Why one Syrian hamster is enough!
Hamsters are the best known and one of the most popular of all the small rodents kept as pets.
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, or rehomed from a charity. 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.
Home comforts for hamsters
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.
Dwarf hamsters can squeeze through small places so are best kept in a tank or aquarium no smaller than 60cm x 30cm floor space, by 30cm tall. The tank needs a securely fitted wire lid to allow ventilation and stop them escaping.
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.
Storing food in cheek pouches can occasionally lead to problems. If your hamster seems to have permanently stuffed cheeks, it could be because food has become impacted. Sharp pieces of food may also occasionally pierce their pouches. Always seek veterinary advice because, if either of these has caused an infection, the hamster may need antibiotics.
The other common problem needing veterinary help is wet tail, which is diarrhoea associated with stress, especially in newly weaned babies. You can minimise the risk by preparing the cage before you bring the hamster home and leaving them undisturbed, except for feeding, for the first two or three days. Be careful handling your hamster when you have a cold as you can pass this on to them.