Hamsters are the preferred choice when it comes to getting the first pet for your child since they are adorable rodents that are easy to look after. With that said, there are some aspects that you should know before you get one as a gift for your kid.
While it is true that hamsters can transmit some dangerous germs to children, as long as you encourage good behavior around the cage you should have no problem keeping the hamster and children healthy and happy. In the article below we’ll explore all that you need to know if you wish to keep your children and pets safe.
Don’t let hamsters near young children
Experts worldwide recommend parents not to buy a hamster for children that are younger than five years due to the fact that that the pet can carry dangerous germs. Exotic pets, unlike cats and dogs, are more prone to scratch, bite, or claw and that puts young children at risk.
While hamsters may look cute, they can carry germs that could be potentially fatal for youngsters. Children under five are very vulnerable to germs such as salmonella since their immune system is still developing and because they have the tendency to put their hands in their mouth very often.
This means that families with children younger than five should avoid owning hamsters and other “non-traditional” pets such as lizards and even avoid contact with them in petting zoos or any other public place. For young children, studies show that about 11% of salmonella illnesses stem from contact with turtles, lizards, and other reptiles.
Hamsters can also carry this germ which causes severe fever, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. What’s more, pregnant women should also avoid exotic pets since the germs can pass to the unborn child.
Similarly, although very rare, hamsters are also known to carry a virus called the lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) which is particularly hazardous to pregnant women and their unborn child. It can also produce severe illness in people that don’t have strong immune systems.
With that said, seeing as most of the cases come from reptiles, as long as you don’t let your small child pet kiss the furry pet, the chances of infection are very slim. Still, if you only wish to get the pet for your child, it is recommended to wait until he or she develops a stronger immune system; for children older than five or six, hamsters should be safe.
Other diseases and how to prevent them
Another disease that hamsters can pass to children is ringworm. This is a fungus that lives on the surface of the pet’s skin, and that creates a characteristic red ring, hence the name. For hamsters, it can cause hair loss, and the same thing can happen in humans as well if it gets onto the scalp.
It is not very difficult to treat ringworm, but it can be a very uncomfortable disease, and since it can take weeks to heal completely, it is something that you don’t want to put your child through.
To keep things safe, there are some additional steps that you can take to prevent the spread of all of the diseases we’ve mentioned above. You should first make your child understand the importance of hand washing both before and after handling the pet.
There should be no exception, as you should follow this rule, too, especially since your child will be more likely to follow this routine if he or she sees you do it as well. You should wash the hands with warm water and soap, not just quickly rinse with water since water alone will not sanitize the hands.
You should also make sure to clean the housing area of your pet regularly and to disinfect cages at least once a month, as that will help cut down on germs considerably. Similarly, remove all the bedding every week and replace it with a fresh and clean supply.
To disinfect the cage you can use a bleach solution of 1 tablespoon of bleach to one gallon of water, or you can purchase special cage cleaning sprays. Before you return the hamster to its clean cage, you should ensure that the cleaning solutions have all dried out.
Ensure safe handling and good behavior
Once you get a hamster, there are a few steps that you should take to ensure a safe environment for both it and your children. Seeing as hamsters can get startled easily by loud noises and busy areas, before you take the pet out of the cage and give it to your child, you should try to create a calm environment.
You should encourage your kids to stay calm and quiet while the pet is out of the cage to prevent scratches and bites. Similarly, since hamsters are nocturnal animals, you shouldn’t let the cage sit in your kid’s room if he or she is a light sleeper who is disturbed by the smallest sounds such as a squeaking wheel at 3 a.m.
Before you allow children to hold a hamster for the first time, you should demonstrate the proper way to handle and carry the small animal. Make the kids sit down and encourage them to hold the hamster, without squeezing, close to their chest. This step should be done only with a hamster that is comfortable with being handled.
To keep both the hamster and the child safe, you should place the cage out of the reach of your children, such as a high table or dresser. You can also consider securing the cage to the furniture or wall to ensure that children can’t knock it over.
To help teach children responsibility, you should encourage them to help you feed the hamster and clean the cage. In case you want to learn more about what type of food to get for your pet, we have this particular article that can be of assistance.
You should also discourage children from getting their fingers in the cage since hamsters might nip them, especially if the child wakes up the pet from its sleep. Similarly, teach your kids not to place any objects that are not designed for hamsters in the cage since the pet might choke on them.