We spoke to some young’uns about what they’ve learned from looking after rabbits and guinea pigs, and what to consider if you’re looking to add some pocket pets to the whānau. Turns out, these kids really know their stuff!
What are your pets’ names and how did you choose them?
“Whiskers – because he sorta looked like a rat when I first got him. Mum wanted to call him Oreo because he’s black and white, and so did my sister but I went with what he looked like. Gus Gus got his name because he’s fat – he’s named after the mouse on Cinderella.”
Evie, 12, guinea pig guardian
“Pickle and Bubble… and we didn’t exactly choose them. We named Bubble because it was during Covid that we got them and on the photo it said “can we join your bubble?” Pickle used to be Pikelet because he was quite small and chunky. We renamed him Pickle because he got longer.”
Zephyr, 12 and Caspian, 10, guinea pig guardians
“We picked his name [Jack] out of random but then we found out there’s a famous actor called Jack Black. Black’s our last name.”
Molly, 9, rabbit caregiver
What are they like? Do they have different personalities?
“Whiskers is a very social guinea pig compared to Gus Gus. Whiskers will come out and run around with you whereas Gus Gus will just sit there with you. He’s a very antisocial guinea pig and really likes his hidey hole.”
“Pickle loves bullying Bubble. He fights him and chases him around everywhere. Picky’s just not that nice. If Bubble finds a really good patch of grass, he’ll chase him off it to get it.”
How about with humans? Do they interact with you?
“They are kind of terrified of humans. They like coming inside if they can run and hide under a cushion or something. They are quite scared little things.”
“Jack doesn’t like getting picked up. He stomps his back feet when he’s mad and growls. When he’s happy he jumps – binkys – and chatters his teeth.”
“Sometimes he only wants, like one second of interaction. He’ll stay for a pat and then run away. And sometimes he’ll just turn around and stick his butt out at us when he doesn’t want to play anymore.”
Amelia, 10, rabbit caregiver
“He came to school one time and loved the attention! He was looking around at everyone, like “can I play with you? Can I play with you?” The first time he came to school he was kind of shy and stayed hiding under his box though.”
What have you learned about caring for animals?
“The guinea pigs are very different to Sizzle and Charlie [the family dog and cat] who just walk around and do what they please. GusGus and Whiskers need more attention than you’d think. If, like, I knew how much work it took to clean out their cage each week and all the money I’d spend on them, I probably would have rethought my decision until I was older. But now that I have them, I think I couldn’t live without them.”
“It’s a lot harder than I thought. They hide a lot so it’s hard to get them out of the hutch when you’re trying to move it around. It’s also very hard to clean out and they always tip out their water.”
“We’ve learned about feeding him. And cleaning him cos he gets really dirty. We have to be careful about what we plant (in the garden) because if we choose certain stuff, he’ll eat it.”
Amelia and Molly
What do you know about guinea pigs or rabbits that you didn’t know before?
“I didn’t know that much about what they could eat. Now I know which vegetables they can eat – did you know they can eat popcorn too? As long as it doesn’t have any seasoning...Oh and their teeth never stop growing so I have to give them plenty of hay and wood chews to keep them down. I also didn’t know how much they actually poo. When I had some in pre-school, my mum used to clean them up – but now I have to do it.”
Evie, 12, guinea pig guardian
“Rhododendron flowers are poisonous to rabbits. George, the other rabbit we had, ran away and another girl was feeding him rhododendron flowers and then he came home and went to sleep. They can’t eat lettuce, either. And they can’t eat wild flowers – like lupins. Jack doesn’t like the kitchen floor because it’s slippery and he can’t grip so he’s always on the carpet. We make little bridges of mats for him."
How did you convince your parents to let you get them?
“With a presentation. I also paid for everything myself, and my sister put in $80 too. I convinced them because I showed photos of them and did some research. I sent emails to the guinea pig people, like Nichol’s, and they sent me a list of everything I needed.”
"Well, they convinced us. They showed us a photo and asked us if we wanted these pets. We already had the hutch from a bunny we had."
If your guinea pigs could talk, what would they sound like?
“Whiskers… would probably have a very high-pitched voice, just because of how excited he gets. He’d mostly be asking for food because he’s quite a greedy guinea pig. If GusGus could talk… he’d have almost a singer’s voice, I guess. Like a voice from a musical Disney movie.”
“Murmma berdum merka dupa doop”
“He’d be kind of high-pitched… but like a cowboy, a high-pitched cowboy. Or sometimes he’d sound like a grumpy old man because he’s two and that’s pretty old for rabbits.”
Molly and Amelia
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting guinea pigs?
“Watch YouTube videos and documentaries about guinea pigs care but be careful what you watch. Some of them are good and some aren’t. Also research whether you want boys or girls – boys are less social until they get to know you and girls are social straightaway but they do have a bit of a temper. And you need to get two because they get lonely otherwise.”
“If you like paranoid animals, then get them! (joking)”
“They’re hard to look after – you have to get a hutch, put in a gate so they don’t run out and make some hiding spots for them outside and get two pet bowls, one for food and one for water. Oh and you’ll need quite a lot of hay. They eat it and they hide in it. And poop in it.”
"Don’t feed them any poisonous stuff. Get two brothers or two sisters, don’t get just one. And there’s a warning… They eat a lot of stuff like carpet and cords. We’ve lost a lot of cords."