If you are deciding whether or not to purchase a hamster as a family pet, you have a lot to consider. Pet hamsters are not going to be for everyone. While they are somewhat simple to take care of, because they fall into the rodent category, hamsters have some specific habits that can make them hard to live with. For instance, they are nocturnal. If you are a morning person, and do not like a lot of activity at night, a hamster will probably not be the animal for you. In fact,this pet might even keep you awake!
There are two main types of hamsters that are commonly sold as pets. The Syrian hamster, also known as the golden hamster or the teddy bear hamster, is by far the most common of these house pets. Syrian hamsters keep to themselves and if you add more than one hamster to a cage, you can expect a fight to break out.
The other common category is the dwarf hamster. These are smaller than the Syrian hamsters and they are more social. They like to be placed with other hamsters from the time they are babies.
Regardless of what kind of hamster you choose, you will find that caring for them is going to be similar. Here's how to take care of a hamster.
- Attitude and examinations - You will want to pick out a healthy hamster so there are certain things to look for. Watch the hamster you are interested in and see how he behaves. If the animal is quiet and seems shy, then you should look for another one. The typical hamster is outgoing and curious: They are very active creatures. Keep in mind that hamsters are nocturnal, so these active pets are not good for people who are light sleepers.
For the best results, pick your pet out at night so you can see what he is like in action. Make yourself aware of some basic hamster health facts, too. You want a hamster who has a smooth coat and no mucus in his eyes. Additionally, you should look for one with sound breathing and a cage that is free of droppings as dirty cages can lead to health problems for your hamster, and any additional animals you bring home.
- Housing arrangements - You can choose a number of different options for housing your hamster. The three most common are going to be a wire cage, a plastic cage (with tubes to crawl through), or an aquarium. If you're savvy enough, you can also build your own hamster cages. Hamsters like to be able to climb so many breeders recommend a wire cage because the creatures use the bars to climb and exercise. Wire cages are best for the larger Syrian hamsters. Aquariums are the preferred choice for smaller hamsters.
If you are using an aquarium, make sure that your lid is placed on tightly. Otherwise the hamsters may find a way out. Because aquariums are not as well-vented as wire cages, make sure you use a wire or mesh lid to ensure proper ventilation and air flow into the cage.
The final option is a plastic cage. These cages come with tunnels and tubes to crawl through for entertainment and exercise. However, the downside is that hamsters can chew through plastic, which means they could escape quite easily.
You should put the cage somewhere that allows for some social activity with the family, but that will not bother you when the hamsters are up all night and where you will not bother them during the day. You won't want to keep them in your bedroom or anywhere that needs silence in the evening hours.
- Hamster bedding - The most common type of bedding to place on the floor of your hamster's home is wood shavings. This is fine, however, it is very important that you avoid cedar and pine. There are toxic oils in both cedar and pine that could harm your pet. Good wood shaving options include aspen or another hardwood. Whatever bedding you choose will need to be changed on a weekly basis, as your hamster will be using the bathroom in this area as well. Remember, this bedding is one of the most basic and necessary supplies that you need to provide.
- Grooming your hamster - Hamsters are self-grooming animals. This means that they handle all of their own grooming issues. They groom on a regular basis because they have strong scent glands. These glands play an important role in their behavior and communication. This leads them to ensure they are clean so they do not pick up bad scents. While you do not need to groom your hamster, you should pay attention to how often he grooms. If you notice that your pet is not grooming at all, it could mean he is sick and you should call the vet immediately.
The nails and teeth of the hamster are kept trim by gnawing and digging while in his cage. You will still want to check them periodically and trim the nails if necessary.
- Be aware of medical issues - Hamsters have the potential to contract several health problems, which could turn into more serious problems if they are not caught early. The common lifespan of a hamster is 2-3 years, though they can live longer if they are kept healthy. Keep a close eye on your animal's behavior and if anything seems out of the ordinary, consult your vet. In the meantime, get the facts about hamsters and learn about possible illnesses.
- If your hamster does become ill and you cannot get in to see the vet right away, you should keep him in a warm spot. If you can get him to eat while you are waiting for your vet to see him, do so, but do not force feed your him. The most common health problems that a hamster might face include skin abscesses, wet tail (a contagious disease), diarrhea, and skin disease. If you see your hamster acting in way that is not usual for him, then you need to determine if he is just acting odd or if there is a health problem. Generally, a hamster will act out of sorts when sick, so it is important to catch the problems early.
- Another health issue is hibernation. While hibernation is not very common, if your hamster is in a cold area, he can go into a sort of hibernation. When this happens, your hamster will become still, and he will breathe slowly. Do not panic if that's the case. He is not dying. The hamster is just cold and needs to be warmed up. Once he is warm, you will find that your hamster will return to his old self.
- Eating habits and hamster food - Hamsters will eat just about anything you let them get their paws on. However, their main diet should consist of a basis of commercial pellet or seed food. Keep in mind that hamsters can pick through the seeds and eat what they like so this will be their preferred choice. Some hamsters will not eat the pellets because they cannot pick out what they want to eat.
You can add fresh fruits and vegetables in small quantities to the hamster diet. Meal worms, hay, and crickets are good for your hamster on an occasional basis as well. There are a few things you should not feed your pet, though. The foods that are not good hamster foods include beans, tomatoes, garlic, onions, chocolate, and of course, any junk food.
Now get out there and choose a happy hamster to bring home with you!