Hamster Care

Hamster Care

Biological Facts

  • 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

Behavior

  • 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

Diet

  • 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

Environment

  • 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)

Preventive Care

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

  • Diabetes
  • Tumors
  • Glaucoma
  • Cataracts
  • Heart disease (dilated cardiomyopathy)
  • Overgrown teeth
  • Hair loss, itching, mites
  • Diarrhea (“wet tail”)

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