Category Archives: Hamster Care

Why Buy a Hamster?

You’d be surprised by how much happiness and love they give you in their 2 years of living, They are really a good source of just getting up in the morning and just enjoy them :)

Why does my hamster do that? A guide to the behaviour of Syrian Hamsters.

Syrian hamsters can make wonderful pets, and due to their small size are relatively easy to keep. Most hamster books will tell you all the basics that you need to know to keep your pet happy, but they don’t always explain the behaviour and habits of these small animals, which can sometimes be confusing for pet owners. It is important to learn to read your hamster’s body language, and understand why they react and behave as they do.

Frightened hamsters are often seen as aggressive or unfriendly. Frantic squirming and jumping from your hands is very common among young or nervous hamsters, and is known as ‘pinging’. A hamster will ping when it hears, sees or smells something that has frightened it. Hamsters have incredibly sensitive hearing and can hear sounds that people cannot, so be aware when you handle a hamster that they can pick up on things that you won’t, and can be spooked at any time. Be mindful not to hold the hamster at any great height in case of a fall, as a frightened hamster won’t look before it leaps! If a hamster does ping, gently pick it up and stroke it whilst talking in a soothing voice, hopefully the hamster will calm down and you can return it safely to its cage.

Frightened hamsters may also bite, but this is only as a last resort and it is a means of communicating. The hamster is trying to tell you something. This could be ‘I am frightened’ or ‘I am unwell’ to ‘go away, I don’t want to be picked up right now’. Hamsters can’t speak so it is important to understand that they communicate with their mouths, it is one of the only tools they have, and they are not trying to hurt you.

Talk to the hamster so that it learns the sound of your voice, and offer it treats, so that it learns your smell and associates you with positive things! Don’t forget to reward good behaviour with a small treat and lots of praise. As the hamster grows in confidence it will become less frightened.

Another common reason for apparent aggression in hamsters is due to the fact that they are often territorial, so try not to surprise your pet when it is in its cage, you might trigger a territorial response. Furthermore, do not pick a hamster up from above. Look at the shape of your hand as you do this, does it remind you of a bird’s clawed foot? It will certainly remind your hamster of this natural predator as all hamsters are instinctively afraid of birds. Instead, use both hands to gently cup the hamster from underneath, and scoop it up slowly. The chances are the hamster will be more relaxed and less likely to bite.

Syrian hamsters are very territorial animals and must be housed alone. Two adults placed together will invariably result in fighting and aggressive behaviour. A hamster may also  feel nervous if you interfere too much with its territory, therefore it is important to always put some of the used litter and bedding back into the cage when you clean it out. This way the hamster will still have some familiar smells. In fact, you may often see your pet rubbing against its cage and toys. The hamster is not scratching as some owners believe; it is scent marking its territory. Hamsters have scent glands on their hips, which are often more prominent in males. Similarly, although it might be tempting to introduce new toys or rearrange the cage to stimulate the hamster, the results could actually have the reverse effect. Hamsters can feel disorientated and stressed if their territory changes, after all, how you would feel if someone broke into your house, took your food out of the fridge and moved all of your furniture around whilst you were out?

Hamster homes are very important, and pet owners will often furnish their hamster’s cage with accessories such as a plastic or wooden house. When the hamster abandons the house, pet owners may become concerned that something is wrong and the hamster is not happy. In actuality, Hamsters will choose their own preferred nesting area, and will often move their bed around several times before they find a spot that they are happy with. Often they will ignore popular toy houses but this is nothing to worry about, for as long as you provide plenty of soft bedding material the hamster will be warm enough outside of its house. However if a hamster chooses to sleep in a plastic tube, try and discourage this by removing the bedding each time the hamster builds a nest there. Plastic tubes are too confined and ventilation can be poor, the hamster may even end up with scald burns on its skin from the ammonia in the urine which has nowhere else to go.

Providing an active environment is important, and one of the best ways to do this is to place a suitable wheel in the hamster cage. In the wild hamsters can cover several miles each night, so it is important to provide a domestic pet with a wheel to burn off all that energy. Most commercially available cages will come with a wheel that measure five or six inches in diameter. This is fine for a dwarf hamster or a Syrian pup, it is too small for a full grown adult. A hamster won’t use it simply because it won’t fit inside it, not because it is being lazy as many owners mistakenly believe. Adult Syrian hamsters will require a wheel measuring eight inches (approximately 20 cm) in diameter to run comfortably and without arching their backs which could cause arthritis and spine related issues in later life.

Because they are so active, it is very difficult to over-feed hamsters. They are natural hoarders and will stash their food away although it is important to remove old food every time you clean your hamster out. An over-weight hamster is often a sign that they are not getting enough exercise, so make sure that your hamster has a large wheel and access to a good sized exercise ball. The ball is great and safe way to enable a hamster to explore their surroundings outside of their cage. Just ensure that the hamster can’t topple down any stairs, and keep any pets and young children out of the way so the hamster is not scared. If you notice your hamster remains still in the ball, or chews and scratches at it, the hamster is letting you know that they don’t really want to be in the ball. In these cases, return your hamster to its cage, it probably wants a drink or something to eat. You can offer the hamster its ball again later on, it might feel differently then.

Active hamsters will have a sleek physique, but a thin hamster is not necessarily the sign of an athlete! If your hamster appears to be off their food or has started to store food underneath a water bottle or in a water bowl, it could be a sign that they are having problems with their teeth. Any hamster that appears to be off their food for 24 hours should be taken to see a veterinarian, for although they are great hoarders, they eat periodically throughout the night and often during the day so any loss of appetite should be investigated.

However, hamsters do a good job of keeping their teeth in shape and will chew on toys and the bars of the cage if they have them. This is good for the hamster’s teeth, but constant chewing can be a sign of boredom. If you notice your hamster chewing on the bars for prolonged periods of time, try and find ways to stimulate it. Extending the cage so that the hamster has more territory to explore is the most effective solution.

Finally, a happy, healthy hamster is one that washes regularly by grooming itself or taking a sand bath, takes an interest in its surroundings, enjoys food, and stretches and yawns in a leisurely manor. These are all signs of a content animal.

What To Look For When Buying A Syrian Hamster

Not everyone is able to buy from a breeder so it’s always important to try and buy from reputable pet shops. Check the cages to see if they are clean and the animals look well cared for before purchasing, it can save a lot of heartache later on.

A healthy hamster should look clean and well groomed, no discharge from the nose or bottom, clear bright eyes and  alert ears (unless he/she has just woken up in which case they will be folded slightly). They should be plump to the touch but not too fat or too skinny. Watch them for a while before selecting one to see if they look alert and curious.

This picture shows a hamster in the prime of health, if you aim for a little one who looks like this you’ll hopefully have years of enjoyment from your pet.

Wet Tail

I have seen some confusion on HFF as to what is Wet Tail and what isn’t, and people are right to be cautious as it is not a very pleasant disease as I found out with my first hamster Daisy (who is still with us, thankfully!) After reading this you will see why she was lucky.

Wet tail is an infection of the lower intestine, and results on watery diarrhoea and discharge (sorry if you are eating!) It is treated with antibiotics and rehydration treatment.

First off, Daisy was a pet shop hamster. This seems to be relevant in some ways, as although the pet shop I got her from is rather good, the conditions for hamsters aren’t always ideal (bright light during the day, small cages, no wheel…) and compared to hamsters from breeders,  I guess it’s no competition really.

I bought her home, rather pleased, and set her in her new cage with food, wheel, bedding and treats, and left her to it for a couple of days. I would talk to her, sing to her, leave the music on, so I thought she was settling in fine. I offered her my hand a couple times but didn’t want to stress her out unduly.

She seemed fine for a few days. Running around on her wheel, coming curiously up to the bars, taking treats from my fingers with no fuss. But on the 5th day of my new hamster ownership, I noticed I hadn’t seen her very much. I wasn’t sure if this was normal for hamsters so I left her until the morning. She eventually did come out for a drink, and I was utterly shocked by the sudden change in her.

She was skinny, sodden underneath from tail to chin, bedraggled and hunched over. She must have been in so much pain. Her ears were back and her eyes half closed, and I immediately dreaded the worst after having read about WT online. The mortality rate was quite high, it affects young hamsters more often than not (due to stress) and it has an incubation period of about a week. It also comes on shockingly quickly! All of these applied so I naturally got her back to the shop where they provided free veterinary services.

She is happy and healthy now, which I am eternally grateful for.  I hope hamster owners find this useful!

 

Making A Hamster Cake Treat

I have made lots of these for my Hamster’s birthdays over the years and they love them, they are also really simple ;)

Hamster Cake Recipe

You need:

Unsweetened muesli or similar oat based cereal
1 ripe banana
Shelled sunflower/pumpkin/mixed seeds (found in health or bakery aisle at supermarket)
Finely chopped Apple (optional)
Raisins (if not in muesli mix)
Hamster safe chocolate drops (or similar treats)
Skin of cucumber or apple.

Take the seeds, raisins, chopped apple and the muesli and mash in the banana, mix thoroughly so it sticks together and is evenly covered and sticky. Compact and compress mix into a small dish and garnish with Hamster chocolates or whatever decoration you prefer and cut cucumber/apple skin into a shape or letters/numbers depending on the occasion, place on top.

Put dish in the fridge to set for a few hours. You end up with something looking like this :)

When set (about 1 hour) either add the whole dish to the cage or cut a slice and serve.

NOTE: Some people feel feeding chocolates isn’t a good idea and would prefer not to, this is fine, they can be replaced with fruit or nuts, but I figure a one a year treat won’t hurt. When making for diabetic dwarf hamsters you can omit the sweet fruit and stick to seeds for decoration.

How To Catch An Escaped Hamster

It can be very upsetting when your little friend escapes but try not to panic, there are several steps you can take to maximise your chances of finding them quickly. It’s best to start these steps as quickly as you can, waiting and doing nothing isn’t a good idea if you want to recapture them safely.

Do A Thorough Search Of The House

•  Start in the room the hamster’s cage is in and work outwards one room at a time.
•  Look under cabinets, drawers, shelves and bookcases, don’t forget to look inside, behind, and under everything.
•  Look in boxes and draws, shoes, purses, backpacks and bags.
•  Check under chairs/sofas and beds for any holes the hamster could have climbed inside.
•  Search under fridges, cookers, washing machines and other appliances. Again, look for holes the hamster could have got into.
•  Check anywhere warm and dark, like the room the water heater is in.
Whilst you are searching, make a note of any holes in the floors or walls they could have got into.

Finding If They Are Hiding Anywhere

•  Remember, your hamster will be most active at night so this is the best time to track them. Turn off the lights and sit quietly in a central location so you can hear any noises, have a torch (flashlight) handy.
•  Place the cage on the floor with a ramp leading up to the door (you can use CD/ DVD cases or books to construct this)
•  Put tin foil on the floor with a small pile of food and water in a jam jar lid/bowl in the middle. Do this in every room close to the wall, your hamster may be frightened and they tend not to want to come too far out in the open and often follow the walls when moving around.  It helps to put out strong smelling food like cheese to attract them, but tie it down, any commotion with them pulling at it on the tin foil will alert you to their presence.
•  Place flour on the floor next to any holes or places you can’t search, tiny footprints may give you a clue where they are hiding.
•  If they like using their wheel place this close to the wall in the room they were last seen, some can’t resist taking it for a spin. Put a few pieces of bigger hamster food in the wheel, this will create a fairly loud noise as they rattle around.

Just for clarification, by tin foil I mean this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aluminium_foil

If You Spot Them

Move slowly and don’t make sudden jerky movements, you’ll frighten them back into where they are hiding. Have a fairly big sheet or towel handy, your hamster will likely be scared and moving very fast, throwing a sheet/towel over them may give you valuable seconds to recapture.

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If Your Hamster Has Gotten Into The Wall

You will need to be patient and try and tempt him out using the foods mentioned above. If it is a male hamster a female can often encourage them to come out, if you don’t have one see if you can borrow one for the night from a friend or fellow forum member. If you suspect your hamster has fallen into the cavity and can’t get out you may need to call in the fire brigade/RSPCA (or local animal welfare organisation) who may need to remove fixtures and fittings in the house to get to them.

The Bucket/Bottle Trap

This method has been around for years but it’s quite effective, to construct this you will need:

•  A bucket/plastic storage tub/cardboard box
•  Sellotape
•  Scissors
•  An empty plastic soft drink (soda) bottle

(Please note a ‘stunt’ hamster was used in these photos, not a real one)

Cut the top off the plastic bottle making a hamster sized hole. Use the sellotape to cover the sharp edges.

Make a ladder using books/CD/DVD cases as a ladder leading up to the box (this picture is a rough guide to how it should look, I’m sure you’ll be able to construct something better) Balance the bottle on the books and tub and place a piece of cheese in the end furthest away from the opening. You can also use peanut butter smeared on a cracker.

The hamster will smell the food and enter the bottle to grab it

It will tip the balance and fall into the box, unable to get out.

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Hopefully your furry friend will not be away for too long, I hope some of these ideas will help :)

© Spacemonkey 2011

 

Common Hamster Health Problems

Wet Tail

Syrian hamsters can all potentially carry the wet tail bacteria, usually this is kept under control but under stress the bacteria can overwhelm the system causing the hamster to become lethargic, suffer from a wet bottom area/diarrhoea and loss of appetite, a strong unpleasant smell is often present. It’s important to always get to know what’s normal for your hamster, any deviation from that should be investigated as soon as you spot them behaving out of character.

Signs to look for

Spending more time sleeping
Ears are always folded down
Looking dishevelled
Not touching food or treats
Mess on the bedding

You MUST take your hamster to a vet as soon as you spot these symptoms as wet tail is a fast acting killer. Your vet will most likely prescribe antibiotics (baytril) and a protein supplement. I cannot stress how important it is to consult a professional vet, you CAN NOT cure your hamster using pet shop bought medicine.

Over Grown Claws

Sometimes claws become overgrown and need to be trimmed. Unless you are confident you can successfully attempt to do this yourself it is best to ask your local vet to do this for you. If the claws are not seriously long allowing your hamster to run on very fine sandpaper or a course ceramic tile for a short time may help wear them down, this should be done under close supervision as not to cause harm to the feet.

Overgrown Teeth

Hamster’s teeth grow continually and wood chews or dog biscuits should be provided to stop them overgrowing and causing problems. If your hamster stops eating and has a visibly sore mouth its time to consult a vet for a tooth trim.

Matted Fur

Long haired (often referred to as Teddy bear) hamsters sometimes get knots or bits of bedding stuck in their coat. Never attempt to bath your hamster to remove these, take a sharp pair of scissors and carefully remove the offending item.

Brushing your hamster can help knots from forming so try to do this regularly.

Skin Problems

Hamsters can contract Ringworm and Mange, symptoms include reddening of the skin and bald patches/general hair loss. These can be treated successfully by a vet. Do not confuse your hamster’s scent glands that he/she has on each hip as a bald patch, these are perfectly normal. Fleas are uncommon but are often a result of poor cage hygiene and can be treated with a small animal flea powder.

Colds

Hamsters can pick up human colds so never handle your pet if you have one. If your hamster appears to be snuffly provide plenty of bedding and keep him or her in a warm place.

Hibernation

If the room temperature drops below 10c/50f degrees your hamster may go into hibernation. This is basically a very deep sleep and it may appear that they have died as their whole body slows down. Gently warm your hamster to see if he appears more lively. NEVER do this in an oven or Microwave! The ideal temperature for your pet is around 68-78 degrees F.

Smelly Hamster?

Hamsters are odourless creatures, but poor cage cleaning can sometimes induce a pungent smell! Ideally try to clean your hamster’s whole cage weekly, if the smell persists try removing the litter around the toilet area daily. Some hamsters can be ‘toilet trained’ to wee in a small pot or dish making this easier. Sometimes you will see your pet wee on their food, this is rather distasteful to humans but actually softens hard food matter making it easier to digest.

A female may smell more than a male due to her heat cycle, this is a rather musty odour but is perfectly normal. A male may scent mark quite a bit in new surroundings, this also is normal.

Hamster Essentials

An IntroductionWe all think of Hamsters as children’s pets right? It might surprise you to know that they are becoming very popular with the more mature pet owner due to their small size and relatively low feeding and housing costs.

 
So, what will you need?A heavy ceramic food dish and a ball bearing drip water bottle attached to the cage at a suitable drinking height are a must.

A good mix of dry hamster food that does not contain additives should be provided, such as Harry/Hazel Hamster or Vita mix complimented with a small selection of fresh fruit and vegetables. Only give small portions of fresh food at a time as too much can cause stomach upsets, and also to ensure your pet eats it and is not left rotting in their food stash.

Your Hamster will need a nest of some kind, many people choose to provide a house or box where he or she can feel safe away from prying eyes. There are many on the market and this can be a fun way to add a bit of interest to your pets home, of course Syrian hamsters are much larger than their Dwarf cousins and will need something bigger.

The cheapest and best nesting material is plain, ordinary toilet tissue or paper towel torn into strips and placed into the cage, ideally, it should be easy to pull apart when wet in case it gets pouched/swallowed. NEVER use the fluffy type of bedding, this is very dangerous to your pet should it be swallowed or become trapped around their limbs.

The base nesting material can be wood shavings, avoid Cedar shavings as they have been proved to give off toxic fumes and can cause lung problems. Pine shavings are a hot subject on many hamster forums, there is no conclusive research to prove that it is harmful to hamsters so I will keep an open mind on this subject. Of course you may choose to use paper based alternatives, the most common being Aspen or Carefresh. This is very much a personal choice and can be adapted to suit your hamster’s needs and your budget.

A good sized exercise wheel is an excellent way to amuse your pet and also vital for exercise. It is important to purchase a solid wheel if you can because the metal, or runged versions can be dangerous if feet or limbs become caught and may result in a breakage. An excellent way to make these wheels safer if you have one or can’t afford/find a solid one is to wind cardboard strips around it stopping any danger of small feet becoming trapped.

Your hamster should be able to run on his/her wheel without bending their back, often the wheels that come with cages are very small and although fine for Dwarfs, a fully grown Syrian hamster will need something larger. These are often referred to as ‘Jumbo’ wheels and come with different brand choices, Wodent Wheel, Rolly Jumbo, Comfort Wheel and Silent Spinner all being popular. Take time to choose the one that is right for your Hamster

There are many different toys available for hamsters but more often than not a simple cardboard tube or box can provide hours of entertainment as can an empty and cleaned ceramic flour pot or glass jar. This are particularly useful in hot weather, providing a welcome cool spot to retreat to.

Wood chews should be provided to help prevent your hamsters teeth overgrowing, try to find ones with natural or no colouring, remember hamsters have poor eyesight and really don’t care what things look like!

Taming Your Hamster

Many theories exist as the best method of taming your hamster. Of course all have their own merits and we all have different ways of approaching this crucial stage in getting to know your pet. My preferred method is to allow the Hamster to dictate its own pace, letting it come to you when its natural curiosity gets the better of him or her.
 
Starting out
 
It’s important to let your new pet settle in to its new cage when you first bring it home, 1 or 2 days should be sufficient for them to become familiar with their new surroundings and start to get to know the sounds, sights and smells of their new environment. Its important here to let the Hamster move at his own pace, an early forced attempt at holding them before they are ready can cause a major setback which may take weeks to repair.Slowly and quietly talk to your Hamster, much like you would talk to a small child, let them become familiar with their name. Offer small treats such as some plain popcorn (the type you pop at home from corn kernels) or a cornflake, later on you can give small pieces of fruit and vegetables but it is important not to introduce these too quickly at first, they can cause stomach upsets in young animals not used to this in their diet.

The 1st attempts at contact

My preferred method of initiating the first contact is to sit on the floor with your pet’s cage in front of you. Make sure the room you are in has all doors closed and escape routes blocked in case of unexpected dashes for freedom! (The bathroom is excellent for this as it has minimal hiding places, but check whatever space for escape holes, if one is there they’ll find it!)

Open the door of the cage and attract your Hamsters attention by offering a treat or waving your fingers gently in their eye line, always introduce your hand at eye level, don’t attempt to bring your hand in from above as this will scare them and provoke a predator response (think big bird swooping down to eat you – you’d run!). Let the Hamster sniff at your fingers if they wish but do not touch them at this stage as it will more than likely startle them, it can be helpful to keep your hand still in the cage for a while to help them get used to it.. After a few nights of repeating this your Hamster will know what to expect when your hand enters their cage, they will know it’s not a bad thing as it often brings food, at this stage they may start to explore your hand or try to climb onto it. You must let them take things at their own pace, a sudden grab for them will more than likely leave you with a painful bite and reduce confidence levels on both sides.

After doing this for a while your Hamster may well now ask to come out if the cage door is open and will climb out on its own, now you can attempt to pick them up. Using both hands gently scoop them up, making no attempt to place your hands around their body, fold your arms and let him or her run over you for a few minutes, whilst they are doing this stroke their back lightly. Having a cup or bowl is useful to place them back into the cage at this stage as being grasped may cause them to jump suddenly or ‘ping’ as it is known. This is why it is very important to be as close to the ground as possible should this occur.

After a few nights of doing this your Hamster should become more accustomed to you, and allow you very gently put your hand around them and replace them into the cage, I find once they get the taste for freedom it’s usually followed by an attempt on their part to come out again straight away!

The exercise ball can be a great taming tool here, let them climb out of the cage and into a ball, let them run around for 15 minutes, and then place the ball opening against the cage to let them return home untouched, after a few times of doing this when it’s time for home let them come out onto your knee instead and gently stroke them, if they feel unhappy let them return to the safety of the ball. If you repeat this they will associate having fun running around with being touched, and once they become interested in play time they should be willing to be interacted with to get it. Another great and safe way of getting to know them is to sit in an empty bath with the cage and let the hamster explore, this helps them get to know your scent, do this for short periods at first so they don’t become scared.

Depending on how much time you dedicate to this routine your Hamster could be tame in a week or two, but never rule out a sudden unexpected jump until you have owned and handled them regularly for at least 2 months, its best not to rush this process, don’t get over confident and forget the golden rule to take things slowly.

However experienced you are at taming there is a very strong possibility you will get bitten in the process at some point, this I’m afraid is par for the course, some Hamsters are more highly strung than others, you may get screamed at, hissed at, and all manner of other tricks to keep you away, but the most important thing is not to let it discourage you, to coin an old phrase, you must get right back on the horse! Needless to say if I had a pound for every time I have felt small teeth I would be a very rich woman, I still bear the scars! Has it put me off Hamster ownership? No way!

Conclusion

It might seem a daunting task at first but with a little time and patience you can share a special bond with your pet. After all, a happy Hamster enjoys time out of his cage interacting with you and your family. I don’t claim to know everything and every owner develops their own way of doing things but this method has worked well for me over the years, should you choose to follow it I’m sure it will for you too, good luck…. and don’t give up!