Hamsters are adorable little creatures that can make great pets for people looking for a smaller companion animal to love. Today our Waxhaw vets share some advice on how to give your hamster all of the care and attention it needs to live a long, healthy life.
Not All Hamsters Are Alike
If you have decided a hamster could make the ideal pet for you, it's important to dig a little deeper into the various characteristics of these cute little rodents since their preferences and temperaments differ somewhat from one breed to another. While all hamsters are nocturnal and love to scurry around their cage late at night here are some breed characteristics that make each species unique:
Syrian Hamsters or Golden Hamster (Lifespan: approximately 2 - 4 years)
- This breed of hamster is the larges and most common breed kept as pets. If you decide to bring home a Syrian hamster be sure to house just one hamster in each cage. While this breed can be tame with people and easy to handle they will often fight if forced to live in close proximity with other hamsters. Syrian hamsters can be fun to watch and are typically easy to tame.
Dwarf Hamsters (Lifespan: approximately 1.5 - 2 years)
- There are a few different types of dwarf hamster including Cambell's and Winter White Russian's, but most of these little critters enjoy sharing their cage with a friend. If you decide that a dwarf hamster is for you, it may be a good idea to buy two of the same sex. These lovely little rodents are generally curious and easy to handle, and can even learn to recognize their devoted pet parents.
Chinese Hamsters (Lifespan approximately 2.5 - 3 years)
- Although these hamsters are about the size of a dwarf hamster (approximately 3 - 4 inches) their personalities differ somewhat. Chinese hamsters can sometimes enjoy the company of other Chinese hamsters but often prefer to live alone. These little guys can be identified by the dark stripe that runs down their back, and their slightly longer tail. This breed of hamster needs to be handled gently and often or may become nervous and prone to biting.
Handling Your Pet Hamster
It's important to take some time to get your hamster used to being handled. The more often you hold your pet the more accustomed to being handled your hamster will become. Hamsters that are not handled gently and often may nip out of fear. Be sure not to hold your hamster too tightly and avoid bouncing them around. It's always best to let sleeping hamsters lie. Suddenly picking up your hamster while they are sleeping could lead to a bite.
Hamsters are nocturnal, meaning that just as you are sitting down to dinner, they are waking up and enjoying some breakfast. It also means that as you sleep, your hamster will be scurrying around exploring their cage and running on their wheel.
Once your hamster has had a little time to adjust to their new surroundings it is essential to allowing them out of their cage once a day for supervised exercise. In the evening before you head to bed is a good time for this. Keep your pet in one room (with the door closed) or a screened off area that’s been secured. It's important to note that hamsters don’t have good eyesight, so be sure keep your pet away from stairs and do not allow them to run on table tops. A fall could injure your pet.
When allowing your pet time outside of their cage, keep all electrical cords out of their reach!
Choosing a Cage for Your Hamster
As a general rule of thumb hamsters require a cage that measures at least 15 inches long and 12 inches high although it's important to provide larger Syrian hamsters with a somewhat larger cage. That said, since any breed of hamster will depend upon having enough space to scurry around at night in order to get adequate exercise, it's a good idea to provide your pet with the largest cage you can fit into your space and budget.
Most hamster cages are plastic on the bottom and wire on top, with a wire lid that latches. Glass sided aquariums with well fitting wire tops can also be used to house hamsters provided that they are large enough.
Where to Place Your Hamsters Cage
Choose the a safe place to keep your hamster's cage. Place the cage well away from electrical cords, cold drafts and out of direct sunlight. Also, be sure to keep your hamster in an area that is safe from other pets in the home.
Other Items Your Hamster Will Need to Be Happy
Besides an adequately sized cage your hamster will need a place to sleep comfortably. Pet stores offer a variety of cozy hamster hiding spots such as mini flower pots, small houses and dens that will help to make your pet feel more safe and secure. Your hamster should also be provided with toilet paper tubes, rodent safe toys, and an exercise wheel to help keep their mind active and allow for sufficient exercise.
Hamster teeth grow continually so your pet will also need a safe item to chew on. Be sure to supply your pet hamster with a non-toxic chew toy such as a piece of unpainted and untreated wood, twigs, a dog biscuit or other hamster approved item from the pet store.
Your hamster will also need a water bottle to drink from. It is essential to provide your pet with fresh clean water every day!
The Best Bedding for Your Hamster
Bedding provides warmth and comfort for your little pet, but also needs to work well at absorbing moisture and odors. Not only that, your hamster will spend most of their time in contact with their bedding material so it's important to choose something that's safe too.
Recommended bedding materials:
- Clean blank shredded paper
- Toilet paper, paper towels and rolls
- Commercially bought paper bedding free from dyes
- Aspen shavings
- Processed corn cobs
- Pelleted bedding
- Timothy hay
Bedding Materials to Avoid:
- Pine wood shavings
- Cedar wood shavings
- Cotton balls
- Polyester stuffing
- Felt stripes
- Cotton batting
- Coconut fibers
Be sure to line your hamster's cage with at least 2 inches of bedding to provide a soft home for your pet, and absorb odors and mess. Scoop out wet and soiled bedding daily, and give your hamster's cage a thorough clean once a week by scrubbing down the cage with warm, soapy water and supplying new clean bedding.
What to Feed Your Hamster
Keep your hamster healthy by supplying fresh clean water daily and feeding your pet a high quality diet. Your hamster should have fresh healthy food available at all times.
Good quality rodent chow consisting of pellets, grains, seeds and dried veggies, is available from most pet stores. Every 2 - 3 days supplement the rodent food with small amounts of fresh veggies such as lettuce, carrots, spinach and apples. For an occasional treat your hamster may enjoy a piece of whole wheat bread or sugar-free cereal.
Never feed your hamster candy, chocolate, onions, junk food or uncooked beans!
Signs of Illness & Injury
The ASPCA recommends taking your hamster to the veterinarian annually for check-ups to help keep them healthy and look signs of illness that might otherwise be missed.
Common signs that something isn’t right with your pet hamster may include dull-looking eyes, overgrown teeth, matted fur, weight loss, shaking, runny nose and diarrhea. Respiratory illnesses are common in hamsters, including bacterial pneumonia, which they can catch from humans or other pets within the home.
If you think your hamster is sick—seek help immediately!
What to Do if Your Hamster Has Babies
While it is best to keep males and females separated to avoid babies, it is possible to bring home a pregnant mother by mistake.
If your pet hamster gives birth to a litter of pups (yes baby hamsters are called pups) here is how you should care for your pet and her babies:
- Provide your hamster with plenty of clean soft bedding such as facial tissue or toilet paper to help her keep her young warm and comfortable.
- Feed your pet plenty of high quality food and supplement her diet with small pieces of protein such as hard boiled eggs, cheese, or chicken.
- Remove other adult hamsters from the cage.
- Do not handle babies for at least 7 days to avoid getting your scent on the pups.
- Babies will wean at about 3 weeks at which time it is best to divide them into separate cages for males and females.
Finding a Hamster Vet Near You
As with any pet, hamsters may get sick from time to time, and not all vets care for rodents and other exotic companion animals. So it's important to know where your closest hamster vet is, in case you need them in a hurry.
Look for a vet that has training in the treatment of exotic companion animals, and contact the animal hospital before you need them to be sure that they are able to treat your hamster if illness or injury strikes.
At Providence South Animal Hospital, we provide quality veterinary care for small exotic mammals, including hamsters, rabbits, guinea pig and ferretts in Waxhaw NC.