While hamsters appear to have a cute and cuddly exterior, they may not possess the qualities that one would expect in a pet. Despite the “nature of the beast,” they’re frequently bred and advertised as “starter” animals for young children.
Unsuspecting and ill-informed, parents flock to pet stores every year around the holidays to get their kids a fluffy new friend. Not long after, many hamsters are returned for one reason or another.
They bit a child, they’re attacking another companion that resides in the same habitat, or they’ve suddenly fallen ill.
Here are a few things to think about before you make the commitment, and please...take your time.
#1 They Bite Frequently
There are a couple reasons for this, the first being that they’re biologically built to be hunted by large predators. As tiny beings in a huge world, it's understandable that hamsters immediately turn to the only real weapon of defense at their disposal...a sharp set of teeth.
The second reason, in my experience, is that these animals just don’t much appreciate being handled in general.
They will stand up on their hind legs, bare teeth, bite, and screech as a way of saying “I’ve had enough.” Every now and then though, I’ll hear someone talk about a ham that loved being touched and held.
This is the exception, not the rule.
Gaining a hamster’s trust can take a few weeks to a couple of months. In time, they’ll eventually come to recognize you as the giant who feeds them and keeps their house clean.
They might warm up to you, and they might not.
Robo, Dwarf, and Russian hamsters are a bit more easy-going than the Syrian breed, and may allow for more physical contact as they adjust to your scent and routine.
#2 Hamsters Are Nocturnal
If you enjoy the pitter patter of little feet, you’ll love the sound of your hamster’s exercise wheel...at various hours throughout the evening. When it's time to wake up in the morning, you’ll likely find them sleeping soundly beneath a pile of bedding or inside their hide.
Hamsters are basically blind during the daytime...which could be another explanation for their tendency to bite. They may be able to see some shapes and shadows, but these rodents mainly rely on their sense of hearing and smell to get around.
This also means that you’ll have to get used to their midnight jogs. Without proper exercise, even if it's after hours, hamsters can become overweight, experience muscle wasting, and may eventually become paralyzed.
Keep them in a separate room during the night, if need be.
#3 If Housed Together, They Will Kill Each Other
Just because dogs and cats can live together peacefully, doesn’t mean that the rest of the animal world does.
Syrian hamsters are especially territorial, and they really can’t help it. Syria has a hot, dry climate that doesn’t offer much in terms of staying fed, hydrated, and hidden from large predatory animals.
So, these critters are ready to fight off competition at all times.
In an attempt to provide a companion, new hamster owners will often try to place a male and a female in the same habitat. Sometimes the animals get along a little too well and end up breeding.
Unfortunately, it's quite common for both male and females to kill and eat their babies.
That being said, there’s no need to question whether or not your hamster is lonely. They’re more than likely enjoying all of the space they have to themselves.
#4 Hamsters are Illness & Injury Prone
As a creature who resides close to the bottom of the food chain, hamsters are typically at a higher risk for stress and anxiety. Even as pets, they instinctively seek to identify potential threats in their environment and avoid them at all costs.
So, if your hamster’s habitat is placed next to a loud television, or a barking dog, or within reach of a hungry cat all throughout the day, it could start to impact their overall health.
Just like a human, an overstimulated hamster can fall ill.
Wet Tail is a common bacterial infection that usually occurs when your pet’s immune system is already compromised from excessive stress. The bacteria develops in the rodent’s poop, which can then easily cross-contaminate with food and water. After ingestion, your hamster will show signs of diarrhea and swelling in the bottom from irritation.
The good news is that it can be treated with antibiotics, but these rodents still need regular cage maintenance and physical assessments.
#5 They Live Fast and Die Young
Hamsters live tragically short lives of only two to three years, maybe four if they’re well taken care of. That said, these little guys obviously aren’t the best option as a pet if you were hoping to give your child a lifelong friend.
As a species, rodents typically have shorter lifespans than other mammals. Guinea Pigs, mice, and rats usually expire around the five year mark, while chinchillas and sugar gliders (in captivity) begin to reach max age around the ten to twelve year mark.
For the most part, hamsters are a lot like fish. They’re cute and fun to look at, but they can be very difficult to maintain and aren’t the most interactive animals.
If you choose to adopt one of your own, handle them with care!