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Hamster FAQ

Created for the Alt.Pet.Hamsters Usenet Newsgroup, the original version was by Wendy Wilde (Wendy UK) and updated in 2002 by Robert Kaiser. The hosting website ceased in 2007, but it has now been brought back to help pet owners.  We’ve had valuable contributions from fellow newsgroup members, submitting helpful advice & information.

Hamsters

Q/b01:– Do you know anything about the history of hamsters?
Q/b02:– Where do hamsters get their names from & what species of hamster are kept as pets?
Q/b03:– What is the life span of a hamster?
Q/b04:– If my hamster’s medication has expired, how should I dispose of it safely?
Q/b05:– I have a new litter whose mother is sick; I want to try to save the babies?
Q/b06:– Are there any places that don’t allow hamsters?

Q/b07:– What should I use for bedding?

Q/b08:– What do hamsters like (and not like) to eat?

Q/b09:– What do hamsters like to drink?

Q/b10:– Should I be cleaning my hamster?

Q/b11:– Do hamsters get lonely?

Q/b12:– Is it safe to cut my hamster’s claws?

Q/b13:– How can I keep my hamster healthy?

Q/b14:– My hamster looks like he’s sick — what should I do?

Q/b15:– The vet has prescribed medicine… how do I administer it?

Q/b16:– Why does my hamster sleep all day?

Q/b17:– Do hamsters hibernate?

Q/b18:– What if my hamster gets fleas?

Q/b19:– What should I do if I find bugs in the hamster food?

Q/b20:– Yuck. Should my hamster be eating his poop?

Q/b21:– My hamster has escaped! Help me!

Q/b22:– My hamster is having babies! What should I do?

Q/b23:– My hamster’s dead. What can I do?

Q/b24:– How can I tame my hamster?

Q/b25:– My Syrian hamster has brown spots underneath his fur on each side, what are they?

Q/b26:– Do hamsters really like play balls?

Q/b27:– How can I interpret the hamster’s body language?

Q/b28:– What is wet tail?

Q/b29:– Do hamsters make noise?

Q/b30:– Why do hamsters sometimes destory their babies?

Q/b31:– What do I do if my hamster has been poisoned?

Q/b32:– How can I stop the wheel from squeaking?

Q/b33:– Can I let my hamster swim?

Q/b34:– Is it safe for my hamster to jump off the table like that?

Q/b35:– What’s the best type of cage for a hamster?

Q/b36:– Will small rodent repellants harm hamsters?

Q/b37:– Can I put Lego in my hamster’s cage?

Q/b38:– Can my hamster chew his way out of his plastic cage?

Q/b39:– Do hamsters smell?

Q/b40:– My hamster’s front top two teeth are damaged/missing! How
can I feed him to keep him healthy?

Q/b41:– Some of my hamster’s teeth are damaged/missing! Will they ever grow back?

Q/b42:– My hamster is losing its fur; how I can help?

Q/b43:– Can I let my hamster run free in my home?

Q/b44:– My Syrian hamster has large lumps near his anus, is this normal?

Q/b45:– How can I persuade my hamster to pee in a particular area of his cage?

Q/b46:– Is it dangerous for my hamster if I administer medicine that has passed its expiry date?

Q/b47:– I would like to have a hamster, where is the best place to go to obtain one?

Q/b48:– My hamster appears to like his wire wheel, why should I get rid of it?

Q/b49:– I’m thinking of breeding my Syrian hamster, can you give me some advice?

Q/b50:– What is the difference between a ‘Complete’ and ‘complementary’ mix?

pppppppp

A/b01:– Do you know anything about the history of hamsters?

The story of hamsters has been embellished and idealized over the years. Here is what probably happened. In 1839, British zoologist George Waterhouse reportedly found an elderly female hamster in Syria, naming it “Cricetus auratus,” the Golden Hamster. The hamster’s fur was on display at the British Museum.

Around 1930, zoologist and Professor at the University of Jerusalem Aharoni found a mother and litter of hamsters in the Syrian desert. By the time he got back to his lab, most had died or escaped. The remaining hamsters were given to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where they were successfully bred as Golden Hamsters. They were a bit bigger than the ones Waterhouse found, so they were named “Mesocricetus auratus”, although they were probably the same species.

The hamsters were shipped to labs all around the world. They arrived in the United Kingdom in 1931, and in 1938 reached the United States. Just about all Golden Hamsters are descended from the original litter found in Syria except for a few that were brought into the United States by travellers who found them in the desert. A separate stock of hamsters was imported into the US in 1971, but it isn’t known if any of today’s North American pets are descended from them.

The Dwarf Campbells Russian, Winter White Russian and Chinese were all introduced to the pet market in the United Kingdom in the 1970s, and the Roborovski hamster came from Holland into the UK in 1990.

Hamsters are now used for scientific research. Because hamsters are so disease-free and breed so rapidly (they can have a new litter every month!) and because they are so friendly and easy to handle, they are a popular choice among scientists. They are often used for cardio-vascular research, as their cardio-vascular system is remarkably similar to that of the human.

In Europe, the European field hamster (also: the black bellied field hamster) used to be a nuisance to farmers. This foot long species of hamsters have been known to hide in excess of 60 pounds of grain in their burrows to feed them through the winter. Sadly, the attempts of European famers to eradicate this animal have led to its becoming an endangered species.

A/b02:–Where do hamsters get their names from & what species of hamster are kept as pets?

The name hamster came from the German word hamstern, which means ‘to hoard’. One of the characteristics of the hamster is having the ability to store food in cheek pouches which are situated on the inside of each cheek.

There are five species of hamster that are kept as pets and they are, including their scientific names:

Syrian hamster – Mesocricetus auratus

(Also known as Golden, Fancy and Teddy Bear)

Dwarf RussianWinter White hamster – Phodopus sungorus

(Also known as Djungarian Hamster and Siberian Hamster)

Dwarf Russian Campbell’s hamster – Phodopus campbelli

Roborovski hamster – Phodopus roborovskii

Chinese hamster – Cricetulus griseus

The Golden hamster is universally referred to as the Syrian hamster whilst the latter four are classed as dwarf hamsters. The dwarf hamsters are very much smaller than the Syrian hamster when developed and the smallest of the Dwarf hamsters is the Roborovski hamster.

A/b03:–What is the life span of a hamster

The average lifespan varies from species to species. Dwarf Winter White and Campbells’ hamsters, and Chinese hamsters, usually live from 1.5 to 2 years.

Syrian hamsters usually live from 2 to 3.5 years, with an average age of 18 months to 3 years. A rare few can live over four years, but this should not be expected.

A/b04:–If my hamster’s medication has expired, how should I dispose of it safely?

The safest way is to return the medicine to your vet who will dispose of it for you in the correct manner.

A/b05:–I have a new litter whose mother is sick, and I want to try to save
the babies!

I recently had a similar litter from a shelter, very late developing and malnourished, with the momma fading fast. I fed round the clock:

Tofu with sesame seeds mashed in, broccoli florets dipped in KMR Emergency Formula powder (40% protein), Oxbow lab blocks and Cheerios softened in plain yogurt/soy milk, peas, carrot, pears, apple, asparagus, steamed chicken dusted with nutritional yeast and piles of hamster mix with extra millet.

I hand-fed Momma and babies a formula of KMR powder reconstituted with Pedialyte, soy milk, plain yogurt and vitamin drops every couple hours also. I wouldn’t feed them lettuce, and would get some more concentrated nutrition into them.

You just mix 1/2 soy milk and 1/2 yogurt, thin it with enough Pedialyte to get it through a feeding syringe, and then mix it with the KMF powder according to the directions on the packet as if it were water, then add vitamin drops according to that package. They should also have 50% Pedialyte and vitamin drops in their water bottle from birth.

A/b06:–Are there any places that don’t allow hamsters?

So far I only know that Hawaii does not allow its residents to own a hamster. A law was passed, hoping to keep disease away and to prevent escaped hamsters from reproducing and messing up the ecosystem.

A/b07:–What should I use for bedding?

Be aware that cedar shavings have been shown to be hazardous, as some hamsters are allergic to the aromatic organics contained in it. Pine shavings are much better, but note that some hamsters have a sensitivity to it. If your hamster ever has allergic or asthma-like symptons, discontinue the use of their current bedding and choose a new one.

The best alternative to these is aspen shavings; recycled newspapers (but make sure they aren’t too inky), grasses; Care Fresh; paper based cat litters; or corn cob bedding.

A/b08:–What do hamsters like (and not like) to eat?

Providing your hamster with a balanced diet will help keep him healthy and free from illnesses that are created through improper feeding. Provide a good quality complete hamster mix especially prepared for hamsters – the hamster mix should be the main part of its diet.

Provide small pieces of fresh vegetables and fruit several times a week along with good quality hay and it’s a good idea to give your hamster a dog biscuit once week to help keep teeth in good condition.

The vegetables and fruit listed below are just a few examples that can be safely given to your hamster:

Apples – remove pips.  Pear.  Banana.  Cherries – remove stone.
Grape.  Papaya.  Carrot.  Broccoli.
Brussels sprout. Courgettes.  Bell peppers. Green beans. Turnip. Parsnips

Some other additional foods and treats are:
Steamed, baked & boiled chicken – no spices etc.
Tofu
Cooked pasta
Dry toast
Steamed & boiled rice
Baked & boiled potato
Sunflower, pumpkin & sesame seeds
Peanuts
Porridge mixed in a little low fat milk/soy milk or water
Dry shredded wheat
Scrambled & boiled egg – Feed mostly the white part, the yellow contains a lot of fat.
Introduce new foods gradually and remove anything perishable that hasn’t been eaten.

Do not feed them: Canned or frozen veggies, citrus fruits, anything poisonous to humans, raw beans, raw rhubarb, sprouting potato buds, fool’s parsley, poison hemlock, laburnum, hot spices, onions, garlic, or toffee.

Is chocolate safe for hamsters?

Apparently small amounts of chocolate are safe for them.

“Hamsters and mice were much more resistant to theobromine than were rats. A decrease in growth and in thymic weights occurred only at the highest dose levels of theobromine and testicular and thymic changes were completely absent in hamsters. ”

Short-term effects of graded levels of theobromine in laboratory rodents

“…more resistant than rats, while hamsters were almost completely resistant to the effects of high doses of theobromine ”

Tarka, S.M., Zoumas, B.L. and Gans, J.H. 1979. Short-term effects of graded levels of
theobromine in laboratory rodents. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology 49:127-149.

Theobromine as undesirable substances in animal feed1 Scientific Opinion of the Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain

A/b09:–What do hamsters like to drink?

Water.

Fresh drinking water should be provided and changed every day or every other day.

A/b10:–Should I be cleaning my hamster?

Your short-haired Syrian hamster, or any form of dwarf hamster, should not need cleaning. Hamsters can groom and wash themselves with no difficulty. If your hamster is not maintaining a quality level of personal hygiene, he might be sick. Consult a vet before taking any further action.

Unfortunately some breeders have created a very long haired form of Syrian hamster often called Teddy-Bear hamsters; these animals have hair so much longer than nature intended them to have that they have a hard time grooming themselves. These animals need you to gently comb then once or twice a week to help keep their hair clear. For those who wish to breed young, take care not to breed Teddy-bear hamsters with longer coats; this will only make the problem worse for future generations of hamsters.

For grooming purposes, pet stores sell special hamster combs. Toothbrushes work well, too.

A/b11:–Do hamsters get lonely?

Adult Syrian hamsters should not be housed together:

Syrian hamsters must be housed one to a cage after the age of 6-8 weeks. Even brothers and sisters who played together when youngsters must be separated for their own safety. The stress of living with another poses great health risks. Even if they seem fine when you’re watching, fights could be happening when you aren’t. Even the very first fight can be fatal. . Many unfortunate hamsters are killed or maimed because some owners insist their hamsters are the exception to nature.

In their native habitat, hamsters would live in solitary burrows, seeking one another only to mate. Domestic Syrians are only brought together for a closely and constantly supervised half hour or so on mating night. The male does not help to raise the young, and the female will not tolerate his presence during gestation or after the birth. The male has no interest or protective instincts toward the young, and can never be allowed access to them.

Syrians must not only live singly, they must also play that way. Syrians cannot visit one another or play together, even in a space as large as a hamster-safe room. A squabble can turn deadly in the blink of an eye.

Syrian hamsters cannot be housed with or allowed to play with hamsters of other species either, and of course they must be protected at all times from other pets.

The only playmate your healthy, happy Syrian hamster needs or wants is you!

(From the original California Hamster Association GeoCities webpage, and Syrians are Solitary  by Jane Landis )

Note: Dwarf hamsters usually can live together in small groups. However, even those owners should always take care to notice if they start fighting; if fighting is serious and sustained over time the hamsters will have to be permanently separated.

A/b12:–Is it safe to cut my hamster’s claws?

It is safe as long as you are confident enough to carry out this task.

There is a blood vessel that runs lengthways in each nail that can be accidentally clipped if you cut too short, you should have styptic powder in your first aid box in case of a mishap.

Hamsters in general should not require their nails to be trimmed, but if your hamster does have nails that are just too long, I would recommend you visit your vet who will trim the nails effortlessly and perhaps show you how to do this in case of future occurrences.

A/b13:–How can I keep my hamster healthy?

Read this FAQ over, and make sure you are using all the suggestions contained within it, which will help keep your hamster healthy.

Feeding a balanced diet, providing a safe and clean environment, supervised playtime outside their environment and safe toys which includes a solid flat based wheel.

Don’t forget to perform a daily home health check on your hamster. If you suspect sickness/injury prompt action could save your hamsters life.

A/b14:–My hamster looks like he’s sick – what should I do?

I DO NOT KNOW WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOUR HAMSTER.

Do not send an e-mail asking for medical advice. If your hamster is doing anything out of the ordinary that worries you – coughing, wheezing, shaking, developing sores or callouses, walking weird, or any other abnormal behaviour – SEE A VET IMMEDIATELY.

Yes, by all means post the information to the newsgroup so that others can read about the symptoms and cures but don’t use the newsgroup as a direct source for medical advice. The problem with the group is that responses will take at least a day to pour in, and that might be too late for your furry pal.

MANY HAMSTERS HAVE PASSED AWAY BECAUSE THEIR OWNERS DIDN’T ACT SOON ENOUGH.
Here are some warning signs that your hamster is sick. If you see any of them, go to the vet. When your hamster is awake, it should look alert, not apathetic.

Anus should not be smeared with droppings. (This is a sign of possible diarrhea.)
Eyes should be clear, without signs of secretion.
Heavy or noisy breathing may indicate disease.
There should be no sores or bald spots.

A/b15:–The vet has prescribed medicine… how do I administer it?

Hold your hamster by the scruff of the neck, so your hand is closed as if in a fist, with the hamster’s loose skin along the back and neck between your palm and fingertips. Tip the hamster back a bit so he is leaning against your palm, belly up. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cause harm. (You or your hamster.) Don’t give the hamster too much medicine at a time or he might choke, or just store it in those massive cheeks.

This method is also a great way to administer eye medication.

As a note, there are certain antibiotics that should not be administered to hamsters. Some vets don’t realise the toxicities of these substances in some rodents — keep a copy of this list so that if you do need to visit your vet you can offer the list to him:

  1. streptomycin
  2. dihydrostreptomycin
  3. all penicillins (any antibiotic ending in “-illin”)
  4. lincomycin
  5. clindamycin
  6. erythromycin
  7. tylosin
  8. some cephalosporins
  9. ampicillin
  10. amoxycillin
  11. tetracycline

A/b16:–Why does my hamster sleep all day?

Hamsters are for the most part nocturnal; they sleep by day but are very lively at night, although will be seen out during the day for short periods. I think the best way to describe a hamster would be to say it was more crepuscular; awake at both first light and early evening (twilight hours).

Humans are Diurnal we are on the go during the day and sleeping at night.

A/b17:–Do hamsters hibernate?

If a Syrian hamster is exposed to very low temperatures, it is likely he will fall into what appears to be a state of hibernation (pseudo-hibernation). He will curl up and be in a very deep sleep and it has been known for owners to think their hamster is dead.

It is very dangerous for a pet hamster to go into hibernation. It is extremely important that the hamster is woken up, but you must do this gradually. Place the hamster in a warm area (not near a hot radiator). He may tremble a little as he starts to come round; this is somewhat common and he will be back to his typical self in a couple of hours.

Once your hamster is fully awake make sure he isn’t dehydrated and is behaving normally – make sure that this doesn’t happen again.

A/b18:–What if my hamster gets fleas?

Hamsters will only acquire fleas from another animal living in the home that has fleas, such as a dog or cat. If you know your hamster has fleas you can buy products over the counter exclusively for rodents, dusting powder for example. It may be a good idea to speak to your Vet about fleas before taking any course of action.

Make sure all animals in your home are treated for fleas and of course the whole house may need treating too – don’t forget your hamsters environment. Do not use products that are specifically for dogs and cats on your hamster!

Some animals are sensitive to fleabites, which can result in a variety of reactions from local skin irritation to a systemic allergic response. Deal with this matter immediately you suspect fleas!

A/b19:–What should I do if I find bugs in the hamster food?

The best course of action to take in this instance is to throw away the contaminated food and replace with fresh.

Storing your hamsters food in an airtight container and placing in the fridge or in a cold dark room will prevent bugs appearing again.

A/b20:–Yuck. Should my hamster be eating his poop?

Yes. Hamsters have a different digestive system than humans. Hamsters produce two types of excrement — one that’s partially digested containing lots of nutrients, and one that’s just garbage. Hamsters practice coprophagy, eating the nutrient-filled excrement to get the nutrients from it and digest it fully.

A/b21:–My hamster has escaped! Help me!

Take a deep breath… did you forget to close up the cage? It happens to all of us, and we usually get our little pals back.

To find your hamster:

Close all doors and windows, and try to figure out what room your hamster is in. If you are having trouble, try placing a bowl of food in each room. The hamster is bound to get hungry, so you will be able to tell which room he’s in by whichever food dish is touched. Or, In each room of your house, count out exactly 10 sunflower seeds, and place them near a corner. Every few hours check to see if the pile of seeds in any given room is smaller; if so, then your hamster will probably be close by.

Once you have narrowed down your search, start looking under chairs, beds, in corners… put yourself into the frame of mind of the hamster. Also, put the hamster’s cage down somewhere in that room – he might recognize it as home, and climb back in to his food and his nest.

You could get creative/inventive and devise your own traps. Apparently one of the best ways is to get some sort of deep bucket with a ramp heading up to it, with some food as bait. The hamster will fall into the bucket, and then cannot climb out.

If your hamster’s wheel is really squeaky, put it in the middle of the room that you suspect your hamster to have escaped into. Once you hear the squeaking, you can run over to the wheel and catch your hamster.

A/b22:–My hamster is having babies! What should I do?

Calm down, it is perfectly natural.

Keep your hamster well-nourished. Added protein (possibly in the form of insects) might be a good idea. It has been suggested that one of the reasons hamsters eat their young is because they need the protein from them after birth – but this has not been proven, and there are probably other factors.

DO NOT TOUCH THE BABIES. This changes the scent on the babies, and confuses the mother. She may not think they are her babies, and won’t care for them properly — she might even eat the babies.

If your hamster does eat some of its young, don’t be alarmed. If your hamster had a large litter, she may get rid of some of the babies because she can take better care of a smaller number. Your hamster might also eat its young because of the different conditions of domestication (as opposed to its life in the wild).

To reduce the likelihood of the babies being devoured by their parents, separate the father from them as soon as possible, and when you deem it safe, separate the mother from ’em. You should be aware that the time you separate the father from the mother varies from species to species. Case in point: The Syrian/Golden hamsters should only be together for mating, whereas dwarf hamsters can be kept together because they mate for life, and the father helps raise the young.

These figures are all for the Golden Hamster, but are probably pretty close to any other breed of hamster:

Puberty: 4-5 weeks
Optimum beginning breeding age:
males: 10-12 weeks
females: 16-20 weeks

Estrus: Every 3-4 days
Gestation period: 16-18 days
Litter size: 1-18 (average is about 8)

Birth weight: 1/14 to 1/8 oz
Weaning age: 3-4 weeks

For Dwarf Hamsters:

Puberty: 4-5 weeks
Optimum breeding age: whenever they’re ready!
Gestation period: 18-21 days
Litter size: 1-14 (average 4)
Weaning age: 3-4 weeks

A/b23:–My hamster’s dead. What can I do?

The hamster can be buried in your backyard or at a park, or you can phone your vet or a local animal shelter for advice. Please don’t flush them down the toilet.

A/b24:–How can I tame my hamster?

Let your hamster have the first couple of days in a cage on his/her own to get used to it. Put him in a quiet place so he is not disturbed and give him plenty of bedding.

The first few times you get him out, do not go through the cage door, especially if it is at the top. Take the whole top off the cage and place the base on the floor or you could use the bath tub or even your bed. Then sit on the floor and scoop up your hamster. If he is young, he may well be a little skittish so you will have to be very aware to stop him running away, but let him run on your body. It is best if this job is initially done by an adult or older child, as small children do not have the confidence, usually.

Always scoop up your hamster firmly – it will make him more confident, and never hold him without first sitting on the floor unless he is *really* tame — if you are standing and you drop your hamster, he could become injured.

Pick up your hamster in this way once or twice a day, talking in a soft voice and using lots of gentle encouragement. Skittish young hamsters usually calm down with time and patience.

Always wait until your hamster is awake before taming him, and never pick up a sleeping hamster.

Most biting is as a result of fear, not viciousness. Remember this if you do get bitten (it was probably your fault) it does not mean the hamster is nasty. The most common reasons for getting bitten are grabbing a hamster from above, picking up a sleeping hamster and accidentally pinching a hamster when you pick him up. After a biting incident, put the hamster back in the cage and leave him for a couple of hours to calm down — do not scold your hamster.

Remember that taming is easier if a hamster has been handled since birth, there is no such thing as an untamable hamster. It may take awhile if the pet shop has allowed an animal to mature without once being handled, but even an older animal can be tamed with effort.

If at any stage the hamster starts biting and looking anxious, try going back a step and repeating the process (ie leave him alone for a couple of hours).

Once your hamster runs on you without looking frightened, place the cage in a busier area to get him used to people and all the everyday noises that occur.

A/b25:–My Syrian hamster has brown spots underneath his fur on each side, what are they?

In Syrian hamsters only they have what appears to be dark brown patches on each flank, typically buried in the fur and always more noticeable in males than in females. These are sebaceous glands, which are used to mark territory and contribute to the motivation that determines mating behaviour, in sexually mature males.

Dwarf hamsters only have one such gland on their abdomen.

A/b26:– Do hamsters really like those transparent balls?

Most hamsters seem to love running around the house in these transparent balls! However, certain precautions must be taken to insure the safety of your pet.

Do not forget about them! Sometimes children (or irresponsible adults) forget about the hamsters for a day, leading to a terrible situation for the unfortunate hammy.

Always ensure that the door of the ball cannot spring open whilst they are out playing — add a liitle tape to the outside to make sure the door is securely shut!

Make sure that they can not get to any stairs. If they were to fall down stairs they could badly hurt themselves or get killed. Thus, close off all staircases.

Don’t leave your pet in them for more than 40 minutes; after so much exercise they may need to go back into their cages so that they can get a drink.

Inspect the ball to make sure that they have not peed or pooped in them; hamsters often do this. Don’t worry about itl its easy to clean these travel balls.

A/b27:–How can I interpret the hamster’s body language?

Body Language:

Convulsive movement, as well as sudden continual face washing, signifies fright.

Defensive raising of both front paws can be observed in males that have been unexpectedly attacked by females and have no way of escaping. According to my observations, this gesture prevents or at least delays an even more serious attack.

Puffing up the cheeks and showing the abdominal regions are to be construed as a threat.

Lying motionless on the back shows resistance and fear.

Stiff-legged walking of a young animal, with its tail stiffly stretched up and its hindquarters turned toward the adult hamster, denotes fear and submission; it propitiates the old animals. This can also often be observed in vanquished adult hamsters.

Stretching and yawning with half-closed eyes is an expression of cosiness and inner peace, just as much as frequent and at the same time joyous and languorous washing. *Reciprocal cleaning between mother and children, and also between males and females, that live in harmony with each other indicates affection.

Stroking the head with a paw, sometimes for a long period and sometimes only quickly and in passing, denotes tenderness. I observed this frequently with my striped hairy-footed hamster couple; the male constantly stroked the female, which seemed to enjoy this tender little act.

Reciprocal knocking over can have very different meanings; fighting, if there is biting; coital foreplay, if the animals lick each other’s stomachs and genitals; playing, if the partners cavort around with each other for a short time only.

“Sitting up” is sometimes noticed, if something excites the hamster’s particular attention.

A/b28:–What is wet tail

When you bring a new pet home, always quarantine it for a week by keeping it in a room separate from all your other hamsters. If it stays healthy, you can then bring it into the romm with other pets. If it develops a sickness, keep it separate from your other pets.

Wet tail is not simple diarrhea. While diarrhea is dangerous to all small animals, wet tail is the name given for a bacterial infection also called “proliferative ileitis.” The bacteria involved are usually E. coli and Campylobacter jejuni. It isn’t common, but it’s deadly and painful. Young hams are particularly susceptible. Any hamster who survives wet tail should never be bred.

Over-the-counter preparations are not adequate against wet tail, and should be used only if vet care is absolutely unavailable. (Don’t bring a new hamster home if your vet is going to be unavailable, and of course, don’t bring any pet home until you’ve found a vet who can capably treat the species.)

Prompt vet care is required for any hamster displaying symptoms. By the time symptoms appear, the poor ham has been sick for about a week, and can die within 24-48 hours without vet care. Even with proper care, the mortality rate is very high. Dri-Tail is a dilute solution of a weak antibiotic, neomycin sulfate; it can help with minor bouts of infectious diarrhea, but it isn’t something to rely on for wet tail. If you’ve given this or any other medication, be sure to inform the vet.

Symptoms of wet tail include watery, foul-smelling diarrhea, often so severe the tail area appears wet and matted with diarrhea and/or mucous; a hunched, pained posture and sometimes squealing from the pain; extreme lethargy; a ragged and ungroomed appearance; loss of appetite and failure to drink. Many hams die from the dehydration before the infection itself could prove fatal, so carefully forcing fluids by dropper or needleless syringe is often a life-saver. Pedialyte is excellent for dehydrated hams,
and can be offered at half-strength mixed with fresh water. Other than that, offer only boiled white rice, dry rolled oats, and the ham’s usual dry mix — no fresh or wet foods, no veggies or fruits.

Any hamster suspected of having wet tail should be isolated immediately – quarantined behind a closed door. The infection can be easily spread among hamsters, so handwashing and other hygiene precautions are essential. The cage and accessories of an infected ham must be cleaned carefully and spot-cleaned often to reduce the bacteria. Wooden or other objects that can’t be sterilized must be thrown away. As symptoms subside, the cage must be sanitized with bleach. If the hamster dies, and the cage is to be
reused, the cage must sit away from any other hamster for a month after bleaching before introducing another hamster to it.

A/b29:–Do hamsters make noise?

Hamsters are among the quietest creatures there are – usually the only sound you’ll here from them is the squeaking of their wheels. Hamsters do vocalize from time to time, Russian hamsters are known to be quite vocal.

They squeak: this is a mating call but also heard when excited and fearful and when alarmed.

They scream: when they are in distress/surprised and this can also be heard sometimes when the hamster is sleeping.

They cough/sneeze: when they are sick or/and allergic to litter.

They can “chuff”: make little huffing sounds when they are frustrated or looking for something.

They grind their teeth: when they are annoyed/alarmed.

A/b30:–Why do hamsters sometimes destory their babies?

First off, don’t blame yourself. Sometimes you do everything absolutely right and it still happens. Even seasoned experts go through the same thing. Why does this happen?

Hamsters sometimes take as long as two weeks to become acclimated to a new environment. Put the added pressure of giving birth on top of that, and there’s just too much going on to really predict the outcome with certainty. Among Syrian (Golden hamsters) the main reason that a mother destroys a litter is stress.

The following can be stressful to hamsters, and in some cases it may cause the mother to destroy her young: too much noise; too much light; mother is too young; mother was too recently pregnant; the scent of a human or other animal got on the babies; the mother is ill; the babies are ill.

How can I avoid a disaster?

Provide the mom peace and quiet. It generally aids a pregnancy if the mother is given a “birthing box” well in advance; that would be a clean paper box of some kind – like an empty half gallon milk carton – filled with non-allergenic tissues torn into little pieces for a nest. Once the babies are born it’s too late for this.

A new mother should be left alone and undisturbed for 14 days. Keep the environment as peaceful as possible. When placing food or moving anything, use tongs or “chopsticks” to avoid getting your scent on anything. Be sure the mother has some leafy vegetables, bits of fruit or grated carrot in her dish, because nursing will make her dehydrated and she won’t always be able to get up for water due to fatigue and nursing. This is a stress inducer.

Some experts suggest that part of the reason a mother destroys and eats a litter has to do with a severe drop in the fat and protein level of the mother at the time of birth. This is something which may help the animal in the wild, but in a domestic situation serves no good purpose. (In the wild it maintains the species — if there is not enough fat and protein in the diet it may mean that there are not enough food resources in the area, and
therefore the area cannot sustain additional animals. It becomes more important for the mother to stay alive to reproduce again when resources may become available. So eating the babies accomplishes this, and the natural drop in protein and fat levels creates a craving in the hamster).

For this reason, some suggest giving the mother a diet that contains high protein and some fat immediately before and after birth. There are several foods that work well in this situation, such as cooked oats with milk or bread soaked in milk, tofu, etc. I have used plain, steamed chicken (cooled) in 3 births so far, and have not lost one baby in any of them (different mothers). I cannot say for certain whether this theory is true, but my experience has been positive. The babies even began eating the chicken after a week or so, and the protein and fat seemed to restore the mothers’ strength very quickly. I hope some of this advice will be helpful to anyone anticipating a litter.

A/b31:–What do I do if my hamster has been poisoned?

You need to go to your vet without delay, making sure that you have as much information about this situation as possible – do not delay!

A/b32:–How can I stop the wheel from squeaking!!??

Try putting some vegetable oil, cod liver oil or similar on the axle of the wheel.

A/b33:–Can I let my hamster swim?

No, they could drown. Getting wet will strip the natural oils from their skin and coat and
there is also the possibility of your hamster catching a chill, which could very easily escalate into something more serious – hamsters do not like getting wet.

A/b34:–Is it safe for my hamster to jump off the table like that?

Due to their poor eyesite, most hamsters can not always tell when it is and isn’t safe for them to jump. Thus, always keep an eye of them to prevent injury. Since they are very lightweight, they don’t build up much momentum when they do fall, so short falls (less than two feet) usually do no damage. Still, avoid letting them fall if at all possible. Be careful with younger hamsters – dropping them can cause severe damage. The older ones are a bit more resilient.

A/b35:–What’s the best type of cage for a hamster?

There are three basic types of cages: aquarium, wire, and connectable cages. Recently, Bently Durant ran a poll on alt.pets.hamsters on which cages were the most popular. The results: wired cages: 11; aquarium cages: 3; conectable cages: 1.

It’s a lot of fun to watch your hamster run through all of the tubes in the connectable cages, but they aren’t very escape- proof, and they are really difficult to clean.

Aquarium cages are hard for the hamsters to get out of, although one hamster owner said that his hamster actually broke through the side of the cage. Aquarium cages are slightly more difficult to clean than wire cages, and don’t offer as much ventilation for the hamster.

Wire cages are easy to clean, and allow the hamster to swing from the top and sides of the cage for exercise. However, you’ve got to be pretty clever in securing the wire top to the plastic bottom, as well as making sure the top of the cage is securely shut. Your hamster will also try to eat through the bottom of the cage. You’ll need duct tape, wire, heavy objects, and maybe even a padlock to keep your hamster from escaping.

A/b36:–Will small-rodent repellants harm hamsters?

It’s best to assume that the answer to this question is yes. Better to be safe than sorry later.

A/b37:–Can I put Lego in my hamster’s cage?

Hamsters enjoy obstacles and mazes to play with, and Lego is great to make fun toys for your hamster. Your hamster will chew on the Lego, so don’t give him anything you don’t need anymore. There was some concern that Lego might be toxic, but as one person posted to the newsgroup, studies have shown that a human baby would have to eat 3kg of Lego each day for a month in order for the colour chemicals to reach dangerous levels.

A/b38:–Can my hamster chew his way out of his plastic cage?

Yes, but it will take him a while.

After several months, a hamster can chew through the plastic. There’s not much you can do to deter him from chewing through it, so just keep your eyes open for holes.

Chewing on the metal or plastic will not hurt your hamster … in fact, it’s probably good for his teeth.

A/b39:–Do hamsters smell?

If you don’t clean out their cage often enough, provide fresh bedding/litter, then of course the cage starts to smell, and soon your hamster will start to smell too, due to no fault of its own.

Female hamsters will emit a strong smell for a few hours when they are in heat, but they usually have no smell.

A/b40:–Help! My hamster’s front top two teeth are damaged/missing! How can I feed him to keep him healthy?

I keep a little food processor on the counter where I make the hamster meals. I put dry hamster food mix in long enough to crack seed hulls, etc., so they can handle it. It only takes a minute to make enough for a few weeks and store it in the refrigerator. Every few nights I throw in a couple of hamster lab blocks into the mix, and mulch it up with kitten milk; this milk is available in very high or very low protein levels — quite useful. You can also use soy milk, goat’s milk or water, but cow’s milk contains protein in forms that are harder to digest, which makes some hamsters uncomfortable. I store that in the fridge too, according to the milk directions for how long it’s good.

I prepare freshies the same way — a couple nights at a time on a coarser chop. I wedge lab blocks and dog biscuits in the bars for them to gnaw against, and put in some whole seeds when they can handle them. Tofu and chopped chicken and other favorites will still work just fine. Give your hamster some choices while you’re learning what will work best, and don’t hesitate to include some foods that might be a challenge. They can be awfully clever about such things!

A/b41:–Some of my hamster’s teeth are damaged/missing! Will they
ever grow back?

The answer depends on what exactly happened.

* If the root of an incisor is intact, the tooth will reappear and continue to grow normally. That’s happened to Puppy’s lowers several times from bacterial periodontitis related to his blood glucose levels.

* If the root is damaged, there may be regrowth, but not necessarily of healthy, useful teeth.

* If the root was destroyed, there will be no regrowth. Also, molars don’t regrow, nor do they grow continually.

When teeth are missing for a long time the other teeth may not meet properly, and some may grow too long. This will interfere with their ability to eat, and can be harmful to their health. Fortunately it is easy to watch for this problem and prevent it. For such cases, always have a small amount of dog biscuit and other hard treats for them to gnaw on. Observe the length of their teeth, and if they seem to long, have them trimmed.

A/b42:–My hamster is losing its fur; how I can help?

It is a good idea to contact your vet.

Use nutritional yeast or debittered brewer’s yeast, debittered is more palatable for consumption. It can be found at health food stores and pharmacies. Nutritional yeast and brewers yeast is filled with vitamins and nutrients,and makes up for the hamster’s nutritional deficiencies, if it has one.

Sprinkle a pinch of it on the hamster’s favorite foods every day. It sticks better to moist foods, and if the food is a treat, like a sliver of apple or such, it is most likely to be consumed. Do this every day for two weeks, then cut back to two or three times a week for two weeks, then down to once a week, and after that eliminate it completely. Too much useage makes the animal become used to it, and it may lose effectiveness.

Provide extra shredded toilet paper, as fur loss will increase the need to conserve warmth during sleep. Watch her appetite, thirst, peeing and pooping too, and see that she has a warm and quiet place to sleep restfully. Eliminating all possible stress will give her body its best chance to heal.

Always check for a mechanical cause such as a wheel axle rubbing that area. Also, if you’ve changed bedding, food, treats, play areas or anything else lately, do change it back immediately in case it’s an allergic response. If you happen to use cedar, please stop, as it’s quite toxic. If you use pine, be sure it’s very dry, white and not smelly (an indication of the level of phenols left after processing). I’d be inclined to move her to paper-based litter if it could be shavings bothering her.

A/b43:–Can I let my hamster run free in my home?

In general, one should start by assuming that it is not safe to allow one’s hamster to run freely through the house, or even through one blocked-off room. This is because hamsters are not only small, but they are very flexible. They can (and do) find small openings that you never knew existed, and they can force themselves through them and into them. Hamsters are known to crawl under doors, into air-ducts, into floor-radiator panels, through gaps in the floorboard, and into other small spots that large beings like hamster owners never really notice. Hamsters can be lost or injured in this fashion.

Thus, before allowing a hamster to run free in a room you will need to spend some time hamster-proofing the room for maximal safety. You will need to get on your hands and knees and crawl around the room, carefully looking for every little area that the hamster might be able to get into; if there is any chance this could lead to a lost or escaped hamster, make 100% certain that such areas are blocked off. Then, cordon off the room with a barried that you are certain your hamster can not get through, over or around. At that point it would be safe to let your hamster run free for a while. Most hamster owners will only do this when they themselves are in the room with the hamster, to supervise and make sure that everything is Ok.

A member of alt.pets.hamsters writes:

Hippo is a fat arsed Syrian. I mean that in a loving and purely descriptive sense. I have had Hippo for 54 weeks as I write this (late June 2002). Hippo was rescue animal. Neither the rescuer who gave her to me or I had ever kept a rodent. We both had plenty of experience with large animals, including farm animals but had never kept a small furry. The morning after I got her I located aph and began asking silly questions.

Hippo is easy to track down because she is not a silent runner. When I am downstairs I can hear her scampering around my room. She is greedy and inquisitive. She enjoys hiding inside the couch. Fortunately she is, and it breaks my heart to say this, not very clever. When I enter the room she stops chewing up the inside of the couch and freezes. If I am quiet she starts up again. Tapping on the couch and making what I think is hamster like scratching sounds usually brings her out to investigate. Maybe she thinks they sound like something else but it works. Then I can grab her. I usually put her cage on the floor and when she has had enough freedom she climbs back in.

I have a pretty relaxed attitude to my furniture. My couch has suffered a lot but I’m just glad to see her running around. For a while she was having a go at the carpet in the corners of my room. So I got some squares of left over carpet and tacked them into the corners. It seems to work fine. If you are concerned then I suggest remaining in the room with your hamster. Luckily I was in my room reading recently and I became suspicious at the lack of noise. Investigating I found Hippo was chewing through electrical cables. These are now lifted off the floor and out of reach.

In my last house I kept Hippos cage in the lounge. Hippo would roam free while I watched TV. When she’d had enough she used to climb back into her cage and go to sleep. Sometimes she’d simply un-pouch the treats I had hidden in the room and go out for more of a play. Usually Hippo has had enough being out after ½ to 1-½ hours. Try ½ an hour and put your hamster back in their cage to give them a chance to drink. Just as when you are using the ball, let your hamster have a pee first.

Do not do this if you have other animals like cats or dogs in the house. (Personally I think it is unfair to keep a prey type animal in a house where it can constantly smell the presence of a predator).

Be careful about opening doors and walking around.

I like to put a few treats on the floor for Hippo to find. I try not to use the same hiding place too often.

Obviously, it helps if your room is tidy. It is essential that there is nothing dangerous or toxic around. For example, if you have sprayed for bugs then vacuum the floor and ask the manufacturer about persistence.

Hamsters chew stuff. Move vital things out of reach.

A/b44:–My Syrian hamster has large lumps near his anus, is this normal?

You are looking at his testicles and you will find this to be quite normal. The testicles of a male Syrian hamster will differ in size and shape due to certain factors such as temperature levels. Sometimes they will become visibly large and quite in your face and other times appear small and neat. You’re looking at a healthy well-endowed male hamster.

A/b45:–How can I persuade my hamster to pee in a particular area of his cage?

You can obtain hamster toilets from good pet shops or use a crock/bowl or even a glass jar and place it in a corner of the cage that you think is appropriate – make sure that the object you provide as a toilet is spacious enough for your hamster to get in and out comfortably and is also able to turn around without any difficulty.

Gather a small quantity of litter that your hamster has already urinated on and place inside his new toilet and set aside whilst you thoroughly clean your hamster cage and this includes all accessories which will eliminate all previous odours. Put back everything into his cage and place his new toilet in a corner you have chosen that you consider to be the best place for it.

If it doesn’t work at first, keep trying, your hamster will soon get the message – do bear in mind though, hamsters can be very fickle and will do what they think is best.

A/b46:–Is it dangerous for my hamster if I administer medicine that has passed its expiry date?

Yes! Never give medicine that has passed its expiry date — medicine alters over a length of time and once out of date, not only is it ineffective but can become toxic.

A/b47:–I would like to have a hamster, where is the best place to go to obtain one?

Adopting a hamster from an animal shelter has to be the best way of obtaining a hamster and a worthwhile experience.

Pet stores are not all bad, but you really don’t know what you’re getting most of the time, so a reputable breeder is a good starting point, someone who has been recommended to you.

Looking in the classified section of your local newspaper, asking at your local library and letting your friends know you are wanting to get a hamster as a pet, are all ways of getting nearer to becoming a hamster owner.

A/b48:–My hamster appears to like his wire wheel, why should I get rid of it?

Wire wheels can be extremely unsafe for hamsters because their legs slip through the open spaces (rungs). The outcome can be torn & broken limbs, which can be so easily avoided. There are many “solid-based wheels” for sale in pet stores, which are a far safer alternative to a wheel that has open rungs.

Visit the link shown below, this type of wheel has been recommended by many hamster owners.

Wodent Wheel by Transoniq (new page)

Wodent Wheel archived page (with details)

A/b49:–I’m thinking of breeding my Syrian hamster, can you give me some advice?

There’s a great deal of research to do, money to save for basic care, emergencies and vet expenses related to having a litter.

You’ll at least need two extra cages for the babies to have a few weeks together after being weaned but separated by sex.

You could end up with as many as 26 pups in a litter. If adopters back out or return the hamsters, you will be responsible for housing these hamsters in individual cages for two to three years or longer, as well as feeding them, playing with them daily, cleaning the cages, and paying for all their supplies and medical needs.

If you have two pet shop hamsters from the same area, you have no way to know if they’re related. Inbreeding is not something for beginners to experiment with. You also don’t know if they come from good, healthy, long-lived, disease-resistant lines or if they will produce weak and sickly pups. If they’re closely related and have any health problems, inbreeding them will magnify the problems and the babies will suffer for it. The expense of an unhealthy litter can be enormous.

Any breeding program should start with the best, healthiest unrelated animals you can find from reputable breeders.

A/b50:–What is the difference between a ‘complete’ and ‘complementary’ mix?

A complete mix can be fed as a single basis of nourishment meaning it is not required for us to top up a complete mix with additional foods.

A complementary food is intended to accompany the complete mix, for instance sunflower seeds should not be used as the only source of daily nutrition but can be added as an additional source of nutrition along side a complete mix.

In addition to a complete mix providing healthy extras is always a good idea, it provides variety and further nourishment.

Topic Resources

the alt.pets.hamsters FAQ, Glen Gower version

Coding Resources

Anchor Tag Code: Typepad KNOWLEDGE BASE

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