Children love cute animals and are intrigued by having a pet of their own. They often beg their parents for a pet and promise to take care of it diligently and enthusiastically. When parents are ready to give in, a small pet like a hamster may seem ideal because of its small size and big cute factor, but families should first consider what is involved with caring for a hamster who becomes a new member of a family, particularly with children.
Hamsters are rodents that in the wild survive by eating fruits, greens, seeds and insects. They burrow underground in the daytime to avoid predators, then are active at night. Since they are nocturnal, a family should be prepared for their pet hamster to sleep a lot during the day and to move in the cage at night, which may be disturbing to sleep if the hamster is kept in a child's room.
Hamsters love to forage and store food for later, and have long pouches on each cheek for this purpose. Once the pouches fill with seeds or other food hamsters have an amusing appearance, as the food bulges on both sides. Another entertaining habit is their preference for running in a wheel. They seemingly run for hours with endless energy. Hamsters also love to dig and create burrows in bedding material. These activities are fun for children to watch.
A primary concern when considering a pet hamster for a child is the degree of care and attention the animal will receive. A responsible child or adult should clean the cage and change the bedding at least weekly, and provide fresh food and water daily. In addition, hamsters are largely solitary animals and do not need a partner in the cage. In fact, they will probably fight and hurt each other if living in close quarters with another hamster.
Hamsters have poor eyesight and are easily startled. Therefore, anyone who wants to reach inside the cage to pet the hamster or pick him up should do so slowly to avoid scaring the animal. Although it is possible to pick up and hold a hamster, a startled hamster may bite. The Humane Society of the United States states that children under 8 years of age may not be mature enough to handle a hamster independently.