ASK THE VET
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 (cedarmountvets.co.uk). Send your pet queries to email@example.com. 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.