Cute but smelly
By Jillian McMullen, Staff Writer
Domesticated rodents—hamsters being arguably the most popular—are commonly chosen as pets for young children as a kind of preparatory pet that teaches children the commitment it requires to responsibly own an animal. This attempted education frequently ends poorly, because—as parents need to realize—rodents are not meant to be pets.
Growing up, many of my school friends kept rodents for pets, so I had this romantic idea of what having my own would be like. My mother, however, staunchly refused even the discussion of adding one to our household, so I was forced to listen enviously to all my friends talk about their after-school adventures with their furry friends. Recalling that now as an adult, I’m shocked by the collection of unfortunate endings most of their adventures had.
Imagine a child coming home from a day at school, excited to see their hamster because she has just had a litter of ten, tiny, hairless babies. The child hurries up the stairs, throws open the bedroom door, crosses the room to greet their new best friends and finds instead a scene of horror: A blood covered cage and one lone, rotund hamster. Turns out, the mother had killed all ten babies while the family was out for the day.
This is an experience I remember at least three people having while growing up. Turns out this is common among hamster owners. If the mother feels stressed or fearful, she will turn on her babies and often go full-blown cannibal on them. It is difficult to imagine a hamster remaining the family pet if it has traumatized the child with the half-eaten carcasses of its offspring. Furthermore, it is difficult for parents to teach children to take responsible care of this pet when the miniscule model for motherhood literally eats the thing it is supposed to be caring for.
Conversely, the small children for whom rodents are usually bought are not known to be particularly gentle with them. How many times have you visited someone with a hamster only to see them dangle the flailing fluff around by one of its hind legs? How many times have you heard of them losing it somewhere in the mess of their bedroom after it darted away?
Speaking generally, all rodents—simply put—stink. Their urine smells acidic and stings the nostrils, so their cages need to be cleaned constantly. Even with diligent maintenance, a small room with an enclosure will reek of their acrid stench because, unlike with dogs where most of it happens outside, their territorial marking happens inside the home when they are let out of their cages. It would be totally inhumane to always keep them inside their cage, so owning a rodent basically forces you to accept all your furnishings will be stained with their urine.
Typically, people will compare their cost relative to that of more traditional family pets, like a cat or a dog, and truthfully it would be impossible to deny rodents aren’t the “lower maintenance” option. Their enclosures require less space than a dog would need for equal amounts of exercise, and their food is cheaper. However, the main reason for getting one is usually their short lifespan, which is only about two to three years.
If having a pet is meant to add another member to the family, getting a rodent because the commitment is less permanent seems counter-intuitive. In fact, it seems more like parents begrudgingly buy these stinky little fur balls only because they know it won’t be around for long.