Parenting Pets

Kids and Small Pets

A few people have emailed with questions because their kids are interested in getting guinea pigs or other small pets of their own. I can’t claim to be an extensive resource for all things cavy, but I can share our experience with how much our kids really help take care of them.

We’ve had a dog and a couple of cats since before Eleanor born, but she had been asking for a new pet for about a year. Both Brandon and I grew up with pets (he had a rat and his family had dogs, cats, and bunnies — my family had a dog and a cat too, and over the years I’d had a rabbit, a hedgehog, fish, mice, and a hamster), and we agreed that E seemed ready for one of her own. She checked out a different book about animals each week from the library throughout kindergarten, in part because she loves all kinds of animals and in part because she was doing her research. For her, it came down to hamsters and guinea pigs. Hamsters have fun cages with crazy tubes and lookout towers, but they’re more fun to watch than to hold. Guinea pigs are larger and more docile so they’re easier for kids to play with, but they take up a lot of room. E made her decision and went with her grandparents for her sixth birthday to choose a pet, cage, and everything to go along with it. Guinea pigs are happier in pairs (thanks, library book), and after a week or so, we found another female to join our house… except she was a he, and then they had babies.*

So now we have two giant pet cages — one in Eleanor’s room with the girls (Speedy and Butterscotch), and one in August’s room with the boys (Gingerbread, Noisy, and Cute-Cute until he left yesterday for a new home). August likes them well enough, but either because of age (four) or temperament, he’s not as into them as E is. She loves the guinea pigs.

Eleanor with Her Guinea Pigs

Cleaning the Cage(s)
I organized all of the small pet supplies along the floor of our linen closet — food pellets, hay, chew sticks and toys, and clean bedding. (The best bedding is paper-based — pine and wood shavings are messy, smelly, and best avoided.) Guinea pigs are little poop machines, but they do tend to go more near where their food is. We clean that section as needed with a small dust pan reserved for the job, and then we completely change out the bedding once a week.

Eleanor can do it. Kind of. It takes her a long time and she makes a bit of a mess, so I usually do it with her while she ‘helps’ by holding the garbage bag. I want her to be there, not because I need the assistance, but because her pets are supposed to be her responsibility and she should know that they aren’t magically being cared for with no effort on her part. As she gets older, she may be able to change the bedding by herself, but I assumed going into it that Brandon and I would be helping for a while so it’s not a shock that I’m doing it. I am unfortunately allergic to them, so I sneeze and sniffle through the process (about 15 minutes per cage).

Food and Water
Eleanor can and does make sure there is food and water for the guinea pigs at all times. They need fresh fruit and veggies, and E likes figuring out what they’ll eat each day. We often give them any leftovers (carrots, apples, etc.) that the kids didn’t finish from their meals, but sometimes E has me make a teeny tiny fruit salad to serve. Adorable. The only part she has trouble with is the hay because it can get messy, so Brandon and I usually do that part.

The girl loves her pets. Eleanor couldn’t pick the guinea pigs up at first because they’re quick and nervous by nature, but she’s good at it now and no longer needs help catching them. She has done a good job of taming them, and even thinks they do tricks and communicate with her in a secret animal language! Calvin likes to watch them run around their cages, and August will pet them when they’re already out and being played with, but he doesn’t take the initiative like E does. She wakes up and pets them. She has gotten out of bed at night and slept on the floor to be next to them. We wondered (as a lot of parents do) if interest would wane but Eleanor is just as into them now as she was in the beginning, and I think the responsibility of caring for them has been good for her.

Butterscotch the Guinea Pig in a Dollhouse

Cute-Cute Goes to School

Yep, we’re less one guinea pig around here; Cute-Cute is now a school pet! He won’t be in August’s classroom, but just down the hall with another teacher. Eleanor was in school when Brandon and August took the little guy over, so I had them take a bunch of pictures to show her. They used the pet carrier toy from Eleanor’s vet set, and she thought that was pretty funny. She was also excited to see that there is a cage all set up in the classroom just like the one he was living in here, and that he’s going to have lots of new friends visiting him each day.

Cute-Cute, the Guinea Pig, Goes to School

* According to Eleanor: if our guinea pigs have any more babies (please no — but apparently they mate immediately after birth, which we didn’t know and I’m watching Speedy get fat…), the boys will be named George and Jr. and the girls will be Lily and Twilight.

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  • Susie
    September 9, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    Thank you for this! We’ve been thinking about adding a pet to the family too and the kids swear they’ll take care of it, but you know how kids are. Glad to see Eleanor is having so much fun with her guinea pigs. So cute!

  • Kelly S.
    September 9, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    I think you’re safe on the mating thing — when one our 2 girls had babies (was pregnant when adopted), I was scared of inter-breeding, but did some research and apparently the babies take about 4-5 weeks to become sexually mature. Fingers crossed for you!

    By the way, have you seen the open air C&C cages you can buy or build? My husband made ours, a 2-story one. They take up a TON of room though, and I don’t think you’d want 2 of them in your house!

    • lsaspacey
      September 10, 2015 at 1:43 am

      I think she meant the new mom (Speedy?) has already gotten pregnant again?

    • Making it Lovely
      September 10, 2015 at 12:53 pm

      Yep, I’m worried that Speedy (the new mom) might be pregnant. We were SURE she was pregnant in the first place. Two girls! So then yeah, she had her babies and as I was reading about guinea pig babies, I read that the females go into heat again and mate immediately after giving birth. It’s dangerous for them to have back-to-back pregnancies, so we hope she isn’t for her health’s sake, but also because we don’t want a million babies! We did separate the dad the day the babies were born, but it’s possible we were already too late.

      And I have seen those C&C cages! We have cats though, and a baby that likes to stand up along the side of the cage, hold on, and cruise, so I figure the sturdy cages we have now with tops are best (even if they are pretty ugly).

  • Kimberly
    September 10, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    Love the blog, don’t know if I’ve ever commented before, but as a guinea pig owner I have to weigh in. First of all, they should go to the vet just like other pets and vets are sexing experts (no more oops its a he!) and they can determine if Speedy is pregnant. When my GP was pregnant (I adopted her that way) the vet actually listened to the heartbeats of the babies in utero and let me know that there were at least two distinct heartbeats. We ended up with 3 babies. Second of all I LOVE C&C cages. I have a dog and I just used zip ties to attach a top and the panel rotate for human access and cleaning. super easy. also check that you have enough square footage for your GP family…its more than you’d think! They are wonderful pets. So much love in a little cute squeaky package :)

  • beks
    September 10, 2015 at 5:53 pm

    did you notice E is wearing critter clothes in most of the pictures? adorable =^^=

  • Julie.
    September 11, 2015 at 7:23 am

    Thanks so much for this info!! My daughter is E’s age and also a huge animal lover. She’s been asking a LOT for *something* (fish, hamster, GP, turtle). I wasn’t sure I could handle it but this post gives me confidence!

  • Rebecca
    September 11, 2015 at 9:16 am

    I had guinea pigs growing up to… they were great! I’m not sure if you do this with your cage, but to make changing easier we used to line the bottom with newspaper and then used the carefresh bedding on top. To clean up we could just roll everything up into a bedding burrito and pop it into the trash bag. Less mess and a bit quicker that way. Also, cardboard oatmeal container tubes were a favorite chew-able tunnel of both our piggies :)

  • Malia
    September 11, 2015 at 9:43 am

    We had guinea pigs when I was a kid and after one too many rounds of babies, my parents opted to get the mother spayed. So there’s your next backup plan, haha. I think it was surprisingly expensive, though.

  • Francesca
    October 4, 2015 at 9:56 pm

    Hi Nicole Mom said that the babies had babies! If you have pictures of the babies I would like to see them. I also have a question who had the babies? I would like to now. Love you.

  • Francesca
    October 4, 2015 at 10:10 pm

    Quick question can you post some of the photos of the wedding if so that would be great. Love you sis.