by Lyn Lomasi, Staff Writer
On a family visit to the local pet shelter, your kids see a cute little fuzzy hamster. This hamster has special needs and requires some extra care. Can kids care for a hamster with special needs? My kids have rescued several hamsters who all had extra care needs as compared to many other hamsters. But just because some kids have had success with this does not mean that all kids will. It also depends on each unique situation.
Before adopting, consider the animal's needs. Not all special needs hamsters will be the same. Some needs will be minor, allowing a child to care for them. Yet others may be more complex. If your child can handle all of the extra responsibilities that will come with a special needs hamster, it's a great service to adopt an animal in need. My kids adopted a hamster named Buddy who was blind in one eye. They were able to provide the care he needed. However, his previous owners (who also happened to be kids)didn't treat him so well. If your kids are responsible and capable enough to provide for a special needs hamster, there is little reason not to adopt.
How serious is the animal's condition? Will the hamster need medicine or other frequent vital care? If so, can your child handle that? Is it better for the special needs hamster to go to a different home? If the kids cannot meet the hamster's needs effectively, as the parent you will need to do that. Sadly, Buddy's previous owners did not think of that. Once the kids couldn't care for Buddy, the solution the parents had was to bring Buddy back instead of caring for him themselves. While it might have taught them they couldn't have a pet if they couldn't provide care, it may have inadvertently taught them that pets are not as important as people. Animals have feelings too. If your kids are going to adopt a special needs hamster, be sure your home is the right one. Animals deserve to be part of a loving family just as much as people do.
What does the vet say? Talk to the shelter and/or animal hospital staff about the animal's condition. If possible, have a vet assess the situation beforehand and let you know if your kids are the right pet parents. The vet will be able to tell you everything your family will have to do in order to properly care for the hamster. In Buddy's case, he needed no medicines, as he was born blind. But since he had been abused and neglected, he was a bit feisty. He would bite any and everything that came within a few inches of him. The kids and I had to show him lots and lots of love and tender care for months before he stopped biting. He also was a little overweight because he had been deprived of food before. So he would hoard his food and overeat. In the beginning, he didn't even know how to use his hamster wheel and he would hide in a ball in the corner of the cage. If your kids adopt a hamster with special needs, such as depression, overeating, and aggressiveness, will they have the time and patience to help the hamster overcome it all?
What does your child's doctor think? Sometimes hamsters with special needs may also be sick. While it isn't common for kids to catch anything from their pet hamster,it is possible. Also, if your child has any conditions that weaken the immune system, a sick pet is more likely to infect your child. Talk to your child's doctor about the special needs hamster and any known conditions before adopting. Your child's doctor will be able to tell you what to watch out for and also give you some handy hints to help prevent illnesses spreading from pets to kids and vice versa. The vet should do the same. But your child's pediatrician is the best resource geared toward kids and the vet is the best resource geared toward your hamster.
Is the related care something a child can handle responsibly? While your child may be good hearted and have good intentions, remember that you are still dealing with a kid. Kids don't always stick to their responsibilities. Is your child responsible enough to complete every step in the animal's care plan every single time? Think about any other tasks your child has and whether they get done effectively. Also, consider your child's overall attitude toward animals. If you believe your child can adequately care for a special needs hamster (and you will take over if they don't), then what are you waiting for? Go welcome home your new family member.
* I originally published this via Yahoo Contributor Network
Parents, Please Educate Your Kids Before Adopting a Pet: Lessons From Buddy the Hamster, Rescued From Neglect
by Lyn Lomasi, Write W.A.V.E. Media Staff
Buddy the hamster is happily snoozing as I write this. He is nestled all cozy in his pile of natural bedding and other nesting materials. However, our cute little fuzzy family member wasn't always so happy. His situation is one of thousands involving pets of all kinds that constantly urge me to tell parents to please educate their kids before ever adopting a pet.
Buddy's previous owners were kids and the parents did not step up to help Buddy when the kids did not take care of him. Their solution was eventually to return Buddy to the pet store. That's when my mom and one of my daughters stepped in to save Buddy. We were not even looking for a pet yet. But who else was going to adopt an abused hamster who was blind in one eye?
Your pet is not a toy or a decoration. This an important lesson that all children need to learn. I know what you are thinking when I talk about a hamster. It's just a hamster. There's the problem. Buddy is not an 'it'. Any living creature is not 'just' anything, but is the same as you and me. Kids need to know this before ever getting a pet. No matter how big or small, animals have feelings just like us. When you don't feed them, they feel starvation, just like you would. When you don't play with them, they feel neglected, just like you would if no one paid attention to you.
Pets require love and attention. You cannot buy a pet and just let him sit there on the shelf in his cage. He needs your love and attention. If your kids get a pet, they need to give him lots of love and attention. In Buddy's previous home, he did not receive love and the attention was the worst kind. When we first brought him home, his gut reaction was to instantly bite anything that came anywhere near him. It took months of love and special attention to get him to the point of allowing anyone to hold him without him showing aggression. If you met Buddy the day he came to us and again now, you would think you were meeting two different hamsters. His personality has completely changed - all because of love. Of course, the opposite could also happen in an instant, if he fell into the wrong hands again.
Pets require proper care. Just like a baby, your pet relies on you to thrive. Your kids need to know this. In Buddy's situation, he was not properly fed, not given water often enough, not paid attention to, nor was his cage cleaned often enough, if at all. He already had a hard life (being blind in one eye) and neglectful pet owners made it that much harder on poor Buddy. When Buddy came into our home, he did not even know how to use the hamster wheel or the hamster ball. All he did at first was sleep in the corner of the cage and every now and then he'd get up to eat or drink. Now that he is being cared for properly, he runs in his ball and wheel daily and stands up begging for attention whenever anyone is near his cage. He is much more active than he was when he came to us. Not feeding or caring for an animal can cause them to have depression, be ill, or even die from neglect or starvation - just like if that happened to a human.
Educate your kids before getting a pet. Talk to your kids about proper pet care. Buy books and do research together on the animal your children will adopt. Many pet stores and shelters have special classes that kids can take on how to properly care for their furry family member. If your kids are not responding well to pet lessons, by all means let someone else adopt the pet. You may think you are doing a good deed when adopting a pet in need, but if your children will neglect the pet, it's a much better deed to let another family take on that responsibility. It is very true that having a pet can teach responsibility. But at the same time, kids should be knowledgeable of their care and be willing to provide it before ever adopting an animal.
*I originally published this via Yahoo Contributor Network
As I write this, my 8-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter are cleaning a hamster cage and a gerbil cage. I'm such a mean mom, right? Not exactly. They're willing participants and there are several reasons kids with pets should be doing things like this. Our first hamster was neglected by children in another family before we adopted him. It happens more often than some realize. But it can be prevented.
Respect and love for animals starts early
It's more difficult, though still possible, to teach an adult to do things differently than it is to teach kids about something right from the start. The earlier a child starts learning how to have compassion for animals, the better. Part of that includes providing them with the things they cannot provide for themselves, like clean water, a clean cage, and food. If your child is neglecting the hamster, please address it immediately.
If your child is going to “own” a pet, they also own the responsibility
Owning an animal means caring for that animal. Helping kids care for their first hamster is all about responsibility from the start. If your child adopts a hamster but you end up being the one to clean the cage, provide food and water, provide stimulation, and handle other care, this defeats the purpose. If your child is not ready for all that, your child is not ready for a pet. All parents should properly help their child adopt a hamster with preparation.
Having pets teaches further responsibility and life lessons
By learning how to provide for a hamster, your child will learn important life skills that all humans can learn from a hamster. They will also learn many other life lessons from hamster care that can be applied elsewhere.This might be practice for babysitting, working elsewhere, or even as preparation for caring for oneself. Kids with pets should be learning how to budget for their care, what types of food they need and how often, what stimulation is appropriate, how to be gentle, and much more.
Does your child have a hamster or other pet? Are they caring for them as they should? Please leave your thoughts and concerns in the comments section below.
"Needs loving home with her own space. Can be aggressive." This is the type of 'warning' label placed on more than one of the hamsters we have adopted. Some people would be turned off when reading that. Not us. That's exactly what we are looking for. We take on the small animals that others may not and they've all turned out to be great pets.
Hamsters are Small
An aggressive hamster is not going to do much harm to a human. A little nip may hurt a tiny bit. But hamsters are so small that it should be quite insignificant. If it's that bothersome, it's nothing a pair of gloves can't solve.
Aggressiveness is Not Always Permanent
We've successfully tamed three hamsters labeled as aggressive. All it took was a little time and lots of love. Another of our hamsters was labeled as aggressive. But once we got her home, she was completely different. She's actually the tamest and friendliest of all of the hamsters we've rescued.
Hamsters Live in Cages
Because hamsters are not going to be free roaming the house, it is not likely that aggressiveness will be a huge problem. Some hamsters do like to come out and play in a designated, properly secured area. But even during these times, it is not likely that an aggressive hamster is going to be a threat. Wear gloves during feeding and handling times, as well as during cage cleanings if you're worried about the boxing and nipping.
Aggressive Animals Still Have Feelings and Needs
Usually aggressive animals are that way due to mistreatment or health conditions. That doesn't mean they don't deserve a loving home too. They still need to eat, have access to fresh water, and live in a comfortable and safe environment. Sometimes providing those simple things is all it takes to tame a hamster. Sometimes it takes more. Sometimes they remain aggressive. Either way, they are still living, breathing creatures with feelings and needs.
Talk to your local animal rescues and shelters (and do the proper research on care) if you are interested in learning more about adopting aggressive hamsters.
More Pet Advocacy
Defenders of Animals
American Humane Association
Animal Rights History
Compassion Over Killing
Responsible Pet Ownership