Hamsters are fun, lively little creatures and they are often considered to be a great first pet for a child. Equally, they’re viewed as an easy pet for an adult to keep. Although it may seem that they will be relatively low cost and low maintenance companions, their needs are surprisingly complex. It can be difficult to provide the best environment for a hamster in a busy family home. These tiny creatures can become stressed and unhappy without us realising it.
One of the main issues with keeping a hamster in a busy family environment is that they are nocturnal. So they prefer to be active at night and asleep during the day. This is obviously the exact opposite to the rhythm of normal family life and so meaningful interaction with these pets can be limited.
Hamsters will generally be inactive and probably hiding in their burrows or nests during the daytime when we would probably like to watch them explore and play. Even when they are active in the evenings or at night they tend to enjoy burrowing deep into their bedding. So whatever the time of day, they are often out of sight.
Sleep disturbances… and not just for the hamster!
During the daytime when we humans would often prefer to perform our routine pet care tasks such as cleaning and changing bedding, a hamster will not appreciate being disturbed from sleep.
Just imagine how we would feel if our best friend woke us up in the middle of the night to change our bedclothes. We would be tired and grumpy! If woken from sleep during the day a disgruntled hamster can deliver a deep and painful bite which is surprising considering their size.
During the night hamsters will naturally be active and playful at a time when we humans would like to be asleep. This activity can potentially cause sleep disturbances if hamsters are kept in bedrooms. Hamsters would naturally travel fairly long distances in the wild so they need plenty of space. They also require deep bedding in which to burrow and explore. A wheel can also be beneficial if it is safe for their little legs. However, all this activity will cause some noise. This might not be easy for humans to sleep through; particularly when hamsters are using a squeaky wheel in the middle of the night!
Home sweet hamster home
Due to their nocturnal habits it can be difficult to find an appropriate space for a hamster in a busy family environment. Many rooms in family households are busy, active and noisy during the day. People also tend to keep the lighting on during the evenings and this can disturb a hamster’s natural daily rhythms. A room needs to be found which is out of the hustle and bustle of the main living environment. It should also have plenty of natural light during the day and little artificial lighting in the evenings.
Since hamsters originate from dry, arid climates they need to be kept in an area which is warm, dry and draught free. This means that although they are best placed in a little-used area of the home they will still require the heating to be on in winter even though we might not otherwise turn the radiators on in that space. Just like us, hamsters do not like to be too hot or too cold. So the room will need to be regularly checked for comfort.
Noise can be a problem for hamsters in a way we would probably not routinely think about. They can hear sounds with much higher frequencies than a human can. Noises which humans can happily tolerate such as a washing machine or vacuum cleaner in use, may be painfully uncomfortable for your hamster’s sensitive ears. Also, think about computers, televisions and radios giving out high pitched sounds. We might not hear these, but it could be intolerable for your hamster. Make sure that your hamster can be housed in a space away from any of these devices if possible.
Anxiety and stress
Hamsters are a prey species and although they prefer to burrow and hide if they are worried, they can also deliver an extremely painful bite. This means that they are not the easiest type of pet to keep if you would like to have cuddles and hold them. Many hamsters will get used to being held and tolerate us handling them to a certain extent. However, they can still be a little unpredictable and bite unexpectedly.
If a hamster is to grow tolerant of handling and interactions generally, a great deal of time, patience and sensitivity is required. Ideally, we should wait until our hamster is starting to become active in the evening before we do anything with them. Cleaning and feeding tasks are best undertaken at times your pet will be awake naturally.
Suitable first pets?
In terms of the time, space and understanding a hamster needs to be happy in a family home they are not the easiest pets to keep. Although we may not notice many of the discomforts a hamster may be experiencing in a busy family environment it is important to understand how they may be feeling and to try to ensure their welfare is our priority if we choose a hamster as our family pet.