Tonawanda News

September 22, 2013

CRITTER COMPANIONS: Syrian hamsters your ideal pet?

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — With expandable check pouches, Syrian rodents are adorable and popular. 

Earlier this month I was at a popular pet store chain getting pet food, when a group of about 20 children came in. Their teacher was purchasing a classroom pet. They had decided on a Syrian hamster. In addition to the hamster they also purchased, food, bedding and a critter enclosure complete with plastic tubes. With hamsters being nocturnal I wondered if this was the best choice for a classroom pet.

Syrian hamsters are also known as golden hamsters or teddy bear hamsters. They were most likely the first species of hamster discovered and kept as pets. The name hamster is derived from the German word “hamstern,” which means to hoard. Being kept as a critter companion, these animals are going to have a surplus of food and they are going to hoard it. It is very amusing to watch them cache their food away in many different corners and tubes, only to eat and relocate them a few short hours later.

Syrian hamsters are the most popular hamster for the pet industry and can reach up to six inches in length. They can live up to two and a half years and become very territorial against other hamsters as they mature. This indicates that only one hamster should be in each enclosure.

The teacher bought a plastic critter enclosure with many plastic tubes. I recommend a wire cage or a ten gallon aquarium. Leaky aquariums or larger aquariums are great too. The plastic enclosure that she bought is cute, with bright colors, but not necessary. The plastic enclosures are harder to clean, more expensive and will be chewed down to dangers bits of plastic quickly. 

The enclosure should be kept away from windows and be covered in a one or two inches of bedding. Timothy hay, aspen shavings, shredded paper or pelleted bedding can be found at all pet stores and is easy to change.

The ASPCA says that a year of litter and bedding material will cost around $220. This $7 hamster sure got expensive quickly. To cut costs you can cover the bottom of the enclosure with less bedding, closer to a half an inch, and fill the other one and a half inches with shredded paper from your paper shredder. The hamster may even enjoy the loose paper bedding more since it can be easily manipulated.

The biggest problem I imagine would be the inactivity the classroom pet is exhibiting. Being nocturnal there is going to be a lot of sleeping going on. In addition to this handling the hamster might become difficult. Only children around 7 years old should be allowed to hold the hamster and that should only be with a strong adult presence. Hamsters, like all critter companions, have unique personalities and care should be taken to purchase the friendliest hamster at the store.

If keeping the hamster in their enclosure most of the time is not an issue, then a passive hamster might be a wonderful classroom or bedroom pet. Lots of lessons can be learned from keeping such a pocket pet, including basic pet husbandry, animal handling and enrichment. 

Hamsters seem to enjoy wheels, cardboard tubes, tissue boxes, wooden blocks and fresh branches. Placing the enrichment inside the enclosure at the end of the day and recording the location and condition they are found the next morning might be the perfect recurring activity that children can always look forward to throughout the school year.

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior. Please email your questions to kenny.coogan@yahoo.com, or search for “Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan” on Facebook.