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Hamster Care 101

I always wanted to get a dwarf hamster as a kid, but my parents told me I couldn’t get any caged animals. At the time, I really didn’t understand why they didn’t want me to have one. When I moved out of my parent’s house and away from the family pets, I decided it was the perfect time to get a hamster. I did a little bit of research and came across a picture of a Roborovski hamster. I showed my boyfriend, and from that moment on, we were hooked. We became hamster hobbyists after obtaining our first pair of Roborovskis, Nano and Micro. Seeing the two of them in the store sealed the deal, they were far too cute to pass up! After researching more about the care of hamsters, I was glad my parents never let me get one.

Some hamsters make better pets than others, depending on how you look at them. Syrians are slow moving and usually more docile whereas a Roborovski is extremely quick and almost never stops moving. Winter Whites and Campbells have been interbred, so you are usually finding a mix of the two at the shop, despite what the label says. Winter Whites are more vocal and timid, and Campbells are outgoing, but more prone to cage aggression, meaning they are territorial of their cage. This makes it difficult to interact with them while they are in their habitat. Vocalizing, or the squeaks and chirps you hear from your hamster are not always a sign of aggression. It could be a sign of defensiveness, or even affection. You should always ask to interact with your hamster before you purchase to get a feel for his or her personality. It’s best to leave your new hamster alone for a few days to allow them time to get adjusted to their new home. There are new smells, new sights, and definitely new noises. Plus, Syrian hamsters under the age of 12 weeks can suffer from wet-tail, a stress induced illness that is usually confused with diarrhea.  When it does become time to begin socializing with your hamster, don’t just jump right in. Never wake your hamster, give them time to wake up and be alert. Grabbing them from their sleep may frighten them and earn you a bite. If your hamster doesn’t “tame” right away, be patient and don’t give up easily.

Most cages sold here in American pet shops labeled for hamsters are not suitable for most hamsters. They do allow you the option of attaching more cages on via “hamster tubes” but adult Syrian hamsters can have a hard time passing through. Not to mention these cages and accessories can become costly! They try to lure you in with their multiple levels and eye-popping bright colors. In order to use these cages, it’s widely recommended that you connect multiple cages together. Some feel it’s best to give your hamster one large continuous area of floor space, and it’s hard to do that with commercially bought cages. Many hamster fanciers are turning towards “Do-It-Yourself” style cages, or “Bin cages”. These cages allow for as much floor space as you want to give for a small fraction of the cost. Hamsters love to run, so having a wheel is extremely important. Syrians usually need at least an 8” inch wheel so their back is straight and not curved. Dwarfs usually do fine in a 6”. Silent spinners are pretty silent for the most part, and Wodent Wheels help your insecure hamsters feel safe and hidden while exercising.  

Just like the cages, there are a lot of tempting sweets on the store menu for your furry friend. The treats they sell are loaded with tons of sugar which isn’t good for such a small animal. The Campbells and Winter Whites are prone to diabetes, and these foods should be strictly limited. Signs of diabetes include frequent urinating and hydration. If you are worried about your hamster being a diabetic, you can test for this using human test strips. The best treats you can give your hamster are fresh foods such as spinach, broccoli and zucchini. The seed mixes provided can also be as unhealthy as the treats. Your hamster will usually end up eating all of their favorites first, such as corn and peas, and leave the nutritional pellets behind. Some of these mixes are also packed with sunflower seeds. These seeds are a healthy treat for your hamster, but should not be over-fed. Lab blocks are becoming a popular thing to use as a main diet. They provide all of the nutritional things your hamster needs in one block. All of my hamsters have loved them! Hamsters will stuff food into their pouches for later, but they should not be over eating. They can still get fat, but this is usually due to a poor diet or lack of exercise. There isn’t a specific weight that a hamster should be, but they should not have a lot of surplus fat around their body.

There are beddings on the market used to line the bottom of your hamster’s cage that can be dangerous to your hamster’s health. These beddings are called Pine and Cedar softwood shavings. The phenols affect the liver enzymes. That is bad, because those enzymes which can affect the metabolism of drugs such as anesthesia. Though widely debated, some believe that kiln dried pine bedding is okay to use, as heat treating is said to rid most of the phenols. The most popular beddings are aspen shavings, and a paper substrate called ‘Carefresh’. It’s very absorbent and masks odors well. It comes in a variety of colors to match your hamster’s cage and accessories.

It’s also important to think about your own environment when purchasing a hamster. Do you have any other pets? Cats are hunters by nature, and will be attracted to the hamsters running around in their cage. This could cause the hamster to be panicked all the time. Hamsters do not like loud noises, or direct sunlight. The majority of their waking hours are in the night. When you are handling your hamster, do so over their cage, a bin, a bathtub, etc so if the hamster escapes from your hands, you aren’t searching all over your house for your furry friend. If for some reason this does happen, try leaving some treats out and your cage door open, most hamsters will just climb back in.

Hamsters are often just tossed aside as a disposable children’s pet, but they can be much more than that. Hamsters can make a wonderful pet for a person of any cage who wants a small furry companion. Just always remember these few things. Hamsters need to have a balanced diet, plenty of space, and a proper sized wheel. Follow those guidelines, and your hamster will be living the good life!

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