IS A HAMSTER THE RIGHT PET FOR YOUR CHILD?
Hamsters may appear to be the perfect, child friendly pet due to their size. However, they are much more complex pets than many people realise.
Hamsters often do not receive the correct care due to being very misunderstood. In the wild, they will travel many miles per day in search of food; when kept as pets, hamsters are kept in extremely small cages, with incorrect feed and sometimes with other hamsters which is extremely dangerous due to them being a solitary species!
Living in such a small cage is harmful for a hamsters wellbeing as, due to travelling long distances; small cages are not sufficient enough for enrichment and many hamsters get bored and begin climbing the bars of cages, gnawing and trying to escape which can lead to injury, loss of the hamster and potential accidental deaths. Cages commonly sold in pet shops are advertised as being sufficient for a pet hamster (of any size!) which is not the case. Large cages are much better for hamsters and provide a longer, better quality life and are safer. Enclosures should be filled with forage foods, variable substrates, and toys. However, these cages take up a lot of space which means owners often neglect the need of the hamster in favour of their own space.
As well as requiring a large cage, hamsters also require the correct diet both for their overall health, but also for their teeth. Hamsters have hypsodontic teeth which means they are continuously growing; this means they have to constantly wear down their teeth with toys, hay and harder food items to avoid mouth injury. Many pet shops sell food and supply toys which are not suitable for hamsters including muesli type foods and dyed wooden toys.
Muesli type foods are often cheap, artificially dyed and do not contain the correct nutrition. Hamsters are also picky eaters so, if offered this type of diet, they will selectively only eat the tastiest parts – often the sugary, high calorie parts and leave the rest which can result in health conditions like obesity. As well as an appropriate pelleted food, hamsters also require a variety of forage in their diet including herbs, vegetables, flowers, and grains. Another thing many owners do not realise is that hamsters are omnivores meaning they eat both vegetables and meat; this should be added to their diet in the form of mealworms, crickets, chicken, and fish but red meats like beef should be avoided. Having a healthy and varied diet will help your hamster to live as long as possible.
Hamsters are small creatures which may make it seem like they are an ideal pet for children with small hands, however this is again not the case. Hamsters are very quick and wriggly meaning they can be easily dropped or escape leading to injuries or loss of the pet. As well as this, hamsters can bite and are known to bite when they feel threatened or are not comfortable; these bites can be extremely painful – especially for children.
Hamsters are also nocturnal meaning they sleep all day and are most active at night when your child will be asleep. This can be quite ‘boring’ for a child if they are expecting a pet they can ‘play’ with and watch during the day. Keeping hamsters awake during the day can be damaging to their health as it is rather distressing and so, is never recommended.
Hamsters also require regular cleaning of their cages due to them often going to the toilet in their beds and various areas around the cage which can make them quite smelly if left for long periods. If left, hamsters can also develop health conditions from the dirty environment, often from the large amounts of ammonia present in their urine which can affect the respiratory system and eyes. Children need to be aware of the regular cleaning schedules hamsters require and many times, this task will be left to the parents. The correct cleaning solutions are also required as many household chemicals are damaging again to the hamster’s health and reputable animal disinfectants can be pricey.
The decision to have a hamster as a pet for a child must fall solely on the child’s maturity and responsibility levels, but also the willingness of the parents to pick up any tasks and needs where the hamster is concerned as well as ensuring that the hamster can be given the proper care and the loving home it deserves.