HAMSTERS AS PETS
There are five types of hamsters commonly kept as pets:
THE SYRIAN HAMSTER
This is the animal that most people associate with the word 'hamster', and was originally known as the 'Golden' hamster. Syrian hamsters commonly grow between 10 cm and 16 cm in length. This animal is solitary by nature and the golden rule is one Syrian hamster per cage. The animals meet only to mate, after which the female drives the male away. The pups are born after a mere 16 days, and are born blind and naked. However, they grow very quickly, and by four weeks old are usually fully weaned. Many colours and coat types of Syrian hamsters are now kept as pets.
THE CAMPBELL’S RUSSIAN DWARF HAMSTER
These hamsters are usually known as ‘Dwarf’ or ‘Russian’* hamsters, growing up to 10 cm in length. They can live together - either two of the same sex or as a breeding pair, and sometimes in same sex groups. A pair can produce a litter of babies every eighteen days, so think carefully before deciding to keep both sexes together. Born blind and naked the pups develop faster than Syrian babies and are fully weaned by three weeks. This species comes in a wide range of colours and can also be Satin coated.
THE WINTER WHITE RUSSIAN DWARF HAMSTER
Also known as the ‘Dwarf’ or ‘Russian’* hamster this species is often confused with the Campbell’s hamster. It’s distinctive Roman nose and oval shape easily sets it apart from the other species. Winter Whites usually grow up to 10 cm. Environmental conditions and breeding patterns are very similar to those of the Campbell’s hamsters, however only two colours and two pattern mutations are recognised so far.
THE CHINESE HAMSTER
Although not a true Dwarf hamster, due to its size the Chinese hamster is placed in this group. These animals can also live in pairs or small groups. They are slightly longer and thinner than ‘Russian’ hamsters, growing up to 12 cm in length. A pair may have babies every twenty one days but are not as prolific as other Dwarf hamsters. The babies are born blind and naked are weaned by four weeks old. There are currently two or three colour variations available.
THE ROBOROVSKI HAMSTER
The Roborovski hamster, or ‘Robo’, is the smallest member of the hamster family. Adults rarely exceed 7 cm in length from the tip of the nose to their almost non-existent tail. Their care and maintenance is much the same as other Dwarf hamsters. They are sociable and will usually live in groups. They rarely, if ever, bite, but are difficult to handle, owing to their extremely active temperaments. The Roborovski has recently been included into exhibitor showing with a standard introduced for the species and its agouti colour.
* Please note that the two species of Russian Dwarf can be bred together to produce hybrids. Uneducated breeders have produced these hybrids and many hamsters labelled as Winter Whites or ‘Russians’ in the shops may in fact be hybrids. The breeding of hybrids is strongly discouraged by the NHC and is a practice that should be avoided as many have genetic or physical medical issues that can impact dramatically on their lives. Hybrids are disqualified from any NHC show.
Hamsters are one of the best pets around, whether it’s a Syrian or a Dwarf. They are very easy to look after and everything you need you can buy at any pet shop. A wide selection of cages is available, from the simple plastic tray and wire top to the totally enclosed plastic type complete with tubes. The NHC recommends a minimum of 1000 cm2 (useable floor space) x 19 cm high for a Syrian hamster and 750 cm2 x 17 cm high for a Dwarf. If you can afford a slightly bigger cage of the same type (perhaps with 2 or 3 levels) so much the better, but do ensure that the young hamster cannot fall a distance greater than 19 cm. Syrian hamsters must be kept singly whereas the Dwarf and Chinese species can often live together with others of their own species. If you intend keeping the Dwarf varieties in a wire top cage the bars must not be more than 9 mm apart as these animals can get through very small gaps. This is especially important or Roborovski hamsters.
A substrate* (such as wood shavings or sawdust) should be spread on the base of the cage and a handful of nesting put in a corner which the hamster will use to make its nest. The nesting* material should be of the shredded paper variety. Never use synthetic ‘fluffy’ bedding, as it can be ingested by the hamster causing intestinal obstruction.
It is recommended that a water bottle be used, with the spout fitted at the right height on the cage for your hamster to reach, as a dish containing water is easily fouled. The hamster should have access to fresh water at all times. About an egg-cupful of dry hamster mix per day should be given (this varies hamster to hamster) and 'fresh' food introduced very gradually and in small quantities.
Most hamsters do not smell if they are cleaned regularly, say once a week. As they normally use one corner of the cage as a toilet, the substrate in this corner can be changed more often if you wish. When cleaning, the substrate and old food should be thrown away and the cage base washed and dried. Place fresh substrate in the cage, and new nesting material if needed. Rinse the water bottle and fill with fresh water. Then give your hamster its daily helping of food plus a little extra for its store.
When choosing a hamster check that it is bright eyed and holds its ears erect. It should have a dry and clean rear end and be free from open or healing cuts and should not bite when picked up. Ideally, a hamster should be between five and eight weeks old when bought and you should be able to handle it. At this age they may be fast, so care must be taken in the first few days. Always handle only a few inches above a secure surface in case the young animal should be scared and jump. If you require further information about keeping and exhibiting hamsters, are looking for hamster breeders in your area, or would like to know more about finding a local club, please visit our website.
*For more info on substrates and nesting material, visit our website www.hamsters-uk.org
© National Hamster Council -