by Alexis Upton

Pets can be a great addition to any family. They provide companionship, relieve stress and teach kids about compassion and responsibility.

While common, cats and dogs aren’t the best fit for every family. Pocket pets, like guinea pigs, can be great pets for families who are adopting for the first time.

Guinea pigs are smaller than cats and dogs, making them a perfect pet for smaller spaces, like apartments or condos. They can be more affordable, with most adoptable guinea pigs starting at $25 at SPCA Tampa Bay. They don’t require as much daily attention as cats or dogs, though they still crave affection and require care.

Consider the following before deciding to adopt a guinea pig:

Low maintenance. Guinea pigs require daily feedings of hay, fresh water, fresh vegetables and fruit like apples, blueberries, oranges and grapes and guinea pig pellets. Their cages must be spot cleaned daily to remove soiled bedding, droppings and stale food, and completely cleaned with fresh bedding weekly. They should also be brushed regularly to keep their coats clean and untangled.

Small size. Guinea pigs’ small size is one of their best qualities. Most guinea pigs can weigh up to two pounds, which means they are great for families who live in an apartment or small house. They need a minimum of a four-square-foot cage, which should be kept indoors, out of direct sunlight, and away from drafts and extreme temperatures.

Great for kids. Guinea pigs are great for elementary school children. They aren’t as fragile as hamsters or rabbits and are easy to handle and care for. Caring for guinea pigs can teach children to feed, clean and interact responsibly with pets.

Like to play. Guinea pigs enjoy playing in their cages. Owners should provide cardboard tubes, empty oatmeal containers or coffee cans with smoothed edges for hide-and-seek, or bricks or rocks for climbing. Chew toys or branches or twigs are also good toys for guinea pigs to wear down their teeth, which grow continuously.

Social animals. Guinea pigs are social animals, which means they enjoy playing with others. They will whistle or squeak to get attention, and even jump straight into the air, called “popcorning,” when they are excited. Some guinea pigs prefer to live in small groups. Two or more females will become good friends, but if you want two males, it’s best to choose two from the same litter. Since guinea pigs reproduce rapidly, it’s recommended to separate males and females.

Low cost. Guinea pigs are great for families who want a low-cost pet. Since they eat the same low-cost food each day, like fresh fruits and vegetables, owners don’t need to spend a lot of money on their diets. Guinea pigs are also generally healthy animals. While guinea pigs do not require routine vaccinations, an annual exam is recommended.

A first pet can be exciting and demanding for a first-time pet owner. Pocket pets like guinea pigs are a good choice for families who want a pet that likes to play, is low-maintenance and great with children.

Alexis Upton is the animal welfare supervisor at SPCA Tampa Bay in Largo, Florida, a non-profit, open-admission animal shelter that runs a pet training facility and public veterinary center in Pinellas County. Upton advises future pet owners on how to properly care for and handle animals. She owns a kitten, two dogs, two ferrets and fish.