Hamsters

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Hamsters make great pets! They have bundles of energy and love rushing around trying to find yet more food to hoard.

Hamsters are nocturnal, which means they’ll sleep during the day and will be active at night – this is great if you’re at school or at work, because they won’t even miss you. Yet when you come home, they’ll be ready to play!

Hamsters and small children – it must be said…

Hamsters do not really make good pets for small children. Their hours of activity don’t fit in with patterns of a young child and it is unfair to expect hamsters (or children!) to change their natural behaviour. Hamsters are also very small and fragile and small children can often be a little rough, resulting in the hamster being fearful of being handled.

Which Hamster will you choose?

Hamsters come in a large variety of colours and sizes, the one you choose will probably be the one you fall in love with when you go to make your choice.

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A word of warning though, if you choose a Syrian (or Golden) Hamster, remember that they are solitary and MUST have a cage of their own.

They are extremely territorial and will fight to the death if you put two in together (except for breeding purposes). They are the largest of the hamster breeds.

Bringing Your Hamster Home

Make sure that you have everything ready before you collect your Hamster, so that you can put it into its new home as soon as you arrive and it can spend the first 24 hours getting used to the new environment.

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Don’t forget to talk to your Hamster and keep it company because it will be missing its brothers and sisters.

We suggest you don’t handle your Hamster too much for the first day or two, just give it plenty of clean water and some hamster food.

Introduce any new diet gradually. You’ll soon know when your Hamster has settled in – it will begin to eat, drink and groom itself.

What to feed your Hamster

In their natural habitat Hamsters eat a range of grasses, wind-blown seeds and grain. Hamsters are often mistaken as herbivores, but they are omnivores and do need protein in their diet to keep them healthy.

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The bulk of their diet is cereals and other hard foods, which are chewed and digested slowly. This slow eating would make them easy targets in the wild, so they would normally bring their food back to their burrow to eat it in the safety of their own home. This also allows them to hoard spare food, in case it becomes difficult to find at a later date.

Hamsters need feeding every day. As they are nocturnal an evening feed is better for them. They will normally wake at feeding time and will be happy to play with you once they have been fed.

A good quality, heavy, earthenware food bowl is best to keep the food dry and clean. Their bowls must be cleaned after every use.

Do not give foods that contain whole oats as these can puncture hamsters’ delicate cheek pouches.

To help keep your Hamster’s teeth healthy, you need to provide lots of hay and perhaps a gnawing block and safe twigs to chew, such as apple, hazel or willow.

You can also feed treats from your garden such as broccoli, cucumber, sweet potato and carrot but remember; too much green food can cause diarrhoea – a Hamster’s natural habitat is in dry deserts bereft of greenery!

Never give sticky foods, as they will stick to their pouches.

Find out more about our hamster food and treats here – Harry Hamster Complete MuesliSupreme Science SelectiveStickles TreatsHarry’s Crunchers.

Drinking Bottle

It is vital that you ensure there is fresh drinking water available at all times. The best way to provide fresh drinking water is to use a gravity-fed water bottle, attached to the front of the hutch. Use one of the large ballpoint bottles to prevent dripping and ensure a constant supply is available. Water bowls are not really suitable as they can be tipped over and can get contaminated.

Housing

In the wild Hamsters live in deserts or barren places, they’re used to being in large, open spaces so need good, secure, but roomy housing.

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Bought cages and runs are not cheap but they are perfect for your pet. Hamsters can be housed in a wire cage with a plastic base, a plastic hamster home or an adapted aquarium (vivarium) with a well-ventilated cover. Wooden cages should not be used as hamsters can chew their way out

The most important thing to remember is that a Hamster home can never be too big – they love to explore and exercise. Multi-level cages are a good idea as they add interest to the Hamster’s environment – but be careful with plastic tubes as the larger Syrian Hamsters may get stuck.

The hamster home must always have a place for your hamster to rest and hide, and another area for play, exercise and feeding.

Hamsters must always be kept indoors and careful thought should be given to where your hamster’s home is situated.

The temperature in the room should be constant, away from direct sunlight and draughts, away from constant noise (ie: a freezer).

Because they have sensitive hearing they should never be placed near a television, CD player, hi-fi, etc.

Cages should be cleaned out on a regular basis. This is especially important in warmer weather in order to prevent flies being attracted to the cage.

Every day: Remove any soiled bedding

Once a week: Remove all bedding. Thoroughly sweep out all the soiled bedding. Rinse with warm water and mild detergent and wait until dry. Spray inside of cage with a safe cleaning product and wait until dry.

Replace with clean bedding (check for signs of mould etc. on bedding and discard if necessary).

Fact

Hamsters come in a large variety of colours and sizes

Bedding Material

Keeping your Hamster warm and cosy is very important. You also need bedding that is absorbent, which makes cleaning easier for you.

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Do not use bedding that is synthetic as this could harm your Hamster if it eats it.

It is also recommended that all bedding should have been dust-extracted as this reduces irritation to the eyes, nose and respiratory system.

To find out more about suitable bedding products, click here.

Exercise

It is extremely important that your Hamster has the opportunity to exercise every day. Their natural instincts are to forage and explore. Mealtime can be over too quickly and this means that your Hamster might get bored. It only takes a few items to create an exciting environment for them to be in.

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Your Hamster will love running around and playing with toys!

If you want to provide a wheel for your Hamster to play in, it MUST be big enough so that the Hamster does not have to bend its back when inside, and it must have a solid floor rather than rungs as these can cause injuries to the feet and tail.

Place the wheel in the cage for a few hours only, to avoid over-exercising.

Hamsters love climbing, so hang some sisal rope so they can climb (and gnaw on) it.

Make an exercise yard for them using a large cardboard box with bedding on the bottom. Drop in toilet roll or kitchen roll tubes to run through, as well as apple wood or other fruit tree twigs to gnaw on.

Always keep an eye on your Hamster while in the exercise yard – make sure it doesn’t escape.

Hamsters like to look under, hide in, or climb on to empty cardboard boxes, baskets or plastic flowerpots. Small pots and plastic pipes make great hiding places and excellent tunnels. Change the items around occasionally to provide added interest for your hamster.

Piles of twigs (natural wood – willow, beech, hazel or apple) make platforms for them to explore or rest under. Hamsters will chew the wood and this will help keep their teeth in trim!

By hiding food and the occasional treat in an toilet roll tube or yoghurt pot, or in different areas of the animal’s cage, your Hamster will be forced to hunt for its food – this will keep it occupied for many happy hours and help to prevent boredom.

Handling Your Hamster

To ensure that your hamster becomes tame and affectionate it is important that you handle it frequently and correctly. Picking up a hamster incorrectly could lead to your hamster being permanently frightened and may lead to it becoming aggressive.

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Hamsters can often be a little nippy, and this is for a number of reasons:

• Hamsters are nocturnal creatures and like to sleep for the majority of daylight hours. A Hamster aroused from the depths of sleep too quickly may become a little “grouchy” – just as we would under the same circumstances.

• They are also very small prey animals and any handling in the wild would be due to being captured by a predator. Your hand represents a large claw and can be threatening and stressful to the animals. The majority of Hamsters will tolerate being handled, rather than enjoy it.

• It is important to handle your Hamster correctly from an early age. Any rough or incorrect handling can lead to fear later on resulting in aggression – the animal’s response to fear.

Handling your Hamster will help build their confidence in you, and make them more sociable. You need to ensure that they associate handling with something pleasurable for them.

Before attempting handling, make sure that your Hamster is awake and alert.

Always approach slowly and gently. Place a closed fist in front of your pet, and allow it to approach and sniff. Hamsters rely on olfactory cues (smell) rather than sound and, therefore, it is important so they can detect what is approaching.

If your Hamster is confident and appears interested, slowly unclench your fist and offer your palm. It may well crawl on to your hand or you can gently scoop it up.

Cup your Hamster in the palms of your two hands to ensure that it is safe and won’t be dropped. Lift slowly – picking up too quickly would be the equivalent of going up the Empire State Building in 3 seconds! To ensure it is safe at all times you should hold it over your lap or close to your chest.

Never scruff (pick up by the neck), a Hamster to pick it up, as it can put immense pressure on the head region and could result in serious injury.

If your Hamster is difficult to catch or aggressive, use a cup or mug and gently “usher” it in.

If your Hamster is prone to nipping you can use a soft toothbrush to stroke it gently prior to handling. Initially it may bite the toothbrush but continue stroking – it will soon understand that, even if it bites, the stroking will continue – and that it doesn’t hurt in any case.

Continue with this until it no longer bites the brush and, when ready, replace the brush with your finger. This whole process may take a few weeks, but will be worth it for both of you in the end.

Common illnesses

Hamsters do not often become ill but, because of their size, they can deteriorate very quickly if they do become ill.

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Diarrhoea – overfeeding with green food is a common cause of diarrhoea. You should stop feeding green food immediately if your hamster has diarrhoea and feed it only a good quality hamster mix or monocomponent food. If the diarrhoea persists, your hamster should be taken to the vet.

Constipation – conversely, if there is a lack of droppings in the cage and your hamster has a hunched appearance, it may have constipation. Feeding with a small amount of green vegetables may relieve your hamster, but if there is no improvement it should be taken to the vet.

Wet Tail – is often confused with diarrhoea, but is a bacterial infection that can cause extreme diarrhoea, with a distinctive smell. It is mostly seen in young hamsters (3 – 8 weeks old). The anus and tail area of the hamster appear wet and sticky. The hamster may appear hunched up as if it is in pain. Hamsters with wet tail should be isolated from other hamsters as it is highly infectious. You must wash your hands thoroughly before you handle any other hamster. In any case, clean the cage with Keep it Clean and seek veterinary treatment immediately.

Overgrown Teeth – as hamsters’ teeth continue to grow throughout their life, hamsters need to be provided with hard material to gnaw. Special wood gnaws can be purchased from pet shops to encourage gnawing, or feed treats that encourage them to wear their teeth. If there is a chipped tooth, or their teeth do not meet properly, this may cause overgrowth and pain, and your hamster will find it difficult to eat.

Overgrown Nails – nails can also become overgrown and should be trimmed by a vet to ensure your hamster is comfortable.

Always consult a vet if you have ANY reason for concern.

If you need to know more

For more detailed information about Hamsters, you can contact us and we will get back to you with our experts’ advice. However if you have any concerns about the health and wellbeing of your rabbit, you should seek veterinary advice immediately.

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