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The Zhu Zhu Pets Phenomenon

Updated on January 12, 2010

My daughter was one of the many delighted recipients of this past holiday's toy craze - the Zhu Zhu Pets. I was not one of the exhausted parents who braved the lines and the mad scramble to get one. Neither did I spend many hours on the internet searching for sites that sell these gizmos at over inflated prices. Lucky for me, a very awesome relative scored a set for my little one!

Zhu Zhu pets are a set of electronic toy hamsters, equipped with advanced technology that allows it to be interactive - well, sort of. They come as 9 different characters: Mr Squiggles, Patches, Chunk, Pipsqueak, Num Nums, Scoodles, Jilly, Nugget and Winkie. These robotic hamsters have two play modes: a "nurturing mode" in which they coo and purr or "adventure mode" in which they explore their habitat and respond to different stimuli. Kinda reminds me of the Furby!

The Zhu Zhu pets require no maintenance - no feeding or no cleaning up after a poop and they never get sick! Although they cannot replace a live hamster, it is ideal for a child who is not ready for the responsibilities of caring for a live pet. Powered by 2 AAA batteries, each hamster has its own distinct personality, making it both adorable and smart. An individual Zhu Zhu pet costs about $10 at this time. A far cry from the outrageous prices during the holiday shopping season, when they were literally flying off the shelves. It can also come in a playset and there are various accessories available ranging from a bed, a carrier, clothes, car and even a skate board.

MANUFACTURER WARNING

Zhu Zhu pets have two little fast spinning wheels that allow it to move around and do its tricks. These wheels should never come in contact with your child's hair because of the risk of injury from hair entanglement. Watch the video below.

HEALTH/SAFETY CONCERNS

In early December of last year, the consumer group GoodGuide raised concerns over the presence of a potentially harmful metal in the Mr Squiggles character. The group claimed that their test detected the substance called Antimony ,103 ppm ( parts per million) in the hamster's nose and 93 ppm in its fur. This is way above the federal guide for antimony use of 60 ppm! Although antimony is used as medicine to treat parasitic infections, too much antimony can lead to lung disease, heart problems, diarrhea, severe vomiting and stomach ulcers. Antimony enters the body if inhaled or ingested. This claim prompted the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to consider an investigation regarding the safety of the popular toy.

In its defense, Cepia LLC the toy's manufacturer based in St. Louis issued a statement, basically standing behind the "absolute safety" of its product saying it has "passed the rigorous testing and the test results are well within U.S. government standards" and that "these results have been certified by the world's leading independent testing organizations."

A few days later, the federal toy regulator - the CPSC announced that the Zhu Zhu pets "is NOT out of compliance with the U.S. toy safety law". It further said that the toy does not pose a threat based on independent testing presented by the toy's manufacturer.



What happened to the GoodGuide claims? It turns out that the group based its test by using the XRF analyzer. According to a report by the Associated Press (AP) this device shoots X-rays and provides a reading of heavy metals present in the toy, such as antimony, lead, and other substances.This method of testing is not recognized by the CPSC.Toys are tested by determining how much heavy metal would escape from a toy if the child actually sucked or swallowed it. Not just by detecting how much toxic substances are present in a toy.

GoodGuide on their part has issued this statement: “While we accurately reported the chemical levels in the toys that we measured using our testing method, we should not have compared our results to federal standards.We regret this error."

CONCLUSION

Bad press did not affect the Zhu Zhu pets sales and its popularity, although I'm sure some parents out there are still nervous about it. As for my daughter, she has had her Zhu Zhu pets for about three weeks now. While she has thoroughly enjoyed and squealed with delight at these high tech rodent's antics, she has now shifted her focus on the other cool toys she got from good old Santa. As for me, I decided to put Mr Squiggles and Pipsqueak on a race using the car and the skateboard, the other day. I was left marveling at today's toy technology and in awe of the engineers behind it!

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