Background Information on Hamsters
Hamsters are peculiar little rodents with large cheek pouches and short stubby tails. They have gained popularity as pets and research animals since the 1930s. The Syrian hamster’s (golden hamster) wild habitat extends through the Middle East and Southeastern Europe. In 1930, a litter of eight baby hamsters was taken to Palestine and raised as research animals. Virtually all domesticated hamsters sold in the pet trade and research are descendants of three of the survivors of this litter. Hamsters were introduced first into the United States in 1938.
Since their domestication, several color and hair coat varieties of the Syrian hamster have arisen through selective breeding. The three basic groups which now exist include the common ‘golden’ hamster, the colored short-haired ‘fancy’ hamster, and the long-haired ‘teddy bear’ hamster. All three varieties are popular as pets, while the research community generally employs the basic golden hamster.
Diet Recommendations for Hamsters
As with any pet, good quality food and clean, fresh water must be provided at all times. The precise nutritional requirements of hamsters have not been fully determined. In the wild, these animals feed on plants, seeds, fruit, and insects. Hamsters are like little pack rats that often hoard their food in a corner of their cage, making it seem as though they eat a lot more than they really do.
- The majority of the diet should be made up of pellets/blocks specifically formulated for hamsters/gerbils/rodents.
- At MedVet Hilliard, we recommend feeding Oxbow pellets for Hamsters/gerbils.
- Many deluxe “seed” mixes may advertise being formulated for hamsters, but these seed mixes are very high in fat and many hammies will pick out their favorite pieces. This leads to obesity and nutritional deficiencies.
- Although not a staple part of their diet, hay is enjoyed by hammies not only to eat but also as a source of nesting material. The presence of hay will stimulate foraging and can help to prevent obesity.
- Hammies enjoy a variety of fresh veggies. These should be used as a treat and a supplement to the pellets/kibble which should be the main part of the diet.
- Although hammies love fruit, too much can lead to obesity. We recommend feeding fruits sparingly, as a treat.
- Oxbow offers a wide variety of supplements and treats for hamsters/gerbils. Their information can be found on the last page of this care sheet.
- Other ideas for treats include sugarless breakfast cereals, whole wheat breads, pasta, cheese, and cooked lean meats.
- It is extremely important to not overfeed treats, veggies, and fruits to your Hamster. Remember, what may seem like a small amount to me or you can be quite large to a small little hammie!
Housing Recommendations for Hamsters
- Cage Basics:
- Several types of cages are commercially available that are suitable for housing hamsters.
- Hamsters will readily chew through wood, light plastic, and soft metal; so recommended caging materials are wire, stainless steel, durable plastic, and glass.
- The cage should have a solid bottom cage with deep bedding and ample nesting material.
- We recommend recycled paper products (i.e. CareFRESH®, Absorption Corp) or aspen shavings to make the best lining materials.
- There are a number of beddings that should be avoided:
- Cedar shavings contain chemicals that are toxic and can cause irritation.
- Corncob bedding has a tendency to mold and can lead to intestinal obstruction if ingested.
- Sawdust or any pine shavings can cause irritation to the eyes and the respiratory tract.
- The bedding should be deep enough to allow digging/burrowing as these are normal behaviors for hamsters. Their ability to engage in normal behaviors is extremely important for their psychological well-being.
- Pet hamsters are generally housed singly. Mature female hamsters tend to be very aggressive towards one another and generally cannot be housed together. Males may also fight when housed together but tend to be less aggressive than females.
- As a rule of thumb, the cage and accessories should be cleaned thoroughly once to twice weekly. Clean the floor and walls with soap and water weekly. Change the bedding weekly.
- Water bottles and food dishes should be cleaned and disinfected daily. Most of the time hot water and a mild detergent do just fine.
Hamster Handling and Behavior
Hamsters tend to be very social and docile if handled regularly. Many breeds are nocturnal, so handle them carefully if waking them up during the day! We recommend using veggies and fruits as a positive reward for handling/interacting with a newly introduced hammie. They will also stuff their cheek pouches and hide food items for later. These are all normal behaviors!
Resources for Additional Information on Hamsters
- LafeberVet: http://www.lafebervet.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Hamster-Basic-Info-Sheet.pdf
- Oxbow Animal Health: http://www.oxbowanimalhealth.com
- Veterinary Partner: http://www.veterinarypartner.com
We hope this article gives you the information you need on the housing, nutrition, and behavior of Hamsters.