Small Pets for Families: Gerbils, Guinea Pigs and Other Warm Fuzzies

Is a Small, Fuzzy Pet Best for Your Family?
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When my daughter was in elementary school, her third grade teacher had two guinea pigs in the classroom. My daughter fell in love with the guinea pigs and soon wanted one of her own. We did the research and concluded that a guinea pig was something we could take on. We bought all the necessary equipment, and were soon the proud owners of a guinea pig named Samantha. She made a fine pet for my daughter — affectionate, playful and easy to care for.

Gerbils, guinea pigs, mice and rats are among the easiest pets to care for, but there are a few things you need to know before taking on one of these furry critters.

First, most of these animals usually live five years or less. Small mammals are fragile, too, and don’t make good pets for young kids who may not know how to handle them gently.

If your child has allergies or asthma, find out if he’s allergic to a pet before bringing one home. I’ve always loved rabbits and considered getting one, until my son spent an afternoon with a friend who had rabbits. When my son came home, his skin was blotchy and his eyes were red and watery. No rabbits for us!

Many small mammals are nocturnal, preferring to sleep during the day. This situation can cause several problems. To start with, a pet that sleeps during the day is likely to disappoint a child looking for a playmate. A noisy household may stress small mammals, making them more susceptible to disease. A small pet that squeaks and plays all night long may disturb the family’s sleep.

Small mammals vary in their sociability, but most do not bond with humans the way a dog or a cat would. As Henry Ward said, “The dog is created specially for children. He is the god of frolic.

Small mammals need some specialized equipment, such as a cage, exercise balls, bedding, water bottles and food. Dogs require time and attention, but they actually need less equipment than small mammals. A soft bed, a leash, dog food and puppies wee wee pad are all you need to get started.

Still think you want a small mammal? Below is a brief primer on types of small pets and their characteristics:

  • Chinchilla. Chinchillas can live 15 to 20 years if properly cared for, but they are very susceptible to stress and do best in a quiet environment. Not suitable for a noisy, active household. Chinchillas need chew toys and regular baths in chinchilla dust or sand.
  • Gerbil. Gerbils prefer a dry, warm environment and need plenty of bedding material for burrowing. Gerbils need a companion; make sure you buy two of the same sex, unless you want more gerbils!
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  • Guinea pig. Guinea pigs are among the most social of small mammals and need lots of attention. Excessive noise causes stress, though. Prefer warm, but dry environments and need fruit for vitamin C.
  • Hamster. Hamsters need a quiet environment and don’t like to be disturbed while sleeping. Hamsters may bite if agitated. Needs a wheel and tunnels for exercise.
  • Rabbit. Rabbits can live ten years if kept indoors. Timid, but smart animals can be litter-box trained. Fearful of dogs, cats or other potential predators.
  • Rat. Rats are among the most intelligent small mammals. They can learn their name and play simple games, such as hide and go seek. Rats are also among the cleanest of the small mammals, constantly grooming themselves.

So, do your homework before bringing in a small pet to your family. The right little creature can be fun for the kids, and also teach them about responsibility and compassion towards animals.

About the Author

Jane Warren is a pet enthusiast who maintains a website to educate others on owning pets and buying pet supplies, such as greenies good for dogs. She has owned and rescued many pets, although dogs rank as her favorite.

Jane Warren is a freelance writer specializing in parenting, lifestyle, and pet care topics. She provides information and tips in her blog,, and joins us today to discuss the smaller pets that families can adopt.