Help your child bond with their guinea pig or rabbit
You never forget your first pet, do you? Having an animal companion or two during childhood can be a truly wonderful and life-enhancing part of growing up.
But if you’re thinking about getting a pet for your own child and don’t have the time and space for a dog or cat, don’t fret.
Smaller pets such as guinea pigs and rabbits can be ideal first animals because they’re cute, generally sweet-natured and relatively low-maintenance in comparison to, say, a puppy who requires vaccinations, toilet training and walking several times a day. Check here our free guinea pig care sheets for a sense of the daily routine involved.
With patience, time and careful handling, most guinea pigs and rabbits can learn to sit contentedly in a child’s lap and enjoy being stroked.
Not only is pet ownership life enhancing and enriching for your child, it also provides the perfect opportunity for your child to learn about responsibilities, kindness and compassion - and that’s where you come in.
Giving your mini Doctor Doolittle some regular tasks such as feeding, grooming and playing with their small pet also helps reinforce the importance of routine. Most children love to get involved!
However, never forget that small pets tend to be nervous, skittish little souls. They’re prey animals after all. They also have delicate bones and can be easily injured. For this reason, they need gentle treatment with lots of TLC in order to thrive. If your small pet is not treated carefully by your or your child, the results could be devastating for everyone.
The other thing to note is that both guinea pigs and rabbits prefer to live with a companion so you should always try to adopt two animals rather than one to avoid them getting lonely. Also, as animals living indoors will see you - their human family - as their companions, it’s important to build a healthy bond. If you also have other pets in the home, such as dogs or cats, check out our other article 'How to Introduce your guinea pig to your dog or cat?' for further tips.
So if you’re a parent who’s thinking about adopting guinea pigs or rabbits for your child, have a read of our top 10 tips before you take the first steps.
TIP #1: THINK AGE APPROPRIATE BEFORE ADDING GUINEA PIGS OR SMALL PETS TO THE HOME
Before adding a small animal to your household, it’s crucial to set realistic, age-appropriate expectations for your children. Different age groups have varying capabilities which you should consider when planning how a pet will fit into your family and how your child can be involved with caring for them.
TIP #2: UNDER FIVES AND HOW TO INTERACT WITH GUINEA PIGS AND SMALL PETS
This is important. Really important. Under fives should never be left unsupervised with your guinea pigs or rabbits. They simply won’t understand the full consequences of rough handling and may end up hurting the animal or themselves if they’re left unsupervised. Instead, this age group can learn by observing you with your pet as well as ‘helping’ at feeding time by offering fresh vegetables. For a list of safe vegetables and fruits for guinea pigs, check out our free guinea pig care sheets. They could also gently stroke your guinea pig or rabbit when they’re being held by you.
TIP #3: OLDER KIDS AND HOW TO INTERACT WITH GUINEA PIGS AND RABBITS
As a parent, you know your child best. Depending on their capabilities and level of maturity, your older child may be able to take a more active role in caring for their pet. They may be able to hold your guinea pig or rabbit independently but, again, they must always be supervised to avoid accidents.
TIP #4: KINDNESS RULES: GUINEA PIG AND SMALL PET FRIENDLY ACTIONS
Lay out ‘kindness rules’ which your child must follow to minimize the risk of your small animal being hurt or distressed. These may include: not grabbing your guinea pig from the cage, waking them unexpectedly or being heavy handed. If necessary, write these rules on paper and hang it beside the cage as a reminder. Reiterate the rules at feeding and play time and make sure your child understands them fully.
TIP #5: SSSH...QUIET PLEASE: TEACHING CHILDREN HOW TO RESPECT GUINEA PIGS OR SMALL PETS
On the whole, kids are boisterous - especially when they’re excited. But try to encourage your child to be calm and quiet around your guinea pigs or other small animals, rather than shouting and stomping around. Explain that loud unexpected noises can frighten a rabbit or guinea pig and cause them to hide, which is the last thing you want at feeding and play time! For further bonding tips, check out our article: 20 best ways to bond with your guinea pigs.
TIP #6: NO SOLO SNACKS: SUPERVISE CHILDREN WHEN FEEDING GUINEA PIGS OR SMALL PETS
Teach your child never to feed your guinea pig or small pet something without checking with you first. A fresh batch of Vitamin C rich dandelions from the garden is a lovely treat. But if your child mistakenly adds daffodil petals to the mix, the results could be disastrous as these are poisonous to guinea pigs and rabbits. For further information on how to forage for your guinea pigs, check our blog article: the ultimate guide to foraging for your guinea pigs and rabbits.
TIP #7: ENCOURAGE CHILDREN TO HELP OUT WITH YOUR GUINEA PIGS ROUTINE
It’s important to keep your pets’ cage clean. If you choose to use fleece liners for your guinea pigs, you’ll need to do several spot cleans each day to remove poop and soiled hay. At Kavee, we recommend that you clean your guinea pigs' cage at least twice a week. It’s understandable if you decide against having your child help you clean out the cage, especially if they’re younger. However, they can still get involved in less messy jobs. These can include refilling water bottles and bowls, putting fresh pellets in bowls and replenishing hay. Check our article on how to clean C&C cages for guinea pigs for a full list of the tasks involved.
TIP #8: PICK A NAME FOR YOUR GUINEA PIGS WITH YOUR CHILDREN
Don’t forget the fun stuff such as choosing names for the newest member of your family. By helping to suggest name options, your child will feel involved right from the start. Also, kids have the best imaginations when it comes to thinking up sparky, fabulous names. If you’re stuck for ideas though, check out our Top Names for Guinea Pigs in 2021 blog post with your child and see if it sparks their creativity.
TIP #9: GO SHOPPING WITH YOUR CHILDREN FOR YOUR SMALL PET OR GUINEA PIGS
Ask your child to help you choose your pet’s new home so that they feel totally involved in the process of preparing for their arrival. Have a look at Kavee’s range of spacious, humane C&C grid cages, which are designed to give your pet loads of room to explore. Your child could also help choose a fun fleece liner, toys and accessories and some pet safe edible treats too.
TIP #10: SAFE PLAY TIME WITH GUINEA PIGS OR SMALL PETS
They may not need walking like a dog but guinea pigs and rabbits still need daily time outside their cage for exercise and enrichment. Ask your child to help you set up indoor floor time by placing fleece liners and pee pads on an easily washable floor in your home, along with guinea pig toys and hideys. Then sit quietly together and watch your furry friend at play - maybe you could count how many times your piggy popcorns in excitement as they explore. Combine floor time with feeding time, asking your child to offer lettuce leaves and carrot slices. This will boost the bond between them and their little pal. In warmer months, set up an outdoor playpen in your garden so your child can watch your piggy or rabbit at play.