Hamsters as pets
Hamsters as pets
There are several types of hamster commonly kept as pets, including popular breeds such as the Syrian hamster, and dwarf varieties such as the Russian hamster, Chinese hamster, and Roborovski hamster. Depending on the breed, hamsters live on average for two to three years.
Hamsters are sociable animals, and the dwarf varieties generally are happier being kept in pairs or small groups, although female Chinese hamsters can be aggressive to other females and so may be better off housed alone. Syrian hamsters often fight if kept together, so it is advisable to keep a Syrian hamster on its own. If you’re planning on keeping more than one hamster, you should buy the pair or group together at the same time. If you are keeping more than one hamster together, it is important to make sure the cage is big enough to allow individuals their own space if needed to reduce the risk of fights and injuries.
Handling your hamster:
Hamsters can sometimes bite when shocked, therefore it is never a good idea to wake up a hamster and try to pick it up straight away. When you buy a hamster, always give it a couple of days to get used to its new surroundings at home before handling it. Offer it a treat and wait for it to climb onto your hands voluntarily, or gently scoop it up. Remember, dwarf hamsters in particular can run very fast so always handle them above a table to prevent injuries. Children should always be supervised when handling a hamster, but with regular handling, hamsters can become very tame and easy to handle over time.
Hamsters are generally very active and so it is important for them to have lots of space to move around in. Dwarf hamsters are obviously much smaller than Syrian hamsters, and therefore they may be able to escape from a cage with bars. Well ventilated plastic enclosures are usually much better for these smaller varieties.
There are many enclosures available to buy. Any enclosure should have small areas within it for sleeping, and larger areas for exercise.
The most suitable bedding is shredded paper and the floor of the enclosure should be covered with wood shavings, never with straw or hay (these can cause injuries).
Always keep the enclosure in a constant temperature, away from draughts and direct sunlight. A hamster will hibernate if the temperature drops below 10 C, therefore keeping the ambient temperature at around 20 C is usually ideal.
The key is to buy the largest enclosure you can for your budget and for the space you have at home.
Providing toys for your hamster will help to keep it happy and occupied. Houses and cardboard tubes make ideal places for your hamster to hide. Use wheels and balls to give your hamster exercise, and it is a good idea to provide pieces of wood for gnawing to keep teeth short. Remember, hamsters prefer to sleep during the day and are generally very active at night, so bear this in mind if your hamster’s house is in your bedroom!
Food for your hamster:
A complete good quality hamster mix available from good pet stores is the ideal choice. You can also feed small amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables, but care must be taken not too overfeed with these because this can sometimes cause intestinal upsets.
Snack sticks and even millet seed are great treats for hamsters, given in moderation.
Always make sure the food is fresh, and a good supply of water is available at all times.
To keep your hamster healthy, it is a good idea to clean out your hamster’s house every week, and use a pet-safe disinfectant to clean the enclosure. It may be necessary to clean out the toilet area more frequently, particularly if you are keeping more than one hamster. Using small litter trays with hamster litter can help with this.
Common health problems:
Here is a list of the most common health problems to look out for
Dental problems- overgrown teeth are a very common problem in hamsters. If your hamster stops eating or you think the front teeth look too long, always take your hamster to your Vet for advice and a check up. A Vet can safely trim your hamster’s teeth and advise on prevention.
Wet tail- this is a very common problem in hamsters and is a severe diarrhoea. The tail and back end look wet, hence the name. This is a life threatening condition and it is important that you take your hamster to the Vet if you notice signs of wet tail or if your hamster seems generally unwell.
Skin problems- hamsters can sometimes get flaky skin which can indicate mites or, more rarely, skin cancer. Check with your Vet if your hamster has flaky skin.
Overgrown nails- this is very common in older hamsters, and your Vet can trim your hamsters nails if they grow too long.
Tumours- older hamsters commonly get tumours, which can sometimes be treated with surgery. If you notice any lumps or swellings on your hamster, take him or her along to your Vet for a check-up.
Respiratory infections- hamsters can get upper and lower respiratory infections which usually need treatment. Check with your Vet if you notice your hamster has any breathing difficulties or nasal discharge.
Keeping your hamster’s cage clean, feeding a good diet, grooming your hamster regularly and providing wood or toys for gnawing can help keep your hamster healthy throughout its life. Always wash your hands before and after handling your hamster too!