Choosing Animals for “First” Pets
For many families, buying and/or adopting a first pet is intended as a learning experience for the children. For others, it’s just something they choose to do in order to bring some fun and companionship into their homes.
Regardless of why you do it, it’s important to do your research to find out what first pet is right for you. You’ll want to make sure that you can handle the amount of care and expense various animals require.
Here is a list of some animals that are considered good first pets in general.
For first pets, many people look to the rodent family. There are lots of animals to choose from in this group – rats, gerbils, hamsters – many of which have excellent attributes as first pets. But the guinea pig has the distinction of being large (and slow) enough for bonding and cuddling, while being small enough to make for easy feeding and clean-up.
If you go on vacation, guinea pigs are not complicated to leave in the care of a friend or neighbor, and if you’re only gone overnight, you can safely leave them with enough food and water.
Guinea pigs do need regular exercise time out of their cages, and a lot of attention and “people time,” especially if you only have one. They are active during the day, which makes this a bit easier than for nocturnal rodents.
One word of caution about guinea pigs: some children and adults can be highly allergic to them. Spend some time (more than a few minutes in a pet store) interacting with guinea pigs before choosing to buy to see if this is a problem for any members of your family.
Unlike other small rodents, gerbils are diurnal (active during the day), which can be a big plus for those who want to play with their pet during the day and who don’t want to deal with squeaking exercise wheels and rustling sounds during the night. They are easy to feed and, due to their native desert habitat, are not big water drinkers. Therefore, they don’t urinate as much which makes for easier clean-up and less smell.
Although some may find the idea of keeping a rat as a pet a bit repellent, consider the intelligence of this rodent before you say no. Rats can be trained, and sources say that, if raised from a young age, rats can be affectionate. Training can include anything from tricks to coming on command. They do not require a very big living space, as long as they have access to exercise (wheels, tunnels, etc.) and are taken out and played with daily.
Rats are nocturnal, but they do have periods of activity during the day, and you can minimize how active they are at night by keeping them active during the day.
Ferrets are high-energy, playful animals that make good first pets for active families who are often home. They do need to be spayed or neutered, just like a dog or cat, and can even be “de-scented” during the surgery to prevent any smelliness.
They are entertaining and can be litter trained, but they will still need a large cage. You can get these types of habitats used to save money, and even a dog crate will do with a little modification. Another plus for ferrets is that they are very unlikely to cause allergic reactions.