‘You don’t know fear till you’ve seen a four year old trying to fist bump a hamster’
Since meeting Rex, our brown-and-white Syrian hamster, several of our friends children have asked Santa for a hamster of their own. Consequently, we’ve been asked whether we would recommend one as a pet. The answer to that is a definite ‘maybe’. Here are five things you should know before taking the plunge and introducing a hamster to your family.
1. They just want to escape
If you want cuddles and unconditional love a hamster is not for you. They spend the majority of their waking life hiding food, gnawing the cage and trying to escape. When H, my 4 year old, picks up Rex I say ‘Ahh, look he’s nuzzling you!’. This is a lie – he is looking for the exit.
This tendency was highlighted quite dramatically when Rex recently spent 5 days living underneath the house. One evening I commented to my husband (aka the ‘man-child) that I hadn’t seen Rex for a while. That turned out to be because he was no longer in his cage. Over the following days the self-sacrificing man-child stayed up until the early hours ‘listening for Rex’ (drinking beer, eating dark chocolate and watching Amazon Prime) to no avail. I was convinced Rex was in the kitchen Cupboard of Crap whereas the man-child had his money on the small hole in the gravel by the front door. H’s grief had waned somewhat, partly due to there being guinea pigs in the nursery that week. ‘Mum, if Rex is still missing can we get a guinea pig instead?’ On Saturday night the man-child discovered the outdoor humane trap had sprung. Behold, the intrepid Rex was inside, apparently dead with a severed foot. Fast-forward five minutes, the severed foot was a piece of carrot and Rex was much alive, just frozen with fear and surrounded by slugs and snails. Yay, the King hamster had returned! The following morning Heath is pleased (though not as delighted as we had hoped) to see that his pet has returned. On a positive, it has forced us to clear out the dreaded Cupboard.
2. They might be an excellent first pet for an only child, teaching them compassion and responsibility.
However, they might provide your child with new ways to demonstrate how feral they are. You don’t know fear until you’ve seen a 4 year old try to fist bump a hamster, get it to dance or ‘help’ it to pilot the Batmobile. As for compassion, my boy’s opening gambit to our friend’s daughter was ‘This is Rex. When he dies, we’re getting a dog’.
3. They are nocturnal
This might sound very obvious but we didn’t appreciate it until spending several nights huddled round a cage in dim lighting praying Rex would get up so Heath could see him then go to bed. However, he has gradually changed his pattern and is up and about in the morning and at dinnertime, adjusting to our routine.
4. They are a relatively cheap and low maintenance pet
They are a relatively cheap and low maintenance pet. Rex himself was the cheapest item at £10, the cage about £30 and more than I care to think about spent on hamster toys for him to try and escape through. Ongoing costs are low though, just bedding and food (mixes from the pet shop, bit of fruit and veg and a seed or sweetcorn stick to gnaw on).
5. They are very, very cute
They have soft fur, little pink claw-hands, round beady eyes and a bumbly gait (though the males have startlingly large balls once developed). They don’t smell if you clean them out regularly – bonus points if yours will use a litter tray like Rex does. With regular handling, they can become not exactly friendly but tolerant. Rex has quickly seemed to accept being ‘boy-handled’ as a fact of life.
All in all we’re pretty glad we’ve got him, despite me being the only one who cleans him out or buys anything for him. I’ll leave you with H’s verdict…