Why you should consider a rodent as a first pet
Small rodents are some of the most suitable first pets for children due to their ready availability, affordability, small size and fairly short lifespans. Being housed in a closed environment, they are generally safe from harm and are also unable to soil or damage the home at large. However, rodents still require an investment of time, attention and resources to thrive and provide the best companionship.
Keep in mind that an amount of time should be put aside daily for exercise and play outside of the cage. It is unrealistic to expect a small child to be completely responsible for the care of an animal, so adult supervision is critical.
The most commonly kept small rodents are hamsters, gerbils, rats and mice. Gerbils have very little odour, followed by hamsters and rats, and mice have the strongest smell. Even though they might smell somewhat, captive-bred small rodents tend to be many generations removed from their wild ancestors and are unlikely to be carrying dangerous diseases or parasites. Nevertheless, you should practice good hygieneand wash your hands after handling the pet or cleaning the cage. You should teach your children from an early age that they shouldn’t put their hands in their mouth until they are washed.
Within reason, small rodents tend to be gentle animals who, with some initial taming, do not bite readily. While gerbils and rats seldom bite, well-socialised mice and hamsters can also be gentle, but do tend to be nippier initially.
As a parent, you should teach your children that no rodent enjoys being held tightly and they should pick the pet up by gently cupping him in their hands. Be aware that frightened rodents can jump unexpectedly, and a fall from a height could be fatal. To prevent this, the young owners should be encouraged to initially play with their pets while sitting on the floor.
Rats, mice and gerbils are social animals and will do much better if kept with a companion. It can be tricky to introduce adults to one another, so the ideal is to allow several juveniles to grow up together. Hamsters are happy alone and Syrian (golden) hamsters will fight each other viciously.
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