Hamsters

"Syrian or Golden" hamsters are the most common types of pet hamster. They are larger and slower than dwarf hamsters and gerbils, so are easier to handle. If gently scooped up using both hands then they rarely bite. Attempting to wake a hamster by stroking its back will often make the hamster feel threatened and make it more likely to try and nip.

Dwarf hamsters (generally Siberian/Russian dwarfs) are also kept as pets but these tend to be more difficult to handle. They have a short furry tail, a white underside and a grey back. They are quick and often bite if restrained.

Hamsters are nocturnal animals meaning that they are naturally awake at night. Wild hamsters might travel miles in the dark foraging for food. If your domestic hamster has access to a wheel then it will often run for hours at night because of the natural instinct to travel.

Hamsters have large pouches that can be filled with food. They are natural hoarders and will use their pouches to stash food away.

Hamsters are naturally solitary animals and should be kept singly. A female will only tolerate the presence of a male during oestrus. This occurs approximately every 4 days.

Health and Feeding

Hamsters are very susceptible to stress. It is important to give them somewhere quiet to sleep during the day and it is vital to buy one only from a reputable breeder or a good pet store. At the first sign of any illness they should be taken to a vet.

Unfortunately the health of these animals is often not as good as it should be because of an inadequate diet. Frequently hamsters are only fed a bag of "mix" off the shelf. This is not a complete diet. Hamsters, like other small rodents, are omnivores rather than herbivores which means that they eat various bugs as well as fresh fruit and seeds. To supplement the mix try any of the following and your pet will probably thank you!

  • Feed a little fruit and veg - whatever you have been eating that day. If any food is not eaten then remove it the day after because if it gets old and mouldy then this can make your pet very ill
  • include a little dry cat food in the usual mix to give some extra protein
  • feed a little piece of meat, cheese or let him lick out an empty yoghurt pot!

Housing

It is important to keep the cage as clean as possible. Ideally you need a lightweight cage with a plastic bottom which is deep enough to contain plenty of bedding. You can use wood shavings or shredded paper. Some cages have plastic tubes which are very good for keeping your pet entertained but these must also be kept clean.

Water must always be available for your pet and is best given with a commercial dropper bottle. The water should be changed every few days to keep it fresh.

Try to make the cage as interesting as possible by adding cardboard boxes, plastic piping and fruit wood.