Owning a Pet Hamster
Hamsters are one of the most commonly kept family pets. There are a number of different breeds of hamsters, including a dwarf breed and a long-haired breed (called “Teddy Bear”), but the most common breed of pet hamster is the Syrian or golden hamster. If well socialized from a young age and treated gently, they are generally slow moving, are reasonably easy to handle and are affectionate. Hamsters tend to be nocturnal but can be active for periods during the day. They will run on an exercise wheel relentlessly at night.
“Generally, hamsters are the most aggressive of all the pocket pets and bite more often.”
Hamsters startle easily and may show a threat response or become defensive when frightened. Always let a hamster know you are there, or gently and slowly wake it up before attempting to handle it. They will not hesitate to bite if restrained forcefully or frightened while being held. As a breed, the smaller Dwarf hamsters are more excitable, faster moving and are more challenging to handle. Generally, hamsters are the most aggressive of all the “pocket pets” and tend to bite more often. They do not shed a lot and seem to cause few allergies for people. They are hardy, clean animals and are reasonably easy to care for. Hamsters live between 18-24 months (some may reach 36 months). Young children should be informed of this so that the “sudden death” of a 2 year-old pet does not come unexpectedly. Hamsters make good family pets and are suitable as a first pet for children under supervision.
Despite their clumsy appearance, hamsters are great escape artists since they are excellent chewers. They have large cheek pouches which they can fill with bedding material or large amounts of food that they then carry off to deposit in a corner to be used or consumed later. The incisors or front teeth of all rodents grow continuously throughout the pet’s life. The upper incisors are shorter than the lower incisors (approx. 1:3 ratio). The molars do not grow continuously.
Hamsters have a hip or flank gland on their side; this gland looks like a “mole”, and is less well developed in the female hamster. The gland is often mistaken for a tumor.
Female hamsters produce a profuse vaginal discharge around their ovulation. This discharge has a pungent smell and should not be misinterpreted as an infection
Hamsters should never be fed a strict seed diets as they prone to obesity.
They are generally housed in separate cages as male will fight with males and females will each other especially if pregnant. Females will fight males except around the time of breeding.
They do not tolerate the heat very well and should be kept in a cool area in the hot summer months.
Selecting your Pet
Hamsters can often be purchased at pet stores or through breeders. Ideally, you should select a young animal. The eyes and nose should be clear and free of any discharge that might indicate a respiratory infection. A hamster that is sneezing may have a respiratory infection. The hamster should be curious and inquisitive. Often a hamster that is sitting quietly in the corner is a sick one. The hamster should not be thin or emaciated. Check for the presence of wetness around the anus, which might indicate diarrhea. If possible, examine the hamster’s mouth for broken or overgrown incisors (front teeth), discolored gums (they should be light pink), and any obvious sores. Finally, inquire as to any guarantee of health the seller is offering.
The First Veterinary Visit
“Many health problems with small rodents are the result of misinformation.”
Your pet should be examined by a veterinarian familiar with hamsters within 48 hours of purchase (this examination is often required by the seller or any guarantee is voided). Make sure your chosen veterinarian has experience in treating hamsters. The doctor will examine the hamster, record its weight and discuss housing, proper diet, and appropriate toys for the hamster. A fecal sample should be examined for parasites. Hamsters require at least annual physical examinations and fecal tests to check for parasites. Neutering can be discussed with your veterinarian.
Hamsters do not require vaccinations.
Hamsters generally make good family pets but should never be left unsupervised with small children.
Like all pets, hamsters should be examined by a veterinarian at once or twice annually.