It’s no secret that children love animals. Most pet lovers first connect with animals during childhood; for many of us, that first impression lasts far into adulthood. Pets teach children valuable life lessons, such as compassion, responsibility, and unconditional love. While most US households have cats or dogs (or both!), an exotic pet may become a child’s first pet, like a hamster or a ferret. But families may wonder how to foster safe approaches between little ones and our exotic animal friends.
Exotic pets (reptiles, birds, insects, amphibians, or small mammals) are one common way families introduce a first pet to children. Their small size and perceived easy care routine seem perfect for children. However, it’s essential to understand that exotic pets usually have very specific requirements for feeding, housing, and handling. So investigate and make a thoughtful decision about selecting a pet appropriate for your child.
With the right recipe of awareness, preparation, time, and trust, you can involve your children in the daily routines your pet depends on. Including your child in your exotic pet’s care will teach them about the wonders and responsibilities of pet care and the human-animal bond.
How To Prepare for An Exotic Pet
Whether your child is showing interest in a family pet or is hoping for a new adoption, there are several steps you should take to ensure everyone lives in harmony.
Research. Do your homework to determine what kind of exotic pet will fit well with your family. Then, encourage your child to learn about the pet you’ve selected and their care with books and videos. Exotic pets require special care and precautions (such as hand washing after handling any reptile), so be sure to set expectations.
Supervision. You’ll need to plan on supervising pets and kids at all times. Curiosity and impulse often drive a young child’s actions, so watch every interaction closely to ensure both kids and pets stay safe. Teach your children the basics of animal body language and appropriate handling. Your child and pet will build a trusting relationship over time.
Participation. Teach your child to understand your pet’s needs. Taking an active role will inspire self-confidence and responsibility. Depending on their age, your child may enjoy feeding, watering, and playing with your exotic pet, and they may graduate to any number of pet care tasks such as:
- Bathing and grooming
- Checking on bedding and cleaning enclosures
- Picking out treats
- Shopping for pet food
- Keeping a food inventory
- Teaching a pet new tricks or commands
- Participating in routine veterinary visits
Remember that sick or injured pets can become aggressive, and adults should be involved at all times. Give kids a way to participate in your exotic pet’s well-being, and you’ll be on your way to fostering a loving relationship with pets for a lifetime.
Best Exotic Pets to Start With for Children
Since exotic pets all have explicit and varying needs, it’s best to start small (no pun intended!) when looking for your first exotic pet.
Guinea pigs – Small mammals are a great place to start because they are more accessible and generally less expensive to care for than birds and reptiles. Guinea pigs are social animals, so it’s best if they can live in pairs. Most of them are easy to train and handle and will look forward to attention. They even vocalize when they learn what the opening of a veggie treat bag sounds like! They live for 4- 8 years and need plenty of grass hay, Vitamin C-enriched pellets, and a small amount of vegetables and fruit. For housing, they need a large, well-ventilated cage with a place for each guinea pig to hide. Cages and bedding must be cleaned regularly and spot-cleaned often. Guinea pigs also require temperature control and can become ill if exposed to temperatures below 50 degrees or above 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Leopard gecko – As far as reptiles go, Leopard geckos are among the simplest reptiles to start with as they are relatively small and docile. Like all reptiles, they have specific heat and humidity requirements and must be fed the correct diet to remain healthy. Although Leopard geckos are not as reliant on UV light as many other reptiles, exposure to UV light for several hours a day helps maintain their vitamin D levels, which helps them absorb certain nutrients from their food. Leopard geckos are insectivores, so they eat meal worms and crickets. All reptiles need calcium and multivitamin supplementation, access to water, and should have appropriate bedding, as well as hides and other features to keep them interested and active.
Finches – If you are looking for a bird, finches are one of the easier birds to care for. They make a nice pet for children because of their bright colors, cute noises, and quick movements that are fun to watch. However, they are not a pet that enjoys handling. They live for five to seven years and are very social, so will be happiest if they live in pairs or groups. The larger the cage, the better, but ensure the bars are spaced no farther than ½ inch apart so little heads don’t get caught. Finches need access to fresh, clean water and do best when fed diets consisting of a formulated pellet specifically for finches, a high-quality seed mix, and fresh greens. They are messy, and their cage and the paper underneath must be changed daily, a task children could take responsibility for. Ideally, finches should also have a bird-safe UV light on their cage to help them make vitamin D. The sun shining through a glass window doesn’t accomplish the same since glass filters out the UV rays.
BEVS Is Your Partner In Exotic Pet Care
Lastly, just as with cats and dogs, exotic pets require regular veterinary care to feel their best and to prevent illness. In addition to preventive care, some small mammals should be spayed or neutered to prevent health or behavior problems and overpopulation. Birds often need regular grooming, such as nail and beak trimming, and occasionally wing trims, to maintain wellness and prevent injury. And reptiles should have regular lab work to ensure their delicate systems have the minerals they need to thrive. These are only a few things your exotic pet needs to meet their unique healthcare needs.
Our exotics department specializes in providing preventive care, medical care, and surgery for exotic animals. Call us for more information or to schedule an appointment for your special friend today.