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Small mammals make an excellent introduction to pet care for children

By Gay Published: March 3, 2010

I recently saw a photo of an absolutely magnificent Maine Coon cat. Named Riley, he has the added attribute of being orange. That’s not exactly right—he is a golden orange, not too far off the color of my Golden Retriever. His name is Riley, and he weighs only 24 pounds. I say only because I have a 30 pound cat, thank you very much. But he is fat, and Riley is just a very long, huge-pawed cat with a sweet temperament. I have had Maine Coons before and Norwegian Forest (all either just dropped by our house in the hopes of a place to live and acceptance by our other animals, or my daughter brought them home from the shelter. Fabulous cats. All cats and dogs are fabulous, but Maine Coons and “Wegies" are especially so. And I do adore a great big dog.

However, I want to turn my attention to other kinds of pets, namely, small mammals like hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, gerbils, and white rats. A small mammal is an excellent way to introduce to your children a pet and the care and maintenance and responsibility for one. There are things you should know before you run to your neighbors and adopt a gerbil or two after her children's pair (They TOLD us they were both female) have reproduced and she is harassing you to take a few.

Small mammals like to chew things, and it’s not just for fun or the heck of it, it is critical for the health of their teeth. Small mammals that are herbivores have teeth that—well, they grow. Imagine a hamster with nothing to chew and then think of tusks. Actually, that wouldn’t happen: The teeth would become malformed and diseased. You can buy special pellets for your pet, but you can also make tooth toys with things around your house. Toilet paper and paper towel rolls, after the paper is gone, provide endless delight for the busy small mammal. It can hide in the tube and chew its way out for extra contentment.

If you have some soft pine or apple tree wood, your chewing pet will like to chew its way through those, and a loofah is good, too. Most gerbils and hamsters like to chew on sunflower seeds. It’s good to offer an assortment of chew toys, because for these little animals, it isn’t just about play time—chewing is essential for their dental health.

Gerbils and rats as well as hamsters grow only certain of their teeth continuously. You provide the object to chew, and your pet will know just what to do.

--submitted by Gay Fifer, owner, Parsley Hollow, Inc.

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