Classroom pets are an important part of a child’s education. It often exposes the child to a part of science, animals, that otherwise might not be fully explored. In addition, classroom pets teach a certain level of responsibility with mortal consequences. This is not to be taken lightly. While parents (or teachers) may punish a child for poor grades or not completing an assigned task, there is always that underlying unconditional love that is waiting for the child if the task is completed. On the other had, failure to properly care for a pet can lead to illness and even death.
Classroom pets can be interesting to just observe, but they can add to a well-rounded education. A host of geography questions could be asked. What country was the pet found in first? What is it’s capital? Population? National flag? Anthem? Consumption of food and water can be weighed and charted against what was put into the cage originally. Aspects of mathematics can be performed by calculating percentages of body weight versus the consumption of food and water. Growth records can be maintained. In addition, several basic science questions can be studied. Basic anatomy of internal organs can be examined in charts; measurements of respiration and heart rate can be made. What organs contribute to these basic necessities? Certainly, let us not forget basic reproduction (make sure you know the sex of those litter critters or you may be in for a surprise!) English and reading can be integrated also by trips to the library to find fictional and non-fictional accounts of the classroom pet. Stories can be written about your classroom pet as well as artistic accounts of its adventure into the real world around humans.
As a teacher, several considerations of husbandry, housing, and handling need to be placed on your shoulders. Care for the classroom pet over weekends and holidays needs to be assigned. Some classroom pets can be literally starving or dehydrated by Monday morning. Going from five days of noise and confusion and attention to two days of isolation can be extremely stressful to the pet. Food guidelines should be strictly adhered. Failure to use the proper feed can lead to complications. Not all classroom pets eat the same food, as you will see in the following notes. Costs of these food and basic necessities often falls on the teacher’s shoulders (or pocketbook). If you are into self-medicating your pet (not recommended) you will find that your remedy may also have some very mortal consequences. It is not within the scope of this handout to go into major diseases. You will find lists of pertinent bacterial, viral and protozoal, as well as miscellaneous, diseases that you may encounter. There are enough veterinarians in your area and at the School of Veterinary Medicine to answer any disease question you have. Most are more than willing to help, and if they can’t, they will refer you to someone that can.
Finally, it is important to emphasize that owning a pet is a commitment for the life of the pet, not just a day or a week or two. It is "a pet for its life, not just for Christmas" as the saying goes. What a tragedy to leave a child with the idea that owning a pet is like owning a disposable diaper! Owning exotic or unusual pets is a sure way for a shyer child to get immediate attention, but each child also need to know about the responsibilities associated with pet ownership. Recommendations have been handed down for years to research the specific requirements of the pet, before owning it. Often the student may desire to have a similar pet like the one in the classroom. While this might also be the family’s desire, it is strongly recommended that all aspects of pet ownership is examined before the pet is purchased.
In short, use your imagination to integrate that pesky pet into your everyday life. It will be worth the effort. You will find in the subsequent pages some of the more popular classroom pets (in order of popularity: guinea pig, gerbil, hamster, mouse, rat), as well as some you may not want to consider (rabbit and ferret). In addition, a list is provided of amphibians and reptiles that are often found as pets (and some are certainly not classroom pets!). Good Luck!
Ferrets are not recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association as being acceptable pets for children. Strong caution is urged when considering this as a classroom pet.