Hamsters: Newbie Info You Should Know…
Who doesn’t find hamsters appealing, with their big brown eyes, funny little paws and wiggly noses? But, like any pet, hamsters need a lot of care, so before you buy one, you’ll want to know what you’re getting into. Here’s a hamster overview and a checklist of things you’ll want to consider regarding your new little pal.
Hamsters are rodents, and come mainly from desert habitats. They’ve only been kept as pets since the 1930’s, when some were brought from Syria, but their popularity has taken off since. There are actually about 24 species, but only 5 make good pets. These are the Robo, Syrian, Russian dwarf, Chinese and Campbell’s dwarf. The Syrian are the most common type as pets.
Hamsters have poor eyesight, but excellent hearing. They typically hoard food in their mouths, and this can make their cheeks look very large; but don’t worry, it’s a natural behavior. Another natural behavior is that hamsters are solitary, and very unhappy sharing space with one another; so, if you want a second one, he’ll have to have his own cage. This is especially true of Syrians, who will get into quite a donnybrook.
Now let’s say you brought home your new little buddy and named him Freddy. Freddy will need a good-sized cage. Hamsters choose separate areas for sleeping, going to the bathroom, and storing food, plus he’ll need his play space, so the cage should be at least 2 square feet. A wire cage is best for ventilation, and the bars should be less than 1/2″ apart, so Freddy doesn’t squeeze out. If you choose a dwarf variety, a cage suitable for a mouse will work.
Take care that the cage isn’t in direct sunlight or by a heat source, and also not in a cold draft. The ideal temperature for Freddy is 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Freddy will need wood shavings that you can get at the pet store to line his cage, and they should be changed every day. Being a desert animal, he’ll like burrowing in them. He’ll also need a water bottle. Be sure the water in his bottle is changed daily.
Freddy will like eating some commercial food made for hamsters, but you can supplement his diet with treats as well. A checklist of foods he can have includes carrots, cucumbers, bananas, strawberries, apples, cottage cheese, grasshoppers, crickets and flax seed. Foods to avoid are almonds, candies, avocado, watermelon, raw rhubarb, grape seeds and garlic. A more complete list can be found here: Acceptable Hamster Food List. Some people will give hamsters field corn, but this should not be done because field corn has pesticides.
Like most animals, Freddy is curious and needs mental stimulation, so make sure he has plenty of play time. Otherwise, he’ll become depressed and anti-social. One way to provide him with entertainment is to move his cage around every few days, so he has new things to look at. He can also come out of his cage in a safe, secure environment and be handled, which is good socialization in case he has to go to the vet. Make sure he can’t escape into the open and go someplace where you can’t reach him, such as under the dryer. You might not see Freddy again, and he might join up with his mouse cousins and hit the road.
Hamsters love a hamster ball, and if you supervise Freddy, he’ll be safe in one. This is good exercise for him. Plastic see-through tunnels that attach to his cage are also enjoyable. You’ll think the tunnels are too small for him, but you’ll be amazed at the places hamsters can squeeze into. A lot of their mass is fur, plus they have very supple bones. A wheel he can run in is also great for Freddy, but you should consult the vet or the pet supply dealer to make sure it’s the right size.
Freddy will also need some wooden chew toys because, being a rodent, his teeth will grow continually and he’ll need to wear them down. Be sure to get toys that are especially made for small animals, as other wooden items might have toxic chemicals. Avoid giving Freddy plastic toys, because he can swallow small pieces of plastic. Small wooden toys made for rabbits are also fine for hamsters.
One thing to note is that hamsters are nocturnal, and will want to play at night. You should be prepared to indulge Freddy somewhat by handling him or putting him in his ball. At your bedtime, he’ll probably still be making a racket in his cage. Make sure the cage is near someone who doesn’t mind the noise.
Before buying Freddy, consider the other pets you have in the house. Hamsters should be kept carefully apart from dogs, cats and ferrets. Remember, hamsters, like other rodents, are prey animals, and will freak out at the sight of a predator. Also, many dogs can easily knock over a cage, and cats and ferrets are climbers. Cats and ferrets especially will show great interest in a rodent, an interest not necessarily coupled with good intentions.
Finally, don’t forget to find a vet in your area who has experience treating hamsters, in case Freddy is ever under the weather. But, hopefully, with good care, Freddy will be healthy and happy, and you’ll have many great times with him.