Hamsters are considered to be the pet of choice for those with small children as they are easy to look after and less of a commitment than larger animals such as cats and dogs. But when is the right time to “give in” to your kid’s constant pleas for a hamster and how do you know that upon leaving the pet store your child’s enthusiasm won’t wane?
If your child is confident enough to handle a hamster, willing to play with it regularly and is prepared to care for them unconditionally themselves, then a hamster is a good first pet for a child. Relatively low maintenance for small children to look after, they are great fun to play with, easy to train and highly entertaining.
If, however, your child is still too young to hold them gently or is not ready for the responsibility of owning a hamster just yet, then I would strongly suggest that you bat away the begging for another year in order to prevent your pet from becoming a chore.
Basic hamster care for kids
When bringing a hamster into your family you should first consider the following: –
- Cost – although a hamster doesn’t require a large financial outlay, you should ensure that can afford to cover all of its needs. This does not just mean the essentials such as a cage, bedding, food, wheel etc, but being able to pay for unplanned events such as visiting the vets or purchasing new equipment.
- Care – if you have been pestered for a pet hamster, it is important that you understand how much looking after is required. If your child has a number of after school activities or you travel a lot, then having a hamster may not be right for your family. Hamsters needs regular handling in order to become tame, and as they are solitary creatures, they crave the company of people.
Getting a hamster is not something that should be considered lightly. We tried to prolong the inevitable by purchasing fish – but unfortunately, they are a lot less cuddly than hamsters! And so at the grand old age of 8 years, we caved in to pet pestering and bought our daughter Oscar – our mischievous Syrian ball of fluff. And although at first, we thought a hamster’s needs were basic – feeding, watering and regularly cleaning out – it soon became apparent that the more time and effort we were prepared to put into his care, the more he gave back in terms of companionship and entertainment.
Pros of getting your child a hamster
- Easy to tame – handling your hamster is one of the greatest joys of owning it. And, it won’t take long for you both to gain confidence if you handle it regularly with kindness and patience.
- Fun to watch and play with – whether it is observing your hamster cramming food into its seemingly endless cheek pouches or watching it run around in circles in its squeaky spinning wheel; hamsters are highly entertaining.
- Low maintenance and clean – rodents are often thought of as being dirty animals, but hamsters are actually very low maintenance and easy to clean. Once familiar with their surroundings, hamsters tend to select a “toilet” area, keeping the rest of their cage almost spotlessly clean.
- Inexpensive – It is not expensive to purchase a hamster, nor do you need a particularly large budget to maintain it as a pet. As long as the cage is large enough for your hamster to eat, sleep and play there is no need to pack it full of gadgets and gizmos.
- Teach responsibility – Fish can be great starter pets, but hamsters really teach and educate children on the importance of responsible pet care. Surprisingly intelligent, hamsters can recognise their owners and are affectionate when well-looked after.
Cons of getting your child a hamster
- Nocturnal – a bit like vampires, hamsters tend to wait until it’s dark before coming out to play. This is because in the wild they live underground, only venturing outside under cover of darkness in search of supplies. Therefore, do not be surprised if they keep you up at night and are unwilling to play during daylight hours.
- Can be skittish – hamsters have poor eyesight which means that they can be quite skittish around noise. Small children should talk quietly around hamsters so that they do not scare them and resist the temptation to put fingers in front of their face, as you don’t want a case of mistaken identity.
- Take time to tame – although hamsters can be trained to be handled it does require a fair amount of time and effort in the early days.
- Can bite – if you hamster is not tamed or handled roughly then they may retaliate with a sharp bite. And yes, it really does hurt!
- Short life expectancy – hamsters only live for 2-3 years, so whilst it does teach children about responsible pet care it also teaches them the circle of life.
You may also be interested in: How to train your hamster not to bite
Best breed of hamster for children
I personally recommend a Syrian hamster as the perfect pet for a child. Out of all the popular breeds, these hamsters are the largest making them easier for small hands to hold. In general, their temperament tends to be friendlier which not only allows your child to build up confidence when handling them, but it makes them far easier to tame. Syrians are solitary hamsters however, so these little balls of fluff rely on their owners for company. I would suggest getting a young hamster so that you can not only tame them quicker but start to built up a bond.
Other breeds such as Chinese hamsters tend to be a lot more timid and harder to catch. This makes them notoriously difficult to tame. One benefit to this breed, however, is that they can be kept in pairs or groups. If, a dominant character starts to assert their authority though, you will need to separate them immediately. Dwarf hamsters are also incredibly speedy so handling them can prove tricky. If you have a child who is willing to put in the time and patience to train it properly, then they can be very affectionate.
I would strongly recommended steering clear of purchasing a Roborovski if you have small children, for although they look incredibly cute, they have a reputation for being a little grumpy and are much harder to handle.
To prepare your child for owning a hamster, why not get them to do the research! This will not only show you how committed they are to the idea of owning a pet hamster, but it will inform them on the correct ways to care for it.
Properly supervised at all times hamsters can make superb pets for children, encouraging them to learn how to be responsible for living things, the importance of keeping their environment clean and the benefits of patience when taming their pet. I am pleased to report that Oscar is still a much loved member of our family by one and all.
Recommended: How to convince your parents to get a hamster!