Hamsters have been considered a popular pet for ages—especially during childhood. Even if you didn't have one in your home, you might have had one as a classroom pet, or fondly remember Dewey's pet hamster Bernard from Malcolm in the Middle. But despite their consistent popularity, hamsters may not actually be the best pet choice for everyone. In fact, this fluffy and adorable creature actually has a dark side that could make you think twice before taking one in. Read on to find out the number one reason you shouldn't get a pet hamster.
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Hamsters have become even more popular as pets recently.
Hamsters were already a popular pet choice when most of us were growing up, but their demand has skyrocketed of late. Los Angeles resident Samantha Slaven-Bick told MarketWatch in January that when she went looking for a hamster for her 11-year-old son in the summer of 2021, she realized she was far from the only one. "Everyone wanted one during COVID," Slaven-Bick told the news outlet, explaining that she had to visit four pet stores to find any hamsters in stock.
This increased demand for hamsters is in line with the recent rising popularity of small animals as pets. A survey from the American Pet Products Association (APPA) found that 6.2 million households own at least one small animal as a pet as of 2021—which was up from 2019 by a whopping 800,000 households. According to the association, 27 percent of those 6.2 million households own a hamster, which equates to about 1.5 million American homes having this tiny rodent as a pet, per MarketWatch.
They're often considered to be low-maintenance pets suitable for children.
Many families consider hamsters to be a good beginner pet for their children to have before they commit to a dog or a cat. They're often viewed as low-maintenance, inexpensive, and not dangerous. Jennifer Shepherd, DVM, a veterinarian and owner of Cloquet Animal Hospital in Northern Minnesota, explained the popularity of hamsters as pets for children in her "Ask Dr. Jenn" column with Pet Assure.
"Hamsters are adorable with their fluffy haircoats, big teeth, and big puffy cheeks. Teddy bear hamsters are especially popular with kids, because as their name implies, they look like miniature teddy bears," she wrote. "They seem easy to keep and fairly low maintenance. The pet store probably even has a starter kit, complete with a cage with tunnels, a hamster wheel, a water bottle, food, and bedding—everything you need to make your new pet feel at home."
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But there is one issue that can make hamsters not the best pet choice.
Despite their popularity among families, Shepherd explained that she actually does not "recommend hamsters as a pet for young children." One of her main reasons? They "are known to bite," she wrote.
Daniel Jackson, an animal behavioral specialist and the CEO of Pet Lover Guy, tells Best Life this is something many people fail to realize before they decide to go forth and get a hamster.
"It's easy to forget that hamsters are rodents and just like other rodents, they like to bite. It's in their nature and is actually healthy for them to do so," Jackson says. As far as he's concerned, this is a major reason why "hamsters are not good pets for children, regardless of popular belief."
Their poor eyesight makes them more likely to bite.
Hamsters trend to rely on smell and taste to find their way around because they have poor eyesight, according to Jackson. So if you or your child put your hand in their cage, they are likely to bite you. "This will most likely hurt due to their sharp teeth," Jackson warns. And once they've bit down, they're not likely to let go—which can leave you "bleeding and squealing in pain," according to Shepherd.
"Hamsters are known to bite when they are disturbed or startled," Shepherd also explained. These creatures are actually nocturnal, so they're often startled out of their sleep in the middle of the day—leading to negative consequences. "Kids are often excited to play with their new hamster and show him off to their friends after school, but this is prime sleeping time, and your little hamster will not hesitate to chomp down on a finger with his sharp little teeth when he is awakened," she added.