The word ‘hamster’ comes from the German word ‘hamstern’, meaning to hoard. Hoarding is a characteristic of all hamsters both captive and wild and is a reflection of their diet and the lands in which each species originated. Hamsters are among the most popular of all pets, they are nocturnal so are ideal for anyone who is out all day.
As with many small rodents, the life expectancy of a hamster is quite short, possibly the result of its frenetic life cycle. A hamster at the age of two years can be compared with a man of sixty. Selective breeding is now producing hamsters that are living for three years or more.
Handling your Pet
Your new hamster might be very nervous when you first get him home. This is due to the change of environment. The best way to settle your hamster into his new cage is to talk to him and at first handle him as little as possible, as over handling at this stage causes stress, which could be fatal. When your hamster is used to his new home, you should begin to introduce your hand into the cage, just for short periods of time each day. Talk gently to your hamster as you pick him up by cupping your hands around him and carefully scooping him up. By doing this, he will soon learn to trust you and will then allow you to handle him. It is important that very young children should be closely supervised when handling hamsters as they can be easily injured. Encourage young children to sit on the floor when first handling the hamster, as this will reduce the risk of the hamster falling from height if they struggle.
Housing your Pet
Syrian hamsters are very territorial and therefore must live on their own or fights will occur. Chinese and Russian hamsters can be kept in single sexed pairs or groups but care should be taken with males to ensure any bullying is noticed before it gets out of hand. The housing should be large enough for your hamster to explore. Cages that have more than one level are ideal as they provide more room and encourage your pet to explore. The base of the cage should be covered with a layer of wood shavings. Small animal bedding should be provided in the sleeping quarters. The cage should then be placed out of draughts and direct sunlight to prevent health problems.
A variety of toys should also be made available to allow the hamster to entertain himself, such as a hamster wheel, especially Syrian hamsters. An exercise ball should also be made available, as this gives the hamster freedom from his cage.
Chinese and Russian hamsters are much smaller than Syrians; therefore they need special cages where the bars are no more than 8-10mm apart. An aquarium with a well-fitted lid is ideal.
The cage should be kept indoors in a well-ventilated room with a room temperature of 15-20°C. If the room is too cold the hamster could hibernate.
Feeding your Pet
Hamster mix should be given fresh each day in a feed bowl. Fresh fruit and vegetables may also be given occasionally. A vitamin supplement can be given weekly. Wooden gnaws should be given to prevent teeth from growing too long and to keep teeth trim. A variety of hamster treats are available. Fresh water should be readily available in a water bottle.
Hamsters are scrupulously clean and do not have exotic dietary requirements so are relatively cheap to feed. Providing that your animal is properly fed and his cage and accessories are kept clean, your pet should remain healthy for many years to come.
Impacted cheek pouches; symptoms include a lack of appetite and constant rubbing of the cheeks. The inner lining of the pouch is elastic, but too much dry or very sticky food can cause impaction. Treatment consists of gentle pressure to remove the food, followed by flushing of the pouches with a syringe and warm water. Take great care that your hamster does not choke.
Wet tail; the most obvious symptom is a wet and inflamed area around the tail and anus caused by constant soiling. The disease is associated with over crowding and poor housing. Veterinary treatment is essential as antibiotics can be effective.