Teddy bear hamsters, a longhair type of Syrian hamster, are small, cute and cuddly, giving them considerable pet appeal. Although some of their characteristics make them good pets for many people, other aspects might not be what you're looking for. Consider the requirements of hamster care and their general habits to decide whether a teddy bear hamster is right for you and your family.
Teddy bear hamsters are solitary animals, spending most of their time in their cage. If you want multiple pets in one cage, teddy bear hamsters aren't for you; they need to live alone. An alternative would be dwarf hamsters, who can live in same-sex pairs if they've been together from birth or very early on.
If you really want sociability, though, hamsters aren't a great choice. Consider mice or rats, friendlier small rodents with similar lifespans. You can hand-tame and handle a teddy bear hamster, and over time he might come to like being handled and petted, but they never become particularly affectionate.
Also, teddy bear hamsters spend most of the day sleeping. They don't gear up for activity until after dusk, and they really get moving in the middle of the night. This is sometimes frustrating for people looking for daytime company, and for those easily bothered by the sound of an exercise wheel at 3 a.m. At dawn, teddy bear hamsters start winding down for bedtime.
Not for Small Children
Are you considering a teddy bear hamster for a young child? The whole sleeping-all-day thing is not generally appreciated by children. They're likely to wake your hamster during the day; that wouldn't foster any bonding, and it could lead to bites. Most children are sent to bed shortly after hamsters wake up, providing little opportunity for interaction.
Also, hamsters must be handled gently. They're skittish around sudden or jarring movements and loud noises; they might even bite. The Humane Society of the United States suggests not getting a hamster for a child younger than 8, because young children normally lack the fine motor skills and self-restraint needed to safely handle a teddy bear hamster.
Additionally, young children's underdeveloped immune systems are more vulnerable to salmonella and other bacteria and diseases commonly carried by hamsters. These are also of concern for pregnant women and people with suppressed immune systems.
Your teddy bear hamster might stay tucked in her cage by herself most of the time, but she still comes with responsibilities. Some of them must be taken care of daily. You'll need a hamster cage, commercial hamster food, an inverted water bottle, a food dish, aspen or paper bedding, a few toys, appropriate items for chewing, a solid exercise wheel, a hamster house and a playpen -- at the minimum.
Then there are the basic care requirements: Feed your teddy bear hamster about 1 tablespoon of food and provide fresh water daily. Every day, change soiled bedding and remove droppings. Every week, change all the bedding and thoroughly clean the cage, food dish, toys and tunnels. Because teddy bear hamsters have longer hair than other types, make sure no feces are stuck to her coat; gently remove any you find.
Allow your hamster about half an hour of out-of-cage time in a secure playpen every night. Supplement her diet with a morsel of hamster-safe fresh fruit or vegetables every other day.
If this sounds like an appropriate level of minimum care for your needs and schedule, a teddy bear hamster might be a good pet.
Although teddy bear hamsters aren't the most sociable rodents, they still need some attention every day. You should handle them and talk to them for at least a little while every night, after your pet wakes up and has her breakfast.
When well cared for, teddy bear hamsters typically live 2.5 to 3 years. If you're looking for a relatively short commitment, a teddy bear hamster might be a good pet. However, if you'd be getting one for a young child, consider whether you want him to experience the death of the pet within the next two to three years.
Teddy bear hamsters need considerably less veterinary care than many types of pets. But when they do show signs of illness, they need that care promptly. They are notably susceptible to catching respiratory illnesses from humans.
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Eric Mohrman has been a freelance writer since 2007, focusing on travel, food and lifestyle stories. His creative writing is also widely published. He lives in Orlando, Florida.