Although there are a couple of dozen species of hamster worldwide, there are just five species of hamster regularly kept as pets in the UK.
These five species
kept as pets are: -
1. Syrian Hamster (sometimes
referred to as the “Golden Hamster”)
2. Russian Dwarf
3. Russian Dwarf
Winter White (sometimes called the “Siberian Hamster”)
4. Roborovski (very occasionally referred to as the Mongolian hamster)
5. Chinese Hamster
Photo shows a "Pearl" Russian Dwarf Winter White, and a "Normal" (Wild colouration) Winter White
(Hamsters owned by Somershire Hamsters)
Syrian Hamsters are a solitary species, therefore once adult MUST be housed alone. Although in theory the 4 dwarf species of hamster can cohabit with their own kind in pairs or groups, in reality squabbles are common. If you purchase /adopt 2 dwarf hamsters you should always be prepared to split them into separate cages should squabbles occur.
Photo shows a Roborovski Hamster
(hamster owned by Somershire Hamsters)
Feeding your Hamster
are omnivores and not vegetarians as some people think. Being an omnivore means
they can eat a wide variety of foods. The main part of your hamsters diet
should be a good quality “dry mix” that consists of various kibbles, seeds
& nuts. You can add dried fruits & unsalted nuts to this too (including
cashews, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, monkey nuts). Dried cat & dog kibble &
dog biscuits are also enjoyed & these hard foods are excellent for their
teeth. Your hamster will enjoy a small amount of meat, including mealworms (live
or dried) & cooked chicken. Fruit & veg can be given on a daily basis,
and favourites include:- carrot, cucumber, broccoli, grapes, sweetcorn, apple,
celery. Foods like lemons, limes or
onions are too strong or acidic for hamsters so are best avoided. Hamster will
also enjoy cooked egg, pasta, porridge & rice pudding as an occasional
treat. In fact Porridge & rice pudding are great comforting foods for an
elderly hamster, and will provide much needed calcium to a pregnant or nursing
hamster. (Hamsters have no problem with the lactose in cows milk).
range of treats for you hamster can be purchased at pet stores, but human
chocolate, toffee & sweets should NOT be fed, and all new foods should be
introduced slowly in case your hamsters tummy/digestive system is not used to
water should always be provided. This is best provided in a specific small
animal water bottle. The bottle should be rinsed & refilled daily. A good
way of cleaning your pets water bottle is to use the sterilizing fluids sold
for human babies bottles & a bottle brush. It’s a good idea to regularly
touch the end of the bottle spout to make sure water is coming out, as in “hard
water” areas the spout can become blocked with lime scale.
Lucinda the Syrian Hamster enjoying a mini corn on the cob sweetcorn
Housing your hamster
An example of one of the cages we use at Somershire Hamster Rescue
(Ferplast Mary Cage)
of the most important things you should consider when getting a hamster is to
buy a cage that’s appropriate for the species you intend to get.
are best housed in wire cages, something that has a plastic base with a wire
cage should be as large as possible, with as much usable floor space as possible,
however, be aware that very tall cages can cause injury if your hamster climbs
to the top, then let’s go of the bars with a long way to fall. (Hamsters eyesight is poor & they have
poor concept of height)
RSPCA’s recommended size for a Syrian hamster is aprox 75 x 40 x 40cm.
like a Ferplast
Mary Cage is ideal.
cage like this is a blank canvas for you to add enrichment of shelves,
cardboard tubes, wooden house, log arches etc. to keep your pet entertained.
dwarf hamsters, can also be housed in standard bar width cages, but smaller
species like Roborovskis or Chinese, or indeed baby/small Winter Whites or
Campbells are best housed in either a narrow barred “mouse” type cage or a
solid sided type cage (ie a Ferplast Duna).
Enrichment should be
provided to keep your hamster entertained & stimulated. This is a species
of animal that could walk many miles a night in the wild, but also a species
that is preyed upon by other animals, so tubes & hiding areas should be
provided. A variety of toys can be purchased from pet stores, but also “free”
toys like toilet roll tubes, small cardboard boxes etc. can be added, these can
also be chewed. Dwarf hamsters will appreciate a small low sided dish containing
chinchilla bathing sand to use as a dust bath.
hamsters cage should be sited away from drafts & bright sunlight or other
sources of heat. The cage should also be
secure from other pets, i.e. cats!
An example of one of the cage set-ups used at Somershire Hamster Rescue
cage can be lined with wood shavings, or “carefresh” or similar products as a
substrate. Shredded paper bedding is used as a nesting material.
droppings will be deposited around the cage, Syrians usually urinate in one
corner of the cage, so you can put a “hamster potty” or a shallow dish
containing “potty litter” or woodshavings in this corner, which can be emptied
and cleaned on a daily basis.
Cleaning. Your hamsters cage should be thoroughly cleaned once
all bedding & substrate, and wash the cage base & any plastic toys in a
disinfectant that is suitable for small pets (ie.Johnsons Clean & Safe).
cage should be thoroughly rinsed & dried, before re-filling with clean
substrate & bedding.
tip! Wooden toys can be sterilised by pouring boiling water over them, then
leaving to dry. (This should only be done by an adult)
What species/sex of hamster is best
often better for a beginner hamster owner to start with Syrians. As a general
rule (although there can be exceptions), males tend to be calmer than females. Often a male
has to be lifted from his bed should you wish to get him out of the cage, but
females are often up and already at the cage door looking for attention. So if
you want “slow & ploddy”, you go for a male, or if you want “lively with
character” you get a female.
4 dwarf species vary greatly in character.
Roborovskis are very very fast to handle, so you need to be dexterous
with your hands to handle this species, so these are better for older children
or adults. Sadly, Campbell s, if not handled from a young age can be nippy, so
again are better for older children/adults. Campbell s are also very prone to diabetes and on occasion’s glaucoma, so purchase these from a reputable breeder who
has tested them for diabetes.
are the shyest of the 5 domestic species, so need gentle handling, but once
confidant with their owner, often just sit in your hand. Chinese have a prehensile
type tail, and will often curl it around your fingers to hold on.
Russian Dwarf Campbell Hamsters (Owned by Somershire Hamsters)
Handling your hamster
you first get your new hamster home they may be nervous, but this will vary
much depend on the amount of handling they have received.
to a “new home” where everything will smell & sound strange/different can
be stressful for your new hamster, so it’s wise to let them settle in for 24
hours before you start to handle them.
you do start to handle them, talk to them calmly, as they will learn to recognize your voice, and also the smell of your hand. I would recommend you
initially handle them either over the base of the cage, or sit on the floor or
even on the sofa so that if they do jump out of your hand they have a short
& soft landing.
your hand in front of them so they can see & smell it, and scoop them up
gently, they make jump off your hand, but repeat this until they are calm &
happy to be picked up. Be aware not to
grab them from above, as, because their eyesight is poor they may think they
are being caught by a predator, and may nip as a defense.
Sexing your hamster
The pet store, breeder or rescuer should have sexed your new hamster for you before purchase.
however you have taken on a hamster from someone who hasn't been able to sex it
for you, then don’t worry, hamsters are easier to sex than you think.
females have nipples, so seeing these will confirm you have a female.)
competent breeder, pet store or rescuer
will be happy to sex the hamster for you.
The average life span for a hamster is 2 to 2.5 years of age.
If only ALL Pet Shops could sex their hamsters correctly!
This is an example of what can go wrong when hamsters are purchased from a pet shop where the store is unable to sex the hamsters correctly.
In this rescue that we have recently taken in, the owners had purchased two “Male” hamsters from their local pet shop, the new owners were not even sure what species the hamsters were.
(They are Roborovskis).
Instead of being two male hamsters, the Roborovskis were in fact a male and female………you can guess what happened next! Lots of babies!
In this rescue, the owners were on at least their 5 litter before they asked for help.
Sadly these types of rescues are all too common, and often people don’t ask for help until the situation is very bad and out of control.
The owner had already given away a lot of the hamsters before she had contacted us for help………unfortunately, as she had given away mixed sexes to people, they in-turn had had lots of accident litters too.
Of the batch that we collected from this owner,these hamsters were being housed in enclosed plastic cages, in these were 7 adult Males, 4 adult Females and 8 youngsters.
Only 1 of the 11 “adults” looked old enough to be one of the original pair of “males” some are very young, less than 6 months old, so these are all going to be inbred mating’s. The former owner of these hamsters was too frightened to handle them, and too frightened to clean them out, therefore, it looked and smelt as if their cages had not been cleaned for many months.
The smell of urine was indescribable other than the worse I have smelt, with the ammonia hitting the back of your throat.
The substrate & bedding was so wet from condensation & urine that Wendy has described it as looking like a “wet peat bog”
In going through the substrate, Wendy found what initially she thought to be a clump of soggy bedding, until she realized it had a leg………it was a decomposing adult hamster.
(There was also a problem with some escaped Roborovskis, which the previous owner was unable to catch.)
Once we got these rescues home, The hamsters were split into small, same sex groups, in larger, CLEAN cages.
After a week the babies that had already been born when we took in the rescue were doing fine, 3 of the 4 adult females looked very pregnant,(and indeed all went on to have litters), so we have spare cages ready to separate mums and babies and then babies into single sex groups once old enough.
Sadly not all the babies made it, but from this rescue we now have 24 Roborovskis………but there are a lot more out there from this batch that we didn't have room to take.
It shows how easy it is for the problem to get out of control for an owner who buys what they are told are two males!.
If you purchase an incorrectly sexed animal, we fully understand that its NOT your fault, but please, ask for help BEFORE the problem gets out of control and the welfare of the animals starts to suffer
If you have any questions on hamster care, please feel free to contact me.