We all want to do the best by our pets, and provide them with a happy life as part of the family. Hamsters are popular pets for people of all ages and the good news is that it's really easy to keep your hamster happy. Here's our top 10 in providing your hamster with a happy, healthy and enriched life.......
Hamsters are incredibly active animals! OK they spend their days asleep but at night they become Olympic athletes, bursting with energy and ready to run a marathon or four! Yep, in the wild, one hamster can cover the distance of four marathons in a single night. It's amazing to consider how one little animal can manage such an amazing nightly journey. I'm exhausted by just thinking about running 100 yards, let alone over 100 miles. They really are incredible little critters.
To help cater for their nightly activity, a large cage needs to be provided, allowing our hamsters sufficient space to burn off all that energy. Ideally, they require a continuous floor space of 100cm x 50cm, with a minimum of 80cm x 50cm.
With their innate desire to travel long distances, a wheel is essential. It's very important to select a suitable wheel which will significantly reduce the risk of injury, and will not cause spinal problems. For a syrian hamster a diameter of 28cm will prevent spinal curvature and enable them to run without causing back pain and potential spinal damage in the long term. For dwarf species, other than the chinese hamster, a minimum wheel size of 14cm is suitable.
Wheels also need to be of a solid construction, preventing feet from becoming trapped between bars.
The post popular choice is the 28cm Trixie rotating ferris wheel which can be easily purchased online.
All animals need enrichment, and hamsters are no different, they especially like items they can climb on, over and under and chew. Swapping items regularly helps to keep their environment fresh and interesting and helps to keep their minds and paws active. Save the cardboard middle from your toilet rolls and turn these into enrichment by folding down the ends and hiding treats in the middle! Hamsters also enjoy access to a dust bath to help remove oils from their coats.
Hamsters are omnivores who will eat seeds, nuts, plants, fruits, and insects in the wild. Providing a mixed and varied diet is very important for over all health and to provide a bit of variety, after all you'd get bored of the same meal day in day out. A good quality hamster mix is great to a create base for your hamsters diet, the more natural you can get it the better. The best mixes available are generally home-mixed and if you want to take this route here's a great how to Dwarf species shouldn't have sugary foods such as fruits and veg like carrots. These little guys are prone to diabetes, and need to have a low sugar diet. But they can have a single pea once a week and a hamster ear sized amount of fresh herbs like parsley or basil once or twice a week. Syrians enjoy fruit and veg 1-2 times a week and can also have small amounts of cook chicken and dog biscuits.
Syrian hamsters are without a doubt solitary animals and should never be housed with another hamster. Dwarf species are more likely to tolerate a cage mate, but are much happier when kept alone. In the wild they will live in small family groups, because their survival depends upon it. But they will leave their borrows at night and forage for food alone. In a captive environment, hamsters are prevented from heading off in separate directions for their nightly excursions and this can lead to serious fighting and even death. We are generally fast asleep when our hamsters are most active, and only discover the fall out the following morning. We do not recommend housing any species of hamsters in pairs or groups. They do not require company and we are more likely to cause stress by forcing them to cohabit.
Syrian hamsters, being larger in size are more likely to tolerate being handled and many will even come to enjoy it. However, smaller dwarf species, especially Roborovskis, are incredibly fast making handling very difficult. When holding hamsters always ensure that your hands are low to the ground to prevent long and dangerous falls, should they leap. Never grab any hamster from above, these guys are prey animals and are naturally defensive when hands come down around them. To help them feel safer, scoop your hamster up from underneath.
Hamsters are very fast and can squeeze through very small gaps, so playtime outside of the cage needs to be safe and secure. An escape proof hamster play pen is a great way to give your hamster some free range time in a safe secure environment. It's very important that you are there to fully supervise your hamsters playtime, hamsters are amazing escape artists! Hamster balls have been incredibly popular way of allowing hamsters out of cages, however, these are actually very stressful for hamsters and shouldn't be used.
8) BEDDING & NESTING
Hamsters are natural burrowers and love to dig, in the wild they will dig out a burrow system which they call home. We can help provide our pet hamsters with digging and burrowing opportunities by providing a deep layer of substrate. Woodshavings and sawdust should be avoided as these can be very dusty and can sometimes cause health problems. Good alternatives include shredded card board such as Greenmile, or Carefresh paper based bedding. Hamsters love to make cosy comfy beds and need to be provided with a suitable nesting material. Cotton wool type nesting material should never be used, if accidentally swallowed this can impact in the gut resulting in the death of your hamster. Shredded tissue type bedding is a much safer option. Hamsters sleeping areas need to be regularly cleaned, especially if they have a plastic house. Bedding quickly becomes damp and food stored quickly becomes mouldy, causing an unhygienic environment which could lead to ill health. Changing nesting material at least 2-3 times a week will help keep their beds clean and fresh. Some hamsters will choose one area to use as a potty and can even become good at using a hamster potty. These areas should be cleaned at least 1-2 times a week, with a full substrate change at least once every 2-3 weeks, if your hamster is particularly well litter trained.
We all love to treat our pets, but it's important to keep it healthy. Healthy hamster treats include items like dried flowers, dried and live insects such as meal worms and crickets, and small amounts of dried fruit for syrians only. Remember it's really important to only offer items which have been specifically designed for the pet food market and never feed insects you've found in the garden as these may have been treated with pesticides.
10) VET CARE
Hamsters are generally happy healthy pets when correctly care for, however, like any animal they are susceptible to health problems and illness. It's very important to choose your hamster's vet carefully as despite being popular pets hamsters are considered as exotics in the veterinary industry. Always double check that your practice has a vet trained in the treatment of hamsters before booking an appointment. In Wales, we recommend Origin Vets for West Wales and Origin Vets Clinic for South Wales. If your hamster does become unwell, it's very important that they see a vet to get the treatment they need as soon as possible.
If you have found this article helpful, please consider making a donation towards our work at Nibbles. We are West Wales' only specialist rabbit and rodent rescue and totally reliant on donations and fundraising to keep the centre open and running. We can't do what we do, without the support from wonderful people just like you!