Almost everyone is familiar with hamsters as pets. These cute and furry creatures pop to mind when you think of the quintessential family or classroom pet.
Hamsters are a mainstay of every pet store, and the small fuzzy animals are often purchased as first time pets for children.
Pets are great for kids. No question.
Research suggests that children have stronger and more fulfilling relationships with their pets than with brothers, sisters, and sometimes their chosen friends, and hamsters are an obvious choice as a beginner pet.
But before you hop in your car and rush out to your local pet shop, there are definitely some things you need to know about hamsters.
In this article, we will give you all the information you need to make the right choice when deciding whether or not a hamster is right for you and your family.
Do Hamsters Make Good Pets?
Let’s start with the most basic question, do hamsters make good pets?
The answer is yes and no.
What you really should be asking is whether or not a hamster is right for you or your family.
The first thing you should know is that hamsters are rodents. Hamsters are closely related to animals like mice, rats, chipmunks, and even squirrels. Generally speaking, rodents are mammals that do not have canine teeth. They instead have long and strong incisors that grow continuously.
While you might be a bit hesitant to keep a rodent as a pet, you may be surprised to learn that much of what you know about rodents may be false.
The animals are extremely clean and they often do everything in their power to keep their environments, and themselves, tidy. They urinate in designated areas of their habitats and litter can be placed in this space for easy cleaning.
When the animals do use the litter or bedding, you may be surprised at the light odor coming from the cage. Hamsters are omnivores but eat very little, if any, meat. High-protein foods, like meat, cause urine to smell strongly of ammonia. This is why your hamster cage may not smell so bad, but your cat’s litterbox will.
Speaking of cats, if you have one, then a hamster is not going to be a good pet for you.
Experts like Albright and de Matos tell us that hamsters are fearful of the smell of cats. Since hamsters have a keen sense of smell, even the presence of a cat in your home can lead to a very stressed out hamster.
Hamsters as Pets – For Kids
Hamsters do seem like the perfect pets for children. However, there are a few key things you need to consider. Hamster, like most other rodents, are nocturnal.
This means your child’s furry companion will be active at night.
If the hamster cage is placed in your child’s room, then this can lead to some noisy and sleepless nights.
Also, a sleepy hamster can be frustrating for children who want to play with their new pet during the day.
However, hamsters will typically wake up in the early evening. If you have an older child that goes to bed at 8 PM for example, then they can get a few hours of playtime in with their new pet before bed.
Hamsters are good pets for older children for a few other distinctive reasons.
Hamsters are considered prey animals that are a food source for predators.
In the wild, (yes, there are an abundance of the furry creatures living wild and free in Europe and Asia) they are eaten by snakes, birds of prey, wild canines (wild dog species), and cats.
The fact that hamsters are prey animals means they are quite skittish and they become fearful if you move quickly or talk loudly.
Hamsters require a gentle voice and touch. This is one reason why The Humane Society of the United States, as well as other professional animal organizations, suggest hamsters for children who are over eight years old.
Older kids simply have the patience and the ability to remain calm and quiet.
Best Hamster Pet
Now that you know a bit about hamsters and how they may be best for older children, you can start thinking about the best hamster pet for your family.
It may be surprising to learn that there are about 24 species of hamsters. However, there are only about five species that are kept as pets.
The different hamsters have very unique personalities, kind of like what you would expect when choosing a specific breed of dog.
Let’s take a closer look so you can start thinking about choosing your new furry friend.
Dwarf Hamsters As Pets
If you have ever wandered into a pet store and noticed tiny little hamsters sitting in their cages, then you are familiar with dwarf hamsters.
While the hamsters are often labeled simply as dwarf varieties, the name is one used to describe three different types of hamsters that include Siberian, Campbell’s, and Roborovski or Robo hamsters.
It is important that you ask the pet store clerk about the hamster species they are selling, because all three have their own unique traits.
Roborovski Hamsters As Pets
The Roborovski or Robo dwarf hamster is extremely common. They are the smallest of the dwarf hamsters and measure only about one and a half to two inches long. When you see a dwarf hamster at your local pet store, then it is very likely a Roborovski.
The adorably tiny rodents have a mild temperament and live between about one and three years. These hamsters are less likely to bite than others, and they can form strong bonds with their human companions. This is great news if you decide on a Roborovski for you son or daughter.
Robo hamsters also are among the only hamsters that can live in pairs without fighting one another. However, the hamsters will need to live together from a young age, so adopt or purchase your hamsters as a pair if you want them to live in harmony with one another.
Campbell’s and Siberian Hamsters As Pets
Campbell’s and Siberian hamsters are extremely similar. They are identical in almost every way, and some dwarf species are actually a combination of Siberian and Campbell’s hamsters. One of the only differences between the two types is the fact that a Campbell’s hamster will only live a year or two, while a Siberian hamster can live up to three years.
The dwarf hamsters are the most active and can make a lively addition to your home, but you should only get one, because they are likely to fight with one another.
Siberian hamsters have unique markings in the way of stripes that cross their backs. Since the spry rodents are a bit more active, they may be more difficult to catch if they escape and they also may bite more. This means they may not be the best choice for a child who wants to interact directly with their pet.
Chinese Hamsters As Pets
If you like your pets small and adorable, then Chinese hamsters may be a good choice for you.
These hamsters are small, but they are not a dwarf variety. They are actually about twice the length of a dwarf hamster at four inches, but their bodies are extremely slender. You definitely need to keep this in mind when buying a cage, because these wily critters can easily become escape artists.
Chinese hamsters can live up to three years, and they have a unique coloring. Dark and light hairs of brown and gray line their backs and their bellies are a pure white or cream color.
The rodents can be a bit timid, but they can make wonderful companions if you use a gentle touch.
Syrian Hamsters As Pets
Syrian hamsters have a few different names that you may be familiar with.
The pets may be called “golden” or “teddy bear” hamsters. These hamsters are the most popular, outside of Robo dwarf hamsters, and can be readily found at pet stores.
The hamsters are called “golden” based on their honey-gold and orange toned hair. The “teddy bear” nickname has a lot to of with the cute puffy cheeks, the small ears, and the overall petite features of the animals. These features are what make the hamsters an easy favorite.
Syrian hamsters are the largest of the common breeds and may grow to a whopping seven inches. The pets have a good temperament and can be handled regularly. They are also active and playful.
While this is true, the hamsters should be housed alone and they also should be given a good amount of solitary time.
Handling for 30 to 60 minutes during their active period is best, especially when it comes to reducing biting concerns.
Best Hamster Breed
The best hamster breed will depend upon what you want from your hamster.
Hamsters as pets vary a lot. As you can see, there may not be a specific type of hamster that is right for everyone.
Do Hamsters Bite?
There is one thing you may have noticed while reading about different hamster species; the fact that hamsters bite. This is true and it is a natural reaction when the rodents feel threatened, so always try to remain calm around your pet.
Another thing that may cause biting problems is when a hamster’s teeth become overgrown. This can be painful and stressful. Thankfully, you can easily prevent dental issues by providing suitable wooden chews. Make sure to ask your veterinarian about this. Professionals can be a great resource when it comes to hamster health.
Caring for a Hamster
Once you decide on the best cute and furry critter for your home, you need to be diligent about care. In fact, your hamster’s happiness depends on the care you provide, according to a research study conducted at John Moores University.
It you want happy and heathy hamsters, then look for a cage that offers a space that is at least two square feet in size. Wire cages work well because they offer a good deal of ventilation. Just make sure there is only one-quarter to one-half inch of space between each bar.
Keep in mind that a hamster can slip through a space as long as he can fit his head through it.
You should place a small nesting box, exercise wheel, a food dish, a tunnel, and a water bottle in the cage. Line the bottom with bedding made from aspen wood chips.
Some pets can develop respiratory problems from bedding materials that contain phenols. Phenols are aromatic oils present in bedding made from pine and cedar, so definitely avoid products that contain these woods.
When you purchase the right aspen bedding, place one-half to one inch of the material in the cage. Make sure to change bedding at least once a week.
When it comes to feeding your hamster, you should provide a seed mix as well as a pellet or lab block food. For the best nutrition and variety, alternate between the two foods and feed your hamster about one tablespoon of food a day.
Treats like small bits of apple, some cauliflower, a few raisins, or a pinch of greens are a good choice as a daily snack.
Hamsters As Pets
In conclusion, hamsters can make great pets whether you want a companion for yourself or a fuzzy friend for your school-aged child.
If you have any concerns about hamster care or heath, then it is always wise to speak to your veterinarian. The professional can be a great resource if you want to understand a bit more about how your son or daughter should best interact with your new rodent pal.
Was your first pet a hamster? Are you looking to add an adorable teddy bear hamster to your family? Let us know all about it in the comments below.
- Matthew T Cassels, Naomi White, Nancy Gee, Claire Hughes,
One of the family? Measuring young adolescents’ relationships with pets and siblings, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology
- Albright, J. & de Matos, R., (2010), ‘Hamsters,’ in ed Tynes, V. V., Behaviour of Exostic Pets, Chichester, UK, Blackwell-Wiley.
- Bethell, Koyama, (2015), Happy hamsters? Enrichment induces positive judgement bias for mildly (but not truly) ambiguous cues to reward and punishment in Mesocricetus auratus, Royal Society Open Science