing, but boars of­ten fight so they need neu­ter­ing if they are to be kept in larger or mixed-sex groups.

As­sisi, in Ban­gor/Ards, have a number of neutered Guinea pigs look­ing for for­ever homes — maybe you might call out and see them? Guineas are great char­ac­ters, and the staff can chat to the kids about their care.

Good luck with your choice — pet own­er­ship is a fan­tas­tic way to help ed­u­cate chil­dren about re­spon­si­bil­ity of car­ing for oth­ers.

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