Looking after your hamster
The most common and largest type of hamster is the Syrian hamster, also known as the golden hamster. These are naturally solitary and will fight if you try to keep them in pairs or groups – breeders have to be careful to introduce mating pairs only when the female is in season. If you want a Syrian hamster, only keep one!
Dwarf hamsters grow to about 8cm and enjoy company of their own kind but it’s best to keep a pair or group of females as males tend to fight. Never mix species.
Ideally your new hamster should be between four and eight weeks old and bought from a responsible breeder or good pet shop. Hamsters in pet shops should have clean, good-sized accommodation and access to food and fresh water.
Hamsters become sexually mature as young as four weeks, so make sure that males and females have been correctly sexed and separated – the breeder or pet shop staff should be able to show you the difference between the sexes. If they are not confident, you cannot be sure that you have not bought a pregnant hamster.
The ideal home for a Syrian hamster is a large wire cage with a plastic base no smaller than 60cm x 30cm floor space, by 30cm tall. Hamsters love climbing on different levels so a cage even taller than this is better but be careful not to make it too high in case they fall and hurt themselves. Wood should be avoided as it absorbs urine and quickly becomes smelly and unhygienic.
Dust-extracted bedding is good for all types of hamsters. Hamsters can be litter-trained, which helps to keep their cage cleaner. Dwarf hamsters need beds deep enough to allow them to burrow. You should also provide shredded paper or dry peat as nesting material. Avoid fluffy bedding that could wrap around a hamster’s limbs and cause stomach problems if eaten. Make sure your hamster’s home is away from draughts, sunlight and direct heat. Clean out the cage at least once a week.
A commercial hamster mix is a good basis for your pet’s diet. Hamsters also like small pieces of fruit and vegetables, like a slice of apple or a small sprig of cauliflower. Hamsters hoard food in their beds, so do not give them too many green vegetables because they will rot. Remove all uneaten food every day. They also store food in their cheek pouches.
It’s useful to know that hamsters have scent glands on opposite sides of their flanks, which can look like small, dark patches. These are normal. The testicles of male hamsters enlarge in the spring, so two large swellings at the bottom end of your hamster are usually nothing to worry about. However, if you are at all concerned about your hamster’s health, do consult a vet.
Finally, it is worth remembering that hamsters are short sighted, especially those with pink eyes, so keep a close eye on yours if let out of the cage.