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My first pet

PUBLISHED: 13:42 21 February 2015 | UPDATED: 13:42 21 February 2015

Maggie and her guinea pigs

Maggie and her guinea pigs

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

It's a question many parents will ask themselves at some point: should I get my child a pet? There's no easy answer; it depends on your own individual family, how much time and money you're willing to sacrifice and how you feel about dealing with the inevitable day when Harry the hamster goes to meet his maker

The love and companionship 
a child can gain from a pet 
is invaluable. The lessons in responsibility, in life and death and in compassion 
are vital. Added bonuses include the calming effect pets can have and the exercise and play they encourage.

However, you are also dealing here with 
the life of an animal, or multiple animals, and going into it on a whim is a recipe 
for disaster.

With the RSPCA reporting that more 
than 36,000 animals were abandoned 
last year, discarding unwanted pets has reached epidemic levels in the UK.

“Pets can be wonderful additions to any family,” says Katya Mira from the RSPCA. “But it is important that anybody wanting to take on the privilege of a new animal does so responsibly. They need to make sure they have the time and money to 
care for the animal 365 days of the year;
to look after the pet for their whole life.

“Consider daily grooming, feeding 
and exercise and ongoing costs such as 
vets bills or insurance,” adds Katya.

“Parents really must consider carefully before taking on a pet to ensure that he 
or she will be cared for and loved for life.”

Rabbits have always been popular children’s pets but did you know they’re better off housed in pairs? That they 
need cleaning out at least once a week, 
a garden run for exercise, fresh food and water every day? Vaccinations, neutering, claw clipping; the list goes on and on.

But the trap many parents fall into is 
the idea their children are going to do 
all the hard work. While it’s great for youngsters to get involved in the daily drudgeries of feeding and cleaning out, don’t think for a moment those jobs 
will continue to be done willingly once 
the novelty has worn off.

The fact is there is no such thing as a perfect, low-maintenance pet for children. The best thing you can do is make sure you’re as informed as you can be. Read our guide on the previous page about the top five pets for children to get you started.

Top five first pets for children

1 Hamsters

The humble hamster is often a child’s first pet. They have small appetites and most cages can fit easily into your home. But hamsters have quite complex needs and they are very delicate. Improper handling can easily damage them; a draughty position, too much noise or bright light can make them stressed and most breeds need to be homed on their own to avoid fighting.

Lifespan: Two years

Things to consider:

A home: with plenty of room and of sturdy construction so they can’t escape and get lost.

Cleaning: in the wild they live in deep burrows so hamsters love to dig and make nests in deep bedding. The cage needs to be cleaned out thoroughly at least once a week to keep it a healthy environment for your pet.

Diet: fresh fruit and vegetables daily, as well as hamster mix and clean water in a suitable, clean drinking bottle.

Time to play: your hamster will sleep most of the day – which often brings into question their suitability as pets for young children – and will be very active at night. Provide plenty of play equipment, such as tubes, wooden toys to gnaw on and a running wheel, and give them the opportunity to come out of the cage once they have become used to being handled.

2 Rabbits

Rabbits are hugely popular with children. In the wild they live in large groups so they are far happier homed as a pair. Neutering is recommended for even same-sex pairs, to stop them from fighting or becoming grumpy with humans.

Lifespan: Eight to 10 years

Things to consider:

Indoor or outdoor: rabbits are active animals that need plenty of space to lie down, stretch, run and hide. Most traditional hutches are too small so consider larger options with attached runs. Rabbits housed outdoors are susceptible to the cold and damp if they are not sheltered properly and can also fall victim to foxes if they are not secure. Some smaller breeds are only suitable to be homed in a spacious indoor cage.

Vaccination: rabbits can catch deadly infectious diseases so should have regular vaccinations.

Diet: fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh water in a bottle, rabbit mix and hay should be provided daily.

Time to play: rabbits love to play and they’ll chase around together for hours if you provide a run with plenty of toys and tunnels. They’re also very inquisitive animals and love to roam around the house – just watch out for the chewing on power cables as this can be deadly.

3 Guinea pigs

Similar in their needs to rabbits, squeaky guinea pigs are a great choice for children. Bigger and more cuddly than a hamster or gerbil, they love human company. They are best kept in pairs or small groups, and the males can be neutered.

Lifespan: Five to seven years

Things to consider:

A home: they can live outdoors but they are less hardy than rabbits and many owners keep them indoors. Guinea pigs need plenty of room to run about and a nice place to hide, with no steep ramps because they have very short legs.

Diet: they are similar in diet to rabbits but they can’t produce their own vitamin C and so need special food or supplements to enrich their diet.

Play time: guinea pigs will bomb about like rabbits in a garden run and love tunnels and tubes to dash through. You can’t litter train them like you can rabbits though, so let loose in the house there will be plenty of little ‘accidents’ to pick up.

4 Chickens

Poultry is becoming more and more popular as family pets. Even a smallish back garden can house a chicken coup with room for a few birds. It’s true they’re less cute than a furry pet but they’re hardy, they can pay for their keep with eggs and they can be educational. But they make a mess and can be very noisy.

Lifespan: Eight to 10 years

Things to consider:

A chicken house: it needs to be fox-proof, strong and spacious. Chickens need to be snug at night.

Room to play: hens should be kept in small groups and they will need a spacious run but also time to roam free outside. Make sure your garden is secure and that no predators can access it.

Diet: luckily you can feed chickens most kitchen scraps as well as chicken feed from pet stores. Owning chickens is like recycling; you put waste food in and eggs (and compostable droppings) come out.

Treatment for parasites: chickens are prone to parasites like worms, lice and red mites.

5 Fish

Fish are great choice as a first pet as you can teach children about the responsibility of feeding them and cleaning out their tank without them taking over too much of your life. It’s true they’re not much use if you want a pet you cuddle, but they’re interesting to watch. If you’re new to fishkeeping, go to a local aquatic centre and take their expert advice.

Things to consider:

A tank: get a tank that comes recommended. Some only need cleaning out once every six weeks, when you buy a replacement cartridge for the filter, but the upkeep of a tank can be complicated.

Choose your fish well: an expert will be able to recommend fish that will live happily together, as well as tell you how many you should expect to fit into any one tank.

Think outside the goldfish box. Goldfish are actually quite hard to care for. In an unheated tank, try danios or white cloud mountain minnows. In heated tanks, mollies and platies are good choices for children.

Small animal adoption

There are a number of animal rescue centres in Kent, including the RSPCA’s large site at Leybourne (www.rspca.org.uk), and it’s not just cats and dogs that are looking for new homes but rabbits, guinea pigs and all sorts of smaller pets. They’ve already had a rough start in life but you could offer them a second chance. Also worth checking are websites like Rabbit Rehome (www.rabbitrehome.org.uk).

MY PET

Jess and Timmy

Tell us about you

My name is Jessica Tetley. I am 15 years old and live in Tunbridge Wells with my Mum and Dad and my pet rabbit Timmy. I go to Tunbridge Wells Girls Grammar School and I am in Year 11. I have just finished my mock GCSE’s and now I am embarking on the real exams taking place in May/June.

Tell us about Timmy

Timmy is a pedigree Lionhead rabbit who will be nine in April. My parents got him for me on my seventh birthday.

One of the most memorable moments with Timmy was the day I first saw him in Pets in Town in Tunbridge Wells and I held him for the first time. Timmy has such a lovely passive personality that he is simply a pleasure to have.

The scariest moment with Timmy was when I came back from a school trip to India and found out that he had had major surgery on his left leg to repair his fractured hip and leg. At the moment Timmy is recovering from the surgery.

Culverden Vets in Tunbridge Wells did a fantastic job and we are truly grateful for them taking care of our rabbit.

What makes your pet special?

From the moment we first saw Timmy we knew he was for us. With his gentle nature and his funny little ways he fitted right in with the Tetley way of life. He is both an indoor and outdoor rabbit. He spends the winter months tucked up warm in the house as his chest can’t take the cold.

He loves his food, especially his breakfast. He enjoys Dorset Cereal muesli, oat cakes and celery. His carrots have to be peeled and sliced and he only drinks filtered water. Timmy is a truly pampered rabbit.

My pet

Jessica and Timmy

Tell us about you

My name is Jessica Tetley. I am 15 years old and live in Tunbridge Wells with my Mum and Dad and my pet rabbit Timmy. I go to Tunbridge Wells Girls Grammar School 
and I am in Year 11. I have just finished my mock GCSE’s and now I am embarking on the real exams taking place in May/June.

Tell us about Timmy

Timmy is a pedigree Lionhead rabbit who will be nine in April. My parents got him 
for me on my seventh birthday.

One of the most memorable moments with Timmy was the day I first saw him in Pets in Town in Tunbridge Wells and I held him for the first time. Timmy has such a lovely passive personality that he is simply a pleasure to have.

The scariest moment with Timmy 
was when I came back from a school trip 
to India and found out that he had had 
major surgery on his left leg to repair his fractured hip and leg. At the moment Timmy is recovering from the surgery.

Culverden Vets in Tunbridge Wells did 
a fantastic job and we are truly grateful 
for them taking care of our rabbit.

What makes your pet special?

From the moment we first saw Timmy we knew he was for us. With his gentle nature and his funny little ways he fitted right in with the Tetley way of life. He is both an indoor and outdoor rabbit. He spends the winter months tucked up warm in the house as his chest can’t take the cold.

He loves his food, especially breakfast. He enjoys Dorset Cereal muesli, oat cakes and celery. His carrots have to be peeled and sliced and he only drinks filtered water. Timmy is a truly pampered rabbit. n

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