Are Hamsters Good Pets For Children? (Read Before You Buy)

Are Hamsters Good Pets For Children?

Has your child asked you for a hamster? If so, they are not alone. In 2021, it was estimated that 1.5 million households in the United States included a hamster. While some of those hamsters belong to adult-only households, many are kept by children as so-called “starter pets”. 

Are hamsters good pets for children? Hamsters make excellent pets for most school-aged children, especially for those who are naturally gentle and calm. Known as “starter pets”, they teach responsibility on a smaller scale and are fairly low-maintenance when compared to most other household pets. Hamsters are not good pets for young children, however, due to their small frames, fast movements, and naturally skittish behavior.

Read on to learn more about the benefits and obstacles that children will face with pet hamsters and which species of hamsters are more likely to be successful as a child’s pet.

Should Children Have Pet Hamsters? The Benefits

There are many benefits to raising hamsters, but two stand out when it comes to children. Hamsters are low-maintenance, and they are less of a commitment than other pets.

Hamsters Offer Children A Lesson In Responsibility

Children must learn responsibility, preferably at a gradual pace – this may include regular chores, cleaning up after oneself, and the completion of homework within a specified time frame. Another excellent way to teach responsibility is in caring for a pet.

Hamsters are especially low-maintenance when compared to other household pets, and are a great way to ease a child into pet ownership. They require regular access to food and water and a weekly cage cleaning. To add to this, hamsters are solitary animals and prefer living alone – an ideal pet for a busy child with a schedule full of sports and friends. 

Hamsters Have A Short Lifespan

Admittedly this may sound macabre, listing a hamster’s short lifespan under “benefits”, but this is something that every parent must consider when it comes to adding a pet to a child’s life. Children are always changing – their interests, schedules, and lifestyles will evolve over time.

It may not be wise to bring home a parrot or a tortoise as your child’s first pet, unless you would like the responsibility of caring for this pet once your child loses interest or moves off to college. Hamsters live 2-3 years, depending on the species.

This is a good amount of time for a child to learn responsibility, bond with, and ultimately say goodbye to her pet (another valuable life lesson, and one that we needn’t shy away from).

Young Children & Hamsters: The Obstacles

There are several reasons that hamsters are not advised for young children or children still growing in the self-control department. Hamsters are small and fragile, they can escape and become lost quickly, and they are skittish prey animals.

Hamsters Are Fragile

Hamsters are very small, with light frames and tiny limbs. They require a delicate hand – something most toddlers do not possess. Have you ever seen a video online of a toddler “holding” a pet cat? If so, you’ve likely seen the excited, happy child crushing the cat against them.

Young children do not know how to control their bodies in the way an older child will and can unintentionally harm a hamster. This would not only be physically harmful to the hamster but would be devastating to the child as well. If a young child is around a hamster, it is important that an adult always be present to supervise and teach the child to pet “with one finger”.

Hamsters Are Quick

For having such little legs, hamsters can sure run. And if they get loose, it can take just seconds for them to become lost. If a little one is sitting on the ground with a hamster in his lap, it will take just a few seconds of distraction before the hamster can climb right under his legs and into the air duct or under the refrigerator.

Hamsters have the unique ability to squeeze into places we didn’t know were possible, and as anyone who has had a few hamsters in their lifetime knows, a lost hamster is often never found. 

Hamsters Have Poor Eyesight

Hamsters are quite lacking in depth perception and have difficulty judging distance. If your child (or you, really) have a hamster in your hands, do not be surprised if your pet walks right off of that platform. Because of this, it is important to hold a hamster securely – you must cup your hands so that they must climb (instead of walk) and hold them against your chest.

This is a challenging concept for an adult to learn, let alone a young child. And as touched upon in the previous point, once that hamster walks off the ledge of your little one’s hands and onto the ground, you may have trouble finding (or catching) him. 

Hamsters Are Skittish

Hamsters are prey animals, and with few defenses in their arsenal, their survival relies on being alert to any possible threats. In the perception of a hamster, that includes us humans. This does not mean that hamsters cannot become accustomed to and comfortable with their humans, but this does take patience.

After you bring a hamster into your home, you should leave your hamster in his enclosure for the first several days so that he can become acclimated without the additional stress of being handled. Once you are ready for introductions, you will need to be exceedingly patient and take things at a very slow pace, making a bit more progress each day until your hamster is comfortable.

Most young children are not known for their patience and will find it difficult to give space and time to their new pets. This can result in a fearful hamster, and fearful hamsters can lead to behavioral problems such as biting. 

What Age Is Too Young For A Hamster?

There is a reason we will not say in this post that a hamster is a good pet for children “X years of age and older”. No one can label a child ready for a hamster based on age alone. Every child is unique and a product of both the environment and good old genetics.

Talk to any parent of multiple children, and you will likely hear that they have two little ones who are complete opposites of one another. Children are born wired the way they are wired – some are naturally calm, some are naturally fidgety, and some are naturally impulsive.

You may have a four-year-old who is uniquely calm and quiet for his age, who has a naturally cautious personality, and who stops and thinks things through before acting (some parents may call this “atypical”). This child may be ready for a pet hamster, so long as all interactions are closely supervised.

On the other hand, you may have a boisterous and fun-loving ten-year-old whose life motto is “shoot first, ask questions later” and who has some room to grow when it comes to impulsivity. This sweet kiddo may not be ready for a hamster (and, in fact, a labrador may be a better fit with this one’s lifestyle). 

When it comes down to it, you will need to assess your child and be honest about his or her level of maturity before you can decide whether or not a pet hamster should be in the immediate future.

Which Hamsters Are Best For Children?

If you have a child you believe to be mature enough for a first pet hamster, it would be wise to do some research on the different hamster species. One of the species universally recommended for responsible children is the Syrian hamster.

Syrians are significantly larger than their dwarf cousins (though still small and fragile), and are not quite as quick and active. Syrian hamsters are also typically more docile and receptive to handling than the dwarf varieties.

If you would like a dwarf hamster, you may decide to go with the Winter White. They tend to be friendlier and more docile than other dwarf species and slightly less active. While the Roborovskii (Robo) hamster is commonly kept as a pet, they tend to be warier and less receptive to human handling on average. 

The Verdict: Hamsters Are Good Pets For Older Children
Ultimately, the answer to the question of whether hamsters are good pets for children is: it depends.

Hamsters are great “starter” pets for older and more responsible children. If a child is old enough to safely handle a hamster and patient enough to develop a bond over time, a hamster is an ideal first pet due to the relatively simple care requirements and the limited commitment when it comes to natural lifespan.

On the other hand, a hamster is not a good pet for a very young child or for a child who struggles with self-control and patience. If this is your child, we might gently guide you to the goldfish aisle of the pet store.

To learn more about owning and caring for hamsters and other small pets, you can find my latest articles here!

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