Hamsters

 

Hamsters as pets

Small and entertaining to watch, hamsters make a great first pet for children as they are so easy to care for.  With regular handling become very tame and as they are most active in the evening they are ideal for people at work or children at school. These amusing little creatures were re-discovered in the deserts of North Africa in Syria during the 1930s.  They had been thought to be extinct as no one had seen a hamster in the wild for over 100 years.  They were introduced as pets to Britain in the 1940s and quickly became one of the nation's favourite pets.
  
More recently other breeds of hamster have been discovered in Russia and China and they have become just as popular thanks to their endearing characteristics.  Hamsters can be long or short haired and come in a variety of colours.  On average a pet hamster lives between 1.5 – 3 years, but if they are well-loved and looked after they can live for a little longer.

Hamster facts you need to know

In the wild hamsters live deep underground in burrows during the day and the tunnels they make can often be several feet in depth.

 

Which breed?

There are 5 main breeds of hamster kept as pets in the UK and they come in a variety of colours and lengths of coat.  

Some types of hamsters are prone to diabetes which can affect their health and diet.  Russian Campbell Dwarf Hamsters, Chinese Hamsters, some lines of Winter White Dwarf Hamsters and Hybrid (Russian Campbell crossed with Winter White) Hamsters are all at a higher risk for diabetes.  Syrian (Golden) Hamsters and Roborovski Dwarf Hamsters are not prone to diabetes.


Syrian / Golden Hamsters

Syrian Hamsters are solitary creatures by nature and should not be kept together as they will fight.   In the wild they only meet to mate, after which the female drives the male away.  They are larger and chunkier than other breeds of hamster and are usually about 4 - 6 inches (10.2 – 15.2 cm) in length.  They make great pets for children as they are easy to handle and tame. 

Campbells Russian Dwarf Hamster

Campbells Russian Dwarf Hamsters originated in the semi deserts of Central Asia, Mongolia and North Eastern China.  These hamsters are sociable and can live together in the same cage but same sex groupings are recommended.  If fighting does occur they must be separated.  They are between 3.5 – 4 inches (8 – 10 cm) in length.  Although generally good natured they are not best suited as pets for very young children because of their small size and their ability to move very quickly.

Winter White Russian Dwarf Hamster

Winter White Russian Dwarf Hamsters come from Kazakhstan and South West Siberia (they are also called Siberian Hamsters). They are between 3 – 4 inches (7 – 10 cm) in length.  Although generally good natured they are not best suited as pets for very young children because of their small size and their ability to move very quickly.  

Chinese Hamster

Chinese Hamsters originate from the deserts of Northern China and Mongolia. They are between 4 – 5 inches (10 - 12 cm).  They are longer and thinner than Russian Hamsters and look more mouse-like.  Chinese hamsters have a tail which is about an inch (2.5 cm) long and hairless.  They can be kept together in pairs but if they become aggressive they must be separated immediately.  Chinese Hamsters are generally good natured and quiet to handle but are not suited as pets for very young children due to their small size and their ability to move quickly.   

Roborovski's Hamster

Roborovski's Hamsters come from the Gobi Desert, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Northern China.  They are the smallest of all hamsters measuring 1.5 – 3 inches (4 – 7 cm) in length.  These hamsters are sociable and can live together in the same cage but same sex groupings are recommended.  If fighting does occur they must be separated.  They are not recommended as pets for very young children as they can be very lively and difficult to catch.

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Handling your hamster

When you bring your hamster home leave them for a day or two before handling so that they can get used to their new home.  

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Getting a New Hamster?

We have a great guide to help you make bringing your hamster home stress free and smooth with some handy tips for you to help settle your hamster in to their new life happily.  Our check list below will ensure that you have everything for your new hamster's arrival.

Check List

 

Settling in your hamster

Once you have brought your hamster home it's best to leave them alone for a day or so to settle in.  Your hamster needs this quiet time to adjust to their new surroundings and calm down after travelling.

 

Feeding your Hamster

Your hamster will need a balanced diet to keep them happy and healthy and we have a useful guide to help you choose the best food available for your hamster.

What do hamsters eat?

Hamsters in the wild are omnivores – just like us - which means that they need both meat and vegetables in their diet. Hamsters also have an elongated pouch on each side of their heads which they stuff full of food to be stored and eaten later.  In the wild hamsters live on a diet of seeds, nuts, berries, worms, grubs, grasses, green leaves and insects.  

 

Diabetes

Some types of hamsters are prone to diabetes and foods that are high in sugar should not be fed such as fruit (see our fruit section below) and honey based treats.  Russian Campbell Dwarf Hamsters, Chinese Hamsters, some lines of Winter White Dwarf Hamsters and Hybrid (Russian Campbell crossed with Winter White) Hamsters are all at a higher risk for diabetes.  Syrian (Golden) Hamsters and Roborovski Dwarf Hamsters are not prone to diabetes.

Nuggets and Muesli

Dry hamster nuggets and muesli will provide all the minerals, vitamins, fibre and nutrients required and are also clean and hygienic. These dry foods contain a mixture of pumpkin seeds, millet, grass pellets, maize, flaked oats, peas, toasted soya and wheat flakes, sunflower seeds and meal worms.  Some also contain chicken and rice nuggets.   Dried foods also help to keep your hamster's teeth trim.

Treats

Treats in the form of mineral blocks, fruit and honey sticks are great for chewing on and help your hamster's teeth stay in good shape.  There are also forage mixes of herbs, flowers, fruit and vegetables available as healthy snacks to give as a treat.

Water

Always provide fresh clean drinking water for your hamster and check the supply each day.  Water bottles should be fitted to the cage at the right height for your hamster to reach the spout.  Water bowls are easily fouled and hamsters can become wet if they get in them which can lead to illness.

Greens

Always feed greens (and any new foods) to your hamster gradually and in very small amounts as hamsters can get stomach upsets and diarrhea from eating too many fresh greens.   Cabbage, celery, and lettuce contain too much water for their volume and can have a dangerous laxative effect on hamsters so if you are using these as food only feed a tiny amount.

Root Vegetables

Root vegetables can be fed - in very small amounts - such as carrot, parsnip and turnip.  Potatoes should be avoided.

Fruit

Fruit can be fed in very small amounts to hamsters but as fruit contains a high amount of sugar it may be best not to feed it to hamsters that have a high risk of diabetes.  Russian Campbell Dwarf Hamsters, Chinese Hamsters, some lines of Winter White Dwarf Hamsters and Hybrid (Russian Campbell crossed with Winter White) Hamsters are all at a higher risk for diabetes.  Syrian (Golden) Hamsters and Roborovski Dwarf Hamsters are not prone to diabetes.  

Fruits that can be fed to Syrian (Golden) Hamsters and Roborovski Dwarf Hamsters are:  apple (remove pips), pear, banana, blackberry, cherry (remove stone), peach (remove stone), plum (remove stone), raspberry and strawberry.  
Citrus fruits such as oranges, tangerines, lemons, limes and grapefruit should not be fed to hamsters as they are too acidic.
View our Hamster Health section to learn more.

Grass and Hay

Grass and hay can be fed in very small amounts to your hamster and there are a wide selection of hays and grasses available in store that come in the form of treats.  These are mixed with herbs, fruit and clover.   Alfalfa Hay and Timothy Hay are also available.  

Don't feed your hamster lawnmower clippings as these can upset your hamster's digestive system and make them ill.  Be careful when giving your hamster fresh handfuls of meadow grass as this could contain buttercups which are poisonous.  
View our Hamster Product section for a selection of nutritious hays and grasses for hamsters

Dangerous Foods

 

Housing your Hamster

Hamsters are active little creatures and like lots of space to exercise in – so the bigger the hamster cage the better!  

Dwarf hamster housing

Dwarf Hamsters (Campbells Russian Dwarf, Winter White Russian, Chinese and Roborovski's) require different housing to Syrian (Golden) Hamsters due to their small size as they can squeeze through the wire bars of normal cages.  

The wire bars on cages for Syrian (Golden) Hamsters are usually no more than 1.3cm apart but for a Dwarf Hamster the gap needs to be much smaller:  no more than 0.5cm.  Specialist Dwarf Hamster housing is available and Petstop has a wide range for you to choose from.

Cosy and Comfortable

The housing should contain a nesting box as hamsters like to hide themselves away inside an enclosed space to sleep and need somewhere to hide the food titbits they stuff into their pouches. Soft, safe and cosy nesting material and bedding are available for your hamster to curl up in.

Playtime

Hamsters like to burrow and tunnel in the wild so provide tubing to create an underground environment for them in their housing.  

Cleaning

Your hamsters cage should be cleaned out thoroughly at least once a week using a pet-safe disinfectant.  You may need to clean your hamster's toilet area daily.  

 

Keeping your Hamster Healthy

You can tell if your hamster is feeling poorly by their behaviour.  If you notice a change in their behaviour or if they are not eating and drinking (or drinking too much) this could be a sign that they are ill.  

Teeth - Hamsters do not have dental problems very often but their teeth should be checked to make sure they are not over grown or uneven. Your hamster's bottom teeth should be longer than the top.  Your hamster will keep their teeth trim by gnawing and chewing so make sure you provide gnawing toys to help wear their teeth down.  If your hamster does suffer from overgrown teeth make an appointment with your vet to have their teeth trimmed.

Cheek Pouches – Your hamster's cheek pouches can become impacted if a large item gets stuck in there.  As this can cause infection it's advisable to make sure their cheek pouches don't always appear full.  Hamsters will spit out the contents of their pouches if they feel threatened or unhappy - people often mistake this for vomiting and think the hamster is ill.

Nose - Your hamster's nose shouldn't be crusty or runny.  Hamsters can catch colds very easily so a runny nose could be a sign of a cold or respiratory infection.  Hamsters can catch colds from humans, so avoid handling your hamster if you have one.  If you are concerned that your hamster is not recovering from their cold should contact your vet.

Eyes - Your hamster's eyes should be bright and clear, with no signs of runniness, redness, swelling or soreness.  Some hamsters can develop eye infections caused by dust and bedding that they kick about in their cage.  Eye gels are available to help treat this problem and you should contact your vet for anti-inflammatory and antibiotic treatments.

Claws - Hamsters' claws can become over grown.  Long claws can impede your hamster's movement, cause pain and risk getting caught or pulled out.  If you are worried about your hamster's claws being too long contact your vet to have them trimmed.

Skin and coat - Loss of fur, inflamed skin or flakiness can be caused by allergies or mites. It is important to seek your vet's advice to rule out other illnesses in case there is an underlying cause for your hamster's poor skin and coat condition.

Common health problems

Wet Tail – (Regional Enteritis, Proliferative Ileitis).  This is highly contagious and is often fatal.  It gets its name because the main symptom is diarrhea, and affected hamsters often have wet and dirty tails.


Diarrhea - Diarrhea can result from a number of infections or from changes in diet like eating too much of foods that are high in water, such as fruit and vegetables.

Diabetes

Some types of hamsters are prone to diabetes.  Russian Campbell Dwarf Hamsters, Chinese Hamsters, some lines of Winter White Dwarf Hamsters and Hybrid (Russian Campbell crossed with Winter White) Hamsters are all at a higher risk for diabetes.  Syrian (Golden) Hamsters and Roborovski Dwarf Hamsters are not prone to diabetes.

 

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