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To Zhu Zhu or not to Zhu Zhu, that is the question

Updated on December 11, 2009

A great alternative to a real pet, or a fad that will soon fade into the horizon? Each year there is one toy that emerges as a top seller; one year that was the Tickle Me Elmo, then Furby, then Elmo made a comeback with his Chicken Dance Elmo and TMX the Tickle Me Elmo Extreme! This year the Zhu Zhu Hamster is being billed as the next emerging top seller. In an article on Yahoo! News, Sean Gregory quotes the CEO of Toys R Us, Geral Storch, as saying "This is the hottest toy of the year. There's absolutely no doubt about it." But why this phenomenon? And what exactly is a Zhu Zhu Hamster?

Zhu Zhu Hamsters are battery operated hamsters that move about by small wheels on their undersides.   They retail for about $8 per hamster, and they even have cages, play tubes, balls and hamster wheels that you can purchase for the hamster to play on.  They “run around” and “talk” and even realize when they can’t go forward any longer; meaning when they hit a wall or solid object they squeak, back up and then go a different direction to keep on playing.  They are lovable “pets” that children can interact and play with and not have to worry about them dying due to lack of food or water. 

Some think that these “animals” will make an excellent first pet.  They are small, they don’t require food or water, you don’t have to clean up after them, they never die (although you may have to change their batteries) and they are priced so comparably that they are actually less expensive than purchasing a real hamster.  Real hamsters retail for about $12 at pet stores, and they do require food, which is a nominal cost, and water.  Live hamsters also do make a mess, they chew things, they even bite, and they go to the bathroom, which means the cage has to be cleaned or it will smell.  However, real hamsters have a life expectancy of only 3 years, meaning that your child will probably have to deal with death sooner, rather than later.  That is unless you are the type of parent to rush out and purchase another hamster that looks exactly the same while your child is at school, thus not exposing your child to the death. 

When I think about the Zhu Zhu Hamster, though, I actually see a down side.  Yes, your child is having fun playing with this hamster, but if you are getting it for them as a pet alternative, what are you teaching your child?  Many parents like to start with a small pet, such as a live hamster, to help teach their child about responsibility and the challenge that comes with being a pet owner.  If parents opt for this mechanical version, the child looses that very important lesson, and instead is taught that pets don’t require attention and care, and that they can be stuffed in a toy box when they are done with it.  If you get your child this gift, don’t bill it as a pet alternative, remind your child that it is a toy – and a fun one at that.  If you do this, you and your child can enjoy the Zhu Zhu hamster and all the joy that it has to offer you, should you be able to find one that is. 

Also, be aware that since the Zhu Zhu is able to move due to small wheels on their bellies, that these toys are not made for cuddling, they are not soft and squishy, and should be kept away from hair.  Should hair get near the turning wheel, it could get pulled into the wheel, and hurt your child or ruin the toy.  Zhu Zhu hamsters are not made to take to bed with your child, and if your child wants to sleep with their hamster I would try to discourage it, or at the very least remove the battery prior to your child taking it to sleep with. 


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