Decisive Living

What Small Animals and Reptiles Can Teach Your Kids

(ARA) - When your youngster comes home from school all excited about having a class pet and begs you for an animal of their own, you may want to give their request some serious consideration. Numerous studies have shown that animals teach children lessons they'll carry with them for a lifetime: responsibility, friendship, compassion and respect for nature. While cats, dogs and fish are the most popular pets, they are also a lot of work, which may explain why small animals like mice, rats, hamsters, gerbils, snakes and lizards are gaining in popularity. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturer's Association (APPMA) National Pet Owners Survey, 9.7 million U.S. households now have a small pet in them -- 4.1 million of them are reptiles.

If you're considering joining the crowd, here's a guide that will get you started, starting with some basic information about the animals.

Lizards are very quiet, have virtually no odor, and are easy to take care of with a minimum amount of cleaning. You can even miss a feeding occasionally and not worry about it.

A snake won't come when you call it, or fetch a ball for you, but watching it explore, eat and sleep has a strange, soothing effect on a lot of people. Many snakes eat rodents, frogs, insects, or other snakes. Smaller ones can also eat prepackaged foods.

Mice make great, low maintenance, fun pets. They are tame enough to be handled by humans and clean enough that their cages only require cleaning once a week. They are docile and won't bite unless stressed.

Despite their reputation for being mean and dirty, rats are intelligent, affectionate and bond strongly with humans due to their social nature. They groom themselves with their paws and tongues like cats do so they stay very clean; and they can be trained to respond to their names, sit, beg, run a race and even navigate a maze.

While they're considered the most docile of the small furry pets and easily tamed, gerbils are energetic and friendly. Since they have no real enemies in the wild, they seldom scratch or bite and are not easily frightened. Gerbils can be trained to come to your hand, and you can pick them up and hold them, even put them in your shirt pocket and take them for a trip outside their cages. They like the attention.

Hamsters are good pets for kids with inquisitive minds who like to watch and ponder; but if you're looking for a pet that will bond with your child, avoid getting one. Hamsters are very solitary animals. If disturbed at the wrong time by a youngster who just wants to play, they will bite.

Care Needs

Care needs for any of the rodents are similar. In addition to food, water and shelter, they need a safe place to exercise and play. Reptiles need food, water and shelter as well as exposure to ultraviolet light, heat and humidity.

Instead of running around the pet store and gathering up all the supplies you'll need for your pet habitat one-by-one, these days you can find starter kits that take all the animals' needs into consideration. A kit that's earning lots of praise from the pet care industry is made by Critter Adventures of Colorado Springs, Colo. "We designed our kits specifically for kids just getting started with the goal of making the process as easy as possible," says Nancy Reed of Critter Adventures.

The company's small animal kit includes a plastic tank with an easy-access, ventilated lid; a colorful hideaway house for comfort and privacy; a safe, quiet eight inch exercise wheel for entertainment; a suction-cup water bottle with a friendly duck refill reminder; a durable, colorful food dish; and a care tips booklet.

Their reptile kit includes a plastic tank with an easy-access, ventilated lid; a terraced terrain for basking, exercise and play; a water lagoon for cooling and refreshment; a hideaway cave for comfort and privacy; a nurturing UV and basking light fixture; a food dish shaped like a rock; decorative foliage; safe, environmentally friendly bedding and a care tips booklet.

“Not only do these kits include most everything you’ll need to get started, they can be personalized,” says Reed. There are four different three-piece backgrounds available that attach to the tank using Velcro. Caveman Adventure features a prehistoric look including Woolly Mammoth, palm trees and rocks; Dinosaur Adventure transports your pet to the forest as a pterodactyl flies overhead; Backyard Adventure features giant insects, flowers and grasses; and Carnival Adventure puts the animal in a circus like atmosphere with a roller coaster and circus tent in the background.

As you set your pet habitat up, remember not to place it on an unstable table, dresser, chair, or bed where it could tip over easily. It’s also important to pay close attention to the amount of sunlight coming into the room. Some animals cannot tolerate direct sun; and be sure to seek out a place where your pet will be protected from drafts and extreme changes in temperatures. Critter Adventure Habitats are not available in stores. Call (800) 750-5279 or log on to for more information or to place an order.

Courtesy of ARA Content