There are two types of hamster:
- the Syrian or Golden hamster
- the Dwarf hamster, which can be Russian, Chinese or Roborovski
Where should they live?
Due to their very small size special care should be taken when choosing a suitable cage for dwarf hamsters. Wire cages should not be used at the bars are too far apart. A glass aquarium with suitably ventilated lids will make an ideal home.
Hamsters need a lot of exercise, so buy the biggest cage you can afford, at least 60cm by 30cm wide by 45cm high. Do not use wooden cages as they will be gnawed and splinters can damage the hamster’s pouch.
The floor of the cage should be covered with wood chips/shavings.
An enclosed ‘house’ is important as a refuge and allows your pet to feel secure when he is asleep.
Wooden toys for chewing and gnawing treats should always be available. All hamsters enjoy tubes to play in and Chinese in particular like to climb.
How to handle
Never wake a hamster rapidly or immediately pick it up, as this is very frightening and could initiate a bite response.
Allow your pet to get used to its new surroundings for the first day or two with the minimum of interference.
After that it is important to build-up a relationship by getting the hamster use to your voice, and then introduce your hand so it can become use to your smell.
Finally pick it up very gently by cupping one hand under him and one hand over him. To avoid the risk of a serious fall, it is recommended that they should be handled over a table, or close to the floor.
Children should always be supervised when handling hamsters.
Do they need company?
It is best to keep Syrian hamsters alone. Dwarf hamsters can be kept in small, single sexed groups provided they have enough space. If you want to keep two or more they should be bought at the same time, since new individuals will not be accepted later.
They can sometimes fall out and become very aggressive towards each other. If this does happen they must be separated immediately.
Given lots of attention and a clean, interesting environment dwarf hamsters can be kept on their own.
What do they eat?
Hamsters will eat a wide variety of food; however a dry hamster mix or pellets will provide all the minerals, vitamins and nutrients required. As they hoard their food, the fresh fruit and vegetables that have not been eaten should be removed daily.
Food bowls and drinking bottles must be washed daily.
Heath and fitness
As with all animals the emphasis should be on maintaining, clean and hygienic conditions. Keep the cage in a place that is out of direct sunlight and away from anything that may cause rapid temperature fluctuations, such as radiators or draughts.
The cage should be cleaned out thoroughly at least once per week, using a pet safe disinfectant. If your pet uses a particular part of its cage as a toilet, this area may need cleaning more often.
Their teeth are constantly growing, so it is important to provide him with treats and mineral stones to gnaw on.
Hamsters can be susceptible to colds, with the usual symptoms of coughing and sneezing etc. They can also suffer from severe diarrhoea known as ‘wet tail’ which should be treated immediately by a vet.
Mild diarrhoea or constipation can be caused by too much fruit and vegetables or too many dry pellets. In both cases and adjustment to the diet is required.
Never let your hamster out of his cage unsupervised and remember he likes to chew things, so keep it away from electric cables.
Syrian Hamsters live on average for up to two and half years and Dwarf Hamsters can live up to four years, so please think carefully about giving one a home.
A small animal pet is for life, not until the novelty wears off, or your circumstances change.