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Ships Free

If your order is more than $39, it ships FREE anywhere in New Zealand, including rural addresses. It's as simple as that.

Ships fast

Free shipping doesn't have to be slow shipping! We provide:

  • Next working day delivery for all North Island addresses.
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No Exclusions

Even big or heavy items ship free. If your order total is $39 or more, the shipping is on us!

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Managing small pets for children

Guinea pig or mouse, rat or bird, small pets are great for children. They can offer both companionship and entertainment while giving children the opportunity to take on the responsibility of pet ownership. There are a number of small creatures that can make a splendid addition to your family. 


You must remember your first pet fondly, but do you remember how old you were when you got it? This was the question posed when I started this piece. Is there a definitive age when a child can look after a particular small pet? Age appropriateness is an important consideration when bringing a pet into your home.

Introducing a pet into the family should never be taken lightly because however cute and adorable a small animal may be, it is not a toy and cannot be left for days while a child seeks entertainment elsewhere. Fun should not be overlooked in small-pet partnerships but children need to understand that they are instrumental in maintaining the health and happiness of their pet.

As a grown-up it will be your job to ensure the little creatures are being cared for and handled properly. We might kid ourselves that it’s young Bobby’s guinea pig but adults need to take on the job of Menagerie Manager. This role might be either active or passive depending on the maturity and age of your ‘team’.   

A brief and very unscientific survey of parents with small children and pets suggest that the magic age for looking after a pet ‘independently’ is around nine, but they all stressed that even their older offspring still needed reminding about their pet duties. As a parent, you know your child’s capabilities. 

Julie, a mother of three and also a devout animal lover oversees the pet care in her household. No mean feat as her children’s pets include a rabbit, two cats, a dog, three guinea pigs, fish, frogs and a number of birds in an outside aviary. She avidly promotes pet ownership for children. ‘The children have gained valuable experiences through owning and looking after their pets. It’s taught them how to be responsible through the day-to-day care of their pets and cleaning of the cages. The kids have also learnt about loss through the death of one of their pets. Although sad, it’s something that is part of life.’

Very young children need to be closely supervised to ensure their own safety and that of their small pet. An animal, whatever its nature, can nip if it’s given a fright. As a grown-up you’ll be able to teach children the safe and correct handling of pets. 

Older children will need reminding about their responsibilities, whether they’re sole or shared. Some households use a roster system with one child responsible for feeding and another for cleaning. These duties are rotated on a weekly basis. Younger children will be able to grow into pet-owner duties and you’ll be able to gauge when they can start taking on more responsibility. If you’re cleaning out your pet’s cage, then small children can help as long as you take the precaution of moving the pets to a safe place while you’re doing this.  

Another consideration is how well a particular pet will suit your home. A guinea pig or rabbit’s hutch is not ideal in a high-rise apartment, but fish or birds could be considered instead. Many children will have a very firm idea of what sort of pet they’d like. If this is the case, do some careful research on the pet of their choice before you head off to the pet shop or breeder. Ideally, you should set about getting your pet’s house in order before bringing it home. 

On-going maintenance and feeding costs for small pets are minimal – around a few dollars a week. Setting yourself up for first pet ownership can be a little more costly. You can buy new or secondhand equipment. If you decide on the latter, make sure it’s safe for your pets and children, and that it meets the needs of the animals. For example, rats and mice should not be housed in cages made of wood because of their ‘gnaw-tiness’. Many pet shops sell ‘starter set-ups’ for some animals, which can prove an economic way forward. 

Basic hygiene is important both before and after handling a pet. Learning to wash and dry hands effectively is an important life skill. Animal droppings, food and any soiled bedding should be cleaned out daily, and the bedding changed weekly. Droppings should also be removed from aquariums and bird cages, and they also need to be cleaned out frequently. 

Very young children enjoy watching animals. But kids are curious, so make sure pet cages and tanks are located where they can be looked at but not touched. A falling cage is a hazard for both pet and child. Do ensure that fish tanks don’t pose a drowning risk. 

Initially I set out to find age-appropriate pets for children, but there seem to be no hard and fast rules. The most important thing is that children should enjoy and love their little pets. Childhood is about creating happy memories and these can be made through a happy small-pet partnership. I can still remember my first guinea pig although I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I had my first cuddle.  

Age-appropriate guidelines

Age

Pet

1-2 years

fish – small children love fish gazing. 

3-5 years

can start to learn how to be gentle when holding and handling small animals but need close supervision

can start to help with cleaning duties but don’t forget hygiene and make sure your pet is in a safe place 

6-8 years

can handle tamed budgies

can teach mice and rats tricks

feed their pets

clean out the cages – supervision is recommended 

9+ years

can care for most small pets independently with less parental support, although reminders will probably be necessary

 

Here are some fantastic pets that you might want to consider introducing into your family. All are fascinating, it’s up to you to choose which one will fit in best. 

Rambling Rabbits

Handling

Never pick rabbits up by their ears! Hold your rabbit firmly while keeping in mind that this pet has powerful hind legs. Do make sure that your pet will not grow too big for your child to handle.  

How Many

A pair of females. A guinea pig makes a good companion for a lone female or neutered male rabbit. 

Set-up Costs

Costs vary depending on your chosen breed. These pets need a good-sized hutch or cage and the bigger the better. Hutch prices vary greatly. Like the guinea pig, rabbits need sturdy feeding bowls and a water bottle. 

Bedding

Un-tanalised wood shavings, hay or shredded newspaper.

Food

Rabbit pellets supplemented with some fruit, root and green vegetables cut into chunks. These pets also need fresh hay that can be purchased at the pet shop (lucerne or clover). 

Life Span

6-8 years.

Temperament

Rabbits are sociable pets and the more time your child spends with them, the more friendly and tame they will become. They need lots of stimulation and interaction, as well as time out of their hutch to exercise.

 

Riveting Rats

Handling

Enjoy being handled and can be trained to do tasks such as tightrope walking. 

Number

A same-sexed pair.

Set-up Costs

Rats cost from $9.00.

Perspex or glass enclosure - not wood as rats can gnaw through this. The cage needs to be sturdy and draught-free. It should keep your pets in and predators out. Do not overcrowd the cage but rotate safe toys to avoid boredom. Use a water bottle, not a bowl, as rats tend to play in their bowls – bottles from $8.00. 

Bedding

Un-tanalised wood shavings or shredded newspaper.

Food

Rat and Mice pellets/feed supplemented with meal scraps. Rodents need a stick or dog biscuit to chew on to keep their teeth in check. 

Lifespan

2-3.5 years.

Temperament

Highly intelligent, loving and very entertaining. Try not to overlook these little pets due to bad press. Don’t house rats with mice as they will eat their smaller cousins. 

 

Mighty Mice

Handling

Do not pick it up by its tail but do get to know your pet by hand feeding it. 

Number

Female pair. 

Set-up costs

Mice cost from $3.00 each. 

See Rat Facts. 

Bedding

Un-tanalised wood shavings or shredded newspaper.

Food

Mice pellets/feed supplemented with oats, sunflower seeds, bread soaked in milk, vegetables and hay. As with rats, mice need something safe to gnaw on. 

Lifespan

3-4 years.

Temperament

Adorable, but they have a specific mouse smell. 

You can make a maze for your pet out of Lego. 

 

Gorgeous Guinea Pigs

Handling

Use both hands and be very careful not to drop your pet. Never pick it up by the scruff of its neck. 

Number

Same-sex pair from the same litter, or mother/daughter or father/son. Rabbits also make good companions. 

Set-up costs

Guinea Pigs cost from $10.00 each

These pets need a good-sized hutch or cage. Prices vary quite significantly. Sturdy feeding bowls and a water bottle are hutch essentials. 

Bedding

Un-tanalised wood shavings or shredded newspaper.

Food

Guinea Pig pellets (these contain vitamin C, which guinea pigs can’t produce for themselves) can be supplemented with root and green vegetables cut into chunks, as these little pets don’t use their paws for picking up food. 

Lifespan

4-7 years.

Temperament

Also known as Cavies, guinea pigs hail originally from South America. Slower and larger than rats and mice these creatures make ideal first pets for younger children. 

 

Glorious Goldfish

Handling

Only handle with a net when cleaning out the aquarium.

Number

At least two. 

Set-up costs

Goldfish cost from $4.00 each

A rectangular aquarium is preferable to a bowl as there is more surface area. Ensure anything in the aquarium, such as rocks and plants, is placed safely. A net, snails and plants are also necessary for a healthy tank. It is possible to buy a whole set-up from $30.

Water

Ideally, leave water to sit so that the chlorine can dissipate before putting your fish in the tank. 

Food

Fish food can be bought from the local pet shop. Be careful not to overfeed your fish. 

Lifespan

Some have been known to live over 25 years!

General

Very young children can be enchanted by fish.

 

Beautiful Birds

Handling

Birds can be handled but it is suggested that children under six not handle birds.

Number

Depends on the bird species you choose.

Set-up costs

Budgies – from $20.00. Finches – from $7.00.   

The bigger the cage or aviary the better. Small cages start from $70.00. Birds can suffer from boredom so check out the toys at your pet shop. You can buy a ‘starter kit’ for around $100.00 (excluding the birds).

Food

Food depends on the bird species. Talk to the breeder or pet shop owner to find out the correct diet for your bird. Grit needs to be kept in the cage as part of its diet.

Lifespan

Budgies live from 10-15 years. 

General

It is possible to buy hand-tamed budgies. While more expensive, they are ideal for novice bird owners.

The Pet.co.nz Team

Written by The Pet.co.nz Team

A team of specialists with backgrounds in animal nursing, animal care, and all things pet related.