Guinea pigs, rabbits, and even rats are social and gentle creatures that are often incorrectly classified as "starter pets."
The quiet nature of these animals can cause people to see them as low-maintenance. Thus, parents who want to make sure their children can handle the responsibility of a dog or a cat will sometimes use a "starter pet" to test the waters.
Despite good intentions, the concept can be very harmful to the gentle animals in this category. Here are three ways guinea pigs, rabbits, and rodents prove that "starter pets" just don't exist.
1. These animals are often confined to a cage.
A cage is indeed a safe place for an unsupervised guinea pig to spend time to avoid getting lost or accidentally stepped on. But if a caged animal's needs are not being met--for example, the child has forgotten to provide food or water--a caged, quiet animal will not be able to come find the adults for help.
Even a child that is successfully feeding and caring for their pet may overlook symptoms of illness. Adults should always take ultimate responsibility for the health of any pets and check on them daily.
A free-roaming dog or a cat, on the other hand, is more capable of expressing their needs. Your cat is not going to let you accidentally skip a meal, much less starve him or her.
2. They have unique social, medical and wellness needs.
Guinea pigs, in particular, have highly specific diet and wellness needs. Forgotten nail trimmings can be crippling and many vets recommend Vitamin C supplements to avoid scurvy. For all caged animals, obesity caused by overfeeding and a sedentary lifestyle in a cage can drastically reduce their lifespan.
The wellness and care of any pet, no matter how small, should be part of the daily household routine.
3. Any pet is a long-term commitment.
A new pet should only be adopted when you are prepared to provide love and quality care for the rest of his or her life. Depending on the breed, rabbits can live up to 12 years. Guinea pigs usually have a lifespan of five years, but my guinea pig lived until she was eight years old.
The lifespans of pet rats and hamsters can vary greatly.
I fully believe small animals can make great pets. It's an excellent idea for the entire family to embark on the adventure of raising a bunny, rat, or guinea pig together. However, as small animals can live long and active lives, they should not be adopted or bought with the goal of graduating to another species.
Pet care is not for everyone! First-time pet owners should consider all small pets and not just jump to Guinea Pigs and rabbits. Questions to ask include how much attention does the small pet need? Will the kids be on point for clean up? Do they have time to clean a large cage? Small children will need help and guidance so make sure you help them identify a pet that they can manage easily!
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