Childrens Pets
Helping you choose the right pet

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Children and Hamsters

Caring for a pet is one of the pleasures of childhood.  It develops responsibility and a sense of pride in having the care of a living being in your hands.  Not only that, but it is fun!

Owning a hamster is often a first real test of whether or not a child is ready for owning a pet that requires more care, such as a cat or a dog.  Hamsters need more care than fish, but they are able to handle being “forgotten” for a day or two without harm (unlike cats or dogs).  They are also small and not intimidating for a child.

Caring for a hamster can show important lessons, such as the fact that pets are not toys.  Children need to learn that a pet is a living, breathing creature that requires gentleness and nurturing in order to live.

They need to learn how to play gently and how to be compassionate, and having a pet certainly helps with that process.

Hamsters are good at teaching children how to put the need of others before themselves.  For example, children need to learn that hamsters need to be allowed to sleep, even when the child would rather play.  They can be taught that hamsters need not be handled too often, and just because the child is not tired, the hamster might be.

Hamsters can teach a child to watch for signs of fear or fatigue, and these can be wonderful lessons to apply to “real life” for the child.

Parents need to realize and accept, however, that kids will be kids.  Parents will need to make sure that food is bought when needed and that their child is actually performing the duties necessary for having a pet.  Parents need to make sure that fresh water and other materials are provided, along with routine cage cleaning and opportunities for exercise.  If the child is very young, the parent will be solely responsible for the care of the hamster and only allow supervised interaction between the child and the pet.

Since the parent is involved in the process of caring for the hamster, it really does help if the parent is enthusiastic about the new pet.  If you, as a parent, are not comfortable with handling a hamster or any other aspect of caring for one, then perhaps a hamster is not the right choice until a child is much older and can do the majority of tending to the animal with minimal supervision.

Aside from the lessons learned by caring for a small animal, having children around hamsters can provide many other lessons as well.  Having a beloved hamster die can be a difficult lesson, but it helps children deal with an issue on a smaller scale something they will have to deal with later on in life on a much larger scale.  Openly discussing issues about things affecting your pet, such as illness and death, with a child will make it easier to have these discussions later in life- when the issue is much more serious.

One final note about children and hamsters – two of the causes of sudden death in hamsters are starvation and dehydration.  Many of these instances have happened, presumably, when a child was the primary caretaker for a hamster.  Parents must take steps to make sure that their children are not neglecting their pets.  Make the learning process meaningful for children and pleasant for the pet.

Selecting a Hamster

Selecting a hamster is a very important process.  Choosing the wrong hamster can make you regret your decision to have a hamster in the first place!

First, decide on the breed you want.  While temperaments can vary from individual to individual, there are some general tendencies for each breed.

Syrian hamsters

These hamsters are the largest breed of hamsters kept as pets and are not as quick as dwarf hamsters.  This makes them easier (in general) for children to handle.  They calm down as they age, so they are less likely to jump out of your hands when they are older.  Syrians are more likely to hold still for and get used to petting and cuddling than dwarf hamsters.  Keep in mind that Syrians are very territorial and must be kept one to a cage.

They reach six to eight inches when full grown and come in a variety of colors.

Chinese hamsters

Also known as the striped hamster and rat-like hamster, these dwarf hamsters can be nervous, and untamed adults are usually difficult to tame.  Once tamed, however, they tend to become easily handled.

They reach four to five inches upon becoming adults.  They are greyish-brown with a black stripe with a silky fur.

Roborovskii's hamsters

This is the smallest species of pet hamster.  They are also the fastest and move very quickly.  They are so fast, in fact, that they can be difficult to handle.  They are not highly recommended for children since they are so quick and not easily handled.

They only reach about two inches in length when full grown.  They are sandy brown with white markings.

Winter White and Campbell's hamsters

These species are rather easy to tame, provided they get plenty of human interaction.  At one time, these two species were considered one species, but it has since been discovered that they are not the same.

These hamsters reach approximately 4 inches in length when adults.

Gender does not seem to play affect in the temperament, so the gender of a hamster is not a concern unless you plan to breed them.

Watch the hamster as it interacts with the store employee or other handler.  If the hamster seems very nervous or bites, he is not a good candidate for becoming a new member of the family.  You want to find a hamster that is curious and not afraid of people.

Check to make sure the hamster appears to be in good health and does not have any symptoms, such as a runny nose, discharge from the eyes, or wet fur near the tail.  These can all be signs of disease.  

Look at the condition of the housing of your hamster.  Make certain that the housing is clean and free of a strong smell of ammonia.  Dirty cages cause stress and disease in hamsters, so even if your hamster is not sick at the moment, it might become ill after coming home due to the added stress of a new environment.  Don't take the chance.

Finally, choose a younger hamster.  A hamster that is older is often much more difficult to tame and can have problems adjusting to a new environment.  A younger hamster will have more years to enjoy being a welcome addition to your family.