Ask a vet: hamsters
What parents and guardians should know about the tiny pet
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.
This is 7-monthold Hammy aka Oreo, with his 10-year-old owner Charlotte.