Hamsters are often a child’s first pet, principally because they are small, charming animals with a great deal of character. However, their needs are actually very complex and they can be easily injured by incautious handling.
Each hamster has their own personality and preferences, but the general principles of care are common to most species. They need a warm, safe environment and should be kept indoors rather than outdoors.
There are many commercial hamster foods available. Purchase a good quality fortified diet which does not have too many fatty sunflower seeds. Hamsters tend to gobble these down and leave the healthier foods. They also will also sometimes move the seeds around to “caches” within the cage, so don’t always assume that everything was eaten. Supplement your hamster’s diet with small quantities of nutritious fresh foods daily like broccoli, carrots, apple and other fruits and vegetables. Wash the foods well but don’t peel them. Be careful not to feed too much fresh food or your pet can get a stomach ache or diarrhea.
Provide fresh water daily. Wash the water bottle right out, don’t just fill it.
Provide something for your hamster to gnaw on, like a clean twig from an apple tree or commercial wood gnaws for rodents.
Hamsters are solitary animals and only come together for mating. Golden hamsters have to be separated after mating, otherwise the female may kill the male. The gestation period of the common hamster is 19-20 days and is 15 days for the Golden. They will have 4-12 babies at a time. Hamster babies are called hamster pups. A mother hamster is very maternal, and, if danger threatens, she will carry her babies away, either by putting them into her cheek pouches or laying them across the toothless area of her jaws. Hamster pups should not be touched for the first two weeks as the scent it leaves on the babies can confuse the mother causing her to abandon or even eat them as she mistakes them for someone elses babies. The babies are so tiny that you can also accidently hurt them. By the time they are two weeks old their eyes are open and they have a thick coat of fur. Mother hamsters wean their babies at about 3-4 weeks of age and the babies should be separated from the mother shortly after that. A female hamster is capable of having 2-3 litters a year.
There is a wide variety of cages and housing used for hamsters. Common caging used are 10-gallon tanks, Habitrails, stainless steel, and wire cages (some having multiple levels, with a plastic cat litter pan bottom for easy cleaning). Habitrail are fun for the hamsters. You can attach plastic see through tubes and tunnels making a great home for the hamster to roam. However keep in mind the more attachments you use the more you will have to clean. Cages should at least be 20 square inches of floor area per hamster, and a cage height of at least 6 inches. Since hamsters like to sleep during the day and are up all night you may want to keep the hamster cage in a livingroom or den rather than a bedroom so the night time noise is not bothersome.
A wood or plastic house should be provided for the hamster to burrow in. The cage should have solid floors and relatively deep bedding. Plenty of nesting material should always be provided. Toilet paper and paper towel tubes are great things to put into the cage for them to chew on and make their nest. Small cardboard boxes are also great. Common beddings used are toilet paper, shredded paper, processed corn cob, CareFRESH, Sani-chips, Gentle Touch and wood chips. Cotton or shredded tissue paper (Kleenex) is suitable nesting material. Some use cedar or pine chips, however it is said that neither of these should be used as they contain oils called phenols that can slowly cause liver and kidney failure. Some also say you should avoid any cotton or fiber type beddings sold as nesting material. The fibers do not break down in the hamster抯 system and can get caught in their pouches or ingest them while eating. Be sure your hamsters cage is escape free. Hamsters are great escape artists! Once free, you may have a very hard time getting them back. They will chew on your wires, furniture, etc..... Hamsters rarely return to their cages on their own.
Syrian hamsters, also known as Goldens or Teddy Bear hamsters, are the most popular hamsters kept as pets. They are very easy to handle and make wonderful pets for children. They are not social with other hamsters however, and should be kept alone after 10 weeks of age. If caged together, Syrian hamsters can actually fight until they kill each other. Syrian hamsters are nocturnal, and are rarely active during the day.
Syrian hamsters come in a variety of colors, and they are one of the largest hamsters at a length of 4" - 7" when full grown, depending on the sex. Females can grow larger than the males, which reach only about 6" long. They have a very short tail, large cheek pouches, and small eyes. The average life span of a Syrian hamster is approximately 2 to 2-1/2 years, though they have been known to live as long as 4 years.
Dwarf Winter White Russian hamsters are similar in behavior to Dwarf Campbell Russians in that they are active during the day and can be kept in same sex pairs or groups. However, they do not have the reputation for biting when nervous, and they are generally very sweet and personable. They are very small and quick though, so they can be a challenge for young children to handle safely.
Dwarf Winter White Russians come in three colors: Sapphire, Pearl, and a combination of the two called Sapphire-Pearl. Pearl is a white pattern where white hairs are sprinkled throughout the coat, and Sapphire is a purple-gray color. Sapphire Winter White Russians have a gray undercoat, a thick gray stripe along their spines, and an ivory colored stomach.