Hamster Parenting Guide
by: Maddy Coleman
Most people walk into a chain pet store and assume that all of the employees are experts on their animals and have the best intentions when it comes to selling customers the right supplies for their new pet. However, this isn’t always the case. It really doesn’t take much be hired at a pet store, and almost little to no knowledge on the animals being sold is required.
As an owner of a syrian hamster I’ve had first hand experience with being given false information at a pet store. I did a lot of research before purchasing my pet, but employees still discouraged me from buying such large supplies for him. They tried to convince me that he didn’t need such an expensive cage or guinea pig sized toys. However, I’m really glad I went with the information I found online, because he’s definitely doubled in size since I brought him home.
Unfortunately, the small pet category is the most neglected in the pet trade. This consists of hamsters, mice, rats, gerbils, guinea pigs, rabbits, and other more exotic small mammals. When purchasing one of these animals most people assume that they aren’t very high maintenance pets because they’re little and “don’t take up much space,” or at least that's usually how employees describe it. Sadly, this, and most of the other information they give you at large pet stores is false. The most common type of cage for these animals are crittertrails which are the stereotypical plastic cages that come with lots of colorful tubes for the animals to “climb and play in”.
Most small pets, besides rats and mice, favor floor space over height when it comes to their enclosure. The minimum cage requirements for hamsters in the US is 450 square inches of floor space. Larger species such as guinea pigs and rabbits need even more than this for bedding, and to dig and create tunnels. Small animals are also more intelligent than people give them credit for, and they need lots of stimulating toys so they don’t get bored. Sadly, both large cages and good quality toys can become costly.
One of the worst mistakes first-time owners of small pets make is choosing the wrong exercise wheels for their animals. Largest species of small mammals require extremely large wheels reaching up to 12 inches in diameter which often don't fit in small cages, and usually only available online. If you get a wheel that is too small it can cause their backs to curve when the run resulting in arthritis. However these larger wheels can cost up to 30 dollars minimum. A lot of people choose mesh wheels because they are cheaper than solid plastic ones, but the animals foot can get caught in the little holes and cause them to bleed, snag claws, or even lose toes.
The most important thing to remember when choosing a small pet that they are naturally prey animals so they really aren’t the best pets for small children with grabby hands, contrary to popular belief. Loud noises and excessive handling can really stress them out, and some species are nocturnal so if you enjoy your sleep it’s best to keep them in a different room, because they can be noisy at all hours of the night.
Overall, these animals make great pets for people who fit the lifestyle requirements, and who are willing to do the necessary research before purchasing them. There are tons of different forums online where people from all over the world can give you proper advice on how to care for them. Some small animals such as hamsters and mice can only live about two-to-three years, but others such as guinea pigs can live four-eight years, so although they may not be in your life for as long as a cat or dog it’s still important to make sure they’re comfortable and happy as long as they’re a part of your family.