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Gerbils – The Best Pet Option for Young Children
If you have small children under your feet begging for a puppy, you probably worry that even after they’ve promised to feed it, walk it, and clean up after it, you’ll actually be the one taking care of the poor creature. Then you will have one furry child to add to your brood.
As a dog person – although I’m allergic – I’m an advocate of kids growing up with one (maybe 2), but that said they’re a lot of work and, when it comes to younger kids, they might not be the best choice. As children get older and can appreciate that a dog or cat requires a lot of care and work, and is actually part of the family once adopted, this idea can be more appealing. However, if your tiny loved ones are just that, tiny, but you still want them to have a pet to love and learn to care for (with your guidance of course), let me make a case for gerbils. But before I do, let’s look at some other pet options that may look appealing, but may not be as suitable for a number of reasons.
Other small animals and their disadvantages
I guess before I guess yours Small critters will want one of the furry and cuddly variety, I’ll have to turn to the cold-blooded kind. I personally quite like snakes and lizards, but I wouldn’t necessarily want one living in my house. Also, small children are very tactile and many of these creatures need to be handled carefully or they don’t necessarily like to be handled at all. Beyond that, they can be expensive to install and difficult to maintain. As reptiles cannot regulate their body temperatures, it is important that their habitats are kept at a certain constant temperature. Their diet can also be difficult. For these reasons it is very easy for them to get sick if they are not closely monitored for signs of distress.
Now to our fluffy friends. Bunnies are some of the cutest animals out there, but experts will tell you they’re not good pets for small children. They are prone to biting, even with very gentle handling and “training” to get used to being pets and cuddles. Of even greater concern is the fact that they are much more fragile than they appear. Rabbits have very delicate bones and even older children and adults need to know how to pick, handle and replace them in the home. They also require a lot of care and can take a lot of work to clean up after to keep their cages tidy and odor free.
Guinea pigs have many of the same pitfalls as bunnies. While they really do need a lot of love and attention, which may seem like a match made in heaven for kids who want nothing more than to be showered with hugs and kisses, it’s a lot more work than you might think. If you have a guinea pig, you should spend at least a few hours a day taking it out of its house and playing with it. If you have two (highly recommended as they are very social and lonely), you should still take them out of their cage at least once a day for an hour or more to play. They also require lots of different toys to play and places to hide and explore to keep them happy and healthy. Once again nutrition is vital and cleaning can be a job in itself. The benefits are worth it—ask any guinea pig lover—but that’s a lot of work for anyone.
Rats (if they don’t lure you in) are very social, but the downside once again is that they require a lot of attention and care. Mice are great, but they’re quick-tempered, pee a lot, and need lots of things to climb and play with to keep them happy. They are a great choice though as they are easy to care for in terms of nutrition, they don’t require a lot of attention from you if kept in pairs or groups and they don’t require a large cage. And, the more you let them play, the more fun they become. I will definitely rank them second.
Hamsters, although one of the cutest little creatures, are not that easy to care for. Feeding is simple, and again they don’t require a large cage (although with any animal the more space you can give them, the happier they will be). However, they need to be trained to be held without scaring or biting, they are fragile and they pee a lot, which means their bedding needs to be changed regularly. There are also different types of hamsters and each type has different requirements to be healthy and happy. Some can and should be housed in multiples, others should be solitary, like Teddy Bear hamsters. And while this should be intuitive and apply to all pets you may have, don’t house both sexes together because you’ll end up with more pets than you bargained for. Hamsters (of any type) would be better for a slightly older child with a little more patience.
Gerbils are really a great choice
We now come to the gerbils. They should be housed in groups of at least two or more females to be happy, as they are very social little critters. They are fast but don’t bite and can be easily trained to be held. They don’t seem to mind too much if a kid comes along, scares them and picks them up without warning. The only time a gerbil has stung my finger this much was when I forgot to wash my hands after making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich – who could blame the little guy?
Gerbils are desert creatures which means they drink less water than other furry animals and thus pee a lot less. This means their bedding stays cleaner for longer and they never have to have a smelly cage to deal with. They also love digging and burrowing but introduce a wheel into their environment and once they figure it out it will be their new favorite toy!
Their diet is simple (you can buy a two pound bag of gerbil food at your nearest Walmart for $4.00 and it will last two gerbils for quite some time) and so is their home. The only thing I recommend against doing is buying one of those hard plastic Habitrail houses for them. They like to chew and will crack the plastic eventually, but that doesn’t mean they’re difficult to house. You may like the look of the shelter, but trust me, they don’t care. All they want to do all day is run to the burrow and run on their wheel and maybe get in a bit – that’s typical of gerbils, especially siblings like the gerbils I have, Lola and Yvette. They may squeal and fight, but as long as they cuddle together at bedtime, you know they’re okay.
I bought my little twin the largest Rubbermaid container I could find, filled it with recycled cardboard bedding (also available at Walmart and pet stores of course) – as wood chip bedding is not safe or healthy for any animal as it can cause respiratory problems – a wheel, a $5 log cabin, food and a bottle of water and they are in hog heaven. They live an average of one to 3 years and mine are already past 3 years!
A reminder – plenty of space is key to your new pet’s well-being
As an animal lover, I’m a huge advocate of doing all your research before adopting a pet of any kind. This is necessary to ensure that everything from bedding to food and setting up their home is appropriate and of high quality.
Another critical issue is space. Commercial crates aren’t that big, and pet store “experts” will be more than happy to walk you through a cage with all the bells and whistles and convince you that it will keep your new pet happy, but it won’t. Again, if you do your research, you’ll find that commercial cages are made to be large enough to house the right animals and give them room to move around a bit, but that doesn’t mean they’re adequate by any stretch of the imagination. .
Imagine if someone had you in a cage for almost twenty four hours a day. The point is that manufacturers need to make cages that are easy to ship, can be easily stacked once they arrive at the pet store, and can be sold at an outrageous markup for something more than heavy wire and/or plastic. As the kids get older and you decide you might want to graduate to one of the animals I mentioned, check out the internet for easy and inexpensive DIY pet houses. It’s often more fun to design and create your own habitat, and that way your pet will have all the room they need and then some. This will be evident in his behavior and you will all reap the benefits of a happy, healthy and playful new addition to your family.
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