Hamsters
Small Pets
 

Hamsters


Hamster information

There are many different species of hamster, but the iconic Golden Hamster found in pet shops all over the world is a domesticated version of the wild Mesocricetus auratus. During recent years, several species of dwarf hamster have also become popular as pets, with the most readily available one being Campbell's Russian Dwarf Hamster, Phodopus campbelli.

The size of a hamster depends on species, with dwarf hamsters normally attaining a length of no more than 2-4 in (5-10 cm) and the average Gold Hamster being roughly 5-6 in (13-15 cm) long. The giant hamster Cricetus cricetus is 8-12 in long (20-30 cm), but this species is not commonly kept as a pet.

Hamsters are small creatures that do not require a lot of space (as long as they are given sufficient amounts of exercise and play) and they are comparatively easy to keep happy and healthy in captivity. They keep themselves very clean and will automatically divide their dwelling into separate areas for sleeping, eating, playing and going to the toilet. 

Hamsters taxonomy

Kingdom:      Animalia
Phylum:         Chordata
Class:            Mammalia
Order:           Rodentia
Family:          Cricetidae

Gianthamsters       
Cricetus cricetus                 (European Hamster, European Field Hamster, Black-bellied Hamster, Common Hamster)

Mediumsizedhamsters  
Mesocricetus auratus          (Golden Hamster, Standard Hamster, Syrian Hamster, Syrian Golden, Teddybear Hamster, Fancy Hamster, Longhaired Hamster, Angora Hamster, Chequered Golden Hamster, Beige Golden Hamster)
Mesocricetus brandti          (Brandts' Hamster, Turkish Hamster)
Mesocricetus newtoni         (Rumanian Hamster, Romanian Hamster, Newton’s Hamster)
Mesocricetus raddei            (Georgian Hamster, Ciscaucasian Hamster
                                                                            
Dwarf Hamsters      
Phodopus campbelli           (Campbell's Russian Dwarf Hamster)
Phodopus roborovskii         (Roborovski's Hamster, Desert Hamster)
Phodopus sungorus            (Winter White Russian Dwarf Hamster, Siberian Hamster, Sapphire Hamster)

Rat-like Hamsters  
Allocricetulus curtatus        (Mongolian Hamster)
Allocricetulus eversmanni   (Eversmann's Hamster, Kazakh Hamster)                                 
Cricetulus alticola               (Tibetan Ratlike Hamster)
Cricetulus barabensis         (Chinese Striped Hamster, Striped Dwarf Hamster)
Cansumys canus                 (Gansu Hamster)                 
Cricetulus griseus               (Chinese Hamster)
Cricetulus kamensis
           (Kam Ratlike Hamster, Kam's Ratlike Hamster)
Cricetulus longicaudatus    (Lesser Longtailed Hamster, Desert Hamster)
Cricetulus migratorius        (Migratory Grey Hamster, Grey Rat-like Hamster, Armenian Hamster, Grey Hamster, Grey Dwarf Hamster)     
Cricetulus sokolovi             (Sokolov's Ratlike Hamster)   
Tscherskia triton                 (Greater Longtailed Hamster, Korean Hamster)

Mouse-like Hamsters
Calomyscus bailwardi        (Zagros Mountains Mouse-like Hamster)
Calomyscus baluchi            (Baluchi Mouse-like Hamster, Baluchi's Mouse-like Hamster)
Calomyscus elburzensis      (Goodman's Mouse-like Hamster)
Calomyscus elburzensis zykovi                 (Zykov's Mouse-like Hamster)
Calomyscus grandis           Noble Mouse-like Hamster
Calomyscus hotsoni            Hotson's Mouse-like Hamster
Calomyscus mystax            Great Balkhan Mouse-like Hamster
Calomyscus tsolovi             Tsolov's Mouse-like Hamster
Calomyscus urartensis        Urar Mouse-like Hamster

Hamster care

The safest course of action is to give each hamster its own cage. Young Golden Hamsters can sometimes be housed together without much fighting, but only in large cages with plenty of hiding places. Dwarf Hamsters are can be kept together only if raised together. 

Female hamsters tend to be more violent than males, but males can also fight each other, especially over food and territory. When breeding hamsters, the female is moved to the male’s cage for a short period of time and then moved back to her own cage to avoid fighting.  

Hamsters are only violent towards each other; not towards humans, but they can bite if cornered. When getting a new hamster, give it plenty of time to get to know you. Once it trusts you, it will become a very gentle and affectionate pet.

A Golden hamster should not be housed in a cage smaller than 40 cm L x 30 cm W x 30 cm D (15 in L x 12 in W x 12 in D). The cage must be large enough for the hamster to set up a nesting area, an eating area, a toilet area, and a playing area. The smaller the cage, the more important it becomes to regularly let your hamster out to play and exercise.   

Hamsters like cages with tubes and boxes to explore, or ladders that leads to multiple levels, since such features makes life in captivity less boring and monotonous. They are also fond of exercise wheels. Today, many pet shops sell hamster balls that you can place your hamster in to let it explore the rest of your home in safe manner.

Hamsters love to burrow and should therefore be provided with at least 2 inches (5 cm) of clean and non-toxic bedding material.  

Feeding hamsters

A high-quality hamster pellet is a good base and can be supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables twice a week. Make sure your hamster has hard pellets, chew sticks or similar to chew down its teeth. Hamsters should always have access to fresh water.  

Pregnant and nursing females will need extra nutrition.

Breeding hamsters

This section is about the common medium sized Mesocricetus auratus and its domestic versions. If you plan on breeding any other hamster species, seek species specific information since they have somewhat different habits.

Hamsters reach sexual maturity at a very young age, typically when they are around 35 days old. It is however best to let them become at least 10 weeks old before you allow them to breed. Generally speaking, females that weigh at least 100 grams (3.5 ounces) make better mothers. Smaller females tend to give birth to dead pups or kill the pups since they are so small.

If you purchase hamsters for breeding purposes, make sure they have a chance to grow accustomed to their new home before you breed them.

When it is time for the couple to mate, use a cup to scoop up the female and place her in the male’s cage. (Don’t place the male in her cage, because she doesn’t like that and will beat him up instead of mating with him.) If she is ready to mate, she will arch her back, raise her tail, and stand still. You may have to put her in the male’s cages several nights in a row before she becomes ready. The two hamsters may be a bit hostile towards each other at first, but they’ll get over it sooner or later. Never let her spend the night in the male’s cage; return her to her own and try again next day.

The actual mating takes around 20 minutes. While you are waiting for them to finish, it is a good idea to clean the female’s cage and give her new food and water, because once she has mated she need to be left alone for some time.

When they’re finished, return the female to her own cage. It is best to leave her alone as much as possible during the following twelve days, but food and water must naturally be changed regularly. On the 12th day, replace all bedding and give the cage a good cleaning. Make sure she has suitable material to build a nest from. After this, it is time to leave her alone again. 

Female hamsters that are pregnant or nursing need more nutrients than normally, especially protein and fat. You can for instance supplement her normal diet with nuts, seeds, wheat germ and hard boiled eggs. Fresh fruits and vegetables will provide energy and a lot of vitamins, but make sure she eats protein rich and fatty foods as well.

Hamsters normally give birth to around 8 pups, but anything from 2 to 16 is possible. Do not handle the pups or clean the cage until the pups have opened their eyes. This will normally occur when they are roughly 16 days old. Make sure the water is placed so that the pups can reach it.

When the pups are roughly three weeks old they should weigh around 1 ounce (28 grams) and be large enough to wean. Separate males and females at this point to prevent the young females from getting pregnant. As mentioned above, breeding young females is not recommended, and breeding brothers and sisters can naturally lead to genetic problems in the long run.

A female hamster will usually have a maximum of six litters throughout her life.

Hamster health

Hamsters are quite sturdy pets and aren’t prone to any special diseases, but just like any other animal they can of course develop health problems. If the problem persists, contact a veterinarian.

Stomach problems in hamsters
Diarrhoea in hamsters is usually the result of eating too much fruits or vegetables, or eating food that has gone bad. Feed your hamsters pellets or shredded wheat biscuits only for a few days and see if it clears up.

Constipation can occur if your hamster doesn’t get enough water with its dry food. Always make sure it has fresh water available at all times. Once constipation has set in, it can often be fixed by feeding the hamster watery fruits and vegetables, plus raisins or prunes. Plenty of water is naturally also a must.   

Wet tail (Wettail) is a bacterial infection that causes a fluid like discharge to ooze from the vent, hence the name wet tail. The hind quarters of the hamster will look wet and dirty. Other symptoms are diarrhoea, loss of appetite, and laid back ears. Antibiotics will kill off the bacteria. Some pet shops sell a product called Drytail which is specially developed to cure wet tail. Regardless of whether you use Drytail or any other suitable form of antibiotics, it is important to start treatment while the disease is still in an early stage.  

Salmonellosis is unusual in hamsters but it does occur and requires immediate veterinary attention; not only for the sake of the hamster but for the sake of its human keeper as well since humans can catch salmonella from infected pets. Hamsters typically get salmonellosis by drinking dirty water or eating bad food. Contact with rodents or rodent droppings are also a risk. Salmonella is an intestinal tract infection that leads to loss of appetite and weight loss. The coat often becomes ruffled and the hamster looks miserable.  

Skin and fur problems in hamsters
When a hamster reaches an age of 10-12 months, it is normal for it to start loosing hair. The rump is usually the first place to be affected and the hair loss will then gradually spread towards the head. A hamster younger than 6 months that starts loosing hair should be examined by a veterinarian.

Small skin cuts or wounds on a hamster should usually be left alone; the hamster will lick the wound clean and if your pet is otherwise healthy the wound will soon heal. If the wound shows no signs of healing, let a vet take a look. Veterinary attention is also required if your hamster receives a large gaping wound.

Skin parasites seldom get a chance to infest a hamster since hamsters spend so much time grooming themselves, but a hamster kept in dirty conditions or with other infested pets may develop a parasite problem, e.g. fleas or lice. Ideally consult veterinarian since some flea powders are dangerous to hamsters. It is important to sanitize the entire environment and treat all infested pets simultaneously. Mange is another nasty parasite that can cause serious problems for hamsters and infested pets will require veterinary attention. An infested hamster will scratch a lot (especially the ears), shake its head, and loose its hair. Eventually, gray scabs will appear, typically on the ears, nose and genital area. Just as with other parasites, it is incredibly important to sanitize the environment and treat all infested pets at once.    

Respiratory disease in hamsters
Just like humans, hamsters can catch colds. The symptoms are pretty much the same as in humans; sniffling, sneezing and a runny nose. The hamster will become tired and keep its ears laid back. Give it new clean bedding and sterilize food and water bowls. Make sure it has plenty of nutritious food and clean water.

Pneumonia is a much more serious condition than the common cold and requires veterinary attention. Some symptoms are similar to a normal cold (runny nose, sniffling, and sneezing), but pneumonia will normally also make the hamster cough and loose its appetite. The coat often becomes ruffled due to poor grooming.

Other health problems
Cheek pouch problems often manifest in the form of watery eyes. If the problem persists, use an eye dropper or syringe (no needle!) to carefully flush out any food that may be trapped inside. Give your hamster soft food only for a while to let the pouches rest, and only serve small portions.  

When paralysis occurs in hamsters it is usually due to vitamin D deficiency or a lack of exercise, but it can also be caused by injury.

If you notice any lumps or bumps on a hamster, take it to the vet.

Hamster facts

Hamster fact # 1
The Golden Hamster has been selectively bred for many generations and you can today find a lot of different colors, patterns and hair types in the pet trade, e.g. Beige Golden Hamster, Chequered Golden Hamster and Longhaired Golden Hamster.  

Hamster facts # 2
The name hamster comes from the word hamstern which is German for “to hoard”. Hamsters have cheek pouches in which they can store large amounts of food. Hamsters are also known to maintain a stash of food hidden in the bedding of their cage. When you clean the cage, ideally let the stash remain because being bereaved of the secrete food supply can be a very stressful experience for a hamster.

Hamster fact # 3
Hamsters started to become popular pets during the 1930’s.   

Hamster fact # 4
Hamsters are nocturnal animals, so be prepared to hear your hamster run around in the cage during the night.  

Hamster fact # 5
A hamster can run up to 8 miles (almost 13 km) in one night inside an exercise wheel.

Hamster lifespan

The expected lifespan of a hamster is roughly 1000 days (almost three years).  


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