guinea-pig

Having a classroom pet can be a great opportunity to teach students about the needs and requirements of other animals, as well as a fantastic way to teach students about the responsibilities involved with for caring for another living being.

However, the types of pets which are often the most suitable for a classroom environment require a lot of care and attention. Keeping animals in small enclosures is almost always a bad idea for the welfare and overall happiness of your pet. If you have plenty of space to keep your pet outdoors in a much larger enclosure for most of the time, this is definitely going to be a more humane option.

Getting a classroom pet is a big deal, and the decision to do shouldn’t be taken lightly. We’ve put together some important things for you to consider before choosing to bring a furry, scaly or feathery new friend into your classroom.

Please note: It’s a much kinder option to adopt a healthy classroom animal rather than purchasing one from a supplier or pet store. Thousands of animals are killed each year because they cannot find homes. Search online for adoption centres in your area or contact your local RSPCA. You will also be using the experience to teach your students a valuable lesson about the importance of and need for animal shelters and rescue groups in their community. 

Which is the most suitable pet for my classroom?

Before choosing the perfect pet for your classroom, you need to consider the animal’s natural behaviour and habitats. For example, if you choose a nocturnal animal or one that’s inclined to hide most of the time, it may wind up getting pretty boring for your students, who will either lose interest in caring for their classroom pet or be too tempted to disturb it while the animal is feeling anxious or is asleep.

Some popular classroom pets include hamsters, guinea pigs, rats, bearded dragons and snakes. Always do your research about what the animal will require in order to survive comfortably and happily in its enclosure, and make sure that you can provide all of these things at all times. It’s always important to make sure that YOU are comfortable with handling the classroom pet, too. After all, you will be its primary caretaker.

Rodents

Keep in mind that rodents such as mice, rats and guinea pigs may require veterinary treatment which can be just as expensive as treating dogs and cats. Most rodents are also highly sensitive to noise, so it’s important to keep them in a quiet area, with a place they can hide comfortably inside their enclosures.

Rats and mice are very social but territorial animals. If their habitat is overcrowded, there is a good chance that they may fight. A 60-litre aquarium or a wired enclosure of the same size should be a minimum requirement for two animals, and you should avoid mixing males and females or different species in the same enclosure.

Fish

Fish don’t really get much credit for how intelligent they are, which often makes it easier for people to neglect and mistreat them. Fish can actually recognise individuals, use tools, and maintain complex social relationships. Needless to say, life in a tank can cause considerable suffering to our aquatic friends.

If you decide on getting a fish for your classroom, remember that the more space they have, the happier they will be. Do your research to ensure species-specific needs and what type of equipment you’ll need (they vary considerably for different species, so be careful!). A general guideline is that you should provide 11 litres of water for every 1 inch of fish. Freshwater fish are much easier to care for than saltwater fish.

Reptiles

Reptiles demand a lot of time and space, and usually cost a fair bit of money to care for. You must ensure they have the right temperate and humidity and specific light/dark cycles that may not coincide with your classroom schedule. Backup power is necessary to maintain a constant temperate in the event of power failure.

Remember, most reptiles are carnivores, and you’ll need to keep frozen dead animals (usually rodents) in the freezer and thaw them to feed your pet.

Birds

There really is no way of justifying keeping a bird in a cage. So if this is your only option to keep a bird as a classroom pet, please reconsider your decision. 

Say ‘no’ to keeping wildlife

Wild animals are mostly not suitable as classroom animals and belong in their natural habitat. When taken out of this setting, they require specialist care that is very unlikely to be met in the school classroom. All Australian natives are protected and permits are required from your state’s Environmental Protection Agency for specific educational use of most native animals. Choosing wildlife as a classroom pet gives students the wrong messages and could encourage them to remove wildlife from their natural habitat. Read about 10-year-old Kayleigh’s rescue experience here, and what wildlife campaigner Lindy Stacker says about the importance of not keeping wildlife as pets.

Set a good example for your students

The best way to ensure your classroom pet doesn’t become neglected and starved of attention or adequate care is to show your students how important it is be a responsible pet owner. Show your students that caring for an animal is a fulltime commitment, and if you’re not willing to do it, then a classroom pet is definitely not a suitable option. 

Please take the time to seriously ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why do I need a classroom pet and can I achieve the same educational objectives without getting one?
  • Who’s going to care for the pet over the evenings, weekends and school holidays?
  • Are students and parents willing and able to care for the pet temporarily, and are you willing to convey the problematic message that animals are a part-time responsibility to your students in such cases?
  • Do you have the time to thoroughly research the needs, behaviours and requirements of the animal you are thinking about getting?
  • Do you have the resources to pay for any necessary veterinary treatment and medicines (including routine checkups), as well as essential equipment and the ongoing costs of providing appropriate food?
  • Can you ensure that air-conditioning, heating and lighting remain on and at the right setting to keep your pet healthy at all times?
  • Are my students mature and capable enough to handle the animal safely and humanely without causing it harm and stress?
  • Am I prepared to console students when their classroom pet dies, and do I have an appropriate plan of action to deal with students’ distress for when this happens?
  • Are there any potential health or safety risks that an animal could bring to my students, and will any parents object to keeping a live animal in the classroom?

Don’t forget the 5 freedoms for all animals and make sure your students know and understand them too – you can download a free poster here.

Further reading:

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