Q. My children – aged six, eight and nine – are animal mad but we live in London and I am allergic to cats. Can you suggest a low maintenance pet to get us started – preferably interesting? Sasha, west London
Pets teach children responsibility, but if their interest wanes parents often end up in sole charge – so choose something that you are prepared to handle too.
Douglas Veitch, clinical director of Unicorn Vets in Southampton, advises: ‘consider the pet’s friendliness and how much looking after they will need. We chose guinea pigs for our eight-year-old daughter, which usually live for four or five years, although our daughter’s lived for ten!
‘They have a naturally docile nature and are extremely responsive to being handled, carefully, without being too delicate for untrained hands, making them an ideal choice as a first pet for younger children. They love company and therefore it is advised that they should live in pairs or groups, but take care to have same-sex guinea pigs to avoid numerous litters of pups.’
Guinea pigs can be housed either indoors or outside but they have sensitive hearing so this needs to be considered; look for a wooden hutch, with sleeping area, and a separate run for exercise. They are quite clean, but need cleaning out twice a week and need plentiful supply of fruit and vegetables, which should make up around 20 per cent of their diet.
Crucially they can be great fun to watch. Mr Veitch admits his daughter’s guinea pigs would often have free roam of the kitchen on a Sunday when we were preparing lunch with my daughter building obstacle courses for them.
Other pets to consider are rats which usually only live for two years, are clean, intelligent, and tame. Our editor’s nephew has a bearded dragon which he raves about.
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