Friday, 24 February 2017

Hamster Care

Basic information on Hamsters

Breed
Syrian - Syrians are solitary animals and must be kept alone and never introduced to others, these are the largest breed of domesticated hamsters, usually advised for beginners as they are generally easy to handle due to their size, also known as Teddy Bear hamsters.

{Syrians}
{Campbell, Winter White, Russian Dwarf, Robo and Chinese}

Campbell - Campbell hamsters can be kept in pairs or groups providing there is enough space for them, they are from the same litter, have always been together and are of the same gender, they should have at least one of each of everything per hamster and keep an eye on them as they may begin to fight and will need splitting up, unfortunately once split you cannot reintroduce.
Winter White - Winter White hamsters can be kept in pairs or groups providing there is enough space for them, they are from the same litter, have always been together and are of the same gender, they should have at least one of each of everything per hamster and keep an eye on them as they may begin to fight and will need splitting up, unfortunately once split you cannot reintroduce. They are given the name Winter white as during the winter their coat will turn much lighter and in the summer months they will go a much darker brown or grey colour. You are often given papers if they are a true Winter white breed.
Hybrid/Russian Dwarf - Hybrid hamsters are cross between Winter whites and Campbell's we call them Russian Dwarf hamsters in most places, they can be kept in pairs or groups providing there is enough space for them, they are from the same litter, have always been together and are of the same gender, they should have at least one of each of everything per hamster and keep an eye on them as they may begin to fight and will need splitting up, unfortunately once split you cannot reintroduce.
Roborovski - Roborovski hamsters, also known as Robos, can be kept in pairs or groups providing there is enough space for them, they are from the same litter, have always been together and are of the same gender, they should have at least one of each of everything per hamster and keep an eye on them as they may begin to fight and will need splitting up, unfortunately once split you cannot reintroduce. They are super cute, the smallest of the breeds and fast little creatures.
The whiter the Robo the more prone they seem to be to neurological disorders, which can be devastating, which is usually down to genetics but can be brought on by poor environment.
Chinese - Chinese hamsters are solitary animals and must be kept alone and never introduced to others, they are mouse like hamsters as they have a longer tail than other hamster breeds but stunning creatures, but hard to come by in the UK.

Life Span
Most hamsters live around 2-3 years.

Gender  
Male and female hamsters aren't much different to care for, they all have their own individual personalities. Females do go into heat every 4 days for a couple of hours which can leave them smelling a little more but I personally have not smelt much difference and found females to be a lot more lively. Male Syrians also have large male area which can be a third of their bodies, so it is quite easy to tell the difference when a male and female hamster has reached maturity, ladies will have nipples on the underside of them. You may also notice some spots on your male hamsters, these are nothing to worry about and are their scent glands, Syrians have their scent glands one on each side of their hips, some are more visible than others and can become greasy if overactive. Male Campbell, Winter White, Russian Dwarf, Robos and Chinese hamsters have a scent gland on their tummy/underside.

Cost
Hamsters are one of the inexpensive pets, once you have the set up and depending on how much you want to spoil them! They do not need regular vaccines, check ups etc. Just for you to keep an eye on them and their health.
Initial set up around £50-£80
Food around £8 which will last some time, if kept in an airtight container
Money aside for any vet bills. An emergency vet can start at around £120 just for a call out fee so having around £500 aside per hamster is a good idea incase of any emergencies.

Housing
Unfortunately most store bought cages supposedly made for hamsters, aren't suitable, just because they are small animals, some people believe they do not need much space.
In the wild hamsters are known to travel 4-5 miles a night, so it is important to include enough space and enrichment for your hamster/s.
Cage size - All hamster breeds need just as much space as each other. 70cm by 40cm should be the absolute minimum of one unbroken floor space, so not including levels. Hamsters tend to do better with single level cages, although you can add levels but make sure there is something to break their fall if they were to.
Substrate - Their cage should be filled with deep safe, burrowing material, some people use woodshavings as long as they are dust extracted and kiln dried, others prefer to stay away from woodshavings as they are a debatable subject. A good layer of Carefresh is perfect but can be costly, so many people opt for Fitch, which is a similar material but much cheaper and you can buy more of a bulk of it.
Bedding  - Most shops sell the dreaded fluffy style bedding, this is unsafe and many hamsters have lost their lives and limbs to it. Bedding should be warm, safe and easy to manoeuvre and create a nest with. I would highly recommend Carefresh as bedding or ripped up unscented toilet tissue for a cheap alternative.

Enrichment
Hideaway/House - Being prey animal hamsters love lots of hideaways and places so they can store their food and get away from predators easier, this will help them feel safe and secure. A good large house for them is also a must, I would avoid plastic houses, as chewing them isn't great and your hamster can wake up damp from the condensation left in a plastic house.
Wheel/Saucer - Wheels are fantastic for hamsters as they would run miles in the wild. If you provide a wheel, which I personally think is essential then it must not let your hamsters back arch, so you should make sure it is the correct size, is a solid wheel (no splinters, no wired wheels, no holes that their little feed can get trapped in.) You'll need the same size saucer, if you choose to offer a saucer, instead of or as well as a wheel, than you would a wheel. I personally found wheels fantastic for Syrians and the smaller breeds tend to prefer their saucers.
Syrian Wheel size 9-12 inches 
Campbell, Winter White and Russian Dwarf Wheel size 6-8 inches+
Roborovski Wheel size 6 inches+
Chinese Wheel size 8 inches+
Sandbath - Sand baths are important as hamsters shouldn't be bathed in water, so offering them a sand bath can help keep them clean and be great fun for them too!
All you need is a large ceramic bowl or similar container, big enough for your hamster to fit in with extra space and fill with Chinchilla sand (not dust) or Tiny Farm Friends pet sand. You can use children's sand but you'll need to bake or leave out for it to dry out and it doesn't clean your hamsters fur as the grains are bigger, it would be more for fun, so Chinchilla or pet sand is much better as does both jobs. Please do not use builders sand or bird sand, these are bigger granules, much sharper and the bird sand contains pieces of shell.
Bridges and Tunnels - Bridges, tunnels and tubes are great for natural instincts, as they would create them in the wild, they are also fantastic for them to stash their food and for climbing over and on.

Food
Hamsters are omnivores which means they can eat meat as well as the usual veg and hamster food.
I'd highly recommend a mix of pellets as a base diet, if you don't offer them anything else. Burgess Excel Dwarf mix and Science selective mixed together is perfect for dwarfs, it ensures they get all of their nutrients and vitamins through the pellets but the foraging through the dwarf mix. For Syrians I would highly recommend Harry the Hamster mix and Science selective, again they get all of the nutrition they need with just these two products.

Dwarfs should ideally stay away from a lot of sugar - honey, corn, fruit and carrots as they are more prone to diabetes, so nuts and seeds can also cause a problem as they are high in fat, so just be cautious.

A hamster only needs around 1 tablespoon / 20g of food daily, if they have lots stored (they store their food in their nests or areas like they would in the wild, to make sure they have enough food.) then you can start to limit their food until they have eaten it all.

I would also recommend scatter feeding. (Scattering food around their cage, rather than using a bowl, is great enrichment and encourages natural foraging) 

Cleaning 
Your hamster/s will need cleaning out regularly, spot cleans are the best, checking their nests for any uneaten food, removing any perishables and changing any soiled bedding or areas. A full clean is best to be done every few weeks or every month, as if you do it too often it can cause stress to your hammy and remove all of their scent, so always worth putting a tiny bit of their old bedding in to keep their scent around, obviously if it is clean.


Photo of hamsters credit: Sadie-Elloise Garnett (Syrian 2), Danielle Sommerville (Syrian 3), 
Dow Kengradomying (Campbell), Harry Williams (Winter White), Georgia Smith (Syrian 1&4 and Russian Dwarf), Crystal Shaw (Robo), Bethany Anne Hinton (Chinese)

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