ASK THE VET
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.