medium-coated white and brown dog beside person wearing red pants

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For animal lovers, college can be a difficult time. Going to university likely means devoting the majority of one’s life to studying, tests, and essay writing. This has several implications; one of which being that a student might not have time for a dog or a cat. For me, this has been the reality of my schooling situation. Yet, I cannot even recall a time when there was not a dog in my home. As a friend once told me; a household is not complete without a dog. I imagine that many cat-people will say the same when it comes to cats. So, what can animal-loving, but very busy, college students do? I may have found an answer of sorts to this question; hamsters.

I realize that I am making my point unnecessarily dramatic, but I genuinely believe that hamsters are an excellent solution to this dilemma. Hamsters as pets are almost always associated with young children or as starter pets. However, I am inclined to disagree. Hamsters are quite delicate creatures, and children might not be gentle or patient enough to handle them properly. Hamsters have also garnered a reputation for being skittish and with a propensity to nip and bite. However, as the owner of perhaps the grumpiest hamster on the plant, I cannot remember the last time he bit me.

selective focus photography of brown hamste

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While it is true that hamsters are naturally nervous, that does not mean that they do not have personalities. I believe that the main reason hamster owners tend to give away their pets or complain that the critters only bite or run away is because of a lack of care or a lack of understanding of hamsters as pets. If one goes to PetSmart or the like without any knowledge of hamster care, they will likely be fed total misinformation from the confused employees; perhaps the most harmful being the cage recommendations. Hamsters will spend most of their lives in their cages, yet many will ignorantly purchase cages which are undoubtedly too small.

Imagine, if you can, living your whole life in a tiny box with no hope of getting out; this is the dilemma which is created when hamsters are forced to exist in a cage which is far too small for them. This goes for nearly, if not all, of the extremely trendy Kaytee cages. While they are bright, colorful, and readily available at the majority of pet stores, they are entirely unsuited for hamsters. Even connecting the Kaytee cages with tubes will not make the cages acceptable for hamsters, as they need a certain amount of floor space which the Kaytee cages do not fulfill.

I use the Lixit Savic Hamster Heaven Metro Cage for my Syrian hamster and the Lixit Savic Mickey X-Large Cage for my dwarf hamster. It is true that these cages were expensive, but it is important to remember that we are discussing a living animal here. Just because they have a reputation for being childish pets, that does not mean that they deserve

closeup photo of brown hamster in glass cup

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less than any other type of pet. While it is cheaper and very popular to DIY a hamster cage out of a plastic bin or aquarium, I worry about this because of ventilation issues. Perhaps the most important thing is to do independent research to discover what cage will work best, and I suggest checking with ASPCA to find the general guidelines for hamster care.

So, what makes hamsters so wonderful as pets? Perhaps it is merely that they have oodles of personality packed into those tiny bodies. One might not see these personalities if they are not properly cared for, but they will almost always shine through if they are content and happy. My dwarf hamster, Clarence, is remarkably spirited and feisty but is also very tolerant of my silliness. When I adopted Clarance in January, he was stuffed in a tiny cage with another hamster; which created a good deal of tension. He had a difficult time trusting me at first, but over the coming months, we bonded. He even recognizes my voice and can differentiate it from the other voices in my household.

Clarence no longer bites, and now even enjoys being picked up and petted. He will even eat out of my hand; which shows that he is comfortable enough around me to be in an extremely vulnerable position. It sounds strange, but I have an exceptional bond with Clarence. I purchased my other hamster, Pierre, this summer. He is a Syrian Hamster, the most popular hamster breed to be kept as pets. When I adopted Pierre, he was still a juvenile, so he had not yet reached full adulthood. Before I had adopted him, he had been forced to live in the smallest glass cage I had ever seen with all of his brothers and sisters; who were already beginning to fight for dominance and breed.

Pierre is not firey like Clarence. While Clarence would attack and bite if he felt threatened, Pierre would run and hide. He was extremely skittish, likely because I was his first real experience with humans. What makes Pierre stand out as an adult is how gentle he is. No matter how stressed he is, even in those early days, he would never bite me. Now, when he takes food from my hand, he always does so gingerly. He is also incredibly curious. After he became comfortable with his cage, he also discovered his love for exploration. He is quite intelligent and can solve basic puzzles when I lay them out for him. He even understands that the crinkling sound of the food bag opening equals treats. Having taken time with him, he no longer runs away. Indeed, now he will come running up to me when he hears my voice and will hoist himself up on the cage’s wire bars when he wants attention.

There is something so fulfilling about caring for an animal. I do not believe that this companionship can be replaced for anything. However, owning a dog or a cat, which are both more traditional than a rodent, may be too time-consuming for a college student. However, while hamsters do require a fair amount of time and effort, they do not need as much as dogs and cats. Although it is critical to do your own research on hamsters and if they are the right pet for you, I hope that this has provided some information on whether or not hamsters are the right pet for you as a busy university student.