By Dr. Patrick Glidden
- We love your bright eyes
- You’re upbeat and happy
- Your soft fuzzy lips
- Makes my heart go all sappy
- You have beauty and grace,
- With long hair so flowing
- Though, with sides so similar
- Are you coming or going?
- You are social and caring
- Personality…so sweet
- Your round little form
- Is like an eggplant with feet.
- Your squeaks and your whistles,
- Your soft chuckling sound
- Remind me each day
- That you’re the best pet around
I guess you could say I have a soft spot for these little guys. But who wouldn’t. After touching on appropriate reptiles for younger folks last month, I would like to offer my Golden Globe nomination for best small pet for children….the guinea pig.
Why the guinea pig compared to other lovable rodents? Gerbils and hamsters, though cute and entertaining, have a few drawbacks when considering a good pet for a child. Gerbils are very active little rodents and not that easy to handle safely, (for both the animal or the person.) Hamsters, being nocturnal, usually are trying to sleep at the time that we would like to interact with them. Their most active, and noisy, time is usually when we are trying to get a little sleep. Be careful if you wake them up to play, they may be a bit nippy at first. Hamsters are also known to be serious escape artists. Only the rat can compare for intelligence and social interaction to the guinea pig. There is, however, an unfortunate stigma surrounding these little guys that often turns parents off.
These rodents have an excellent vocabulary with many subtle nuances that are easy to decipher over time. Guinea pigs are active animals but they are usually easy to handle. Younger guinea pigs may be a bit more flighty and difficult to catch. Make sure that children handle them close to the ground. Their life expectancy can vary between 4-8 years.
Guinea pigs are active pets and like plenty of room to run around. Large cardboard tubes are favorites for hiding and playing in. Make sure there is plenty of ventilation in the cage. Be sure the cage floor is made of material that will not hurt their soft feet. Try to stay away from mesh/wire flooring. Recycled paper pellets often make excellent bedding for rodents. Since they are not escape artists, locking tops are only required to keep the cat or dog out.
Guinea pigs are herbivores. They require a high fiber, low fat diet. A variety of foods including carrots, broccoli, clover, dandelion greens, grass and apples should be added to a base diet of fresh commercially prepared guinea pig pellets. These rodents are unique in that they do not produce their own vitamin C, just like humans. Most other animals can produce their own vitamin C and need little to no supplementing. Guinea pigs, on the other hand, can be prone to vitamin C deficiency, (swollen joints, loose teeth, or lameness). Fresh leafy greens or other sources of vitamin C need to be added to the diet daily to keep them healthy. Do not rely on your pellets for this vital nutrient. A large portion of vitamin C in pellets is usually degraded within the first 4mo of manufacturing so it is vital to seek alternate sources.
The best advice before adopting a new pet is to pick up a good book and do your homework. If this is for a child, borrowing someone else’s pet for a week may be advisable before making a long term commitment to a new friend.
Send me your feedback about which animal is your best pet…corny poems accepted…to [email protected]