Is a hamster the right pet for you and/or your family?
Many people consider a hamster as a "starter pet" for children because they are small, don't take much space, and may take less responsibility than a cat or dog or pony. Families can more easily travel and leave a hamster at home or with a friend than a larger pet. They are docile, inquisitive and cute. They require less intensive ownership than a cat or dog. Consider the source of getting a hamster - is there a rescue organization? A responsible breeder? A pet store? If you are checking out this web-site, then hopefully you have already avoided an "impulse purchase" at a store with a child tugging at your sleeve.
The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) does not recommend hamsters for young children (<6-8 years old).
Children? Is this a pet for a child? See our chart for what breed of hamster is best for various aged children. Hamsters require a gentle touch and can be scared by sudden movement or loud (screaming or giggling) noise. A hamster woken up from a nap could be grumpy and might bite. They require patience and gentle care for their training. Children may also be at greater risk for zoonotic diseases because they have a less developed immune system.
Do not get a hamster if you are allergic to it or allergic to the bedding or food. If you or someone in the family may be pregnant or have a weak immune system, you should be careful with any pet.
What is your schedule? Hamsters are nocturnal, meaning that they are awake and active at night. They may want to run on their wheel which could squeak. If you are a light sleeper, or disturbed by sounds, then this may not be the pet for you. If you are looking for a pet to keep you company during the day, then a hamster may not be the pet for you. If you are a night owl then a hamster may be perfect for you! Hamsters are fairly independent and can entertain themselves, especially if you give them fun toys. To be a healthy happy hamster, your hamster should receive daily handling and interaction and training as well as thorough cleaning of the cage, food and water containers.
Budget? Hamsters may seem inexpensive, however there are plenty of costs involved. It could be several hundred dollars per year for a hamster, not including veterinary costs if your hamster gets sick. (See cage and habitat and health and illness)
Lifespan - You need to commit to an average lifespan of 2.5-3 years. A short life span may seem appealing if you can't commit to a pet with a longer life. This also means that you also need to be prepared for the experience of the death of a pet. There are many resources for pet loss and grieving which can be found from your veterinarian or you can look on-line.
Where do you live? If you live in Hawaii, it is illegal to own a pet hamster due to concern that escaped (or released) hamsters could establish colonies and damage crops and native plants. Other states limit hamster ownership to specific ones only (check California). You should check with your state's laws (Department of Fish & Game) for hamster ownership, especially if you are moving from one state to another.