Home comforts for hamsters
The ideal home for a Syrian hamster is a large wire cage with a plastic base no smaller than 80cm x 50cm floor space, by 50cm tall. Hamsters love climbing on different levels so a cage even taller than this is better but be careful not to make it too high in case they fall and hurt themselves. Wood should be avoided as it absorbs urine and quickly becomes smelly and unhygienic.
Dwarf hamsters can squeeze through small places so are best kept in a tank or aquarium no smaller than 60cm x 30cm floor space, by 30cm tall. The tank needs a securely fitted wire lid to allow ventilation and stop them escaping.
Dust-extracted bedding is good for all types of hamsters. Hamsters can be litter-trained, which helps to keep their cage cleaner. Dwarf hamsters need beds deep enough to allow them to burrow. You should also provide shredded paper or dry peat as nesting material. Avoid fluffy bedding that could wrap around a hamster’s limbs and cause stomach problems if eaten. Make sure your hamster’s home is away from draughts, sunlight and direct heat. Clean out the cage at least once a week.
What to feed your hamster
A commercial hamster mix is a good basis for your pet’s diet. Hamsters also like small pieces of fruit and vegetables, like a slice of apple or a small sprig of cauliflower. Hamsters hoard food in their beds, so do not give them too many green vegetables because they will rot. Remove all uneaten food every day. They also store food in their cheek pouches (see Health matters).
A hamster’s front teeth, like those of other rodents, grow continually so they need to gnaw to keep them in shape. Dog biscuits make both good hamster treats and teeth trimmers. Fresh water must always be available from a free- access drinking bottle fastened to the cage. Check this daily to see that it has not become blocked and also to change the water.
Storing food in cheek pouches can occasionally lead to problems. If your hamster seems to have permanently stuffed cheeks, it could be because food has become impacted. Sharp pieces of food may also occasionally pierce their pouches. Always seek veterinary advice because, if either of these has caused an infection, the hamster may need antibiotics.
The other common problem needing veterinary help is wet tail, which is diarrhoea associated with stress, especially in newly weaned babies. You can minimise the risk by preparing the cage before you bring the hamster home and leaving them undisturbed, except for feeding, for the first two or three days. Be careful handling your hamster when you have a cold as you can pass this on to them.
It’s useful to know that hamsters have scent glands on opposite sides of their flanks, which can look like small, dark patches. These are normal. The testicles of male hamsters enlarge in the spring, so two large swellings at the bottom end of your hamster are usually nothing to worry about. However, if you are at all concerned about your hamster’s health, do consult a vet.
Finally, it is worth remembering that hamsters are short sighted, especially those with pink eyes, so keep a close eye on yours if let out of the cage.