Small Animals and Children
By Craig Sernotti
Small animals and children, children and small animals. It’s almost a given that a child will at one time or another want to bring home a small animal from the pet store. Caring for one, in fact, is almost like a childhood rite of passage.
Small animals are great for children. Unlike larger dogs or more aloof cats, they are not intimidating. They can also teach responsibility and time management—cleaning cages, replacing food and water, and playing with the animals are all very important tasks that must be done on a daily or weekly basis. But above all else, small animals, with their curious and playful natures, are the perfect introduction to the beautiful relationships we humans can form with animals.
You must be aware of a few things while keeping a small animal with children in the home. Among other things, children may be inclined to offer more food to the animal than is necessary, which can lead to serious health problems. Also, children must be taught to handle small animals gently.
How much your children are in charge of caring for the small animal should depend on their ages. Young children cannot do everything that is required. You, the adult, must clean the cage, but you can have your young children serve as helpers. Have them refill the food bowl with dry pellets and help pick out fresh fruits and vegetables, and show them how to clean and refill the all-important water bottle. Older children can do all this themselves, but you should still keep a watchful eye on everything.
Handle With Care
Children must be shown how to properly handle small animals—“properly” meaning gently, quietly, and calmly. Small animals are, as their name implies, small. They are fragile and so cannot be tossed, twirled, rolled, shoved, and played with roughly. Because of the massive size difference between you and your children and the animal, he is probably already timid and scared. He will try to hide from you when you reach into his cage, and if held too long, will bite. Loud noises and sudden movements will frighten him as well, so do your best to keep them to a minimum.
By handling your small animal gently, quietly, and calmly, you and your children will prove that you will not harm him. He will learn to trust you and will eventually jump around his cage in excitement whenever you are near.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of owning a small animal is watching him eat. Who would think that an animal could look so cute while eating? It’s possible! But too much of a good thing is not, well, good. Giving your small animal too much food will make him overweight, and it doesn’t take a lot of food or extra pounds to make a small animal overweight. Obesity will cause many health problems for him, including a shorter life span.
No matter their ages, your children must be told how much your animal should be fed, how often he should be fed, and what are the right and wrong foods to provide. Doing so will keep your small animal healthy and happy for a long time.
Above all else, children of any age must be responsible when caring for a small animal. This should not be an impulse purchase. Research and learn about the animal together. That way, you will be able to show your children how to properly care for their new pet. (Research will also teach you how to care for the animal in case your children’s interest in him wanes.) Regulate tasks according to age and maturity. Before you know it, your children will bond with their small animal and will be cleaning his cage without even having to be reminded to do so!