Hamster Tips & Facts
Adult hamsters can grow up to 18cm in length with females being slightly larger than the males. Adults are fiercely territorial and should be housed individually due to the frequent and fierce fighting with other hamsters.
Housing your hamster
There are many houses available on the market; we recommend either a large glass or plastic tank with a secure ventilated lid, or a wire cage. The well known tunnel systems are not recommended as fatter or pregnant hamsters can sometimes get stuck in the tubes and this cage type is also difficult to access for cleaning.
Experience has taught us that wire cages are best for Syrians, if you are going to get one with bars then we suggest you try and get black bars as they are easier to see your pet through than white bars. Although the tank style cages are popular due to their ease of cleaning and the inability of even the most determined hamster to kick sawdust out of it, Syrians like having bars to climb and barred cages act as a good way of keeping them fit. Please buy the biggest cage you can afford as hamsters love to run around, however three tier cages can be dangerous if the hamster falls.
You should always aim to house your hamster in a quiet and dimly lighted area of the house. The cage should also be situated away from other pets such as cats and dogs. Hamsters will thrive satisfactorily in temperatures ranging from 50 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, very cold temperatures may send hamsters into hibernation. If this happens gently warm them in your hands to wake them. Avoid drafts, excess humidity and drastic changes in temperature, such as in an air-conditioned room, bathroom or laundry room, as they can contribute to respiratory problems and do not situate the cage (or tank especially) near a window where the sun can shine on it all day or in a conservatory as this can cause heatstroke.
Getting an exercise wheel for the cage is essential and cannot be over emphasised, hamsters are naturally active and will run many miles a night given the opportunity, we currently use the silent spinner range as seen in the picture above right as they are a big improvement on the noisy hamster wheels of old. An exercise ball for use outside the cage is also a good investment as it gives the opportunity for additional exercise and stimulation for the animal, and is a good safe source of entertainment for youngsters and adults alike.
Why not search for that silent hamster wheel you have wanted for ages???
Feeding your hamster
There are many foods available on the market for hamsters, we recommend Hamster Health by Pascoes. This is not the easiest food to get hold of however we know it can be obtained from Makro, Countrywide Farmers, Surrey Pet Supplies, The Vital Group (www.vital-group.co.uk) www.k9capers.com www.ukpetstop.com . As we find more stockists we will update the website. As a guide one bag of this tends to last one of our hamsters a year.
As this is a non selective food it means your pet gets a balanced diet and is not able to leave the fibrous grass pellet element that most hamsters try to avoid but is needed for an efficient digestive system. If you want to give your hamster a treat there are many options available to buy in the shops, or they will love you just as much if not more if you give them a bit of fresh salad or carrot, (see here for our list of what they can and can’t eat) although make sure you do not give them too much as this can give them diarrhoea.
Syrian Hamsters – Lifespan and illness
Hamsters live for anything between 1.5 and 3 years. With regular handling they are very friendly and inquisitive, each with its own unique personality. They are rarely ill except when very old and ready to leave us but there are one or two illnesses you should be especially vigilant for:
Wet tail - this is very dangerous, it is severe diarrhoea accompanied by a wet rear end and ulceration of the bowels. It is imperative you seek veterinary advice if you suspect wet tail as it is fatal if not treated. Even with treatment many hamsters do not survive and it can be better to have it put to sleep rather than see it suffer.
Colds - hamsters can catch human colds so try and avoid close contact if you have one.
Blocked scent glands – hamsters have a scent gland on either hip, often mistaken for a scab by first time owners. These scent glands are used to mark territory and attract mates and can get more prominent when hamsters are on heat. In general it is best to treat these like you would a mole on your own skin; check them every time you play with your hamster and if they become blocked, swollen, weepy or change drastically in appearance see a vet.
Tyzzer's disease – this is a disease carried by wild mice. The hamster rapidly deteriorates and dies. Do not store your hamster products (or hamster!) in places like sheds or garages. Mice can contaminate food, cages, shavings and bedding, even before you buy these products so make sure you but from a reputable and clean pet shop.
Abscesses – These are soft pus filled swellings, often caused by bites, scrapes or foreign bodies getting under the skin. If your hamster has an abscess, clip the fur around the wound and bathe the animal daily in a lukewarm salt solution (one teaspoon of salt to one pint of water) making sure you keep the head out the water. Keep the fur short until the pus has drained away and the skin flattens again. If you are not confident about doing this or if there are no signs of improvement after two or three days see your vet as antibiotics may be required to treat a bacterial infection or it may be something more serious such as cancer.
Overgrown teeth – hamster’s teeth, like other rodents, grow constantly and need to be worn down by gnawing. Make sure you provide your hamster with something to gnaw, hard dog biscuits are ideal. If your hamster stops eating or is not eating as much check its teeth to make sure they are not overgrown or misaligned. The picture below shows overgrown teeth, this much overgrowth needs to be treated by a vet under anaesthetic, other wise teeth clipping is simple to do at home and your vet can show you how to do this.
Hair loss – hair loss can have many causes including skin infections, mites and stress. If your hamster is losing hair see your vet for diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.
This is certainly not something to do without giving it serious thought, pregnant hamsters can give birth to litters of up to 22 hamsters although the average size of litter is around 11 babies. Hamsters can become pregnant at just 8 weeks old and have the shortest pregnancy of any mammal at just 16 days. We would not advise breeding hamsters until they are at least 12 weeks, because although it is possible earlier it may well lead to problems during the pregnancy, often resulting in mother and babies being very ill or dying. If you are still interested in breeding hamsters then take a look at the pdf we have compiled
It is particularly important with Syrian hamsters that you do not keep them in pairs of the opposite sex, apart from having lots of unexpected and often unwanted babies they will also display a tendancy to fight with each other, to find out how to identify the different sex hamsters click here to see our simple guide.
If there is something that you want to know about hamsters that has not been covered on this page, why not try our frequently asked questions? You may find that someone has already asked your question.