There are two different types of hamsters and each offers different issues to deal with.
Syrian hamsters are the largest and easiest to handle. They are solitary animals and cannot be housed together. The Russian dwarf, and other dwarf breeds, is becoming more popular. These smaller breeds are social and should be kept in pairs. They are hard, for most people, to sex and unwanted breeding is a real threat. It is not always possible to place dwarf hamsters who are not litter mates together, fighting may occur. Hamsters have developed a reputation of being nippy, however this is often times caused by overcrowding in pet stores which inspires the hamsters to be extremely protective of their nest.
Hamsters can be taught to trust humans by putting food in ones hand and waiting fir the hamster come to get the food.
A very important, yet little known, fact is that hamsters have no depth perception. If placed on a table, they will walk of the edge.
Hamsters are very nocturnal and should not be disturbed during the day.
One of the most important first steps is choosing the proper habitat. Contrary to pet store lore, aquariums are not the best hamster homes. The air circulation in tanks is too poor to insure health. Wire cages are acceptable as long as the hamsters are given flat substances to walk on. Our favorite cages are the type which utilizes an easy to clean cat litter box as the floor. These cages also give the added benefit of providing a well for hay and debris to fall into, in lieu of falling out of the cage on to the table they are set on. Another option for housing is the new “Habitrail” condos. With multi floors, tubes and such to crawl through and use as nesting sites, these make excellent hamster homes. Whatever home you choose, make sure it is big enough.
One consideration that must be taken in is the size of your hamsters. Smaller hamsters can easily escape from even the smallest mesh cages and “habitrail” type homes. Unfortunately, if you are getting a young Syrian or dwarf breed, you may need to use an aquarium like home for the first few months.
If your hamster escapes, and this is not uncommon; some are regular Houdinis, a trick to finding her is to place a stack of books she can climb in front of a small bucket to tall for her to jump out of. Place some food in the bucket. The set up should be along a wall, because hamsters will stay close to the wall. She will inevitably go into the bucket for the food, and therefore be re caught!
Some things that can harm a hamster, such as bacteria, viruses and mold, can easily penetrate a hamsters’ safe haven. Weekly cleaning with a cleaning solution that is effective against all pathogens is essential in efforts to keep a hamster healthy. Veterinary supply stores often carry virucides such as Virkon that are effective cleaners. A ten percent bleach and water solution can also be used. Make sure all washed items are thoroughly rinsed, and product directions carefully followed.
Make sure your veterinary is qualified to treat hamsters. Early treatment of illness is imperative. Only experienced vets can safely neuter hamsters, important to insure longevity and non aggressive behavior.
The typical diet sold for hamsters is a mix of seeds and other items that are not the best foods for them. They will eat the most fattening things in the mix, letting some with important nutritional elements behind. We highly recommend a diet of rodent blocks. A good block is from Oxbow, and can be purchased online. Other blocks are corn based and dried corn is a known carcinogenic. All blocks should be augmented with fresh vegetables and fruit so that nutrients found only in fresh foods are available. Keep food in airtight container so that it doesn’t loose vitamins.
Bowls are ok for hamsters water supply. Sipping bottles with small openings for hamsters are also okay.
Hamsters need toys. Especially comfort wheels, (no foot catching spokes!), that can give the chance to exercise. Tubes, or hide boxes to build nests in are important. Chew toys are necessary for growing teeth.
Wood shavings can cause liver damage and/or upper respiratory illness. Timothy hay or Carefresh makes good nesting material. Cotton wool style bedding trap hamsters limbs and can block stomachs when digested. These beddings are made of plastics which do not dissolve when a hamster eats it. They are not safe despite manufacturers and pet store claims. White felt, which has no toxic dies or strings which tiny feet can be caught in, is also safe for bedding.
Knowing that the hamster you bring home is healthy is very important. This can be insured by adopting one. The health of a hamster from a rescue organization has been evaluated and the ever important socialization process will have begun. Many of the hamsters on this page were available for adoption at Angelas’ Southern California Rescue and Adoption. Henrietta, pictured here is a member of the family of The Sanctuary. If the hamster of your dreams is not available for adoption, look for a responsible breeder, who’s premises can be evaluated for sanitary conditions.