Hamsters are small furry mammals that make excellent pets. Like any other pet, hamsters need certain things from their owners, including safety, nutrition, stimulation and love. Your veterinarian should examine your new hamster and discuss the proper diet and required care. Vaccinations are usually not required. Most pet hamsters are not exposed to communicable diseases, especially when you, the responsible pet owner, make sure the hamster’s cage is cleaned every day.
Watch Out For Symptoms
Your hamster can’t speak to you, so you have to be vigilant, on the lookout for symptoms of illness. Sick hamsters may develop hair loss, dandruff or irritated, dry skin. Other symptoms to watch for include a runny nose, dull or sunken eyes, a wet tail, skin tumors, seizures, diarrhea, lethargy and irritability. Bring your hamster to your veterinarian as soon as you notice any unusual symptoms — a delay will make matters worse, often much worse. Your vet may administer fluids and take samples to test for diseases. If your hamster has a disease that can be communicated to humans, you’ll have to keep the hamster isolated and wear gloves when cleaning the cage or handling the pet.
Hamsters love mixed seeds, usually going for sunflower seeds first, because they are the fattiest and tastiest. Unfortunately, they are not balanced nutritionally. You can feed hamster a diet of special pellets that contain a mix of seeds and pellets, ensuring that it receives the benefits of many different types of food. Fresh foods are also an important diet staple, and include freshly washed greens, squash, carrots, cucumber, cauliflower and broccoli. Your hamster will also appreciate fresh fruits such as bananas, grapes, apples, berries and pears, but avoid citrus fruits and dole out only small portions at any one time. Believe it or not, hamsters enjoy scrambled or boiled eggs, cereals and whole-grain bread, which you can feed as occasional special meals. Always have fresh water readily available from a water bottle.
Keep a Clean Home
You need to keep your hamster’s cage clean in order to avoid parasites and bacteria. Cages should be large with separate corners for sleeping, eating and for use as a bathroom. Never house multiple Syrian hamsters in the same cage — they’ll hurt each other. Place the cage where it will be exposed to a reliable 65-to-75°F environment, away from strong heat sources, drafts and direct sunlight. In addition to wire cages, you can use solid platforms and ramps, plastic modular housing and aquariums. Whichever you choose, make sure it is well ventilated, a problem with some modular homes. Do not use shavings from coniferous trees (pine, spruce and cedar) because they may have strong chemicals and give off fumes. Aspen is an exception and its shavings can be used for bedding — it’s very economical. The pet stores offer many varieties of hamster bedding, and you can get recommendations from your vet. Good bedding is made from dye-free cellulose, which absorb odor and quickly show soil. Remove and replace dirty bedding daily and completely change the bedding weekly. Remove uneaten food and change the water daily. Every month or so, empty out the cage and give it a good scrub with a gently cleaner.
Keep your hamsters happy and alert with a variety of toys. They love items like paper towel tubes, empty tissue boxes, climbing areas and running wheels. They also love being handled by their owners, so let your hamster out every day for some quality time. Hamster chewing toys are popular, and a small dog biscuit will keep your hamster occupied for hours. It’s important for your hamster to exercise daily so that it doesn’t become obese.
Hamsters are prolific and if you don’t want lots of hamster babies, get hamsters of the same sex when you have more than one. A hamster can have a new litter of 3 to 18 babies as often as every 30 days. Some hamsters must be kept alone, but most will get along with others, especially if they become friends at an early age. An overcrowded cage is a bad idea and can be fatal to newborn hamster babies. If you have rare hamsters that you want to commercially breed, speak to your vet for any special precautions that the particular hamster variety requires. There also might be local regulations you’ll have to observe.
A hamster is also a great starter pet and will allow you to judge whether your child is responsible enough to move on to a larger pet in the future.
Dr. Paul has a strong interest in avian and exotic animal medicine and surgery, as well as small animal internal medicine and surgery.
He has provided services for numerous breeders, kennels, aviaries, and mini zoos.