Hamsters

Hamsters are very popular pets, and they have typically been seen in family homes and schools for decades, having been first domesticated in the 1930’s. Many varieties are available, but the most common ones are the Long Haired Hamster and the Dwarf Hamster. They do have low maintenance requirements and are quite docile. Keep in mind that Hamsters do have a short life span compared to other pets.

Hamsters do require training so that they can bond with your family members. Careful attention must be paid to handling them, although they are receptive to touch and tend to be friendly towards adults and children. They do, however, prefer to live alone in their cages. You will find that your pet will sleep most days and will be active at nighttime.

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Information about Hamsters

  • Average Size: 2 to 4 inches
  • Coat Colors: Brown, black, white, red, and gray
  • Grooming Needs: Low
  • Sensitive to Touch: No
  • Good tolerance to Heat and Cold: No
  • Good Pet: Yes
  • Safe with Children: Yes
  • Good with Other Hamsters: No
  • Good with Other Pets: No
  • Suitable for First-Time Pet Owners: Yes
  • Training: They learn fast
  • Exercise Needs: High
  • Weight Gain: lack of exercise and fatty diet can lead to obesity
  • Health Concerns: They tend to have diarrhea, respiratory infections, and skin infections
  • Allergies: Strong scents
  • Average Life Span: 2 to 3 years
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Physical Appearance of a Hamster

Hamsters are small rodents that only grow to a maximum size of about 4 inches. Hamsters have small eyes, a short tail, and four hairless legs. The body of a Hamster is covered in fur that is either short or long depending on variety.

Hamsters are available in different colors such as black, brown, gray, red, and white. Hamsters also have something unique which other domesticated rodents do not have.  They have two large cheek pouches which they use to hide food. These pouches can hold a sizable amount of food.

Hamsters also have two large incisors that grow throughout their lives.

Temperament of Hamsters

Hamsters sleep a lot during the day but remain active at night. Hamsters prefer living alone. Introducing a second to a cage will often result in the larger killing the smaller one. Hamsters are friendly to human beings and are receptive to touch. Hamsters don’t scratch and rarely bite making them great pets.

Training Hamsters

Hamsters are smart and can learn unique tricks. Before training your Hamster to perform tricks, first establish a bond with it. It’s also important to reward your pet with treats if it correctly performs a trick.

You can teach your Hamster to stand by placing its favorite treat above its head. Then command the pet to stand as it reaches for the treat. Praise your pet if it picks the treat from your hand. Other tricks you can try with your Hamster is jumping or even jumping through a hoop.

Their Compatibility with Children

Hamsters are awesome pets for kids because they are active and small which arouses the curiosity of children. The pets also have a relatively short lifespan making it unlikely that the kids will outgrow their interest in the pet.

Kids can handle a Hamster but an adult should supervise the initial interactions so that the Hamster doesn’t get injured. When scared Hamsters can also bite and kids can get scared by this. Fortunately this will be quite rare and should shock someone more than hurt them.

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How to Handle a Hamster

The first step before handling the Hamster is cleaning your hands with unscented soap. Hamsters have a strong sense of smell and may reject your touch or even bite thinking it’s a treat. Then place one hand inside the cage without touching the Hamster. Give your pet time to get used to you and don’t rush to grabbing it.

After sometime, your pet will approach your hand and crawl on top of it. Use your other hand to cover the Hamster without covering their head. Covering them helps them feel secure in your hands. Then lift your pet from the cage and gently handle it for a few minutes.

When returning the pet back to the cage, avoid throwing it inside. Place your hand inside with the pet securely held. Then open your hand at the bottom of the cage and allow the Hamster to walk away from your palm. Repeat the above steps every day until the Hamster gets used to your touch.

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Best Habitat for your Hamster

When setting up a habitat for your pet, consider three things. Safety, ease of cleaning, and ventilation. There are many styles of cages available but the most common ones are the wire cages with plastic floors and platforms, aquarium style cages, and the plastic modular cages with many tubes and partitions.

Hamsters enjoy chewing on stuff including bars on their cages, and other plastic materials. Make sure that if the cage has plastic materials, they don’t have any exposed edges where the pet could start chewing.

It’s also important to place the cage in a cool place away from direct sunlight or wind. Hamsters are greatly affected by extremely hot or cold conditions. The ideal temperatures for Hamsters within your home will be between 65 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Size

The general rule of thumb when selecting a cage for your Hamster is to always go for a bigger size. The recommended minimum size of the cage is 24 inches by 12 inches and a height of 12 inches. Hamsters enjoy playing and running around in the cage and the floor should allow them to move around.

The space between the bars of the cage should be about ½ an inch wide so that they are not able to squeeze through and escape. Hamsters are also notorious for mastering how to open door locks and it’s important to secure the locks to keep your Hamster safe.

Bedding

Whether you use an aquarium or wired cage to house your Hamster, remember to give them a comfortable bedding material. Hamsters use bedding for burrowing which comes naturally for them. A 1 to 2 inch bedding depth is ideal for a Hamster. Also make sure not to put too much in the cage because the extra bedding material will get kicked out of the cage when they burrow.

Shredded paper, tissue paper, and wood shavings all make great bedding. Avoid cedar or pine bedding materials because other than the strong scent, the materials also have oily secretions that are dangerous if ingested by Hamsters.

Other than the bedding, it is good to provide nesting material that your pet can use for a blanket. The best nesting materials are those made of shredded toilet paper and fleece.

Toys

Hamsters need a lot of exercise to remain healthy and to reduce boredom. Most cages often come with a wheel. Make sure that the wheel is solid without any crossbars to protect your Hamster from getting stuck in between. Wheels can either be plastic, wooden, or metal.

Another choice of a toy is a Hamster ball. The ball should have good ventilation to avoid suffocating your pet while inside. If you want to place the Hamster outside the cage to play with the ball, make sure there are no stairs where the pet can roll down and get hurt. 

It’s also a good idea to keep cats and dogs away while they are in the ball. Both have been known to attack the ball when they see the Hamster inside.  This is a lot more stress than they should be having, and can make them afraid to use the ball later.

Add chew toys in the Hamster’s cage. Chew toys help your pet trim their teeth naturally. Make sure that the chew toys are large enough so that they can’t choke your Hamster. The toys should also have no dyes on them because when ingested, the dye could cause them to become sick.

Habitat Maintenance Practices

The cage of a Hamster can become messy quite quickly because of their burrowing behavior. Hamsters are known to urinate at the corners of the cage. This can cause them to  become smelly over time. If not cleaned, the urine may lead to moldy conditions that can give your pet respiratory infections..

Deep clean the cage once a week and replace the bedding material. It is a good idea to put in a small amount of old bedding material to help your pet recognize its smell. During cage cleaning, place your pet in its travel cage or inside its exercise ball so that it doesn’t get in the way of your cleaning.

Only use Hamster safe detergents to clean the cage, rinse, and dry it with a dry towel before replacing the bedding or placing your pet back. Wet cages can easily lead to moldy areas within the cage which eventually causes respiratory infections.

As you clean the cage, clean the water bottles once a week and check if the sipper is clogged or if it has a leak.

The Attention Requirements of a Hamster

Hamsters are low maintenance pets that rarely catch diseases. You only have to feed your pet two times a day and clean its feeding bowls once a day. Check the water bottle to see if it needs a refill when the Hamsters are fed.

Hamsters require plenty of exercise time every day. As long as you give the pet toys and space to play, there should not be a problem keeping your Hamster in good shape. Remember to handle them often because they are friendly and enjoy human contact.

Health Issues

Hamsters have a strong immune system but just like other rodents, can become ill once in a while. 

Here is a list of general signs to look out for if your Hamster is sick.

  • Lack of appetite
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing
  • Hibernating for long hours 
  • Hair loss
  • Inactivity
  • Diarrhea
  • Runny nose

Most of the illnesses that affect Hamsters have to do with the respiratory system, gastrointestinal system, or skin problems. Here are some of the most common diseases among Hamsters.

Respiratory infections

Respiratory illnesses are either caused by bacteria or poor ventilation in the cage especially with the aquariums. A sick Hamster will show signs of labored breathing, sneezing, wheezing, lack of appetite, and weight loss. Occasional sneezing is normal for Hamsters and shouldn’t be the only sign to look out for when suspecting a respiratory disease.

A sick pet should be taken to the veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment. Avoid giving over the counter antibiotics because Hamsters like other rodents are sensitive to certain antibiotics.

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Diarrhea

Hamsters have very sensitive digestive systems that can get irritated by diet changes, intestinal parasites, or wrong antibiotic treatments. A Hamster with diarrhea appears lethargic, lacks appetite, may lose weight, and often has poop sticking to its bottom.

When having diarrhea, a Hamster may become dehydrated which could lead to death. Make sure that the pet drinks lots of water during that time. Also don’t feed the pet fresh vegetables and fruits because they can aggravate diarrhea.

If the diarrhea doesn’t clear within a few days, make sure to visit your vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Skin Infections

Most skin infections are caused by the presence of skin parasites. A Hamster with a skin infection tends to scratch against objects to try to relieve the irritation. They could also have skin lesions, flaky skin, redness, hair loss, or ringworms. 

The skin of a parasite infested Hamster has frizzled hair, and some patches without any hair at all. A sick Hamster should be taken to the vet for treatment with the right antibiotics or fungal treatments.

Circling

Circling is a condition in Hamsters where they seem to move about in the cage as though they’re moving in a circle. The main cause of the condition is ear infection but in a worst case scenario, it could be due to brain damage.

As soon as you find your pet moving in circles, take it to the vet for a diagnosis. Chances are that if it’s an ear infection, your pet can get treated. If brain damage is the cause, the vet will offer medication to manage the condition.

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General Grooming Tips for Hamsters

Hamsters are clean animals that have almost no smell. The pets spend about 20 percent of their days grooming themselves and may only need help if they have an injured leg or overgrown teeth. The best way to maintain a clean Hamster is to keep its habitat clean. This is because even though your pet self-grooms, they may still become dirty if the cage is dirty. 

Never bathe your Hamster unless it has a dangerous substance stuck to their skin.

Bathing

Wet baths are discouraged for Hamsters because they can have chills if exposed to cold temperatures. If necessary, make sure when bathing your pet the head remains above water to lower risk of drowning. 

Make sure to use warm water and not cold or hot when cleaning your pet. Immediately after bathing the pet, cover it in a warm towel and wipe it dry.

Another alternative to water baths is using a wet toothbrush to remove any dirt on the skin of your Hamster. As you brush the fur using a wet toothbrush, make sure that the pet remains still on your lap. After you’re done, wipe your pet dry.

Brushing

The short-haired Hamsters don’t require brushing because they can easily remove any dirt on their skin during self-grooming sessions. The long-haired Hamsters require brushing at least once a week because even though they self-groom they may not remove all dirt efficiently.

During brushing, any dirt debris is removed from the skin. Buy a soft toothbrush or a brush meant for use on Hamster skin.

Sand baths

If you realize that your Hamster isn’t self-grooming efficiently, you can help by offering it a bowl of fine sand. A sand bath for your Hamster can help it restore a shiny coat as well as remove dead skin. It’s important to note that not all Hamsters enjoy sand bathing so it’s not unusual if your Hamster doesn’t use the sand. If your Hamster isn’t open to sand bathing, you can try to encourage them by placing them inside the sand bowl. If they completely refuse to use the sand bath, then find other ways of grooming such as brushing.

Feeding Hamsters

Hamsters in the wild eat seeds, small insects, and small plants. In your home, the main diet for them should be commercial Hamster pellets. The pellets should contain about 20 percent protein, about 6 percent fats, minerals, vitamins, and 64 – 70% carbohydrates. 

Occasionally you can give seed mixes to your Hamster but give them in moderation because seeds have high fat content. Your Hamsters diet should have at most 5 percent fat content to prevent obesity. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also great additions to your pet’s diet. 

The best fruits include melons, oranges, berries, and apples. Vegetables such as carrots, spinach, kale, and cabbage are good options to supplement the diet of your Hamster. Once in a while, you can offer your pet some cheese, yogurt, or breakfast cereals as a treat.

The best feeding bowls are those made of ceramic material because they’re sturdy enough that your pet cannot tip over them. Also remember to clean the bowls every day to avoid contamination of food.

Hamsters in the wild hunt at night and often hide some food in their cheek pouches to eat during the day. Pet Hamsters also have a natural instinct to store some food. This might give you the impression that they are eating a lot more than they actually are. Usually you will find this hidden food stash when the cage is cleaned.

Only feed your pet about 10 grams of dry pellets each feeding. The recommended times of feeding are mornings and evenings. If you live in an area where tap water has a lot of chlorine, then filter the water before giving your Hamster. The chemicals used in treating water aren’t good for Hamsters.

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