Hamsters are popular pets, with the "golden" hamster, the short-haired "fancy" hamster and the long-haired "teddy bear" hamster being the most common. The average life span for a hamster is 2 - 3 years. The following information is designed to help you take the best possible care of your pet.
Hamsters eat approximately 1/2 ounce of food daily and usually consume the majority of this at night. Hamsters hoard their food, making it seem as though they eat a lot more than they really do.
Pellets or blocks - It is recommended that you feed your hamster rodent pellets or blocks containing 15 - 20% protein.
Seeds - It is fine to feed your hamster a seed diet, but not exclusively. Seeds contain high levels of fat which, when fed alone, can cause obesity and potential nutritional deficiencies.
Supplemental foods - The following foods may be fed as supplements to your pet's pelleted diet, but in moderation. They include: sugarless breakfast cereals, cooked pastas, whole wheat breads, cheeses, cooked lean meats, fresh fruits and vegetables.
Water - Water should always be available and changed daily. The best container is a water bottle equipped with a sipper tube. The tube needs to be positioned low enough to allow the pet easy access.
Cages - Several types of cages are available for housing hamsters. Many come equipped with cage furniture such as exercise wheels, tunnels and nest boxes. Such accessories, as well as sufficient litter depth within which to burrow, are desirable for your pet's psychological and physical well-being. Adult hamsters require a minimum floor area of 19 square inches each and a cage height of at least 6 inches.
Cages and accessories must be cleaned once or twice weekly. They should be sanitized with hot water and nontoxic disinfectant; then thoroughly rinsed. Water bottles and food dishes should be cleaned and disinfected daily.
Bedding - Hamsters do very well in solid bottom cages with deep bedding and ample nesting material. Bedding must be clean, nontoxic, absorbent and relatively dust free. Shredded paper or tissue, wood shavings or processed ground corn cobs are the preferred beddings. Wood shavings or corn cobs must be dry and free from mold, mildew or other contamination. Cotton and shredded tissue paper make excellent nesting materials. Do not use cedar shavings. They can be harmful to your pet.
Temperature - The optimal temperature range for hamsters is between 65 - 80 degrees F.
Lighting - Twelve hours of light and twelve hours of darkness daily is preferred. Hamsters rest during the light period and are more active during the dark.
Multiple hamsters - Hamsters should generally be housed singly. Mature females tend to be very aggressive towards one another and therefore should not be housed together. Males, who tend to be less aggressive than females, may also fight when housed together.
Hamsters are generally docile in nature and should be handled frequently. Gently pick up a hamster by cupping him in one or both hands and holding him against your body. Even the most docile hamster may bite if surprised or abruptly awakened from sleep.
HEALTH & MEDICAL PROBLEMS
Wet Tail (Proliferative ileitis) - Caused by bacteria, this disease may cause death within 1 - 7 days after the onset of watery diarrhea. Other symptoms include matting of the fur around the tail, unkempt fur, hunched stance, loss of appetite, dehydration, emaciation and irritability. If any of these symptoms are noticed, contact your pet's veterinarian immediately.
Hair Loss (Alopecia) - Hair loss can occur for a number of reasons, demodex mange being the most common. A veterinarian can confirm the presence of demodex or other health problems and prescribe the proper treatment.
(Some information within taken with permission from "Caring for Hamsters," Midwest Bird and Exotic Animal Hospital, Illinois.)