Hamsters and gerbils are popular pocket pets, and they're both suitable for kids. If you're considering one of these small pets for your family, weigh the pros and cons to determine which rodent would be best for your kids. Consider the amount of care and type of companionship such pets require, and learn about each of these rodents' behavior. Researching hamsters and gerbils well will ensure you get the best pet possible for your children.
While both hamsters and gerbils are apt to bite, gerbils bite less because they aren't as easily spooked as hamsters. Even a tame hamster will bite when a child makes sudden movements. Gerbils rarely bite, but it's important that you get a gerbil that has been handled from a young age. Hamsters can be socialized, but it takes a few weeks, and even then most hamsters usually bond with only one or two people.
Hamsters are crepuscular -- essentially nocturnal but active at twilight; they are generally awake and active when your kids are asleep. Depending on your kids' ages, they may be able to play with the hamster before going to bed and in early mornings. Really young kids may be in bed before the hamster wakes up. This can be discouraging for little ones. Gerbils, meanwhile, are diurnal -- awake off and on day and night. They sleep and play in shifts, which makes them a more appropriate pet for children.
Hamsters bond well to one or two people, but they do not do well when placed with other hamsters. Hamsters placed together will try to kill each and possibly even eat one another. For this reason, never pair hamsters together. Gerbils, on the other hand, love company. This makes gerbils fun to watch -- even when a child isn't handling them, they're entertaining. You want to make sure to pair males with males and females with females or you will end up with many babies.
Amount of Care
Gerbils also have the upper hand when it comes to care. Because they are desert animals, they produce less waste, which makes their habitat easier to clean. Gerbils are easily entertained with cages that have wheels, tunnels and other interactive toys. Hamsters are easily entertained, too, but they require more care when it comes to keeping their habitats clean. A gerbil's the better choice if you intend for your kids to maintain the cage.
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Amy Brantley has been a writer since 2006, contributing to numerous online publications. She specializes in business, finance, food, decorating and pets.