Is a Hamster the Right Pet for You?

hamster as a pet

Ricky Kharawala / Unsplash

Who isn’t taken by a hamster’s large, shiny eyes, fluffy appearance, and tiny toes? No wonder the hamster is a popular and well-loved small rodent pet. However, there are some misconceptions and often unknown facts about hamsters that you should consider before heading to the pet store to pick one out. Keeping in mind these important things will help you decide whether a hamster is the right pet for you.

Activity Level

One important thing to consider about hamsters is that they are nocturnal. Many people picture an active little creature running around their hamster wheel and keeping them company throughout the day.

In reality, daytime is generally nap time. Of course, you will still see your hamster throughout the day, but this isn’t when they are most active.

If you are a light sleeper, you may want to consider where in the house you will keep your hamster so any late-night play sessions don’t keep you awake.

If you are a night owl, these little guys make perfect late-night companions.

Cage and Space Requirements

Though young hamsters are commonly seen in groups at pet stores, most mature hamsters are territorial and require their own cage. If you happen to have a female hamster who gives birth, it is extremely important to give her and her young a calm, separate space. A stressed or disturbed hamster mother may kill or eat her babies.

Certain species, such as some dwarf hamsters, can live together as long as they are properly introduced.

The cage should also be sufficient size to allow for separate sleeping, exercise, feeding, and toileting areas.

Hamster looking out of cage

Cleaning Requirements

Keeping your hamster’s cage clean is important for both you and your hamster’s health. However, you don't want to clean it so often that it disturbs your new friend.

Cleaning the cage weekly is advised. Be sure to always wear gloves and thoroughly wash your hands afterwards to avoid any sicknesses or diseases you could potentially catch from your hamster.

Other cleaning tasks include keeping your hamster's bathroom area clean and wiping out food and water dishes or bottles. Tidying up your hamster’s bathroom area is best done daily, while food and water dishes and bottles are best done during the weekly clean. Remove soiled bedding and replace with fresh bedding as needed.

Everyone once in a while, taking the cage completely apart and cleaning it with soap and water will help keep the enclosure clean and free from any smells.

Supplies and Cost

Though the price of purchasing the hamster itself is relatively small, the cost of owning a hamster does not stop there. When calculating the costs, be sure to consider all of the supplies and items required to properly house and care for a happy hamster.

These include, but are not limited to, a cage, bedding material, nesting area, exercise wheel, tunnels and toys, water bottle, food dish, food, and treats.

If your hamster ever gets sick or has health problems, you'll also need to consider the potential of vet bill costs. Conditions like wet tail, respiratory infections, diarrhea, and abscesses may all require a vet's attention.

Children and Hamsters

Though often viewed as a perfect pet for young children, their small size and cute features don’t necessarily mean this is true. Children often have the potential of squeezing, dropping, or startling these fragile creatures. This can lead to a scared hamster, and nervous or startled hamsters may bite. It is always best to have adult supervision anytime a child is playing with a hamster and to gradually and positively introduce them to gentle handling.

Another thing to consider is the hamster’s nocturnal nature. Many children want a fuzzy friend to play with after school, but this is usually a hamster’s time to sleep. Waking the hamster from their nap could cause them to feel grumpy, startled, or insecure with his surroundings.

On top of the above reasons, hamsters are little, fast creatures and have the potential of getting lost. A hamster on the run can get into trouble or be harmed by getting stuck under furniture, chewing wires, or getting injured by other pets.

Avoid this possibility by providing a hamster ball for your pet to zoom around in. Not only will it keep your hamster safe, but it will provide a fun way to burn off some energy!

Diseases and Health Concerns

Hamsters can be carriers of different diseases and viruses, such as salmonella and Lymphocytic choriomeningitis. Both can be transferred to humans.

Salmonella causes intense periods of sickness and gastrointestinal distress. Lymphocytic choriomeningitis, though rare, can cause flu-like symptoms and can be a serious concern for those with compromised immune systems or for women who are pregnant. This disease can also transfer to the unborn child and cause serious problems.

The best way to protect yourself from getting sick is to make sure you wash your hands after handling your hamster or when conducting routine tasks like feeding or cleaning the cage. This should definitely be stressed with children, too. And while you are sure to love your furry pocket pet, don't kiss your hamster.

According to the CDC's direction for avoiding the transfer of salmonella from rodents, you should avoid washing your hamster's food and water bowls, toys, or cage in an area used for food preparation. Instead, wash these items in a utility sink, laundry room, outside, etc.

Life Expectancy

Hamsters usually only live for about two years. Such a brief lifespan has its silver lining, since this makes the commitment of caring for them shorter than something like a dog or cat. However, with such a short life expectancy, you won't have your furry friend around for very long. The pain of losing a pet so quickly is definitely something to keep in mind before deciding to add a hamster into your home.

Hamsters make wonderful, entertaining companions, but they may not be suited for every situation. Keeping in mind their activity levels, cage and cleaning requirements, life expectancy, and potential problems can help you determine whether adding a hamster to the family will be the right decision.