Hamsters and Gerbils are little rodents that children often want as pets. This can be a good way to get your child acclimated to caring for a mammal that he or she can actually pick up and pet. Hamsters and Gerbils require little care, but can be a fun pet for a child to have.
Many people do not know the difference between hamsters and gerbils. Both are members of the rodent family. Hamsters are larger and fluffier and larger. Gerbils are smaller and not as furry. Gerbils have tails that are fluffy and hamster tails are long and sleek.
There are certain rules to follow when getting hamsters or gerbils for your children:
- Hamsters and gerbils will not cohabit – you cannot put a hamster and a gerbil in the same cage;
- Hamsters and gerbils can be very territorial. If you want more than one creature, get two littermates and put them in the same cage from the start. Do not try to introduce a new hamster or gerbil into a cage with an existing pet;
- These creatures cannot be “trained” no matter what the guy at the pet store tells you ;
- Make sure you have a wheel in the cage or something for the animal to do with their life;
- If you have two of the same creatures in the cage, make sure that they are the same sex, otherwise, you are going to have a lot of little gerbils or hamsters running around;
- Use a fish tank instead of a plastic rodent cage as the animal can actually gnaw through the plastic and will also kick the litter out of a wire cage;
- Expect the animal to live two years at the maximum.
Hamsters and gerbils can be fun pets for kids to have but do not allow yourself to be convinced that the animals can be “trained” to go in one spot in their cage. They can’t. The hamster or gerbil will go all over the cage, including close to where he or she eats. Rodents are not known for their cleanliness, despite what the guy at the pet store tells you.
Both hamsters and gerbils are equally friendly and both will be nocturnal. You can teach the animal to live according to your clock by covering his cage at night with a towel. Many people simply take the wheel out of the cage when they are sleeping so that the animal learns to use it during the day and does not keep the entire house up during the night by running in the wheel.
A fish tank makes the best container for the hamster or gerbil. There are fish tanks that have a netted top that cost a little bit more money, but are well worth the investment. These are normally used to keep lizards but work very well with a hamster. In addition to a wheel, you can also put an empty roll of toilet paper into the cage for the hamster or gerbil to run into.
To set up your hamster or gerbil cage, you need to have a bottle of water that will drip down whenever the creature sucks on the tube. These are sold in pet shops and come in a variety of sizes. The bottle will hook onto the side of the cage and you can easily refill it when it gets close to being empty.
You will also need litter and a bowl for food. Hamster and gerbil food as well as litter, are sold in pet stores and even discount stores. You should also make sure that the animal has something to gnaw on, such as wood. There are wood gnawing objects that are sold in pet stores for the animals as well.
It is important that your hamster or gerbil has something on which to gnaw because the teeth of rodents continue to grow. They have to keep gnawing at something in order to keep their teeth from growing to the point where they extend through the roof or bottom of their mouths. If the animal does not have something on which to gnaw, the teeth will continue to grow to the point where the animal gets an infection and dies.
Care of the hamster or gerbil is not very difficult. You should have some sort of container in which to put the animal when you change the litter. Older children can easily learn how to change the litter in the cage, but should be aware of the hygienic factor and must be sure to wash their hands thoroughly afterward. Younger children can observe the hamster or gerbil and can be taught to make sure that the animal has food and water.
The hamster or gerbil can be taken out of its cage and allowed to run around, however, they can get lost very easily. This is the reason why many people use a hamster ball. A hamster ball is a large, plastic ball that you can put the creature in, close up and allow it to roam around without the fear of the animal getting lost. The hamster ball has holes in it which allows the animal to breathe. However, the holes also allow waste from the animal to get all over the carpet. Make sure that you vacuum thoroughly after the hamster has been out among the family.
If you have another animal in the house, particularly a cat, never allow the hamster out without the hamster ball. A cat will kill the hamster within seconds as this is their natural prey. Even having the little guy in the hamster ball with a cat around is likely to agitate the hamster or gerbil and frustrate the cat, so keep the two apart.
Younger children will enjoy playing with the hamster and gerbil and if they are handled often, they will not bite. Young children should be supervised around any type of animal, and particularly around a hamster or gerbil. Children must be sure not to squeeze the animal to death and you should also be sure that the animal does not bite. Again, the key to getting the animal not to bite is to make sure that it is handled in a tranquil manner in which the animal feels safe. Any animal will bite when they feel threatened, it is a natural reaction.
Your children can also be in charge of making sure the animal has fresh water. Although the bottle will last for a week at least, it is nice to change the water every day to give the pet fresh water. You can allow a child to do this on a daily basis to give him or her some responsibility towards the pet.
The animal must be fed every day and the normal rule of thumb is to just make sure the bowl is filled all of the time with food. Some hamsters and gerbils will knock over the bowl and scatter the contents. Again, these animals are not known for being neat.
Never put two older animals together in the same cage as they will literally fight to the death. Expect the hamster or gerbil, if well cared for, to live for about two years.
Other members of the rodent family that people use as pets include mice, rats, and guinea pigs. These creatures generally require the same type of care as hamsters and gerbils but guinea pigs are much larger. Many schools will have a hamster, gerbil, or guinea pig as the “class pet.”
Rats, despite the fact that they are feared by many people, actually make the best pets in the rodent family as they are generally the most intelligent of all the creatures. Mice are often used to feed snakes and other large pets and have a much shorter life span than the average gerbil or hamster.