Creatures for Kids: Are You Ready for a Small Pet?

Are You Ready to Adopt a Small Pet?

Have you ever walked into a pet store, looked at the brightly-colored fish, and thought how fun it would be to get a new pet? Or perhaps you love furry creatures and really wanted to take home a guinea pig or two?

Small pets can make wonderful companions. But, just because they are small does not mean they are easy to care for, or without responsibility. In fact, some small pets may require even more care and attention than cats or dogs.

If you are considering adopting a small pet, please read our guidelines and tips. And if you don’t see the pet you are considering, stay tuned! We will discuss additional small pets in the near future. Like you, we care deeply for all creatures, and we want to make sure you know what to expect—and what is best for the animals—when bringing home a new friend.

The Creatures Division would also like to thank ISF Youth Division’s MobSTIRs for contributing video tips about their own small pets (see below). Thank you Mason from the U.K. and Rylyn and Tara from the U.S.! 

Guinea Pigs

Did you know March is Adopt a Rescued Guinea Pig Month? Rather than getting one from a pet store—which just creates more demand—try finding a rescue in your area. Some regions have specific guinea pig rescues, or perhaps animal shelters that take guinea pigs. Just imagine—you will be saving a life!

Before making a sudden decision, spend some time learning how to care for your guinea pig. These adorable bundles need time out of their cages daily, frequent grooming, and regular bedding changes. The cage should be completely cleaned at least once a week, and spot cleaned in between.

Another factor to keep in mind: the age of your siblings, or other children in the household. Very young children will not be able to take care of a guinea pig, and could even harm the animal (by squeezing or dropping), without meaning to. If you have younger brothers or sisters, be aware of this. You can either wait until he or she is older, or pay extra attention in carefully safeguarding your pet.

It’s also important to consider the lifespan of a guinea pig. Did you know guinea pigs live an average of five to seven years? You and your family should be willing to take on that responsibility and commitment. And don’t forget about expenses. In addition to the adoption fee, there are startup costs such as: a large cage, bedding material, food dish, water bottle, high-quality pellets, and toys to name a few. Of course, vet care is no small expense, so keep that in min

Betta Fish

Betta fish—also known as Japanese Fighting Fish—actually originate from Thailand where they live in shallow streams and wetlands. Although pet stores often sell them with very small tanks, cups, or vases, many people believe they should be in larger tanks that more closely resemble a stream with ample space. According to japanesefightingfish.org, a five-gallon tank is the perfect size for one male betta.

With bettas, also be sure to keep the water temperature in the right range (in the 70 degrees Fahrenheit range) as water too hot or too cold could harm the fish. Because dirty water can cause diseases, a filter is also a good idea. Make sure it’s a gentle filter, as bettas are naturally from still waters.

Feed your betta with the correct betta-specific pellets and find out from your pet store the proper amount. Bettas have very small stomachs—about the size of their eye—so you want to be sure not to overfeed.

The idea we want you to take away is this: try to make your betta’s environment as close to its natural habitat as possible. For instance, since bettas typically live in shady streams, it’s good to include tank plants and even driftwood for them to hide under. Just be careful about any sharp edges, as bettas have very delicate fins.

For more information, visit japanesefightingfish.org, or investigate other reputable websites and do some of your own research!

Turtles and Tortoises 

If you are considering a turtle or tortoise as a pet, please be aware of salmonella risk. Salmonella—a bacteria often carried by reptiles or other small pets—usually causes fever and diarrhea but it can be life-threatening, especially in children and people with weak immune systems. This is a great concern, and in fact, the sale of turtles less than four inches has been banned in the United States since 1975, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC also warns that salmonella are naturally occurring bacteria in turtles, but turtles who have it don’t appear sick, so it would be impossible for you to tell. While salmonella can be transmitted from turtles to humans, it can also be transmitted by handling the turtle cage and accessories. We cannot stress this enough—WASH YOUR HANDS after handling a turtle or its accessories. Also thoroughly wash any surfaces that the turtle or cage comes into contact with.

If you are dreaming of having a pet turtle—don’t be discouraged. We just want you to be aware that they are not low maintenance, and that safety is first! Beyond that, make sure you are informed about everything you will need to care for your turtle, and what it will cost.

Turtles often live for decades. You should ask yourself, am I equipped to take on this responsibility now, and many years into the future?

In terms of supplies, you will need a light source, a large tank (or several tanks increasing in size as your turtle grows), a filtration system, additional tank accessories, and a varied diet of high-quality food, just to name a few.

Make sure to buy your turtle from a reputable source, or possibly adopt from a local rescue group. Never take a wild turtle as a pet. And while this may seem repetitive, it’s IMPORTANT—a turtle or tortoise is probably not appropriate for a very young child! The CDC recommends only having them in the house if all children are over the age of five.

Before taking home a small pet, educate yourself! There are so many great resources, including books from the library, websites and articles, or even a phone call to a specialty vet. Knowledge is power! And after you’ve done your research, bring your new creature home and have FUN with it!

 

 

Sources:

Atlanta Metro Guinea Pig Rescue

http://www.amgpr.org/

The Humane Society

http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/exotic_pets/facts/thinking_of_gettin... http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/guinea_pigs/tips/guinea_pigs_as_pet...

japanesefightingfish.org

Center for Disease Control

http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/pets/reptiles/turtles.html

Turtle Rescue League

http://www.turtlerescueleague.com/pet/tmbp.html

-By Elaine DeSimone