Are Guinea Pigs Good Starter Pets?

Guinea Pig Toyimage courtesy of Giulia van Pelt

Pets are cute and attractive to children who want to interact with them but they need to be taught small pets are not toys and should not be treated as such.

With Adopt Rescued Guinea Pigs Month quickly approaching, we will be brainstorming ways to help cavies in shelters and rescues across the country. For years, guinea pigs have been considered “starter pets” and this is often the direction a conversation drifts when discussing what to do for all those homeless cavies. But is a child’s room or a school the best place for guinea pigs? Let’s look at this closely.

Guinea Pigs and Children
The idea of a “first pet” is a debated topic because small animal rescues will tell you that no pet should have their needs sacrificed at the expense of a child’s learning. Also, if a child learns a hard lesson through the death of a pet as a direct result of their actions, it’s traumatic and holds long term consequences in child psychology. A responsible adult needs to be a fully involved part of the equation.

There are other issues with guinea pigs kept in your child’s bedroom. Guinea pigs live in pairs so realize you will have two pets and not one. You will need at least 7.5 square feet of floor space or more and you will probably want to build your own cage. That will take floor space away from your child’s toys. Daily feedings, tidying up, water changes, and once a week full cage cleaning are tasks where children usually need assistance. Some resources report that guinea pigs don’t bite. I honestly don’t know where this came from. Guinea pigs can and will bite if the situation arises. Some do it more than others and some don’t do it at all but much of it depends on the disposition of the guinea pig and the behavior and interaction the owners. At the rescue we’ve come to affectionately refer to the piggies that perpetually nibble despite happy lives as “kissing with teeth.” Also, as natural prey animals, guinea pigs instinctually run and hide. They can be difficult to catch and this puts stress on them, making them further estranged from their owners. Properly socialized guinea pigs should have daily interaction with the entire family so keeping a pet in a child’s bedroom can pose a number of problems.

The idea of a “first pet” is a mindset that many rescues are trying to eliminate. Instead, the modern attitude is one where a pet belongs to an entire family with care and responsibility shared among all. Move the pets out of your child’s room and into the center of the home. That way, the needs of both the child and pets are addressed and they can develop a greater understanding of one another.

Children and Guinea PigsImage courtesy of Mark Danielson

Guinea pigs and children can both benefit from being raised together but both should have needs that are addressed. Sacrificing one for the benefit of the other is not socially acceptable.

Guinea Pigs in Schools
Classroom guinea pigs are a different topic entirely. Some rescues will not adopt to a school. There are many questions that need to be answered in order for it to be considered acceptable.

  • Who takes care of the guinea pigs over the weekends, holidays, and summer break?
  • Can the teacher properly supervise the care and handling of the guinea pigs or are the pets at risk of being dropped or mistreated?
  • Is a public place really a good home for a guinea pigs or are they constantly stressed?
  • If several homes pass the pet between them, how can the guinea pigs be effectively monitored for signs of illness or weight loss?

There are also concerns about children with allergies, passing illness, and so forth. Can your school properly handle all of these situations and do so for the lifetime of a guinea pig (up to eight years)? If you are a school that does feel you’ve addressed this properly, we’d love to hear from you.

Children and guinea pigs have become so synonymous in society, it’s difficult to find stock imagery that includes an adult with a guinea pig. It also leads to a stigma that guinea pigs are not a pet worthy of an adult, that they are disposable, and leads to fewer adoptions. Children are naturally curious in small animals but need to be taught how to address a pet’s needs that are different from their own. We don’t believe children should be discouraged from caring for small pets but the key is a solid relationship with a responsible adult. Today’s children will be tomorrow’s rescue workers and volunteers and have potential to develop a great understanding of the needs of small animals. Give children and pets the life they deserve.

If you have a great idea for an article about guinea pigs, please let us know. Guinea Pig Today is a network of guinea pig lovers and we’re always looking for the next great story. View our submissions page for more information on how to submit your idea.

Angela, Editor-in-Chief, GPT

Angela founded Guinea Pig Today and guest writes for CavyMadness. She volunteers with Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue and supports the ROUS Foundation. Her guinea pig, Papua, is the star of WHEK-TV/DT.

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2 Responses to “Are Guinea Pigs Good Starter Pets?”
  1. Anita says:

    A really great article 🙂

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