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Posted on 03-28-2014

Ever find yourself in the situation when your children are begging you for a pet of their own: one that they can care for by themselves. You may think dogs are too big, birds are too loud and you are allergic to cats. The best suggestion, you think, is a fish, to which your child objects. Something furry that they can hold is what they want. A compromise that works for both parents and children is a pocket pet. Children need to start somewhere in learning how to care for animals of all sizes, why not start with the smallest?

Thinking of the different pocket pets out there, you start to wonder which one you should choose: which one's are best with children and what about housing and feeding?

Hamsters are one of the most popular choices for parents when allowing their child to take care of a pet. Hamsters are solitary rodents who are most active at night. They tend to live between two and three years. If deciding to get a hamster, it is important to know that housing two or more hamsters together will result in fights, regardless of sex. Their home should preferably be a metal cage, but plastic is acceptable as well. It should be kept at room temperature in a place where there is no draft and there are no changes in temperature. Their cage should also have a wheel in it that will allow the hamster to run freely. Exploring tubes is one of their favorite things to do, so including plastic ones in their cage is a good idea. A "nesting" area with bedding material or cotton balls is also a necessity. These should be replaced at least once a week with fresh material. Hamsters eat both meat and vegetables. The pet stores carry pre packaged hamster food which includes all of their necessities: corn, wheat, pellets and seeds. Fresh vegetables are also a nice treat to give in moderation. Make sure to have fresh drinking water available at all times. A water bottle that latches to the side of the cage is the best for hamsters because it does not allow food or bedding to get in. Although the hamster is a very popular pocket pet, they can be slightly dangerous for younger children. They have more of a tendency to bite and are more difficult to train than others. Sadly, often hamsters do not bond with their owners.

The guinea pig may be your next choice. Guinea pigs can be short-haired, rough-haired or long-haired. Long-haired guinea pigs require a good amount of grooming like dogs and cats do. Short-haired guinea pigs will benefit from a daily grooming, as well. Guinea pigs tend to live slightly longer than hamsters at four to six years. General care for a guinea pig is the same as a hamster. Unlike hamsters, guinea pigs are very social pets and having them in multiples will not incur any fighting. Two males are generally more opted to fight. You should keep chewing wood in their cage to prevent overgrowth of their teeth. Guinea pigs only eat vegetables. Proper feeding is extremely important because vitamin C deficiency in guinea pigs can be detrimental. Guinea pig pellets, timothy hay and alfalfa are the best to keep keep in the cage. Also giving them leafy vegetables or carrots daily is a good idea. When compared to hamsters, guinea pigs are more interactive and can learn to recognize family members. They may make squeaky noises to express themselves and they love attention. They are docile, gentle animals that rarely bite or scratch, making it a very ideal pet for small children.

If you are thinking of getting a pocket pet, do your research and make sure it will be the right pet for both your child and yourself. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at Eagle Animal Hospital 610-458-8789. We serve Chester Springs, Downingtown, Exton, Glenmoore, and surrounding areas.

Written by Alyson Kelly, veterinary technician

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