Hamsters can be a good pet for people who don’t have enough room for a larger pet. However, they still need plenty of care and attention to ensure they are looked after properly.
Sean Wensley, PDSA Senior Vet, said: “All pets have five welfare needs which must be met to keep them healthy and happy. In fact, in the UK, owners have a legal duty to meet these five needs under the Animal Welfare Act. Each type of pet’s exact requirements differ, so it’s important for owners to make sure they fully understand what their pet’s needs are, and know how to meet them.”
Here are Sean’s tips on how to meet these five needs for hamsters:
Hamsters need a large cage to allow them to get plenty of exercise – in the wild they can travel up to five miles a night! Some cages have tunnel systems attached while others have platforms at different levels. Both of these are good, the bigger the better, but make sure they are well secured as hamsters are very good at escaping.
Hamsters are naturally burrowing animals, so a deep layer (ideally at least 40cm) of wood shavings or potting compost should be provided. They will also need a nest box with soft bedding material, or shredded kitchen paper, where they can sleep.You should clean your hamster’s cage out weekly. Leave a small amount of their old, unsoiled, bedding behind at each cleaning so that their familiar scents aren’t completely removed during cleaning. Every three months do a thorough clean, wash the cage well and replace all the burrowing and nesting materials.
The cage should be kept indoors, out of draughts and direct sunlight – a temperature of around 18-21°C is ideal. They should be kept away from busy or noisy areas, such as near a TV or stereo, as the noise and vibrations can be very stressful for them.
Hamsters should be fed commercial hamster pellets, as these are less likely to lead to obesity and nutrient deficiencies than mixes that contain seed, grain and nuts. Follow the packet guidelines on the amount of pellets to feed. Fresh fruit and vegetables, such as small pieces of apple and carrot, can be given occasionally. Sunflower seeds and nuts are high in fat, so shouldn’t be fed very often.
Hamsters also need constant access to water – a water bottle with a metal spout is ideal as this prevents accidental spillages.
Allowing hamsters to express their normal behaviour will help to keep them active and ensure that they don’t become bored and frustrated. A deep area to burrow in is vital (see Environment, above). An exercise wheel (one without gaps between the rungs), tunnels, cardboard rolls and boxes will provide plenty of things for them to explore and climb on. Pet shops also sell toys such as ladders and tubes, and you can swap the toys around to keep them interested, using the opportunity to wash any not in use.
Syrian (or Golden) hamsters must be housed alone, as they will fight if kept together. However, dwarf hamsters are social and should be kept in pairs. For dwarf hamsters, littermates of the same sex are ideal companions, as this prevents breeding and they are less likely to fight.
Hamsters are most active at night so should be left alone in the daytime. Early evening once they have woken up is the ideal time to handle them. Start gradual, gentle handling from an early age.
Check your hamster daily for signs of ill health. Any changes in your hamster’s behaviour should alert you to the possibility of pain or illness. If you notice anything that concerns you or you’re not sure about, make an appointment with your vet straight away.
For more information on meeting your hamster’s five welfare needs, visit www.pdsa.org.uk/goldenhamsters.