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Hamsters


Hamsters

Hamsters are easy pets to look after making them ideal as a first pet for a child. They are nocturnal and therefore like to sleep during the day but will come out to play in the evening. Hamsters live, on average, for two and a half years.

Housing

There are a number of different types of cage available for hamsters but variety is the key. Plastic tank type cages make keeping them clean a bit easier, but hamsters do like to climb, so cages with metal bars or tubes are a good alternative. The modular, stacking systems such as Habitrail provide lots of interest and fun for pet and owner and you can add to them and change them to vary the environment.
Keep the cage out of draughts and direct sunlight and maintain the temperature between 18 – 22c. In cold weather put more bedding in the cage. If your hamster becomes too cold he may go into hibernation and will need to be warmed up in your hands to wake him up. Don’t let the temperature go above 30c as this can prove fatal to hamsters.
Remember hamsters can be very lively and noisy during the night, so a child’s bedroom may not be the best place to keep them.

Use wood shavings on the floor and add either shredded paper or woolly bedding in a corner for them to snuggle into
Hamsters will divide their accommodation up into sleeping, eating, bathroom and play areas. The hamster’s cage should be cleaned at least once a week with hot water and a pet safe disinfectant. Normally a hamster will use one area of his cage as a toilet so remove the wet litter from here daily.

Handling

When you first get your hamster home, leave him alone for the first day or two to get used to his new surroundings. After that it is important to handle regularly to build up a relationship, but remember hamsters have very poor vision. First of all talk to him and let him get used to your voice. Then introduce your hand so that he can become used to your smell. Finally pick him up very gently by cupping one hand under him and one over him. Young children should be supervised when handling hamsters and must take great care not to drop them. It is a good idea to sit on the floor when initially handling the animal as it can be very quick and very wriggly and if it does fall, at least it won’t hurt itself.
Eventually he should come to you and eat out of your hand.
Never let your hamster out of his cage unsupervised and remember he likes to chew things, so keep him away from electric cables!

Feeding

A dry hamster mix will provide all the nutrients and vitamins the animal requires. They also like small pieces of fruit and vegetables and toast is a particular favourite! Hamsters will store their food in their bedding so be careful fresh foods are not allowed to rot or go mouldy as this could cause illness.
Treats can be given occasionally to hamsters to help tame them and to give them some variety.

Health

Hamsters normally stay healthy throughout their short lives. However, there are a number of common complaints, most of which can be avoided by looking after them correctly.
If the hamster’s coat appears ruffled, he loses his appetite, coughs and sneezes and has a nasal discharge, he probably has a cold. Keep him warm and if symptoms persist take him to the vet. Hamsters can catch colds from humans so avoid handling if you have one
Hamsters are susceptible to a severe diarrhoea known as Wet Tail which should be treated immediately by a vet. The cage should then be thoroughly cleaned with disinfectant. Wet Tail can be caused by rotten or mouldy food or bedding or by stress from too much handling particularly with a new hamster. Your hamster may suffer a mild form of diarrhoea from too much fruit or vegetables and too many dry pellets can cause constipation. In both cases an adjustment to the diet is required.
Your hamster’s teeth will grow constantly and if they get too long he may be unable to chew properly. Providing wooden toys or apple tree branches can help as can hamster treats and a mineral stone.

Playing

Hamsters love having toys to play with and there is a big range to choose from Wooden toys are excellent for hamsters as they entertain them as well as give them something to chew on, thus helping their teeth. Plastic and resin toys are also good and some in a variety of colours and shapes.
Hamsters love to run around and you will be amazed at how long they can happily play in a ball in an evening.
Changing their environment often keeps them active and interested, so if your cage has tubes and accessories fitted, move them around to let him explore.

Summary care points

1 Plastic or wire hamster cage
2 Woodshavings for bedding
3 Gradual introduction of human contact.
4 Seek veterinary advice if loss of appetite/diarrhoea or other symptoms.
5 Once socialised, frequent interaction with humans
6 Never let food go stale in the cage.

Checklist of requirements

Cage
Food dish
Water bottle
Mixed food
Woodshavings
Soft bedding
Disinfectant
Mineral stone
Toys
Exercise Ball
Treats

Pets are live animals not playthings.
They cannot be discarded when you get fed up with them.
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If you buy a pet you become responsible for it for the rest of its life.
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Make sure you are able to look after the pet you pick and have the right accommodation to house it, ie cage, hutch, tank, heater and light.
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Ask advice and buy a book about the pet you pick before buying – if in doubt, don’t buy.
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