In schools across the country, there are examples of classroom pets that are acquired for the wrong reasons or lacking in basic care. There is a correct way to care for a classroom pet, and that starts with a lesson about responsible care and the commitment to animal guardianship. This lesson should include information about companion animal overpopulation and the many things students can do to make their communities a better, safer place for domestic and wild animals. Visit our Lesson Plans page for K-5 lessons on responsible animal guardianship.
For teachers interested in the lessons that a classroom pet can help teach, but wary of the responsibility involved, there are great alternatives. Planning a field trip to a local animal care and adoption center, or a humanely managed zoo or aquarium is a great option. Sometimes these organizations are even able to send a presenter with an animal to visit your school. Another creative alternative to the traditional classroom pet is to foster an animal awaiting adoption. This shorter-term commitment may be a more realistic option for teachers, while still providing the same learning opportunities. Often times, adoption centers are in need of foster families who can provide care to a pregnant Guinea pig, a young kitten, or an adult animal recovering from a minor illness. Depending on the animal itself and the policy of the adoption center, there may be an excellent learning opportunity available.
If you decide to acquire a permanent classroom pet, we encourage you to adopt rather than purchase an animal from a pet store. Adoption promotes the philosophy that animals are a lifelong commitment, rather than a disposable commodity. For guidelines on the life expectancies of classroom pets, see the list below.
Ferrets – 10 to 12 years
Gerbils – 2 to 4 years
Domestic Rats – 2 to 3 years
Domestic Mice – 1 to 3 years
Fish – 5 to 10 years (goldfish)
Visit our Care and Housing Guidelines page for more information.