Caring for Your Guinea Pig
When choosing a hamster, always choose one with bright looking eyes and dry fur. If these aspects are not present, you could be buying a sick pet. A healthy hamster will have bright eyes, smooth fur and a robust body structure. Hamsters sleep most of the day, so the evening is a good time to shop for a hamster. Hamsters are very shy, so don’t be put off by timid ones. Eventually, hamsters can be tamed.
There are two types of hamsters that you will find at most pet stores.
- The most common is the golden or Syrian hamster. Golden hamsters are twice the size of dwarfs. Although originally gold in color, goldens now come in a variety of colors. Golden hamster must be kept alone; if they are paired, they will inevitably fight.
- The less common type is the dwarf hamster, specifically the Russian dwarf and the Chinese dwarf. Aside from their origin, the Russian and Chinese dwarfs are actually very similar. They are usually brown in color with a black stripe running down the back. They are often described as looking like field mice, except that they have no tail. Dwarfs are the most sociable. They can be kept two to a cage as long as they are the same sex.
Housing Your Hamster
It is relatively easy to house a hamster. There are several different cage options to choose from, all fairly inexpensive. The wire cage, the glass aquarium and the plastic expandable tube habitats are all good choices. Any reputable pet store selling hamsters should carry at least one of these cages.
- The most common cage is made of wire and plastic. The wire top should be able to lift off of the plastic foundation. There should also be a door through which you can fit your hand in order to feed your hamster, and remove him for cleaning. The wire cage is the least expensive option.
- Another type of cage in which to house your hamster is the glass aquarium. With an aquarium, the family can easily see the hamster. It is also a good choice for temperature control. The glass walls will block any drafts. It is important to get a sturdy wire lid for the aquarium, and it is a good idea to put a heavy object on top to prevent any escapes.
- The final type of cage is the plastic tube habitat. This is the most expensive choice, and the most difficult to keep clean. The advantage is that they give your hamster the closest environment to his natural habitat.
There are several items that you will need to equip your hamster cage. An exercise wheel is a great thing to have to give your hamster exercise. A water bottle is vital – just make sure that your hamster can reach it. Bedding is important; pine shavings are the most popular type. Lastly, a sturdy food bowl should complete your hamsters’ new environment.
Regardless of the house that you choose, your hamster’s cage should be cleaned out every week. Bedding should be changed, and any urine or feces washed out with mild soap and rinsed very well with water.
Food & Water
Your hamster is an enthusiastic eater and his next meal may be the highlight of his day. With high metabolic requirements, hamsters find themselves chewing through 10 percent of their body weight in food every 24 hours. By maintaining a well-balanced diet, you will increase your critter’s chance of leading a long and healthy life. His diet should consist mostly of grains and other carbohydrates, and fresh water should always be available.
Most experts recommend that you restrict the amount of sweet and oily foods that you give your hamster. While your pet may like potato chips and cupcake crumbs, these foods distract him from the nutritious items he needs to stay healthy.
Hamsters use their large cheek pouches like a backpack for carrying food. In their native desert lands, food is often difficult to find, and it makes sense for the hamster to collect seeds, plant roots, and small insects and hide them whenever the food is available. Hamsters can carry up to half their body weight in food in their cheek pouches. Their common name is adapted from the German word hamstern, which means to horde. In the wild, a hamster can be quite a pest, hiding up to 60 pounds of grain in underground stores for winter.
While a hamster with his cheeks full may be hard to resist, try to avoid overfeeding your hamster. The food he stores may soon become moldy if he urinates on it to mark it as his own. You should feed him a complete hamster mix that has a variety of grains, corn and vegetable flakes in it. Hamsters require more fresh fruits and greens than many other rodents, so be sure to provide broccoli, apples, peas in the pod, melon and other fresh vegetables. Do not peel the veggies or remove their seeds – your hamster will enjoy shredding the whole piece at his own pace. And do not be surprised if you see your hamster eating his droppings. It is difficult for him to get all of the nutrients he needs out of his food the first time it passes through his gut.
Fresh water should be available to your pet at all times. A sipper bottle is the best way to supply water to your pet because it won’t become contaminated with food and feces. It’s best for your water bottle to be emptied and refilled with fresh water daily and then run through the dishwasher once per week.
Sunflower seeds and pieces of fruit or vegetables are great treats for your pocket pet but they must be fed in VERY SMALL amounts.
Pet store snacks made specifically for pets are fine also. But remember: Your pet is relatively sedentary compared to his relatives in the wild. Keep the amount of junk food down to a minimum.
Your hamster has front teeth that are constantly growing, so he must chew and gnaw in order to keep them worn down. Keep chew sticks from the pet store or pieces of fruit-tree branches or bark in your pet’s cage to help keep his teeth healthy. If you choose sticks from trees in your yard, make sure they come from non-poisonous trees. Cherry, cedar and oleander are just a few that ARE toxic.
A Rule of Thumb
With time and experimentation, you will learn how much food your small rodent needs. Try to give only as much as he can eat on the day you feed him, plus a little extra for the next morning. His own exercise patterns and dietary requirements will determine the specific amount of food he needs, but bear in mind that he will likely overstuff himself if given the opportunity. Always remove any leftover scraps of fresh fruits or vegetables from the cage, as the mold that they will grow may be toxic to your animal.
Exercise and Play
Hamsters need plenty of exercise. An exercise wheel should be adequate for keeping your hamster entertained. However, some people construct mazes and exercise areas to keep their hamsters from getting bored. If you do this, just make sure these areas are escape proof.
When you first bring your hamster home, it is important to let him rest and get used to his new environment. Too much stimuli right away can cause stress. Slowly handling your hamster will allow him to assimilate to his surroundings
Grooming and Care
It is not necessary to groom your hamster. Hamsters will usually groom themselves. If your hamster’s coat becomes untidy, it may be indicative of health problems. It is a good idea to take your pet to your veterinarian if this occurs. Make sure that, when transporting your hamster, you put him in a chew proof container.
When handling a hamster, always be sure to go slowly. You should always pick him up gently, with both hands. The more tamed the hamster is, the easier it is to pick up. Eventually, your hamster will jump into your hand.
If your pet is showing any signs of distress or you suspect your pet is seriously ill, CONTACT YOUR VETERINARIAN immediately. Information provided by www.petplace.com. If you have any questions, please contact our clinic at (714) 979-7387.