Your Guide To Hamsters

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Rabbits N'Rodents

Got Rabbits, Hamsters, Guinea pigs, gerbils?

Your Guide to Hamsters

 

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Species

Hamsters Vs Gerbils

Housing

Bedding  

Cage furnishings and toys 

Feeding....

Routine care

Handling and Taming 

Exercise and Play

Where to buy a hamster? How to choose one........? 

Health 

Breeding Hamsters

FAQ

Hamster Facts  

Other Articles

 

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Hamsters Vs Gerbils

 Gerbils

 Hamsters

 Awake during parts of the day, which  is a benefit for younger kids. Awake during the evening, which is when people are often at home.
 Very entertaining to watch as they are very quick and love digging burrows, unlike hamsters which are slower and tend not to dig burrows. Hamsters are slower and therefore easier for kids and inexperienced adults to handle. Due to being slower, they are often a more cuddly pet than gerbils once tamed.
Gerbils need gerbil friends, and can live in same sex pairs or small colonies whereas syrian and chinese hamsters must live alone and it is hard to get colonies, sometimes even pairs to get along when dealing with the dwarf hamsters. If you only want one pet, a hamster is a much better choice, and if you want a pair, Russian dwarves and robos can be kept together in same sex pairs, whereas with gerbils you are strongly advised to have more than one.
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Housing

Choosing a Suitable Hamster Home

There are many different types of cages on the market, and it can be really confusing to choose the best one for your hamsters. So, here we are going to go through all the different types and then it is up to you which one you choose. Please remember, the one you like the most may not be the best choice for your hamster.

Things to remember!

*Hamsters need the minimum space of 20 gallons- that goes for syrians and dwarves.

*A cage can never be too big, the more space you can provide the better.

*If you keep a pair of dwarves, don't use a spilt level cage, as this can cause territorial fighting!

*Bar cages only tempt hamsters to chew the bars, so try to get a barless cage like an aquarium or bin cage.

Compartment cages

These go by the names of habitrial, rotastak, crittertrail etc and consist of various compartments attached by tubes. Fun you might think, but are they really a good choice? The answer is yes and no because it depends on the type of hamster you have and the specific model you go for.

Syrians are bigger than dwarves (obviously) and therefore many will struggle to fit up the tubes, especially the bubble tubes. So use straight tubes instead, although many syrians will still not be able to use these, therefore I do not use tubes for my syrians.  As you  can see these cages are often far too small, and most hamsters will just chew the bars, so why not get a nice big barless cage!

 

These cages are generally expensive, hard to clean, hard to assemble/dissemble and offer poor ventilation. The compartments are small and do not let hamsters (or any rodent) be able to run around much before coming to a wall! The only way I would ever recommend these cages is if you have a dwarf or chinese and are willing to attach on an aquarium or bin cage. Also, some dwarves cannot make it up straight vertical tubes, so bubbled tubes may be needed. Syrians are much better off in a large bin or aquarium cage. Also, as pointed out before, if you keep more than one dwarf, don't connect different cages, as this can cause territorial fighting.

Wire Cages

These come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, however I do not recommend them as most hamsters, especially syrians, will chew the bars which can cause teeth problems. Hamsters use their hind teeth to gnaw the bars, therefore their front teeth often become overgrown, sometimes they become so long that the teeth go through the roof of the mouth and into the brain! That is rare though.....as the hamster is more likely to lose a lot of weight as they cannot eat and responsible owners will therefore notice this and take the hamsters to the vet to get their hamster's teeth trimmed.

However, a lot of hamster owners do use wire cages and there are a small amount of hamsters who will not chew the bars, but I have never known of a syrian who didn't chew the bars.  If you have a hamster which chews the bars, the wheel may be too small or there might be nothing to chew in the cage so buy some wood chews or offer a dog biscuit (no garlic, onion or pork ingredients!), milk bones work well.  This rarely, if ever works and a barless cage will need to be purchased.

Glass/ plastic Aquariums

These are a better alternative to wire and compartment cages, and are easy to clean, however they are heavy and offer poor ventilation, so a wire mesh lid is needed. On hot days, care must be taken that it doesn't become too hot! Hamsters can suffer from heat stroke! A bathroom tile can be put in the cage so as the hamster can lie on it to cool off when they so wish, but still care must be taken in case the hamster overheats in hot weather!

Bin cages

These are probably the BEST cage option and you make them yourself, and it is NOT that hard, honest! What you need is large smooth sided rubbermaid or sterlite storage bin which can be purchased at any large DIY store ie: Homebase or B&Q, or even Walmart! You need a smooth sided one, not one with a curved interior as hamsters can chew the walls! 

Then using a drill, make holes at the top of the bin, tall enough so as the hamster cannot reach and chew. Make plenty of them and for a lid you can take out the centre of the lid and replace it with a wire mesh. Make as big a bin as you have room for, and no smaller than 20gallons! The advantages being that bins are cheap, large, light weight and easy to clean as well as allowing plenty of height for wheels!

NOTE: in the UK, you may have trouble finding a bin, so instead, you will have to substitute with an aquarium or a barless, indoor rabbit/guinea-pig cage (too small for rabbits and guinea pigs, but great for hamsters). I use these cages as can be seen below:

The blue cage is a Rody Rabbit cage which costs around £49.99 and the white is a Zoozone cage which retails at £39.99

The bar spacing is too wide, so I have now added a wire mesh top to prevent an escape.....again!!

 

The Rody and Zoozone cages are readily available in the UK and parts of Europe but can also be found in some parts of the USA and Canada.

They measure approx. about 50x100x50cm (width x lenght x height).

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Bedding

Dangerous beddings

With so many beddings out there, do you know the good from the bad?

The Bad!....

Cedar- The worst of the them all! NEVER EVER use cedar as bedding for any animal because it is a soft wood, and all softwoods release toxins known as phenols. These toxins are the cause for severe hair loss, itchy skin, obsessive scratching, respiratory problems and has even been linked to liver and kidney problems in humans (and probably animals) if exposed to for a long time. It is also very rough on little feet.

Pine- Also a softwood and always should be avoided, it is not just as bad as cedar and the American pine is worse than the European pine but it can still cause all the problems associated with cedar. It is the most widespread bedding. 

NOTE: Symptoms related to pine and cedar may take a while to show in some cases, however the damage is very real and pine and cedar should never be used. 

Corn Cob- This bedding goes mouldy extremely quickly and can therefore cause a fungus and bacteria  build up which is harmful to any living thing. Also if eaten (likely with hamsters) it can cause an impaction as corn cannot be digested! Never use this bedding either.

Fluffy bedding- This is found in most pet shops and it often claims to be a 'warm nesting material', however fluffy bedding has caused many a death and injury among rodents as it catches around limbs cutting off blood circulation!! EEK! It is also a choking hazard and can catch around the intestines as it cannot be digested! Plain unscented toilet paper can be used as a cheaper, safer alternative. 

Newspaper- is a health hazard because when hamsters chew/rip it (as they so often do), it causes the ink to run and that can be toxic. Some of the inks are now made from vegetable origin, however it is probably not 100% safe and cannot be properly digested anyway. 

Fabrics- Never use towels, old t-shirts etc as bedding for hamsters as they are often ripped up which can cause a choking hazard and can wrap tightly around limbs.

...and the GOOD!

Carefresh- This is a highly recommended bedding by many and can now be purchased throughout the Uk and USA as well as Canada, I am not sure where else it is available though. It is slightly more expensive but worth it!

Aspen- This is a hardwood shaving and unlike softwoods, does not release phenols. However, there is some questioning as to whether it is safe as a reasonably high number of rodents show allergies to it, especially Syrians. Many hamsters show no allergy symptoms and aspen is definitely better than cedar and pine!! 

NOTE: Be VERY careful if you switch from carefresh/crittercare etc to Aspen as it would seem that many hamsters cannot tolerate aspen once used to carefresh/crittercare, if you do switch observe your pet very carefully for the next few months to make sure it displays no signs similar to that caused by cedar and pine. If your pet was kept on pine or cedar, then aspen can be used as a better alternative and will hopefully not cause any allergies.

Critter care- This is Walmarts cheaper alternative to carefresh, and therefore is only available in the USA (and maybe Canada??). I have heard that it can be very dusty and that therefore carefresh is better, use your best judgement. If your pet shows any signs of allergies to it, switch to another safe bedding.

Kaytee Soft Sorbent- This is usually widely available in the USA and perhaps Canada, as far as I know, it isn't available elsewhere.

Plain unscented Toliet Paper- This can be used as a much safer option to fluffy bedding and makes a great, safe and warm nesting material which CAN be digested easily if accidently eaten.  However it MUST be unscented to prevent skin allergies. This is not very absorbent and is not recommended as a replacement for the normal floor covering, but if you run out of bedding it is perfect as a temporary alternative. Hamsters love the stuff, watch 'em rip it to shreds!

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Cage Furnishings

It can be fun choosing toys and furnishings for our pets, but we need to think before we buy, remember that although many toys look 'nice' they may not be safe or practical for our hamsters!

Wheels- All hamsters should be supplied with a wheel, the only exceptions being a mother with babies or if you vet recommends your hamster should go without one until they recover from an illness. The wheel should be large enough so as your hamster's back is not arched and it must be a solid wheel as the ones with open rugs can catch little feet- and therefore injure or badly break them!!!

I highly recommend wodent wheels, although unavailable in most petshops, they can be ordered online.  Also comfort wheels and silent spinners, which are more readily available, are also recommended by many owners, of course there are plenty more out there which I am sure are suitable. Just remember that hamsters NEED a wheel which is large enough and most that come with cages are too small!  Finally, small hamsters like roborovskis may have trouble working a big wheel, so chose carefully. 

Sleeping Hut/Hamster House- Hamsters do need a 'hut'or 'house', as they do prefer to sleep in one rather than in the open and helps them feel secure. Plastic ones are best, so long as the have holes for ventilation, otherwise condensation builds up quickly as the hamster sleeps, causing respiratory problems. The plastic igloos (left), made by superpet are very good and well ventilated. Wooden houses aren't ideal as they are bascially impossible to clean and dry properly.

 

Water bottle or water dish?- Water should be supplied in a bottle, never a dish as it will stay fresher and cleaner in a bottle. Hamsters often get bedding, poos and food etc into the water if supplied in a dish, also if it spills, you will be left with a very cold and wet hamster, so dishes are not practical. Water bottles are cheap, easy to change and can be bought in all pet stores which sell small animal supplies. There are two types - the spring loaded and ball ended bottles and the spring loaded ones are often too strong for dwarves so ball ended bottles are better. 

Food dish, is it neccessary?- Some people believe that hamsters should have their food scattered so as they can forage, like in the wild and that it is boring for them if they have their food provided in a bowl. On the other side of the spectrum, others believe that dishes keep the food clean and you can see how much your pet has eaten and it is also easier to tell if your hamster is ill and has therefore stopped eating. I always put some of my hamster's food in a dish and scatter most of it, I also hide veggies so as they have to sniff them out (of course any veggies not eaten are removed the next morning!). Foraging is a very important activity for all rodents, so please do scatter some food, it will keep the occupied for ages. 

Litter tray-Hamsters are clean animals and can be litter trained like a cat....honest! There are many litter trays available, so just choose one that is large enough. Never use the potty litter than often comes with these trays as it is a choking hazard, use chinchilla sand or the bedding you use as a floor covering. NOTE: If you provide a sand bath (read below) you may find that a separate litter tray is not needed as many hamsters pee in their sand bath.

Sand Bath- Hamsters love this addition to their cage, especially dwarves, although it is not vital. NEVER use water OR beach sand OR Chinchilla Dust, only use Chinchilla sand. It is made for chinchillas, but hamsters love digging androlling in it too, just put it in a ceramic bowl or other non-chewable suitable container and watch them go!

NOTE: Make sure it is chinchilla sand, not dust as the dust can cause respiratory problems. Beach sand can carry all sorts of germs and other little nasties! Water is not suitable as hamsters are aquaphobic (have a fear of water) and will drown or if it is shallow, have a risk of catching a chill and a cold which could be fatal!

Cardboard loo/kitchen roll tubes- Most hamsters like these and they are free and non-toxic so your hamster can chew them too! Dwarves will run through them and chew them, syrians will either ignore them or chew them! 

Chews- Commerical wooden chews are great for hamster's teeth but rarely any hamsters will actually use them, so an unflavoured dog biscuit free from onion, garlic and pork etc will be fine, milkbones are the safest. If you do buy chews, make sure the colours are natural (from vegetable origin).

 The best wood chews are untreated willow or wicker chews, often found in the rabbit section in pet shops, or some apple/pear tree wood that if free from pesticides or disease is perfect for hamsters.

Things to look out for when buying toys:

Make sure there are no sharp edges which could harm your pets

* Make sure that your hamsters cannot get stuck, especially syrians

*Check to see that the toy is well made- no glue should be seen as hamsters will chew it!

*Will your hamster actually like it? There are lots of toys out there, but half the time our pets don't find the toy interesting. So see if it has a use- climbing, gnawing, hiding, sleeping etc. 

*There should be no cloth, fabric or wool that could pose a choking hazard

Feeding....

Feeding Your Hamster

 

This is a rather long but VERY important section of hamster care that unfortunately, too many people don't bother to research and just feed any old hamster mix.

Firstly, hamsters are omnivores which means they eat both meat and plants. In the wild hamsters eat seeds, insects, grasses, various plants and any crops of local farmers. We cannot offer a hamster a completely natural diet, we can however, provide them with a good diet that gives them all the nutrients they require.

Choosing a Hamster Mix

There are plenty of mixes out there and most of them you should stay well clear off. The mix makes up the basis of your hamster's diet and therefore you should strive to find a good quality one for the wellbeing of your hamsters. Avoid any mixes that have added sugar, artificial colours and high levels of preservatives.

Recommended mixes are Harry/Hazel hamster by Surpreme and Hagan Hamster food if the Surpreme brand can not be found. If you have neither available to you, there are several options;

a) Ask your local petfood supplier to order in the mix

b) Order online

c)Find a different mix low in sugar, colours and preservatives.

All hamsters should have a limited supply of sunflower seeds, peanuts and pumpkin seeds- all of which are often found in abundance from most mixs. Limit your hamsters to 2-3 sunflower seeds a day and if there are anymore than a couple of pumpkin seeds and peanuts pick out the rest as they are too fatty and a favourite amongst hamsters.

<---Syrian Hamster with Full pouches!

 

Reducing the Risk of Diabetes

Dwarf and Chinese hamsters, especially the Campbells, are prone to diabetes and as a result should be kept on a low sugar diet to prevent this. Diabetes can shorten their lifespan and you can take efforts to avoid it. There is a debate on whether or not to even allow these hamsters to be fed the corn and peas found in all hamster mixes. Some advise to take these out and not to allow them any fruit either for fear of starting off diabetes. However, these foods will not cause diabetes, feeding honey coated treats and other foods high in glucose/cane sugar will, but no hamster should be fed these anyway! If you wish, by all means take out the peas and corn if you want, they have little nutritional value anyway after the amount of processing. Diabetes can be genetical, so if heavily inbred into a line of diabetic hamsters, the offspring are more than likely to develop the disease no matter what they are fed.

Foods with a high GI (Glycemic Index) should be avoided, and low GI foods like wheatgerm should be fed where possible. Proccessed foods, like Weetabix are actually very high GI foods, so be careful. 

Changing the Mix

If you are going to change the mix then the change should be done gradually over a 2 week period. To do this you should add in a small amount of the new food in along with the old food and gradually over this time period change the ratio of old mix: new mix. It is advised not to make any other dietary changes at the same time. 

Other Foods to add in with the mix

I always add in some other ingredients to enhance the nutritional value of the mix and to add more variety. The other foods should only make up a small portion of the whole mix and some suitable, healthy foods you can add are:

  • Low sugar puffed cereal (ie Plain Kashi, puffed rice)

  • Rolled oats- careful too many cause constipation

  • Lentils

  • Wheatgerm(store in the fridge, rots quickly)

  • Buckwheat (store as wheatgerm)

  • millet seed (can be found in the bird food section)

  • Sesame seeds 

I always try and buy foods from health food stores, it may sound a little over-the-top but these shops are often more reliable. No dried fruits should be added, especially for dwarves as mentioned above.

Water

It is vital that hamsters have access to clean water all the time as it stops dehydration and provides them with important nutrients. The water should be provided in a water bottle, and needs changed every day, no one wants sour water, remember to rinse the bottle daily too. Every time you change the water, check the spout with your finger to make sure it works okay and remember that dwarves may have problems with spring loaded bottles so provide them with a bottle with a ball mechanism. 

Dishes are unsuitable as hamsters easily soil them whilst digging and scuttling about. Also dishes are easily tipped over and a wet cage and hamster is not a healthy environment. Also as hamsters are terrified of water- they are aquaphobic so becoming wet will not only chill the hamster but will also cause unnecessary stress.

Only water from the cold tap should be used, and preferably it should be filtered and not straight from the tap.

Take note on how much your hamster drinks on a day-to-day basis, they only drink very small amounts, so little that it is almost unnoticable. If your hamster starts to increase his/her water consumption then it could be a sign that it is too hot where they are, or partically with dwarves, it could be a sign of diabetes. Young hamsters may increase and decrease how much they drink as their metabolism changes. With older hamsters, increased drinking could be a sign of various conditions so check for any other changes and if the problems persist or you are worried, please take your hamster to the vet asap.

Hay

Is hay needed? The answer to that is no, they do not need it, however, in the wild it is assumed hamsters do eat wild grasses to add roughage into their diet. I have a small handful of hay in each hamster cage and your hamsters will either eat it, nest with it or ignore it. Timothy and meadow hay are generally the best. Alfalfa hay should be avoided as it is far too high in calcium and protein.  

Fresh Vegetables and Fruits

Hamsters will greatly benefit from fresh vegetables and fruit, however as mentioned previously dwarves should not be fed fruits or sugary veggies. It must be remembered that hamsters who have never had any fresh foods before are very prone to diarrhoea. Therefore assume all new hamsters in your care have never had any fresh foods, unless the past owner haas told you otherwise, so you need to start slowly.

To begin with, do not feed any fresh foods for the first 48 hours as the hamsters will be more stressed and hence more prone to diarrhoea. A good vegetable to start off with is a small bit of a celery leaf as that is easy on your pet's tummy, however any vegetable from the following list is fine.

      VEGETABLES

  • Bean Sprouts (ie aduki and mung)

  • Bok Choi

  • Broccoli

  • Brussell sprouts **

  • Carrot *

  • Cabbage**

  • Celery (leaves and stalks, just be carful of the stringy bits-cut up small)

  • Chicory

  • Chinese leaves

  • Cauliflower**

  • Courgettes

  • Cucumber (very watery so small amounts and no seeds)

  • Curly kale

  • Fenugreek

  • Kidney beans (cooked as raw are toxic!!)

  • Mange tout

  • Pak choi

  • Peas *

  • Sweet corn*

  • Sweet peppers

  • Turnip

  • Water chestnuts

  • Wheat grass        

** Fed in small amounts rarely as too much can cause health problems

* Sugary, so don't feed too often

 

       HERBS

  • Basil

  • Coriander

  • Mint

  • Parsely (NOT fools parsely which is deadly!!!)

  • Rosemary

  • Sage-small amounts 

       FRUIT  

  • Apple (seedless)

  • Banana

  • Blueberries

  • Mango

  • Peach

  • Pear

  • Rasberries

  • Strawberry

Dangerous/toxic fruits and vegetables which should never be fed

  • Apple seeds

  • Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons etc)

  • Garlic

  • Onions

  • Potatoes (raw)

  • Lettuce (Iceburg especially)

  • raw kidney beans

  • tomatos (too acidic)

  • Tomato leaves

NOTE: Never feed any fruits or vegetables which are too ripe or past their best, because although we can consume these, it is believed that small animals like hamsters have trouble digesting them.

 

    OTHER FOODS

  • Brazil Nuts

  • Buckwheat

  • Bread (wholemeal)

  • Breakfast cereals (plain, low sugar puffed cereals ie plain kashi)

  • Chicken (cooked, plain)

  • Crickets

  • Cod (cooked, plain)

  • Dog Biscuits (no garlic, onion or pork)

  • Egg-Hard Boiled

  • Oat meal

  • Pasta (cooked, wholemeal)

  • Pecans

  • Potatoe (cooked/boiled)

  • Pumpkin seeds

  • Rice (plain, wholemeal)

  • Rolled oats (too many causes constipation)

  • Mealworms

  • Millet Spray (for pet birds)

  • Toast (plain)

  • Tofu (plain, cooked)

  • Turkey (cooked, plain)

  • Walnuts

  • Wheatgerm

  • Wheatgrass

  • Yeast

  • Yoghurt (plain natural bio-yogurt)

     AVOID- Do not feed

  • Almonds
  • Buns
  • Butter
  • Buttercups
  • Cake
  • Chocolate
  • Chips
  • Cookies
  • Crisps
  • Dried fruit (too sugary)
  • Insects from the garden
  • Junk food
  • Raw meat/raw fish
  • Spicy Food

And anything else you are unsure about as hamsters have delicate tummies, sop don't put them at risk.

Petstore Treats

Please avoid these, they are full of sugar, corn salt etc and only encourage your hamster to become faddy eaters. They have little/no nutritional value and should never be fed, with the exception of millet sprays for birds which can be fed as a treat now and again.

 

Nutritients

Foods are made up of the following:

  • Proteins- For growth and repair. Found in soya, seeds and meat

 

  • Carbohydrates- Needed for energy. Found in wheat, rye, oats

 

  • Fats- Needed for energy, protection and warmth. Found in seeds and nuts.

 

  • Vitamins-Many different types all needed for a healthy hamster. Found in a variety of foods. Important nutrients are:

  1. Vitamin A- Needed for bone growth, night vision and healthy skin, found in plant and animal products.

  2. Vitamin B- There are many B vitamins- B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12 all have important functions. Found in vegetables, meat, wholemeal bread, eggs and nuts.

  3. Vitamin C- Needed for healthy skin, teeth, gums, energy production and wound healing. Found in broccoli, fruits and spinach.

  4. Vitamin D-For the absorption of calcium and is found in sunlight and dairy products.

  5. Vitamin E- Acts as an antioxidant and good sources are wheatgerm and nuts.

  6. Vitamin K-Needed for blood clotting and found in dark green vegetables.

 

  • Minerals- Each mineral has different functions, all are important in varying amounts. Examples are:

  1. Calcium- needed for the develop of strong bones and teeth, especially needed for babies and older hamsters. Too much calcium is harmful as it can cause bladder stones. Calcium is found in foods like dark green vegetables, soya and cheese.

  2. Iron- Needed for the process of haemoglobin, and can be found in foods like dark green vegetables, meat and soya.  

  3. Zinc-Needed for cell division, and is used in metabolisms. Good sources are meat, pumpkin seeds etc.

  4. Copper- Needed for red blood cell formation, found in nuts, wheatgerm and vegetables.

 

  • Fibre- Needed for roughage and a healthy digestive system, not enough causes constipation, too much causes diarrhea. Good sources are timothy hay and vegetables. Too much fibre can hinder the absorption of important nutruents due to the amount of phytic acid. 

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Routine Care

Routine Care

Daily

  • Change the water
  • Clean pee corner 
  • Check hamsters for injuries
  • Allow them to exercise for at least 20 mins a night 

Every other day

  • Wash food dish, refilling it if necessary
  • Check the cage for any chewing damage etc  

Weekly

  • Give the hamster a thorough health check (see in health section)
  • Clean the cage totally and replace all the old bedding

 

Cleaning the cage 

Remove the hamster to a safe play area, either a spare cage or hamster ball, and throw all of the old bedding out, although you may wish to keep back some bedding so as the hamster can smell some of their scent in the clean cage.

Spray a pet-safe disinfectant over the cage and any toys you wish to clean, scrub with a toothbrush if necessary, and allow to sterilize for 2-5 minutes and rinse thoroughly several times, even if the instructions say 'leave to dry' or 'just wipe off'. NB- Never use any disinfectant that turns the water white, and never use bleach. 

Dry the cage thoroughly and add new bedding that covers the cage floor, and dry and replace the toys. Add fresh food and water, and replace the hamster ensuring the cage is properly assembled.  

 

***Tip***

Got  white pee stains in the cage that don't come off? White vinegar and a lot of scrubbing will get rid of those stains and kills all the bacteria too! Just rinse and dry well afterwards.

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Handling and Taming

How to have a tame Hamster

If you rescue or buy from a reputable breeder, chances are the hamster will be quite tame anyway, and you just need to finish off the taming process.

However, if you get from a petshop it is likely to be very nervous and untame, so this article should help you.

Before we start, remember there is no set time before a hamster is tame, it depends purely on the individual hamster and how it has been treated in the past. Also, females tend to be more curious than males and often don't sit still long.

When you first get your hamster home leave them for  24 hours to settle in, and if you have a very jumpy hamster, leave them for  a further 1 or 2 days. Only try to handle them when they are wide awake, never wake up a hamster, and make sure you wash your hands both before and after handling. If your hands smell of the food you have just eaten, expect a bite, even from tame hamsters!

Start off with talking to the hamster, and it helps if you make the same noise everytime you approach the cage, like calling their name softly,  they will get used to this and know when you around.  

All movements should be slow, don't open the door and fling in your hand whilst talking in a loud voice, that will terrify the hamster and will likely lead to a bite.  Offer them something tasty, like a sunflower seed or peanut. They will either freeze, runaway or gently take it off you. They may take it off you pretty quickly or you could be waiting 5-10 minutes, so be patient and just keep talking to them softly and don't force the food into their face. Do this several times, over several days if neccessary, until they are confident in doing this, and they will soon associate you with food.

The next step is putting the food in your palm, so the hamster has to walk over you to get their treat. Be prepared for a long session, most nervous hamsters will come back and forth and you should stay still, but keep talking to them. This also will most likely have to be repeated over several days.

When they get to the stage that they sit happily on the palm of your hand to eat the food without jumping off you can slowly lift your hands up just over the cage floor so as they can't fall from a great height. If the hamster tries to jump, let them, if you restrain them they will panic and the bond will be broken. Eventually they should become confident enough to allow you to cup your hands around them and hold them outside of the cage. However, care must be taken as young hamsters are often jumpy, so don't hold them whilst standing up and try to hold them with their front facing you to avoid them jumping.

Tip:A really great bonding exercise is for you to sit a dry bath tub and let them run over you, just make sure the plug is covered and they have an area in the bath that they can climb off you.  Do this again and again and you should find it helps both of you.

The key is basically, let the hamster set the pace, you may have to repeat some of the steps for several nights, but it will be worth it, so good luck!

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Exercise and Play

Exercise and Play

In the wild  hamsters would often travel several miles each night, foraging and collecting food to bring back into their burrows. Obviously we cannot provide an enclosure that big, but we can however ensure our hamsters have a chance to get all the necessary exercise.

Firstly by providing a spacious cage that allows the hamster to move around even when all of the toys etc have been added to the cage. See the caging section for more information.

Every hamster should have a wheel at all times, with the only exceptions being a nursing mother or a hamster with a broken limb. The wheel should be large enough so as the hamster's back doesn't need to be arched, and so have a solid base. No open rungs!  Suitable wheels are Wodent wheels, silent spinners, comfort wheels and most other solid wheels, use your best judgement.  

Hamsters need time out of their cage daily, for at least 20 minutes a night, more if you have the time. You must return them every 20-30 minutes to let them get a drink or rest. If they want out again after about 5 minutes, then let them out again for another 20-30 minute session if you can.

Anyone who owns a hamster knows that they will become frustrated doing the same things again and again, so do not put them in the hamster ball every night, or the same playpen every night, change is good, and keeps their minds working!  So maybe if you are busy one or two nights, put them in the hamster-ball, then the next night in the playpen. Change around the toys and position of the objects in the playpen to make it more fun. Or let them run around a secure room if you have one, of course they must be watched under close supervision at all times! 

Hamster-balls

The hamster-ball, is it safe? It depends and this is a controversial subject, I for one do use the hamster-ball, however I believe that it is dangerous if not used correctly. Some hamsters never like the ball, and will just sit in it and try and chew their way out, in this case, don't ever use the hamster-ball.

If you plan on leaving your hamster for hours in the ball, or in a room where they can fall from great heights, then yes it is dangerous, but if you are a responsible, caring owner who returns the hamster after 15-20 minutes and they are in a secure room with no stairs then yes it is fine. Just remember to stay in the same room as the hamster, so if any problems arise, you can stop it. ALWAYS stick the lid down with cello-tape, as hamsters have a great way of turning the lids from the inside! 

Also be sure to let your hamster choose whether they want to go into their ball, by holding it up to the door of their cage. If they don't pop in, they clearly don't like it and shouldn't be put in a ball.

Playpens

Playpens can be bought at a lot of good pet stores, however most hamsters can easily climb their way out, so I use a dry bathtub with a sheet an old towel on the floor and the plug covered then add in toys and hide food. However, supervision must be there at all times, and please make sure your hamster does not try and eat the towel!!! 

Alternatively, you could use a secure room, and allow them to explore, again hiding some food and adding safe toys. But you must 'hamsterproof' the room first;

  • Make sure no other animals can get into the room
  • Remove any wires from the floor and keep them up high.
  • Ensure there are no sweets, plastic bags or itty-bitty things hamsters could pouch on the floor
  • Block any gaps behind/under furniture really well using heavy books
  • Close the door
  • Always supervise the hamster, as they are very quick and will dive under anything when they get the chance! Also you must make sure they do not dig your carpet or try and squeeze under anything! It is best not to use really large rooms.

Outside

Some people will let their hamsters roam outside, and this is NOT a good idea! Hamsters are very quick, and will easily get away,and once they are gone you have a one in a million chance of finding them! If they escape they will not survive and will either die from dehydration, starvation, plant poisoning, predators or will be killed due to wet/cold/hot weather.  Even using a playpen is NOT good enough, as hamsters will quickly find the weak spots and will be off! 

Besides hamsters come from either Syria, Russia or Asia, and therefore cannot have a 'natural' experience in your garden. In fact, even if you have a syrian and live in Syria, your hamster is so domesticated, it will not survive if it escapes outside.

Dogs and cats you can vaccinate, but hamsters you can't and you are putting their lives at risk letting them explore outside. Plus what if they eat something they are not supposed too, and die. 

Finally, hamsters are not awake in broad daylight, so whenever the hamsters are naturally active in will most likely be too dark and/or cold.

So please, please keep your hamsters inside, it really isn't worth the risk, is it?

Hamster Harnesses

A growing trend are these harnesses made for hamsters, however stay well away from them as hamsters are prey animals and hate to be refrained, and as hamsters are so small, they are often hurt in the process of trying to get one on.

These harnesses are meant to be fitted around the neck of the hamster, but hamsters have a lot of loose skin around their necks and can easily wriggle free, so the only way to keep it on is if you strangle the hamster!!! 

Assuming that the harness was made to fit like a dog's harness, you'd have to follow the hamster, they cannot be walked like a dog where the dog follows you, and of course, hamsters cannot go outside!!   So they are a complete waste of money and most certainly a dangerous item!

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Where to buy a hamster? How to choose one........?

Where to buy your hamster?

So you have now choosen a breed, or at least narrowed down your choices! You will now be thinking of where to buy a hamster, right? Or maybe you just assumed that your local petshop will do? Well, whatever you decide is up to you, however, please consider adopting one from a rescue shelter.

Not all hamsters at shelters are old, sick and vicious, quite the opposite in fact! A lot of hamsters are brought into shelters as young adults as their previous owners didn't like their Christmas or birthday present and are perfectly good pets awaiting, hoping, for a second chance. Could you give them this chance? Also keep in mind, shelters will not offer sick animals for rehoming either and wouldn't it be great to save a life? 

If you have no shelters near you, check www.petfinder.com if you live in America. There may also be hamsters needing new homes advertised in your local paper or on an advertisement website, such as freeads.

If not then perhaps consider a reputable breeder, they will supply you with a good, healthy hamster and offer friendly advice. Often these hamsters are tamer and healthier than petstore hamsters. To find a reputable breeder in the UK is not difficult as the hamster fancy is larger here and many have website hamsteries or if you go to your local club website- ie Northern Ireland Hamster Club, Midlands Hamster Club etc you can see when the next show is, and maybe go along to it and see what hamsters are available.

Everywhere else it can be harder yo find a reputable breeder, but if you do a google search, you may be lucky enough to find one.

What is a reputable breeder though? Well anyone can be a breeder, but not every hamster/rabbit/mouse etc breeder is reputable. A reputable breeder breeds for betterment of the species, may be a member of a club and may attend shows whenever they can. They also do not over breed their animals, but they do look after them well and knows their stock's pedigree/family & genetic background to avoid inappropriate inbreeding, crossbreeding etc. They also will often provide owners with a free caresheet and maybe a pedigree as well as offer any advice. They make little or no money due to the proper care of their animals and have an interest in the animals they raise. However I have found 99.9% of breeders who see themselves as 'reputable' still do unethical practices, such as selling stock to petstores where their future is unknown.

A commercial breeder breeds for quantity, not quality so as they can make money, fast! Their stock is usually sickly, untamed and over bred as well as feed poor quality food. Their stock are usually quite inbreed, over-bred and due to the mass of the animals they have, they are housed in poor conditions. These are also people who often (but not always) supply the big chain stores and do not bother to provide a caresheet for their animals. Thats one reason I always say to avoid petshops as you do not know where the animals have come from.

Please Note:

I, under no circumstances advise or promote buying any animal from petshops. Nor do I endorse buying from breeders instead of rescuing.

Choosing Your Hamster

Choosing a hamster can be fun, depending on where you are getting them. At a shelter you may not have a lot of choice, or you may be totally spoilt for choice! Always look at all the hamsters available- are they well cared for? Do they have ample, and clean space? Clean water?  etc. If you are happy with care of them, then look at the species you are interested in and ask if you can hold one, or put your hand into the cage. Any that come up to you, may be an indication that they will make a good pet. However, make sure the hamster has bright clean eyes, a clean bottom, no visible injuries and is alert. NOTE: hamsters are crepsular and are therefore active at dawn and dusk, so at midday don't expect them to be really lively- in fact they may be a bit sleepy and grumpy!

Males tend to be more laid back, whereas females tend to be more active and curious, but both can make good pets. Sometimes pet stores cannot sex hamsters, so learn how to yourself using this diagram. 

Syrians

 

Dwarves are pretty much the same, with the two openings on the male being further apart than the female.

Bringing Your Hamster Home

Before you even think of getting a hamster, read the previous sections on feeding, caging, bedding etc, for your hamster's sake.

Anyway, assuming you have already researched everything about hamsters and are preparing to get one or more, make sure you have the cage(s) all set up and ready so as you can let your hamster begin to settle in as soon as you arrive. You might want to bring a ventilated, plastic container (an ice cream box with holes works well) with you as the normal cardboard boxes provided at stores can be chewed through easily and a hole big enough to escape from can be made before you get home if you have a long journey! Believe me, I learnt the hard way! 

NOTE: Ask the place that you get your hamster from, what hamster mix they feed as you don't want to upset your hamsters stomach! Do NOT introduce new foods including vegetables etc until the hamster has settled in for at least a few days, unless the breeder/ shelter owner told you that they fed the hamsters that particular food previously.  In the case where you cannot find out what food the hamster was given, buy a good quality mix like Harry/Hazel hamster made by Surpreme and give the hamster nothing else but the mix for the next 7-10 days.

Once your hamster is home, leave it somewhere quiet in its new cage with food and water and don't try to handle it until the following night and it is awake. Read the taming section for more information if you are unsure. 

Also any baby hamsters under 12 weeks should have unlimited mix- you'd be surprised how much they eat! Also, once they have settled in/got used to the new mix, you can feed them some protein foods about 3 times a week until fully grown. Runny porridge is best (rolled oats soaked in water and plain cow/soya milk) or bread soaked in puppymilk/ KMR (kitten milk replacement)- which can be bought at most good pet stores.

Good Luck and I hope you find the hamster that suits you!

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Health

Hamster Healthcare

Hamsters usually need at least one trip to the vet in their lifetime and sometimes owners realise too late their hamster needs help. This is a basic guide, but please, if your hamster is ill, take him to the vet ASAP as hamsters can go downhill very quick. This guide is a complete guide, listed alphabetically from A-Z:

Click here- Complete List of hamster illnesses

Hamster First-aid kit

Important things to have around incase your hamster becomes injured (not to replace a vet in emergencies!)

  • Unflavoured Pedialyte(USA)/unflavoured electrolyte(UK) soloution- from your Chemists for rehydration, to be mixed in a ratio of 1:1 in water when hamsters are dehydrated.
  • Needless Syringe/glass eyedropper- Great for getting your hamster to take fluids, your vet will often supply you with a needless syringe for free if you ask. I prefer glass eyedroppers though, as the syringes tend to go mouldy after a couple of uses. You also have more control over the amount of fluid released each time with an eyedropper.
  • Salt- tablesalt dissloved in boiled water allowed to cool gives you a saline soloution perfect for cleaning wounds. Apply the saline soloution either lukewarm or at room temperature, not cold and certainly not hot.
  • Cotton Buds
  • Hydrogen Peroxide- Can be used to clean wounds 
  • Antiseptic Wipes - Good for cleaning little surface cuts
  • Spare Water Bottle
  • Rubber Gloves
  • Shallow feeding dish
  • Emergency Vet Telephone number

Hamster Healthchecks

You should give your hamster a quick check everyday, the hamster will get used to it and shouldn't cause any stress. Weekly a more thorough check should be done. Start of with the head- are the eyes bright? Is there any crust or sticky substances around the eyes? Is there any dribbling or blood from the mouth? Is the nose clean? Is the hamster alert? Are they active? Is the bottom clean? When you run your hands along the hamster do you feel any lumps or bumps (apart from scent glands)?

A more thorough check would involve checking the nails, teeth and weighing the hamster- record the weight each time, espcially important in older hamsters. 

Always keep note of how much your hamster eats and drinks, and any sudden change may be a cause for concern.

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FAQ

Common Questions Answered Here

1./ I have 2 teddybear hamsters and was told they could live together, is this true? Teddybears are a made-up name by mass breeders used to make people pay more money for them, they are simply longhaired syrians, and therefore, like all syrians cannot live together!

2./I have two syrians and they have been living together for 4 months, so does this mean they can live together? Young syrians do get along for about 2 months, and usually after that squabbles will break out, meaning they need a seperate cage each. Occassionly, they may tolerate each other for months, especially males. However, all it takes is for one to have a 'bad hair day' and it will turn on the other. Someone I've heard off, had 4 syrians living together for a few months and one day, with no warning at all, came home to find hamsters 1 and 2 eating hamsters 3 and 4! They are unpredictable, and this should NEVER be allowed to occur, you've been warned, spilt them whilst you can!

3./My local petshop says that dwarves cannot live together, why? With the exception of Chinese hamsters, dwarf hamsters can live together, and would do so naturally in the wild. Occassionaly dwarves will not except each other, and should be housed alone. 

4./I've heard that blackbears are nicer than syrians! Blackbears ARE syrians and there is no difference in any way apart from colour. In the USA black syrians are generally always nice in temperment because black syrians were selectivly bred when the colour came about, producing friendly offspring. However, with mass breeding and inbreeding this is not always true nowadays, and it in no way means other colours can not be just as, if not more friendly!  

5./I have heard hamsters are evil and bite a lot, is this true? No, sadly some people who have had a bad experience with one, maybe two hamsters, will assume all hamsters are the same, and hamsters for a while had a bad reputation of biting and being 'evil'. This is not the case, hamsters that have been reared and tamed properly hardly, if ever bite unless startled or your hand smells like tasty food. 

6./ Should I buy male or female? Males tend to be calmer and females are more outgoing in general, however both can make wonderful pets, choose the hamster that suits you, don't choose or gender alone unless you really want one particular gender.

7./I can't find a breeder or rescue in my area, can you help me? Kudos to you for seeking out a breeder or rescue, check out the links page. 

8./What cage, bedding and food is best? Have a look at the appropiate sections, click here.

9./I have read the taming section, and my hamster still isn't tame, why? Take your time, go through all the steps again and soon they should learn to trust you. However, some hamsters just never want human company, which is very rare. If this is the case the hamster should not be punished, it is your responsibilty to look after the pet whether or not you are happy with its personality. Chances are it needs more time and you are rushing the process, my advice is never give up! 

10./My hamster bit me, what should I do? Wash the cut out thoroughly and apply an antiseptic wash/cream and if the cut is deep, apply a plaster. If you are a child, ask your parent or guardian to have a look at it.

11./I am worried that if my hamster becomes ill I will not be able to afford the fees! Really, you shouldn't have pets if you cannot afford to treat them as they are your responsibility and it is unfair if they have to suffer. However, if you are already in this scenario, save by money each week in a glass jar and this can be your 'vet funds' money. 

12./My friend has a male hamster, and I have a female, we want to breed them, it looks fun, what advice do you have for us? My advice is to stop and think, breeding is a big responsibility and should never be attempted 'just for fun' because it is not fun if mum dies, if she eats the babies nor is it fun when you produce mutated young because you never knew about their lethal genes or the fact they are related! If you are serious on breeding, research everything you can find about breeding. Then find a reputable breeder, buy good quality stock so as you know if they are related or carry lethal genes.  If you simply breed petstore hamsters, chances are they are brother and sister and you could produce inbred, mutated, sick and aggressive offspring. Never breed unless you are a seasoned hamster owner and have a vast knowledge on all aspects of hamster care and have enough money set by to cover everything, because money will be lost, not made!

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Hamster Facts

Fact File

1.) Hamsters are not nocturnal, but crepscular, meaning they are active at dawn and dusk

2.) Syrian hamsters are thought to be extinct in the wild

3.) The largest recorded syrian litter is 26 pups!!!

4.) Winter whites were first discovered around the year 1770! 

5.) Scruffing a hamster roughly can cause eye prolapse, so only pinch the skin gently when forced to use this method of handling.

6.) In some states keeping a chinese hamster is illegal as they are classified under the mouse or rat like hamster group eg California.

7.) There are about 26 species of hamster in total, but very few on the pet market.

8.) The European hamster is the largest type of hamster, and isn't kept as a pet due to temperment problems

9.) On average, hamsters can run up to 3 miles a night on their wheels.

10.) Baby hamsters are called pups. 

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