Your Pet & You
Syrian Pets By Kenny Coogan, CPBT-KA
With expandable cheek pouches, these Syrian rodents are adorable and popular. Earlier this month, I was at a popular pet store chain getting pet food when a group of twenty something children came in. Their teacher was purchasing a classroom pet. They had decided on a Syrian hamster. In addition to the hamster, they also purchased food, bedding and a critter enclosure complete with plastic tubes. With hamsters being nocturnal, I wondered if this was the best choice for a classroom pet.
At the pet store, there were two employees on duty. There may have been more in the back, but they were being cryptic. One employee was at the register and the other was entertaining the class full of boisterous children. I needed an associate to assist me with gathering the crickets I was buying, but they were being detained at their locations. I waited for a little over ten minutes and then I was taken care of. As the cashier was ringing me out, the store manager came rushing over and wrote me a certificate for five dollars. That made my day. That was some great positive reinforcement.
I was so impressed by their customer service that I went on the website and I wrote a review about the manager. I received an email that the headquarters would contact him and let him know. It was a good day overall, but I kept thinking about that Syrian crisis. Was that teacher bringing a Syrian rebel into her classroom?
Syrian hamsters, Mesocricetus auratus, are also known as golden hamsters or teddy bear hamsters. They were most likely the first species of hamster discovered and kept as pets. The name hamster is derived from the German word 'hamstern' which means to hoard. Being kept as a critter companion, these animals are going to have a surplus of food and they are going to hoard it. It is very amusing to watch them cache their food away in many different corners and tubes, only to eat and relocate them, a few short hours later.
Syrian hamsters are the most popular hamsters for the pet industry and can reach up to six inches in length. They can live up to two and a half years and become very territorial to other hamsters as they mature. This indicates that only one hamster should be kept per enclosure.
The teacher bought a plastic critter enclosure with many plastic tubes. I recommend a wire cage or a ten gallon aquarium. Leaky aquariums or larger aquariums are great too. The plastic enclosure that she bought is cute, with bright colours, but not necessary. The plastic enclosures are harder to clean, more expensive and could be chewed down to dangerous bits of plastic. The enclosure should be kept away from windows and be covered in a one or two inches of bedding. Timothy hay, aspen shavings, shredded paper or pelleted bedding can be found at all pet stores and is easy to change.
The ASPCA claims that a year on litter and bedding material will cost around $220. This $7 hamster sure got expensive quickly. To cut costs, you can cover the bottom of the enclosure with less bedding, closer to a half an inch, and fill the other one and a half inches with shredded paper from your paper shredder. The hamster may even enjoy the loose paper bedding more since it can be easily manipulated.
Perhaps the biggest problem would be the inactivity exhibited by the classroom pet. Being nocturnal, there would be a lot of sleeping. In addition to this, handling the hamster might be difficult. Only children around seven years old should be allowed to hold the hamster and that should only be with a strong adult presence. Hamsters, like all critter companions, have unique personalities and care should be taken to purchase the friendliest hamster at the store.
If keeping the hamster in their enclosure most of the time is not an issue, then a passive hamster might be a wonderful classroom or bedroom pet. Lots of lessons can be learned from keeping such a pocket pet such as basic pet husbandry, animal handling and enrichment. Hamsters seem to enjoy wheels, cardboard tubes, tissue boxes, wooden blocks and fresh branches. Placing the enrichment inside the enclosure at the end of the day and recording the location and condition they are found the next morning, might be the perfect recurring activity that children can always look forward to throughout the school year.
Kenny Coogan, CPBT-KA has a BS in animal behaviour. He is a pet columnist and a regular contributor to pet and garden magazines. He has authored a children's book titled "A Tenrec Named Trey (And other odd lettered animals that like to play)." Please search "Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan" on Facebook to learn more.