Is your kiddo begging for a pet? Perhaps a dog or cat or even a pony? Or maybe it's a hamster. A hamster is a classic. Whenever you are considering bringing a pet into the family, it's important to do thorough research and understand the type of care the pet requires. A pet is not a thing or a toy. It is a living being that depends on us for survival and requires our unwavering commitment. They can bring so much joy to us and to our children, as long as we know what we're getting into.
Hamsters are sometimes referred to as "starter pets," implying that they are somehow less important and less of a commitment than cats and dogs and other animals. In fact, when I originally wrote this article as a contributor at Brie Brie Blooms, I referred to hamsters as "starter pets." A colleague of mine, Emmy the Pet Sitter, kindly suggested that we remove the term "starter pet" from our language, and I could see her point. All pets require care and are important. Whether you adore a tarantula, hamster, or pony, they are all "pets." Emmy knows a whole lot about hamsters and, sadly, recently lost her beloved hamster, Winnie. RIP, Winnie, and a special thank you to Emmy for her guidance on this article.
When considering bringing a hamster into the family, I feel that there are three main areas that need to be considered: cost, care, and reward.
Relatively speaking, hamsters are inexpensive pets to keep. Most of the cost will be upfront in purchasing the hamster's environment and its food. Ongoing costs include bedding and food. Veterinary care is not a big factor unless something goes terribly wrong health-wise.
Most hamsters are purchased when they are young in pet stores, but hamster rescues do exist (they may charge a fee). I'm always a believer in rescuing rather than buying, if possible.
The amount you spend can vary, depending on the cage you choose and how many toys you purchase. Cages can be simple one-level structures, or you may opt for a deluxe, multi-level mansion. Always make sure that your hamster has plenty of room to roam and exercise.
ventilated hamster cage (not an aquarium)
Most pet stores will carry a hamster starter kit which will include most of the above.
Hamsters are fairly low maintenance compared to other pets, but it is vital that their needs be met. Care includes the following:
FOOD & WATER: Water should be changed daily, and food levels monitored and replenished as needed.
EXERCISE: Hamsters are active little guys, and require a great deal of exercise. This can be in the form of a hamster wheel inside the cage, and it's also fun to purchase a hamster ball so your pet can explore outside the cage, yet still be safe.
CLEAN ENVIRONMENT: Hamsters lick and chew on just about everything, so it's important to their health to maintain a clean cage. Weekly thorough cage cleanings (with complete bedding change) are recommended. Be sure to use pet safe (we prefer chemical-free) cleaning products. We love PL360 and Melaleuca.
INTERACTION: Though it's best not to house multiple hamsters together, they are quite social with humans and require daily play time and attention in order to be happy and healthy.
When choosing a pet, it's important to consider what the pet can add to your life, something that is especially important when considering a pet for a child. What can hamsters add to your child's life?
• they are playful and fun
• once tame, they enjoy being held and played with
• they are great companions and can help with self-esteem
what are the pros and cons?
As with any pet, having a pet hamster has pros and cons. Some points even overlap both categories.
• they can be tamed, and become quite loving and social
• they love to play, and they are fun to watch
• they are fairly low maintenance, yet rewarding
• they are relatively inexpensive
• they teach children responsibility
• they don't take up a lot of space
• they are nocturnal: if not bothered by the noise, kids report that they help them feel more secure and less lonely at night
• they have a short life expectancy (2-3 years), so they are not as much of a commitment as some other pets
• they can take several weeks to tame, and can be skittish until they are comfortable with you
• weekly cage cleanings
• they can bite, especially before tamed or if you interrupt their nap
• they might (it will happen eventually) poo and pee on you when you hold them
• they are difficult to find if they escape, and they must be kept away from dogs and cats and other pets who may injure them
• they are nocturnal: if your child is bothered by wheel-running and gnawing in the middle of the night, it might be a problem
• they have a short life expectancy (2-3 years)
hamsters and kids: the bottom line
In my opinion, hamsters make excellent pets for school-aged children (six and up). At that age, they can just about care for a hamster by themselves, though, ultimately, parents need to make sure proper care is maintained. A child younger than six may not be able to handle a hamster properly, as they require a gentle touch and a supportive hold. Hamsters make great pets for school-aged children because though they are low maintenance, they are super fun to play with and watch and are quite interactive with people and their environment.
Hamsters are a load of fun. If your child is ready for the commitment and the care as well as the love, go for it!
Does your child have a hamster as a pet? Please tell us about it!
A special thanks to my friend, Tory, of Victoria O'Leary Photography, for allowing me to use her personal photos of her super cute daughter, Leighton, and Leighton's adorable hamster, Cookie. If you live in the Los Angeles area and are looking for an amazing (arguably the best on the planet) newborn/family photographer, please check out her work.
This article, written by me, originally appeared on Brie Brie Blooms and has been reposted here, with minor changes, with permission.