Updated: Oct 27, 2018
I've been told that Ms. Miles' 4th grade class at AB Combs Elementary School has adopted a hamster. Hamsters are a much better fit than a dog as a classroom pet. However, I have dog friends that will be visiting AB Combs this fall for Kids4Critters. They can't wait!
As the photos below show, Kiki the hamster is teaching the students how to be good pet owners. A key to being a good owner is understanding the needs, behavior, and temperament of the pet. Hamsters are small, cute rodents. Many look like cotton balls with whiskers, short tails, and tiny paws and ears.
Because hamsters are so small, they are fragile. They can be easily hurt and must be handled with care. They can catch colds from people. They also can't see very well and can't see colors. If scared, they might bite to protect themselves. To keep their pet safe, most pet owners house their hamster in a cage with bedding. A water bottle is attached to the cage to ensure the hamster has plenty to drink. The cage should never be placed in direct sunlight.
Pet hamsters eat seeds, nuts, grain, and certain fruits and vegetables. Like all rodents, hamsters have front (incisor) teeth that are growing continuously. To keep those teeth short, rodents need a diet that requires chewing. When they aren't hungry, they still may want to gnaw. They like wood (unpainted and untreated) sticks, walnut shells, or other hard items.
When you see a hamster with chubby cheeks, it probably stuffed its mouth full of food to hide it for eating later. The word hamster comes from the German word "hamstern," which means "hoarder." Hamsters hate to be without food, so they often dig tunnels under their bedding where they hide their food.
Hamsters are nocturnal. They prefer to sleep during the day and be very active at night. Happy and healthy hamsters love to run and play. To encourage playtime, owners add running wheels and other toys to the hamster's home. Unlike most mammals, hamsters can quickly run forwards and backwards. Warning, hamsters love to exercise so much that they can be quite noisy at night!
Like people, hamsters have different personalities. Some hamsters are very social and others are very shy. Some hamster types, such as the Syrian hamster, do not like to share its cage with another hamster. Other types, such as dwarf hamsters, want to live with others. Out of the 24 hamster species in the world, only 5 can be kept as pets.
If you have a dog or cat, you can have a hamster but you will need to keep your pets separated. Your other pets should not be in the same room as the hamster because that will likely stress your hamster. Stress is unhealthy. Hamsters are considered prey, which means that many other animals like to eat them. If your hamster sees or hears a dog or cat, it may become very scared and try to hide.
For advice on how to be a good hamster owner, visit: https://www.wikihow.com/Be-a-Good-Hamster-Owner-(for-Kids). The poster below shows the different looks of some of the hamster types.