A friend once told me about her childhood “pet,” Pumpkin. When she saw Pumpkin in a pet store, she fell in love and bought him. But she soon realized that she wasn’t equipped to give the hamster what he needed to thrive. The store had sold her pine shavings for bedding, never warning her (or maybe they didn’t know themselves) how bad they are for small animals, and Pumpkin developed a respiratory infection that made him sneeze constantly. Although he lived for almost two more years, my friend always felt guilty about patronizing a store that sells animals for profit.
Years passed, and eventually, this friend adopted a hamster from an animal shelter. After researching ways to take care of the hamster properly, she gave the animal the best life possible. My friend now knows that hamsters are not “starter pets,” and she will never support a pet store again.
If you’re thinking about adopting a hamster or are already caring for one, here are some important things to consider:
1. When You Buy a Hamster, You’re Supporting Cruel Animal Mills
A recent PETA investigation of a Pennsylvania animal dealer revealed that thousands of hamsters, rabbits, gerbils, chinchillas, ferrets, and other small animals are confined to severely crowded plastic bins and stacked in shelving units, among many other abuses.
When you support pet stores, you’re supporting places like this horrendous dealer, which supplies animals to hundreds of pet stores across the Eastern U.S.
2. Buying and Selling Animals Denies Homes to Unwanted Animals
Breeding animals to be kept as “pets” has created a homeless-animal crisis: Millions of unwanted animals are euthanized every year for a lack of good homes. Never buy from stores, and always adopt animals who are anxiously waiting at shelters for a new life.
3. Is Your Home Safe for a Hamster?
Hamsters can be viewed by other animals as prey and may be in danger of getting harmed or killed by other companion animals in the home if proper precautions aren’t taken.
4. It Can Be Difficult to Find a Veterinarian for Your Hamster
A hamster is considered an “exotic animal” and must be seen by a specialized veterinarian. Many people don’t know this, and when their hamster becomes ill, they are not able to find an appropriate veterinarian in the area, thereby prolonging the hamster’s suffering. When a guardian finally does find a vet who sees “exotic” animals, it’s often very costly, which may also prevent some people from ensuring that their hamster receives proper care.
5. Know Your Hamster’s Species
In order to provide your hamster with proper care, you must be knowledgeable about his or her species—there are five common ones. The most common are golden or Syrian hamsters, who are solitary by nature and cannot be caged together after they’re 10 weeks old, or they will fight and may even kill each other. No golden hamster should ever be caged with a different hamster species.
The second most common species are dwarf or Siberian hamsters. They can coexist with other kinds of hamsters if they’re socialized at an early age, although adult dwarfs will generally reject a new companion. Choose two animals of the same gender so they cannot breed.
6. Hamsters Are Easily Frightened
Hamsters don’t have the best eyesight, so they depend more on other senses to survive. If caught off guard, they may bite as a defense mechanism.
7. Hamsters Are up at Dawn
Hamsters are most active at dawn and dusk, which can be frustrating for children who want to play with them during the day. Also, their early morning activity may disturb their guardians’ sleep.
8. Hamsters Can Be Prone to Hereditary Diseases
Overbreeding has caused hamsters to be prone to congestive heart failure at an early age (as early as 6 months old). Treatment for this painful condition can be costly, and there is no cure. Hamsters are also prone to an incurable kidney disease called amyloidosis and are susceptible to many different types of dangerous bacteria that can lead to diarrhea and dehydration. Some of these bacterial strains can also infect humans.
9. Hamsters Are Great Escape Artists
These clever animals have the ability to flatten their bodies, and they can fit through very small holes and crevices. They are easily lost and can be difficult to find, often getting injured or killed while on the loose.
How can you help hamsters? Never buy an animal from a store, and tell friends and family to do the same. If you already have a hamster, our tips for hamster care will help you to be the best guardian possible.