That’s it, you’ve made your choice on your next pet: the hamster!
So before making this purchase/adoption, take the time to be a better pet owner… Don’t stay in the unknown and dive into the following article to learn more.
Here are several facts that explain why the hamster is a good companion (or not) for you…
Indeed, each rodent has its particularities. This means that there is no such thing as a bad animal, but there may be one that does not suit you, which will often lead to frustration or abandonment. In either case, no one will win. If you ‘do your homework’, then you greatly increase your chances of having an enjoyable experience.
In short, let’s get started!
– If you like fur, the hamster exists in a wide variety of species! According to various sources, there seem to be several hundred. Each one has different patterns and colors of fur. Some of these species are still found in the wild, while others have been domesticated for a long time. The best known are the golden hamster (also called Syrian hamster), Russian hamster, Roborovsky hamster, Chinese hamster and Siberian hamster.
– If you like playful and curious animals, you have found one! It likes to hide, dig, use tunnels, etc… In the wild, it forms a network of tunnels in which it stores food in large quantities.
– One of the special characteristics of the hamster is their stretchy pockets inside their cheeks. These allow them to transport or temporarily store food. This being said, you should not leave your hamster alone for more than 1-2 days. What are the reasons for this? Firstly, to make sure it always has food and water. Secondly, to look after him because if something should happen, he will be left alone for a good period of time. If for some reason you have to be away for several days, make sure that someone can visit him at least once a day.
– Hamsters are often considered relatively easy to keep in captivity. There is no need to take it outside for their needs or to socialize them, nor is there any need to vaccinate it. It is mainly necessary to feed them, to clean their cage frequently (ideally every day) and not to forget to allow them to exercise (we will come back to this later).
– Speaking of cleaning, don’t do anything complicated! Follow these simple rules: clean everything that can be cleaned with water and mild dish soap; anything that looks dirty and cannot be cleaned should be removed/thrown away.
– Generally speaking, they can be kept in a relatively small space, which of course does not mean not taking them out of their cage; on the contrary, they can enjoy exploring and playing. On the contrary, they can enjoy exploring and playing. On daily outings, they should always be supervised, as their curious temperament and relatively small size could lead to some annoyance when they are seen sneaking under a certain sofa or in other inaccessible places. Some people will even be creative and can make a playground (mobile or not) for him. If you are one of those people, I congratulate you for your enthusiasm! Then keep in mind that he likes to cheat everything so make sure he can’t get away somehow. In short, it’s better to go out once a day for 15 minutes than once a week for 1 hour.
– Hamsters are nocturnal, which may be suitable for some people who like to go to bed late (or not suitable at all for those who go to bed early and want to play with their hamster). Think before you buy. To avoid disturbing his sleep too much, put his cage in a less noisy place during the day. Another element to help all this is also to install a hiding place that will allow him to be quiet and not be bothered.
– They may not be ideal for young children, as some may bite when handled (especially if they are actually stressed, or awake in their sleep — after all, who likes to be woken up in their sleep!?); or when playing with them, an accidental fall can happen so quickly.
– If you want to give yourself the best chance to tame them, it’s best to handle them regularly, when they’re wide awake, with calm, slow gestures. You can put him in a safe area (not on top of a small coffee table for example!) so he won’t feel threatened and to avoid accidents.
– If you want to avoid leg injuries (getting stuck between two bars), avoid cage bottoms (or exercise wheels) made of wire mesh.
– For cage bottoms, it’s often best to use recycled paper bedding, old blankets or towels (although make sure there are no small threads that can wrap around your fingers or toes; check them regularly), paper towels, aspen or hemp shavings. Cedar or pine shavings have been associated with various health problems (lungs, skin) in rodents so I suggest that you do not use them.
– The hamster is usually kept alone in its cage. The first reason is to avoid conflicts between them. The second is that they can reproduce at a great rate — imagine this: it is sexually mature at about 6-9 weeks of age, then at each gestation period there will be 5 to 10 pups, and finally the gestation period is only 15-22 days. In short, do the math after only a few months, it goes fast!
– You should be aware that its lifespan is relatively short: most of the time around 1.5 years (more rarely 2-3 years). This can be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on what you are looking for.
– Given this relatively short lifespan, think in advance about what you will do if he falls ill: do you first have an idea of the signs to watch for? Do you know a veterinarian you can consult? What is your budget? It helps to think about these things before problems occur.
– Concerning the veterinarian, the ideal situation is to go and consult him for the first time when you have had your hamster for a few days. This way, he will be able to make sure of his health and give you personalized advice. Then a follow-up every 6 months is also suggested given the speed at which it ages (1 year of life of a hamster is equivalent to about + / – 40 years of human).
– One of the useful tools to monitor the health of your hamster: the scale! How to use it? Nothing could be simpler: you put it on the scale and note its weight (in grams) in a notebook. When he is doing well, you can do this about once a month. On the other hand, if you have doubts about his health, then weigh him every week. Then if unfortunately you are certain that he is not doing well, then it would be wise to weigh him every day. A variation of 0 to 5% can be considered normal, while a change of more than 10% from the ideal weight is often abnormal. Example: the ideal weight of your hamster is 50 grams. If the variation is between 0 and 4 grams, you don’t need to worry about it. On the other hand, if there is a weight gain or loss of 5 grams, then we must question ourselves.
– Suppose you have just followed the above advice and you don’t know what to do next? Then as we just said, there are some veterinarians who are qualified to see rodents. It is therefore highly preferable to do your research for a future veterinarian before your hamster gets sick.
– Since they can be carriers of some diseases, a simple trick: get into the habit of washing your hands before and after playing with it (or washing its cage). This greatly reduces the risk of zoonosis (disease transmitted from animal to human or vice versa).
– Speaking of health, have you ever thought about the symptoms you need to follow to know if your hamster is doing well? It would probably be difficult to name them all, but you can of course monitor its appetite, the amount of water it drinks, whether it has made its feces and urine, whether it is breathing normally, whether its coat is normal, whether its eyes are wide open, whether there are spots on its skin or new bumps, whether it seems calmer than usual, in short, if there is something out of the ordinary. To do all this, you have only one thing to do: a few minutes a day, stop in front of his cage and observe him! Then, if he is awake, take him out and handle him as you wish. Even if you are not a veterinarian, you have your eyes, your hands and your logic, so use them 🙂
– Do you want to feed him well? Simply offer him a hamster (or small rodent) feed for the vast majority, and for the rest (5-10%) a few grains and seeds, vegetables and various fruits. Don’t forget fresh water every day as well. Depending on its size, it drinks only 5 to 20 ml of water per day, which is not much for our human’s standards, and yet it is better to offer it some without taking a lot of it, than not to do so and find that it is dehydrated. Finally, avoid sweet treats. Not only are they useless, but they can directly affect your hamster’s digestive system.
I hope you have enjoyed this article on this very interesting animal. So, you now know more about it, and you will be able to better understand it from now on. I encourage you to continue to educate yourself to get to know it better.
Tell me, I am curious: what has your hamster ever done that surprised you the most?
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Francis Lagacé has been a member of the Ordre des médecins vétérinaires du Québec since 2004. He practiced for 16 years in several veterinary clinics across Canada. He treated animals of all types, mainly cats, dogs and exotic animals (rabbits, rodents, ferrets, birds, reptiles). Since 2020 he has been working in the field of veterinary pharmacovigilance. You can find him on LinkedIn.