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Caring For Your New Hamster

Owning and caring for a hamster may be a lot of fun and highly gratifying, but it comes with a lot of responsibility and a long-term commitment in terms of care and cost — hamsters normally live for about two years.

Because they are small creatures with a lot of personality, hamsters are commonly a child’s first pet – but their demands are rather complicated, and they can be easily hurt as a result of rough or thoughtless handling. An adult should always be in charge of ensuring that hamsters are handled and cared for appropriately — caring for a hamster is just too much responsibility for a child. If you own or are responsible for a hamster, even if only temporarily, you are expected by law to provide sufficient care for him/her. Because hamsters are nocturnal, they sleep much of the day and become active in the evening and at night. This implies they are suitable for people who are out throughout the day and at home in the evening, but are less suitable for little children who go to bed early.

Environment

Hamsters require a warm, dry, draught-free, clean home in a quiet location where they can rest undisturbed. Make sure the lights go out about the same time every night. Hamsters are extremely sensitive to high frequency sounds (known as ultrasound) that we cannot hear, and this can be unpleasant for them. Keep your hamster away from household equipment that can emit ultrasound, such as television sets, computer screens, vacuum cleaners, or running water.

Hamster Cage

Your hamster’s cage should be free of risks (such as sharp metal or spaces in which they could become entangled) and secure, as hamsters can readily escape from badly made cages! Hamsters require a lot of space, especially when they are active at night, so get the largest cage you can afford, preferably with a deep plastic foundation (minimum 3-5cm) and a wire top. A multi-level cage will allow your hamster to climb and make the most of the space in his/her cage, and you can fill it with tunnels and toys for him/her to explore. They will be able to climb around the cage bars thanks to the wire sides – a favourite hobby and wonderful exercise!

Because hamsters prefer burrowing, keep a thick layer of litter/bedding material in the deep base of the cage. This might be dust-free wood shavings or powdered corn cob, but make sure it’s devoid of hazardous preservatives or other chemicals. Straw should not be utilised in your hamster’s cage since the stiff strands can cause irritation to his or her cheek pouches. As an alternative litter, coarse sand might be used.

Quiet Area

You should also give a nesting box or shelter in the cage for your hamster to retreat to, remain warm, feel protected, and sleep in. A shelter should be large enough for your hamster to store food, build a nest, and roam about comfortably. It should be dark inside – some have an angled tube opening to prevent light from entering. It’s preferable if the shelter doesn’t have a floor and instead rests on top of the nesting material, allowing you to check on your hamster(s) simply by raising the shelter. A hamster will see a tinted red plastic shelter as incredibly gloomy, but you will be able to see inside without upsetting them. Hamsters should have access to enough nesting material to construct a good cup-shaped nest. Good-quality hay, wood wool, shredded paper, or cardboard are all suitable materials. Avoid using materials that can separate into fine strands, such as cotton wool or similar ‘fluffy’ bedding products, since they might become entangled around the hamster’s toes or feet.

Housekeeping

Maintain a clean hamster cage with dry litter/bedding and nesting materials, but avoid disrupting your hamster’s environment too much as this can be unpleasant. Your hamster’s litter/bedding material should not get damp or stinky, but keep in mind that hamsters communicate through odours, so always return a tiny quantity of old unsoiled nesting material when cleaning out your hamster’s cage, especially if you have a group of hamsters living together. Clean or replace feces-soiled things, and avoid transferring litter when cleaning out the cage because both faeces and pee on the litter contain odours that might cause fighting.

Diet

Your hamster requires a well-balanced diet as well as continual access to clean drinking water to keep fit and healthy.

Water

Because hamsters cannot apply high suction and hence find it difficult to suck water from a standard ‘ball-valve’ sipper tube, your hamster’s water bottle should feature a valveless sipper tube. Your hamster will find it significantly easier to use if the sipper has a relatively modest diameter or has been created with a pinch in the segment. This is especially critical for young, elderly, or unwell animals. Check the water bottle for leaks and/or blockages on a daily basis, and change your hamster’s water at least once a day. To avoid contamination, you should also take the effort to clean the bottle and nozzle on a regular basis.

Feeding time

Hamsters enjoy storing food in a private pantry, which is usually located in their nest box. They carry food in their cheek pouches (large pockets inside their cheeks) and are frequently observed with swollen cheeks withdrawing from their food. Your hamster requires a nutritious, well-balanced food. You can either feed commercial hamster diets, which are particularly created to supply all of the necessary nutrients and minerals for your hamster’s happiness and health, or a mixture of different seeds, grains, nuts, washed fruit and vegetables. Place the food on the cage floor or in a flat dish, but don’t be shocked if your hamster flips it over and transfers the contents to his/her larder! Scattering food on the cage floor provides entertainment for your hamster and supports natural food-gathering behaviour.

Avoid abruptly changing your hamster’s diet or allowing food to go bad, as this might cause stomach trouble. You can provide modest amounts of greens, cleaned root vegetables, or pieces of fruit such as apples for variety, but remove them if they are not eaten and become filthy or discoloured. Also, keep in mind that grapes and rhubarb can be harmful to hamsters. Keep an eye on how much your hamster(s) consumes. Take your hamster to the vet right away if they start consuming less food than normal, their droppings become damp, or their hindquarters become filthy. Only provide wet or powdered food if your veterinarian recommends it, such as if your pet has a tooth problem. If a hamster becomes ill and requires wet food, it is critical that all remnants be removed and new food be provided at least twice a day to prevent the food from becoming mouldy.

Behaviour

During the day, your hamster will rest and sleep, but at night, he or she will be quite active, so make sure there is enough of area to play.

It is critical to ensure that hamsters are not disturbed while sleeping and to keep them in a room where the lights are not left on until late at night. Hamsters are excellent diggers in the wild, digging deep, dark underground burrows, therefore provide your hamster with a thick layer of litter/bedding in which to dig and burrow.

Allow your hamster(s) to spend time outside of their cage after you are confident in handling them, but never leave your hamster(s) out of the cage unattended or overnight. If you have another pet, such as a cat or dog (even if you think they are close buddies), never leave them unsupervised because these are natural predators of tiny animals and may frighten, hurt, or even kill your hamster (either deliberately or accidentally). Keep a tight eye on your hamsters to ensure they don’t get into mischief by going too far and endangering themselves.

Company

Hamsters are solitary animals that can be violent to other animals, resulting in significant harm or even death. Syrian and Chinese hamsters, in particular, are not naturally gregarious and should be kept alone.

Hamsters like engaging with humans who are kind with them and understand their requirements, but they can become fearful and aggressive if they feel threatened. Try to get into the habit of handling your hamster every day (not just on weekends!) and choose a time when he or she isn’t resting or sleeping — upsetting hamsters when they are resting during the day is quite distressing for them. Allowing your hamster(s) to study your hands in their own time can help you learn how to handle them correctly so they don’t feel anxious. Pick up your hamster by cupping it with two hands and then gently opening your hands so that your hamster sits across both palms. Because hamsters have very delicate bone structure, always keep your hamster close to a surface – such as a table top or your lap – for protection.

Hamsters emit unique odours that they use to communicate, therefore avoid placing unknown hamsters, as well as different cages of hamsters, adjacent to one another, as they may become stressed and begin to fight. They may also find the presence and fragrance of other animals in the home disturbing, particularly cats and dogs, who would ordinarily devour small creatures such as hamsters. Other pets should never sit on or interfere with hamster cages.

Hamsters should be housed in groups.

Some species, such as the Russian dwarf, can be housed in pairs or trios with care, as long as the groups form early in life and no additional animals are introduced. Group-housed hamsters should ideally be young litter mates, as this reduces the chance of aggressiveness. For a week or so, house your hamsters separately yet next to each other if possible. When you do put them together, pay close attention to how they get along. You’ll need to provide a large cage and plenty of toys for them to play with, such as wheels, toys, clean hay, shredded paper, and tissue bits.

Maintaining the peace

Although dwarf hamsters are more friendly than other hamster species, conflict amongst cage mates is still possible. Make sure the cage has various shelters so that each hamster may hide away from the others if necessary. Fighting amongst group members is more likely to occur at night, when your hamsters are most active, so always inspect them in the morning to ensure that none of them have been seriously injured and require veterinary attention.

Health

Hamsters can become ill and rapidly deteriorate, yet they frequently display very slight signs of pain or distress even when they are seriously ill. So make sure your hamster is behaving normally, moving around, breathing correctly, and has bright eyes and a shining coat on a frequent basis. Health and well-being When handling your hamster, take a careful look at him/her and run your fingers gently over their body to check for lumps and bumps as well as a healthy body weight.

If you realise that you can feel your hamster’s bones more than previously, it could signal that they’ve stopped eating. Many diseases can harm hamsters, and they can become infected through contaminated food, drink, or litter material. A dull environment, tension, irritation, and/or a lack of mental stimulation can all contribute to hamsters developing repetitive behaviours (such as running in circles or gnawing the bars of their cage for long periods of time). If you detect this type of behaviour, consider obtaining a larger cage and offering additional toys and activities for your hamster.

You should also ensure that your hamster is not overly bothered by young children, other pets, or humans waking them up when they should be sleeping. If you don’t see any improvement in your hamster’s behaviour, consult with your veterinarian.

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