- There are several species of hamster available in the pet trade
- Syrian hamster (Mesocricetus auratus): 5-7 in (12.5-17.5 cm), 4-7 oz (113.5-198.5 gm)
- Dwarf hamsters (of the genus Phodopus): 2.5-4 in (6.3–10.1 cm), 1-3 oz (28.3-85 gm)
- Chinese hamster (Cricetulus griceus): 3–3.5 in (7.5–9 cm), 1.8-2.6 oz (50 – 75 gm)
- The Syrian Hamster – also known as the Golden Hamster – is the species of hamster most commonly found in pet stores. “Teddy bear”, ”panda bear” , “black bear“, etc. are descriptive nicknames for particular Syrian hamster varieties, and do not represent additional species .
- Have scent glands used for marking territory and in mating. In Syrian hamsters these glands are near the hips; in Dwarf and Chinese hamsters these are on the belly. Do not mistake normal scent glands for skin lesions.
- Have expandable cheek pouches used to transport food and nesting material to their burrows. If threatened, a mother may even gather her newborn babies into her cheek pouches for safety.
- Possess four front teeth that grow throughout life and require constant wear from gnawing. The back teeth do not grow or require wear.
- Life span: 1.5-3 years on average
- Sexual maturity: 5-7 weeks
- Litter size: 4-8 pups (20 or more is possible)
- Gestation: 16-21 days
- Usually solitary and territorial. Hamsters are best housed individually, except during breeding. Placing two hamsters together can result in injury or death.
- Hamsters hoard food. The name “hamster” comes from the German word for “hoarder”.
- Crepuscular; active at dawn and dusk in the wild. Nocturnal in captivity
- Docile and inquisitive, but bites occasionally occur if afraid. Daily handling will keep your hamster accustomed to people.
- Never try to pick up a sleeping hamster. It may nip if suddenly awakened.
- The best way to prevent a bite is to avoid grabbing a hamster. Rather, you should coax the hamster onto the palm of your hand; or, let it walk into a cup, then “pour” it into your hand.
- Require exercise: large running wheel, clear plastic “hamster ball”, and supervised time out of the cage in a safe area.
- Separate male and female after breeding. Mother may abandon or cannibalized pups if she feels threatened
- Wild hamsters eat a seed-based diet supplemented with berries, fruits, wild grasses, vegetables, and insects
- Pet hamsters are usually fed a high quality, prepared hamster mix of seeds, grains, and alfalfa pellets.
- Hamsters are sometimes fed a pelleted “rodent chow” that is nutritionally complete and requires gnawing (good for the teeth)
- Dog biscuits and monkey biscuits can be provided to encourage tooth wear
- Diet is supplemented with small amounts of hay, grains, vegetables, and fruits. Avoid sugary treats.
- Provide fresh water at all times, change it daily, and check that the water bottle is functioning properly
- Habitat should be as large as possible
- Cage must be escape proof. There is potential for injury or death as well as destruction of property if the hamster is allowed free run of the house
- Cage must be well ventilated and kept clean.
- Hamsters usually eliminate in one corner of the cage, and therefore they can be “litter trained”. This makes it easier to keep the cage clean.
- A large diameter running wheel is preferred
- Wild hamsters live in underground burrows. Provide your hamster with 2 in (5 cm) or more of bedding to permit burrowing
- Use recycled paper bedding or aspen bedding. Don’t use pine or cedar bedding, as these contain strong smelling oils that can be irritating or harmful
- Toilet issue as nesting material
- Chinchilla bathing sand for bathing
- Rodent chew toys to encourage tooth wear
- Temperature should be kept between 65-80°F (18.3-26.7°C).
- Avoid direct sunlight, drafts, and rapid temperature changes. Hamsters will go into hibernation if chilled
- Chinese hamsters may require special permits to own or breed in some states (e.g. CA and NJ)
Consult a veterinarian with experience treating exotic companion mammals if you have any questions or concerns about your hamster’s health.
- Physical examination every 6-12 months
- Examination by a veterinarian within 48 hours of purchase
- Fecal examination for parasites annually
- Examine teeth regularly
Common Medical Disorders
- Heart disease (dilated cardiomyopathy)
- Overgrown teeth
- Hair loss, itching, mites
- Diarrhea (“wet tail”)
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