Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - GARDENING AND PETS - BY CRAIG REILLY

QWe have two chil­dren, aged eight and six, and I was won­der­ing which chil­dren’s pets you would rec­om­mend for our first fam­ily pet? My wife’s friends sug­gested guinea pigs? I just want to get the right thing. Thanks Garry, Belfast

AGarry, it is great you are giv­ing this some thought — pets are not im­pulse pur­chases! As own­ers, we are to­tally re­spon­si­ble for their care, pro­vid­ing the cor­rect en­vi­ron­ment, food, heat and light, and al­low­ing them to ex­press their nat­u­ral be­hav­iours.

Th­ese re­quire­ments are now en­shrined (quite prop­erly) in law. I am a big fan of kids be­ing in­volved in the care of the fam­ily pet, but they must be prop­erly su­per­vised at all times. Even teenagers aren’t meant to have sole re­spon­si­bil­ity to re­mem­ber to feed, clean and care for pets. An­i­mals de­serve our thought­ful, re­spon­si­ble at­ten­tion.

Chil­dren can learn re­spon­si­bil­ity from pet own­er­ship, and ac­tu­ally they also learn to grieve too when the pet passes away at the end of life. I know it sounds harsh, but griev­ing is a learned process, and I be­lieve chil­dren ben­e­fit from ex­po­sure to those end of life sit­u­a­tions.

So to ad­vise on the type of pet, I would al­ways sug­gest a full fam­ily dis­cus­sion. If you want low main­te­nance pets, then guinea pigs are per­haps not the best choice — they are lovely, and have great per­son­al­i­ties, but they need be cleaned out very reg­u­larly as they do pro­duce a lot of waste!

They need fresh veg ev­ery day as they re­quire vi­ta­min C to pre­vent scurvy ( just like we do). I think ger­bils are per­haps one of the eas­i­est small fur­ries to keep, as are ham­sters.

Ger­bils are a lot more ac­tive than ham­sters and I think kids per­haps get more out of the ger­bils. Rab­bits are not ideal chil­dren’s pets, they don’t like be­ing lifted and their care is quite de­mand­ing.

Don’t rule out a dog though, be­cause in my opin­ion a fam­ily dog can be in­te­gral to fam­ily life — en­cour­ag­ing the ex­er­cise and love of the out­doors walks that kids seem to lack th­ese days.

Per­haps you might call out to one of the ex­cel­lent re­hom­ing sanc­tu­ar­ies (like As­sisi on the Ban­gor/Ards car­riage­way) and see the pets first hand? Good luck with your choice! Ex­cit­ing! Craig is a part­ner in Cedar­mount Ve­teri­nary Clinic, Ban­gor (cedar­ Send your pet queries to­ Craig can only re­spond to ques­tions through this col­umn, and th­ese an­swers can­not sub­sti­tute for treat­ment de­ci­sions based on a full his­tory and clin­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion by your vet.

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