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All about Hamsters!

Discussion in 'Small Animal Chat' started by Engel98, Nov 2, 2019.


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What type of hamster do you have?

  1. Syrian

    19 vote(s)
    82.6%
  2. Chinese

    1 vote(s)
    4.3%
  3. Campbell's

    1 vote(s)
    4.3%
  4. Winter White

    1 vote(s)
    4.3%
  5. Roborovski

    3 vote(s)
    13.0%
  6. Hybrid

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. Engel98

    Engel98 PetForums Senior

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    I have seen a lot of threads asking questions regarding hamsters whether it'd be taming, behaviour or cages so I thought I'd make a thread which the mods can add as a sticky so anyone can come and hopefully find the information they are after. Now, by all means I am not an expert. I am still learning about my hamster and probably will continue to.

    This will probably be a long post in many sections so please bare with me. If anyone has any extra information then feel free to add it in the comments below!

    Introduction

    Hamsters are small rodents that typically live 2-4 years. They are often a child's first pet even though they have complex needs. They are typically active during dawn and dusk and eat a mixture of seeds, fruits, vegetation and insects. In the wild hamsters live in warm, dry areas with relatively little vegetation on the edge of deserts so try and replicate their habitat in their cage.

    Types

    There are many species of hamster but only 5 types are kept as pets. They include:
    -Syrian hamster
    -Chinese hamster
    -Campbell's dwarf hamster
    -Winter white dwarf hamster
    -Roborovski hamster

    Syrian Hamster

    These are the biggest hamster commonly kept as pets. They are approximately 5-7 inches long and because of this they are easier to handle and tame. They come in many different colours although the most common colour is golden with white tummy.

    Syrians are solitary so do not place 2 in the same cage or they will fight. These guys need a large wheel minimum of 8 inches although adult Syrians often require an 11 inch wheel, but bigger is better. If your hamster is arching his back while on his wheel, its likely that it's too small.

    Chinese Hamster

    Probably the least common hamster kept as pets, the Chinese hamster is about the same size as a dwarf hamster at approximately 4 inches long. Unlike the rest of the hamsters these guys actually have a tail which makes them a lot better at climbing than hamsters with small stubby tails.

    Chinese hamsters are normally brown in colour with a black dorsal stripe. They are also solitary and will fight if sharing a cage with another. They are timid but generally tame so nipping is unlikely. They are easier to handle compared to dwarf hamsters as these guys will cling to your hands. An 8 inch wheel is probably best for these, but again, bigger is better.

    Dwarf hamsters

    This category typically consists of the Russian hamsters, Campbell's and winter white hamster as well as the Roborovski hamster. These guys can be kept in same sex pairs or groups although a spare cage is essential because they may need to be separated if they begin to fight. Typically an adult dwarf hamster will need a 8 inch wheel to ensure they have plenty of room. Remember, just because they are small doesn't mean they require the smallest wheel possible.

    Campbell's Russian hamster

    Campbell's are the most common of the dwarf hamsters and like the winter white, have the reputation to bite when handled therefore these are generally a bad choice for a child. Like the Syrian, they can come in many different colours but most commonly grey/brown with a white tummy. Despite their small size, like all dwarf hamsters, they are really active so again, just because they are small doesn't mean they require less space. Campbells' will grow to approximately 4 inches in length.

    Winter White

    Often confused with the campbell's hamster, the winter white is normally a grey colour with a dark dorsal stripe. Their fur may go more pale as winter approaches then they go darker again once winter has passed. As far as I am aware they don't come in any other colour just shades of grey. They can be friendly but have the tendency to nip when handled so again, not a good choice for children. They may get to 3.5-4 inches in length and a large cage is best.

    Roborovski Hamster

    The Roborovski, or robo for short, are the smallest, fastest and most agile out of all the pet hamsters. Robos only grow to 2 inches in length, this mixed with their speed make them very difficult to handle and its easy for them to escape. They are normally a sandy colour with white 'eyebrows'. They are the only dwarf that don't have a dorsal stripe. They are normally quite friendly but may nip if frightened. Because of their speed and small size, children shouldn't handle them.
     
  2. Engel98

    Engel98 PetForums Senior

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    Housing

    Caring for hamsters whether it'd be a Syrian or Roborovski, caring and homing them is essentially the same. It is widely agreed upon that the minimum cage size is 80cmX50cm for any hamster although bigger is better. Some advise 100cmX50cm as the minimum for female Syrian hamsters as they typically prefer larger enclosures.

    There are a few different options for homing hamsters. A lot of people think of a wire cage which is fine. Bar spacing of 1cm is ideal for large dwarf species and Syrians, while smaller dwarf hamsters and Roborovskis need 7mm or a tank style enclosure like a aquarium. Another option would be a DIY cage.


    Ensure that what ever you chose to keep your hamster in that it is away from drafts and damp.

    Substrates


    There are many substrate types that you can use for your hamsters;
    Wood
    There's a few different wood options regarding substrate. Cedar is to be avoided as the sap and chemicals are toxic and irritate the respiratory system to many rodents even though they smell pleasant to us. Pine is always up for debate, you can get it dust extracted and kiln dried but as soon as the hamster urinates on it, it rehydrates the pine and it starts to release phenols which give the pine smell which, intern, can irritate the respiratory system and their skin. Aspen is really the only option and considered the only safe wood to use. It holds tunnels very well and is quite absorbent.

    Cellulose/Paper
    Another common substrate is cellulose and paper. I'll group these as one as many get confused. Cellulose is made up of plant fibre while paper is, well, paper. Products made up of cellulose include Carefresh and Megazorb while products made of paper include Fitch and Kaytee. This is great for allergy sufferers. Does produce a bit of 'dust' when large quantities are moved but compared to other substrates, its minimal. I have found it too is very absorbent and holds tunnels well. Firm favourite of mine is Fitch for quality and quantity

    Hemp
    Aubiose is commonly used amongst rodent owners and is marketed for horses. Its made up of hemp and is naturally very absorbent with great odour control as well as mould resistant. All the liquid goes to the bottom layer, leaving the top nice and dry. However, it doesn't hold tunnels at all and will often need to be mixed with something else to allow it to do so. Note, both humans and hamsters can be allergic to hemp however, if it works for everyone, Aubiose is cheap and comes in large quantities and I honestly couldn't fault the quality.

    Hay
    Orchard grass and some Timothy hay can be used within the enclosure but please check for sharp bits as these can cause injuries to eyes, nose and mouth/pouches. Hamsters will rarely eat it and it wont hurt them if they do consume it but many will use it as nesting materials. Can also used between layers of aspen or hemp to provide stability to tunnel structures.

    Sand
    Many hamsters will enjoy having sand in their enclosures whether it'd be for cleaning themselves, digging or simply using it as a litter box. It provides enrichment for all and is a necessity for dwarf species, especially the Roborovski. Reptile 'Desert' sand (not calci sand), chinchilla sand and children's play sand are all suitable.

    Soil
    Another enriching substrate and mine love digging in soil. You can use top soil with no added pesticides or chemicals or fertilisers or coco coir which you can find in the reptile section of many pet shops. You just need to add water to coir to turn it into a soil consistency, then leave it to dry out as it will be quite damp to begin with.

    Nesting material
    Other materials your hamster can use are unscented toilet tissue, cardboard and plain paper.

    Make sure that whatever you choose to cover the cage floor is deep enough for them to burrow, deeper the better. I always fill the base up which is normally 6”. This will also help them to keep warm when its cold and vice versa.

    Health Problems

    No matter how well you care for your hamster sometimes health problems still occur. Here's some of the most common ones. If you think your hamster isn't right or find something questionable please see your vet as small animals like hamster can deteriorate very quickly. Please note that this doesn't replace veterinary advice!

    Abscess
    Normally caused by a wound which has got infected and healed over a pus filled cavity. It can be difficult to tell the difference between a tumour and abscess so if you find a weird lump on your hamster, go to the vet to get it checked out. You can help prevent these by cleaning any wound that may appear.


    Allergies
    Like people hamsters can have allergies to things like bedding and food. Symptoms often include sneezing, runny eyes, itchy, flaky skin, hair loss and breathing problems. If you think that your hamsters having a reaction to something think about what has changed in the hamsters environment and contact your vet for advice.

    Bar Rub
    Often if you find your hamster chewing the bars they'll rub the top of their nose which can remove the fur, dry the skin and make it crack and bleed. in extreme cases permanent scarring and fur loss may occur. The best solution is to figure out why they're bar biting. Usually boredom, lack of exercise or the need to chew. Maybe get your hamster out for more free roaming time. Ensure that they have a correctly sized wheel and plenty of enrichment and variety of chews available. In more extreme cases, the hamster may need to be transferred into a bar-less enclosure.

    Broken Bones
    Often from a fall from a multi platform cage or from rough handling. Going to the vet is essential. A way to prevent this is to provide a soft landing for your hamster and make sure the 'soft landing' isn't far from where they fall.

    Cheek Pouch Injury
    Often caused by stuck food or bedding which then causes an infection which in turn causes an abscess. Thankfully the sooner you seek medical help the quicker they will recover.

    Circling

    Constipation and Diarrhoea
    Constipation is often caused by lack of water so ensure water bottles can be reached and are topped up at all times. Another reason could be a potential blockage. Diarrhoea is often caused by a change in diet. or too much fresh fruit. This can also be a symptom of 'wet tail'.

    Coughs and Colds

    Cushing's Disease

    Diabetes

    Ears

    Eyes

    Falls and Injuries

    Lumps

    Nails

    Parasites

    Pneumonia

    Respiratory Infection

    Scent Gland

    Skin

    Stroke

    -Teeth, Hamsters teeth grow continuously throughout their lives and the only way to keep them short is to chew so provide as many chew toys as possible for them. Like people, hamsters can have preferences. Some hamsters may like chewing cardboard, some like wood or loofah, some even like to chew metal bars (even though its bad for their health). However, you may have a hamster that just doesn't like to chew, so you may need to go to your vets to trim them. If your hamsters teeth are left to overgrow your hamster will not be able to eat properly and lose weight. In extreme cases they can grow into the pouches or into the roof of the mouth.

    Urinary Issues

    Weight

    Wet Tail
    Often caused by stress and can result in death within just a few days. It is common amongst young hamsters, typically those around 4 weeks (weaning age) although it can happen at any age. If you suspect your hamster may have wet tail, please keep it away from other hamsters and take it to your vet. Symptoms include diarrhoea and matting around the hind end, lethargy foul smell and lack of appetite. As mentioned above it is a stress related problem from changes in diet to changes within their environment. However, it can be easily avoided by allowing your friend to settle into their environment properly. Handling a hamster gradually in small sessions. Remember, time spent with you must be nice and fun; they should feel safe. Try and keep their surroundings fairly familiar, even changing cage or going into a different room is enough to cause stress so bare this in mind. Introduce any new foods slowly and in small quantities to prevent to much stomach upset and clean the cage thoroughly with a safe cleaning solution. Some of these can be store made or you can make your own diluted vinegar in water as a natural cleaner. When cleaning the cage out always leave some of the old bedding in there so they still have their scent in their home. I typically use a 1 third new, 2 thirds old.

    Health Check
     
    #2 Engel98, Nov 3, 2019
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2020
  3. Engel98

    Engel98 PetForums Senior

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    Behaviour and Taming

    Hamsters have a relatively silent language and communicate mostly through body language and scent glands. Here's a quick run down on some common behaviours that you may see your hamster display and their meanings: https://www.caringpets.org/how-to-take-care-of-a-hamster/behavior-body-language/
    Please note that hamsters may also brux (grind their teeth) when happy, relaxed or even sleeping. Remember to look at your hamsters body language as a whole rather than just one aspect of it when figuring out how your hamster is feeling. Another way is to simply watch your hamster, you can learn a great deal from that alone.


    Once you understand the basic body language and their potential meanings you can apply this to taming sessions. After your hamster has settled into their new home start by simply putting your hand into their cage and lying it flat. The trick is to let them come to you, not you go to them. Food can help lure them in, but don't push too hard as this may have the adverse effect. Some people find that putting the hamster in a separate container thats small enough so they stay relatively close to your hand but big enough to let them get away if they're uncomfortable. Think about adding their wheel, food, water and a hide in there as well as some of their bedding to add some familiarity to it. Keep training sessions short, remember time spent with you should be enjoyable! Patience is key here and some take longer than others and know that's ok, you aren't doing anything wrong! You are so much bigger than your hamster so it probably think you are a threat and want to eat it so it's reacting the only way it knows how. The more you spend time with them, even if it's just talking to them, you'll be suprised how quickly they'll start to warm up to you! Just take your time, your hamster is doing the hard work, all you've got to do is encourage and nurture it.

    Once your hamster is super comfy with you they may even allow you to pick them up. Scoop from underneath never grab from above. Hamsters are prey animals, grabbing from above may give the impression that you are going to attack them, like a bird. Gradually raise them off the ground, small increments at a time, this is going to be a weird feeling for them and they may not like it. Keep them low to the ground because they will jump off and if they do so while they're too high, chances are they will hurt themselves, so again, take your time. When they are ok with being picked up they may find comfort with being in cupped hands close to your chest. Sitting position is always best for this because if they decide they don't like it they may jump and fall so make sure they've got a soft landing not far from them to minimise injury.

    After some time and patience you'll have a tame little hammy that you can handle and maybe even stroke but keep in mind some are not people hamsters and would rather be left to well...hamster. As long as you can handle them enough for a quick health check and put them in a container while you clean out their cage, honestly it's no big deal.



    I think that just about sums up everything I have to say but if there is anything I've missed or any questions feel free to ask. :)

    I will say again I'm not an expert or a medical professional. This is from what I have researched and learnt from my own hamster. Many of the things mentioned above are not the only way or right way and many things may be up for debate; people may not agree and that is fine. We've all come here because of something we are unsure of, we are here to learn so I thought I'd share what I've found.
     
    #3 Engel98, Nov 3, 2019
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 23, 2019
  4. Tiggers

    Tiggers PetForums Senior

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    I cannot stress enough how dangerous exercise balls are to any small animal. They are responsible for many unnecessary deaths and need to be removed from sale.
     
  5. ForestWomble

    ForestWomble PetForums VIP

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    You saying bigger is better with the wheels, bare in mind the size of the hamster, go too big and he or she might not be able to move the wheel!

    Also, I can't agree with @Tiggers enough, exercise balls are so dangerous, please, PLEASE never use one.
     
    Engel98 likes this.
  6. Engel98

    Engel98 PetForums Senior

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    I agree. My robo Niko has been in his ball once. Even though it is appropriately sized it's far from ideal so I just don't use it. He's quite easy to handle so I just sit on my bed with him (keeping him well away from the sides obviously). But you can advise people but some out there will do it regardless. Worth pointing out though!
     
  7. Engel98

    Engel98 PetForums Senior

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    I've only seen hamsters on wheels too small hence why I stress the bigger is better. Thinking about it the other extreme of being too big probably exists too.

    As far as I am aware, and please correct me if I'm wrong, when it comes to wheels dwarf hamsters 'maximum' size being an 8 inch. Chinese hamsters I'm unsure of as some sites say 8 inch and others say 11 inch. Adult Syrians are best with 11 inch and up.

    But I agree, keep individual hamster size in mind.
     
  8. simplysardonic

    simplysardonic Moderator
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    Engel98 likes this.
  9. Engel98

    Engel98 PetForums Senior

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    Ok thank you. What are those wheels like? Are they quiet? I have a roborovski so obviously those wheels are way too big, but just curious.
     
  10. simplysardonic

    simplysardonic Moderator
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    Spike our Syrian has her cage in our bedroom & there's a slight noise when she's in it, it sounds almost like rain on the skylights, but nothing major. And nothing like the screeching metal wheels of my childhood hammies!
     
    Engel98 likes this.
  11. Smolmaus

    Smolmaus PetForums Member

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    Mine started off quiet but got very very rattly in it's old age. I use the wooden versions now for my syrians and they are a dream! They are really smooth so a robo might be able to move the smallest 21cm version.

    I definitely wouldn't count out your wee one being able to manage the plastic trixie though, they are very light indeed.
     
    Engel98 likes this.
  12. Engel98

    Engel98 PetForums Senior

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    I really want a wooden wheel but Niko pees and poos as he's running so how do you keep the wood clean and not smell?

    I've just upgraded from a 6" to a 7" silent spinner as he started to look a tad cramped like he couldn't properly stretch out his legs to run. I left both wheels in for a while and he picked the bigger on over the smaller one every time
     
  13. Smolmaus

    Smolmaus PetForums Member

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    I used a brush-on water based wood sealant to water proof it. It's not perfectly waterproof but they're not totally disgusting either. The usual recommendation is Plastikote (which I can't get as I'm in NI) but I think if it's marked as safe for children's toys it's okay. My syrians don't poo on their wheel though so I don't know how it would stand up to that. I have both my dwarfs on plastic saucers for that reason to be honest, I didn't realise robos were the same!
     
  14. ForestWomble

    ForestWomble PetForums VIP

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    I use plastikote - you must make sure its the water based, not the oil based version though, on the wood shelves and any wee and poo wipes off easily, there are lots of colour choices as well.
     
  15. Kaylee Patino

    Kaylee Patino PetForums Newbie

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    Hi so I recently switched my Syrian to a different cage with lots of floor space but I'm worried that its not stimulating enough because it doesn't have a second floor , should I add something or is it fine ?

    also really appreciated the care guide !!
     
  16. ForestWomble

    ForestWomble PetForums VIP

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    You can buy shelves etc and I would recommend doing so.
     
    Engel98 likes this.
  17. Engel98

    Engel98 PetForums Senior

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    Could we have a photo of your setup?
     
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