Attractive and easy to tame, a hamster makes an entertaining pet. If regularly handled, your hamster will soon gain confidence and enjoy your company.
Curious by nature, these little desert-dwelling creatures come in variety of sizes and colours. Of the 23 different species of hamsters, two types are regularly available in South Africa, namely Syrian hamsters and Russian dwarf hamsters. The Syrian is larger, has a nice plush coat and is also known as the teddy bear hamster. They come in lots of different colours with various colour patterns. The Russian, on the other hand, is smaller and usually comes in various shades of grey or brown as well as black or cream. It is more docile than the Syrian and less likely to bite.
Handle with Care
Hamsters are and fragile and should always be handled very gently. Do not rush when picking up your hamster and never grab him by a leg. Try to give his body extra support by using both hands. When kindly handled every day, a new hamster pet will soon become tame.
In some cases a new hamster might try to bite you when picking him up. Start by talking to your hamster and letting him get used to your voice. Then put food in his cage, using your fingers, so he associates your hands with food. After a few days, leave your hand in the cage while he is eating. Once he is used to your hand, offer him chow in the palm of your hand – he will soon eat right out of your hand. Gently stroke him on the back with your finger while he is eating. Now you can start to pick him up by cupping your other hand over his body lifting him off the ground, starting slowly and for a short while only. When he is used to being in your hand, you can take him out of the cage and start handling him.
Hamsters normally bite when frightened, so never surprise your hamster with sudden movements or noises.
When approaching your hamster, gently tap on the side of his nest box to let him know you want to pick him up.
In good health
To keep your hamster healthy, you will have to keep his environment clean. Clean his cage at least once a week and wash his food and water bowls every day.
Keep your hamster in a dry, draught-free room with ideal temperatures of between 18 and 26 C. Never handle your hamster when you have a cold or flu (he can catch your illness) and always wash your hands between handling different hamsters. Keep your hamsters food fresh and mould-free by storing it in an airtight container and regularly supplement his mix with fresh fruit and vegetables.
Should your hamster have any of the following symptoms: lethargy, breathing problems, blood in the urine, inflamed skin, or chronic diarrhoea, immediately take him to your vet for treatment, as he might be suffering from a deadly fungus infection. The Aspergillis fungus grows on dirty bedding or rotten food in a hamster cage and will cause serious health problems.
You have various options when it comes to providing your hamster with housing. A glass or plastic aquarium will do the trick and is draught-proof, but not easy to clean. Another disadvantage of aquariums is that you cannot easily attach food bowls, drinking bottles, wheels or other hamster accessories to an aquarium. However, should you decide on an aquarium, make sure to get one with a top that provides ample ventilation. A hamster cage, which comes in wire, or plastic with a removable metal or plastic litter pan, is more practical than an aquarium. Hamster cages are much easier to clean and come in a huge variety. They are designed in such a way that you can easily clip on water bottles, ladders and wheels, and even connect a number of cages by means of plastic tunnels to provide your hamster with a lot more space and variety. So-called ‘hamster habitats’ come in brightly-coloured sectional pieces, which you can put together to simulate a series of hamster burrows. It normally consists of specially designed tunnel systems and larger nesting areas. Rather stick to square shapes, as round ones might disorientate your hamster.
Make sure the cage is large enough to allow your hamster to run around without continually bumping into the sides. In case of a plastic cage, cover all exposed edges to prevent your hamster from gnawing holes in the cage, and always make sure the cage door closes securely to prevent your hamster from escaping. Place your hamster house where it is out of reach of other pets, and place a wooden nesting box inside for extra protection and a safe place to sleep. Also provide your hamster with bedding such as hay, paper tissue or wood shavings, but make sure these are ‘hamster safe’, as some shavings might be toxic to hamsters.
Hamster accessories, available from pet shops, include plastic tubing, hamster wheels, separate tiers, ladders, bridges and sleeping enclosures. Most important of these is the wheel, which your pet hamster cannot do without, as it provides him with the opportunity to exercise. Choose a secure wheel that will not fall on your hamster.
Feed your hamster in ceramic or pottery food bowls, which he cannot chew, and provide fresh drinking water in a water bottle attached to the side of the cage.
Hamsters are gnawing animals, and enjoy a varied diet ranging from dry commercial hamster feed to assorted seeds, dried fruits and vegetables. They are hoarders, and will gather food in the pouches on either side of the mouth and carry it to their nests to eat at a later stage.