We've had Guinea Pigs for a couple of years now so I am surprised I haven't written about them before! Both boys had Guinea Pigs in their Cycle One Montessori classroom in Canberra. During one of the school holidays, we looked after a Guinea Pig and fell in love. Caspar (9 years) is responsible for the day to day care of our Guinea Pigs. Caspar and I have written a list of why we believe they are good pets for children!
1. Lovable - They are cute, cuddly and affectionate. When they are used to being held they love to be cuddled and love human interaction. They are also calm and friendly. They can become loving companions!
2. Teach Responsibility - They need daily care which can teach responsibility. The cage needs to be swept daily, they need constant access to water and hay and need to be fed daily. This is a lot of responsibility but can teach children about animal needs and about commitment. Younger children can be responsible for feeding the pellets (with supervision) while older children can take on more responsibility. Most children will need adult support in caring for their Guinea Pigs.
3. Easy to Feed - Guinea pigs are vegetarians, enjoying a diet of mostly hay with pellets and fresh vegetables. We feed our Guinea Pigs pellets in the morning and fresh vegetables (with some fruit) in the evenings. It is easy for the children to measure and pour the pellets and to select and chop the fresh vegetables. Once the child knows the feeding routine it's really easy to maintain.
4. Pride of Ownership - Pets can be hard work however they can also be really rewarding. Children can gain a lot of satisfaction from caring for and looking after their pets. Because children can take a lot of responsibility for looking after their Guinea Pigs (feeding, cleaning their cage) they can also feel proud of their work and this has huge benefits. Children can feel a sense of accomplishment for completing each task. When they see their Guinea Pigs happy they can feel proud!
5. Personality - Each Guinea Pig has their own distinct personality, the children can get to know the Guinea Pigs really well and bond with them. Caspar has previously been responsible for hermit crabs and he still looks after our fish but these don't show as much personality.
6. Teach Respect for Animals and Other Living Creatures - Through the process of caring for and enjoying their pets, through researching and meeting the animal's needs, the child develops a deep love and respect for animals.
7. Develop Practical, Real Life Skills - Looking after pets can teach real life practical skills. This can involve cleaning, sweeping, scrubbing, the gentle washing and brushing the Guinea Pigs, chopping up vegetables, clipping nails to researching, ordering and purchasing fresh food and hay. These are skills children can develop in other ways, but looking after pets such as Guinea Pigs means these skills are used on a daily basis.
8. Stress Relief/Calming - There is something really calming about playing with pets, watching them play or gently stroking their coat. Guinea Pigs often love to be held in a child's lap or in a snuggle sack and be gently scratched behind the ears. Guinea Pigs also like to snuggle, are warm and will sleep in a child's lap, overall this is very calming and can act as stress relief for the child. Often the Guinea Pigs presence is enough to bring some calm (Guinea Pigs don't like loud or sudden noises).
9. Learn about animal behaviour - This really applies to all pets that children are able to observe. Guinea Pigs (and most other pets) have distinctive behaviours that let us know when they are happy when they are hungry when they are distressed or hurt. These nuances, these subtle changes in their look, their sounds their behaviour can teach children about animal behaviour and in some ways may put them more touch with human behaviour. Perhaps it can teach children about their own emotions, perhaps they can help teach empathy.
10. Fun - Most of all we have found Guinea Pigs to be delightful little critters and a lot of fun! I've heard they can be trained too!
There are a lot of things to consider in deciding if Guinea Pigs are the right fit for your family. Do your own thorough research, this is not designed to be a complete guide for keeping Guinea Pigs. Guinea Pigs require daily care, they live 5-10 years so are a significant commitment. Guinea Pigs cannot tolerate weather extremes and are susceptible to predators so we keep our Guinea Pigs outside during the day (except in summer) and inside in the evenings and over night. Guinea Pigs also need to be handled carefully. Caspar my 9 year-old can hold and carry the Guinea Pigs but Otis (6 years) will only hold them when sitting or when they are in a tray or snuggle sack, I personally wouldn't recommend them for toddlers. Also, keep in mind Guinea Pigs are not solitary animals and you will need at least two to keep each other company! I recommend adopting Guinea Pigs from an animal refuge, we used The Cavy Cottage in Brisbane.