Ask a vet: ham­sters

What par­ents and guardians should know about the tiny pet

Yuma Sun - Raising Yuma Families - - WHAT’S INSIDE... - BY RACHEL TWOGUNS

When think­ing of a starter pet for a child, a ham­ster may come to the minds of many. While the tiny crit­ters may seem like a sim­ple op­tion for an adorable pet, there are many con­sid­er­a­tions to take into ac­count be­fore and af­ter in­tro­duc­ing the pet to the home.

The Hu­mane So­ci­ety of the United States (HSUS) notes that ham­sters are noc­tur­nal, which means they will most likely be ac­tive at night.

In ad­di­tion, since ham­sters of­ten sleep dur­ing the day, the small an­i­mals do not take well to be­ing wo­ken up dur­ing their time of rest, warns Dr. Ch­eryl Haugo, vet­eri­nar­ian at Desert Ve­teri­nary Clinic in Yuma.

“Ham­sters are ac­tu­ally pretty nice pets but of all the lit­tle ro­dent-type pets out there, ham­sters tend to be kind of the most ‘cranky,’ shall we say,” Haugo said. “They don’t like to be sur­prised.”

She added that ham­sters can bite if they be­come alarmed. Haugo sug­gested that when search­ing for a pet ham­ster for chil­dren, to look for one that is young so that it can be so­cial­ized early on to help avoid cranky be­hav­ior when be­ing han­dled. She also noted to look for any dis­charge from the eyes or the nose, which can in­di­cate that the ham­ster is ill.

Be­cause many chil­dren do not have re­fined mo­tor skills, HSUS and Haugo rec­om­mend that chil­dren, es­pe­cially those un­der the age of eight, are su­per­vised while han­dling a ham­ster.

Haugo also cau­tions that ham­sters can carry sal­mo­nella, an in­testi­nal bac­te­ria, and a virus called Lym­pho­cytic chori­omenin­gi­tis. Both can be trans­mit­ted to hu­mans and can cause se­ri­ous is­sues for those who are preg­nant or who have com­pro­mised im­mune sys­tems.

Along with health con­cerns, par­ents and care­givers should also con­sider the space re­quire­ments. She added that most ham­ster species will fight each other if housed in the same quar­ters.

“They do not get along well with each other,” Haugo warned. “It’s best not to have mul­ti­ple ham­sters to­gether.”

Al­though many be­lieve that since ham­sters are small, they are in­ex­pen­sive pets, there are many startup costs to con­sider. The HSUS web­site shows that the ini­tial pur­chase of equip­ment and sup­plies is likely to in­clude a wire cage, aquar­ium or mod­u­lar habi­tat specif­i­cally made for ham­sters, bed­ding and nest­ing ma­te­ri­als, a nest­ing box, an ex­er­cise wheel, a food dish, a wa­ter bot­tle, ham­ster chow, treats and toys.

Typ­i­cally, ham­sters will need to be fed at least twice a day, Haugo said. She ad­vised that only about 10 per­cent of a ham­ster’s diet should con­sist of treats. Ham­sters should be mon­i­tored to make sure they are eat­ing their food. Bed­ding should also be cleaned a min­i­mum of once a week, Haugo said.

A wheel and toys ap­pro­pri­ate for ham­sters are also a must, Huago added.

“They need some­thing to do,” she said. “They are very busy crea­tures.”

If a ham­ster’s hous­ing is prop­erly equipped with toys, bed­ding and op­por­tu­ni­ties for bur­row­ing and

climb­ing, HSUS notes that the small an­i­mals can be fairly in­de­pen­dent and can en­ter­tain them­selves for ex­tended pe­ri­ods of time.

How­ever, ham­sters will still need daily han­dling and in­ter­ac­tion to be con­tent and well ad­justed, HSUS ad­vises.

Ve­teri­nary costs can also come into play for a ham­ster bud­get as the lit­tle crit­ters can de­velop chronic con­di­tions such as di­a­betes or may re­quire emer­gency treat­ment. Huago, who has been a vet­eri­nar­ian for about three decades, says the most com­mon ail­ments she sees when it comes to pet ham­sters in­clude res­pi­ra­tory ill­nesses, in­ter­nal par­a­sites, di­ar­rhea and can­cer.

Like any pet, pre­par­ing to com­mit to the an­i­mal for its life­time should be a con­sid­er­a­tion. The HSUS web page states that the av­er­age lifes­pan for a ham­ster is 2.5 to three years, with slight vari­a­tions among species.

Loaned Pho­tos

This is 7-mon­thold Hammy aka Oreo, with his 10-year-old owner Char­lotte.

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