The responsibilities of owning a hamster, as with other pocket pets, begins with ensuring the animal's safety. Some see a hamster as a "starter pet" for a small child. But once you purchase a hamster, his care and life is in your hands, so it's important to understand the animal's needs.
Purchase a habitat for your hamster. You may choose a glass or plastic tank or wire cage. Cages are the best for ventilation and a fresh exchange of air. However, the choice of a habitat will depend upon the type or species of hamster you've chosen. A dwarf hamster may be able to escape from a cage, but there are advantages and disadvantages to glass or plastic tanks and wire cages. Be sure to ask a lot of questions about the best choices for your type of hamster when you acquire your hamster. While glass and plastic will protect your hamster from drafts, ventilation and fresh air is far more important for your hamster's health. Also, wire cages are much easier to clean. So unless you have a particularly small hamster, opt for a wire cage. Line your cage with shredded paper or store-bought substrate especially developed for hamsters.
Select a high-grade food for your hamster. Feed him a good, brand-name hamster food that's been specially formulated to meet the needs of a hamster. As desert animals, hamsters do not require a great deal of water, so be wary about feeding your hamster too many fresh fruits and vegetables. But it's important you supplement commercial feed with seeds, grains and lettuce, cucumber, broccoli, apples, pears, peaches, melons, berries and bananas. Keep the portions small and always take uneaten fruits or vegetables away so they don't rot and draw pests or make your hamster sick.
Provide lots of enrichment and stimulation for your hamster. There are plenty of items available for sale in pet stores and online, such as plastic wheels for them to run in and a system of tubes and tunnels connected together to make a maze for him to run through. You can press all kinds of mundane household items into service as enrichment for your hamster, such as empty toilet or paper towel tubes for him to run through and chew, empty cereal boxes for hiding, broken plastic or wooden toys for chewing and exploring and a variety of toys specifically made for hamsters.
Socialize your hamster by offering your hand for him to explore but don't be upset if he doesn't like to be held right away. It takes time to build a rapport with your hamster, so be patient with him and allow him to come to you. You don't want to frighten your hamster or it will take longer to gain his trust. Above all, be sure any small children who want to handle the hamster are well supervised for two reasons: hamsters can, and do, bite, and little children can inadvertently squeeze a hamster to death, causing trauma to all concerned. Spend as much time with your hamster as you can, and teach your children to be kind and respectful to him as well.
- Hamsters are most comfortable at temperatures between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
- There are several diseases that hamsters can get if you're not careful about meeting all your hamster's needs. Be aware of the symptoms of diseases such as the common cold, wet tail, mites and problems with claws and teeth. Take your hamster to a vet who specializes in pocket pets on an annual basis.
hamster image by Fotocie from Fotolia.com
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.