Hamsters look small, cute and cuddly in the pet store, but they are not necessarily the best choice as a pet for your young child. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents that reptiles, rodents, ferrets, amphibians, baby poultry such as chicks or ducklings, monkeys or illegal exotic animals don't make appropriate pets for families with young children. They can bite, transmit diseases or irritate current allergies. Young children might not know how to properly hold or handle these small critters and tend to squeeze their little bodies too much.
Hamsters, like other small rodents, have sharp teeth and nails. Their behavior can be unpredictable and they might bite small hands and fingers without cause. These can be deep enough to draw blood and cause your child to be in pain. According to the AAP, these bites can also lead to infection.
According to the National Center for Infectious Diseases, rodents can carry diseases such as Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, which can be transmitted to humans by wild and pet mice, hamsters, and, on occasion, guinea pigs. Humans can develop LCMV by being exposed to urine, feces or bedding of rodents with the virus. The AAP stresses that rodents can also be carriers of salmonella, which can be especially dangerous for young children. The risk of infection can be reduced by frequent hand washing and not touching possible sites of the virus, but young children tend to put dirty fingers and hands in their mouths, which opens them up to infection, states the AAP.
Hamsters are nocturnal and spend most of their time awake at night while sleeping during the day. They can be noisy at night and disappointing for toddlers during the day when they want to watch the hamster play, but all she wants to do is sleep. If the hamster is disturbed by a child when trying to sleep, it may be more likely to scratch or bite.
If you do decide to get a hamster as a pet, or if your child is exposed to one at another location such as a friend or family member's home, it helps to take precautions to limit the risk of injury or disease. Encourage frequent handwashing, always supervise contact of the hamster with children and encourage children not to put their hands and fingers into their mouths when and after handling the animal.
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