Of the many species of hamster that live in the wild, relativity few have found their way into the pet world. One of the most common of these is the Golden or Syrian hamster; although this is still a comparatively new pet which has only been available since its re-discovery in 1930.
Syrian hamsters are solitary animals with both sexes living apart in the wild and only coming together for mating purposes, in captivity these hamsters must be housed separately, as fights to the death are not uncommon.
All hamsters will need to be housed in a strong cage that fits tightly onto a strong plastic base, ideally with more than one level and as large as possible. Hamsters are adept at escaping – so be extra sure that their cage is secure!
Hamsters are very active creatures throughout their short two-three year lives and should have an exercise wheel with solid treads fitted to the side of the cage so the hamster cannot hurt its feet.
Most hamsters will accept, and use, any of the wide variety of houses that can be brought for them to sleep in, while others will ignore them and even remove any bedding material placed inside them, and proceed to make a nest else where in the cage.
Hamsters like all rodents have teeth (incisors) that grow continually throughout their life, so plenty of gnawing material will need to be in the cage, or the cage itself will become the centre of its gnawing.
Considering the amount of time hamsters have been part of the pet world they are available in a great many colours and coat lengths, the long hair varieties will need extra grooming but all hamsters, no matter what their coat type, should be handled ever day.
There are 3 main species of dwarf hamsters that are becoming more popular as pets, they all live from between 2 – 3 years and have similar requirements to the golden hamster.
The Chinese dwarf hamster is about half the size of a golden hamster with a long sleek body a short, but not stubby, tail and a distinctive dark coloured line that runs along the animals back starting on its face and ending at the base of its short tail.
The other 2 species both come from Russia, the smallest being Roborovski or Russian Winter White, because if kept in cool conditions its topcoat, which is normally grey, will fade until it almost matches the pale white underbelly. This hamster is also sometimes called A Siberian Miniature Hamster. Because when fully grown it is only about 1″ in length. Its body and head are well rounded with large dark eyes and the fur that is less dense than other hamsters cover the entire animal including the tail and feet.
The 2nd dwarf hamster from Russia are called Campbell’s Hamster, these reach a length of between 1 Ѕ – 2 Ѕ” are much more stockier and have the thickest fur, this again covers the short and stubby tail as well as the animals feet.
The overall appearance of this hamster is that of a small fuzz ball often it is difficult to even see the hamster’s legs when it is walking about. This hamster, like the golden, is usually available in a variety of different colours but only ever with the normal coat length.
Feeding these smaller hamsters poses no real problem, other than the size and amount of food that should be fed to them.
Hamsters in the wild collect their food during the early evening and night filling their cheek pouches to bursting point before returning to there burrows several times and storing the food in its food chamber. These trips always end before daylight when the hamster stays in its burrow, until its next night of foraging.
This behaviour pattern can be seen in all golden hamsters kept as pets, few will be seen during the day, most will empty food dishes and spend most of the night on an exercise wheel.
The feeding requirements of hamsters are like all rodents, a basic diet of a hard food hamster mix which is then supplemented with treat foods like; carrot, celery, grapes, pear, grass, dandelion leaves and raisins. Always be careful not to over feed any one food and make a balanced diet from all the foods your hamster will eat.
When any fresh food is offered make sure it has been washed and dried, any foods collected from the wild are free from any chemicals, pesticides or fouling by other animals. And that the size of the item is relative to the size of the hamster it is being offered to.
Because of the hamsters method of collecting its food care must be taken when fresh food is offered, only feed what your hamster will eat in front of you.
If while cleaning the cage you find a store of old food, clean it away but replace it with fresh food, if you don’t your hamster might think it has no where safe to store its food, and will then start to keep all its food in its cheek pouches. If this happens it could lead to a serious health problem.
The Chinese and Campbell hamsters can be housed securely in cages, when they are adults, providing the bars of the cage are not too far apart. Even so young adults of these breeds and the Roborovski hamsters will be more secure in a converted aquarium or similar tank.
However you choose to house these smaller breeds their requirements for toys and solidly constructed exercise wheels are the same as for the golden hamster.
All of the dwarf hamsters are more sociable than the golden and will live happier when kept as a pair or part of a group. Females kept together are less likely to squabble than males but providing that sufficient space is allowed per hamster they should all live happily together.
The behaviour of all adult animals, no matter what species, will be greatly influenced by the temperament of the parents, the individual’s personality of the animal and to a much lesser degree by how the animal was handled and socialised as a baby and youngster.