A body covered with soft fur to stroke alluring eyes that emanate affection and a charming little face, the cute creatures are an excellent solution to the dilemma presented by kids who long for a furry friend but live in apartment buildings, shared housing, or other situations which prevent owning full sized pets. Small pets have long been a good compromise on the part of parents who are unsure about taking on a larger animal. Even if children still have their hearts set on a bigger pet, they quickly warm up to the humorous antics and captivating capers of small animals, once some time has been spent together. And parents often find themselves captivated as well! Gerbils are exceptionally gentle social critters as are mice, so it is best to pick up a same sex pair. Most species of hamsters, on the other hand, are a bit more temperamental and prefer to be housed alone. The Syrian hamster, in particular, is a solitary animal so just one is just fine.
Lifespan: 2-5 years
Level of Responsibility: Low
Messiness Factor: Low
Estimated Yearly Cost: Low
Small animals, often called ‘pocket pets’, are among the cheapest pets to own besides fish, which works with families who just can’t afford the expensive vet bills of a larger pet. Since their life span is fairly short, parents are not committing themselves to the possibility of 10 years or more of looking after their kids’ pets if the children lose interest, like in the case of a dog, cat or bird. Mice are arguably the easiest pets in the entire animal world to maintain, with hamsters and gerbils coming in close behind. All these factors have parents jumping for joy after bringing one of these small animals home. Many parents also use the shorter life cycle of these pets to teach their children about life and death in the world. Gerbils live the longest, about 4-5 years, while mice and hamsters live around 2 years or so. Small animals such as these are also unlikely to trigger allergic reactions in all but the most sensitive.
These furry friends don’t live long, so if parents aren’t prepared to answer the questions that a pet dying evokes quite yet, a guinea pig, rabbit or rat might be a better solution as they have a life span of 7- 10 years. While gerbils and mice will adapt to a kid’s schedule, hamsters are nocturnal and often active late at night so they don’t work well with light sleepers. Also, they will often bite when awoken during the day so children looking for a playmate during daylight hours would do better with the gentler gerbil. Hamsters, gerbils and mice are all excellent escape artists and need to be watched carefully. Both gerbils and mice are social creatures and need to be kept in groups or they become lonely. This means parents need to use caution and make sure they have accurately determined the sex of each pet as these critters breed rapidly and often. Male mice also have strong smelling urine, which can be objectionable to those with a delicate sense of smell.
Newborns – Age 5
It’s tough to teach children at this age how to properly handle a such a small pet without crushing their tiny bodies or dropping the creatures accidentally and wounding them, so it’s best to wait until your child is a little older before bringing a gerbil, hamster or mouse home.
Age 5- 10
There’s a reason why small animals make such popular classroom pets at this age. Small pets are an ideal first animal for kids and will teach them valuable lessons about responsibility without costing their parents an arm and a leg in food, housing and vet bills. Children can easily bring their pets to school for show and tell or over to a friend’s house, which is a big bonus to kids.
Age 10 and up
As kids grow into teenagers, they may lose their taste for the world of small creatures, but they are still wonderful companions for people of any age.