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“Mom, can we PLEASE get a guinea pig?” If your child has seen the new animated film G-Force (or even caught a glimpse of the trailer), this is a question you have likely encountered. It seems that whenever a new movie or television show comes out starring an animal, that animal becomes the new “must have” pet. It’s natural for children to want a “real life” version of the fuzzy, cute, and funny stars of their favorite movies, but is it really a good idea?

When the new version of 101 Dalmations came out a few years back, the rush to purchase dalmation puppies was at an all-time high. Parents stampeded to scoop up a puppy for their children, only to realize that their new puppy didn’t constantly entertain them with adorable antics and wasn’t even a very child-friendly breed. Unfortunately, many dalmations ended up in animal shelters for reasons that could have been prevented with a little research.

Before you give in to your child’s new dream of guinea pig ownership, it’s important to be realistic. We all know that guinea pigs (commonly called cavies) don’t spout jokes or carry heavy artillery like the stars of G-Force, but what might not be widely known is that guinea pigs are naturally skittish and wary of humans. Despite your child’s insistence that “the girl down the street owns a guinea pig and it’s the nicest pet ever”, it is a rare guinea pig that immediately warms up to its human owner. It takes time and a lot of patience to form a bond between owner and cavy; is your child ready for that time commitment?

Beyond the time required to form a loving bond, there is also the time requirement of basic care. Many kids will swear up and down that they will be the sole caretaker of their new pet, but parents should always understand that they will likely be the ones attending to the pet in the long-run. If your child loses interest, are you willing to care for a guinea pig for the eight years it could potentially live? Sadly, many cavies end up in shelters or passed from home to home for this reason.

Expense is another factor that potential owners should not take lightly. So you see a guinea pig at your local pet shop for $25; that doesn’t seem so bad, right? Wrong. A good cage can run you around $100. There is the recurring expense of food, bedding and vitamins. If you purchase a piggy of the long-haired variety, your pet may require regular trips to the groomer. The most forgotten expense, however, is also the largest: vet bills. Upper respiratory infection, vitamin deficiency, ear infection and other health issues are serious threats to cavies and can result in death if not treated swiftly.

If you’ve decided that a guinea pig may not be a great option for your family, you’ll still likely have to deal with the stomping and crying when you tell your child “no.” Believe it or not, it IS possible to turn this into a positive experience for both you and your child. Many animal shelters will allow kids to volunteer if they are accompanied by a guardian. Not only will this give your child the chance to interact with the animals they so desperately desire without actually bringing them home, it will also teach an important lesson about pet ownership. The sight of once-loved, now homeless animals is enough to convince even the most headstrong child of the consequences of rushing into pet ownership.

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