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General Care of the Hamster



     The common hamster is usually the golden or Syrian Hamster.  This animal originated in Southeast Europe and Asia.  The coat colors are variable, with the longhaired teddy bear, cream, white or cinnamon being the most common types.  Hamsters are usually nocturnal, which means that they are more active at night than day.  Males weigh about 3 ounces (100?150 grams), and females are usually larger in size.

     The hamster should be kept in an enclosed area such as an aquarium with a lid, as they like to try and escape and explore.  Their housing should be at least 12″ high, and with a solid floor.  We do not advise pine shavings not from kiln dried lumber, cedar, redwood or any other aromatic wood shavings as bedding because they can cause pneumonia problems.  Aspen shavings are preferred.  There are many toys, exercise wheels, tubes and other items for keeping the hamster busy.  They love to gnaw and tear up items.  Adult females should not be housed together, as they will fight and sometimes cause abscesses (bite infections) on the head and elsewhere.  If the temperature drops in the room where the hamsters are housed, they may go into”pseudo hibernation”, or they may not be as active.

     Hamsters are omnivores, and should be fed a commercial hamster, rat, rodent or mouse diet. They normally will eat about 5?7 grams of food daily.  The hamster is a little different than mice or rats, in that the hamster has fermentation in their fore stomach.  As a general rule hamsters and other pocket pets should not have seeds or especially fruit as over 5% of their diet.  Fresh water should be provided at all times, especially if the female is in lactation.

     As early as 7?8 weeks of age, a female hamster may be able to breed.  It is best to wait till the female is 4?5 months of age, before you breed her.  Always take the female to the male’s cage, as the female may fight to protect her territory.  Introduce the female to the male in the early evening, when the nocturnal hamster is “waking up”.  If they don’t fight by the time you go to bed then you can leave them alone till morning.  Remove the female to her own cage the next day.  A white discharge is sometimes noticed from the vagina of a female in estrus (heat), and this is normal.  Normally 12 hours of light is required before the female starts to show signs of estrus.  Pregnancy lasts about 16 days.  On the average, 4?10 pups are born.  You should not disturb the female for the first 5 days after she has given birth, or she can become cannibalistic towards the litter.  The baby’s eyes should open up around 10?12 days.  You should feed the pregnant or nursing female as much food as she wants to eat.  Weaning of the babies, also called cubs, should occur at about 21 days of age.

     A phenomenon we sometimes see in rodents and ungulates (cloven hoofed livestock) is chromodacryorrhea.  Chromodacryorrhea is a medical term for red tears.  This redness is from a chemical porphyrin secreted form the animal’s harderian glands near the eye.  Porphyrin will fluoresce under a black light, while blood will not.  Chromodacryorrhea can be due to sickness or a response to stress.

     The common Syrian hamster has a scent gland located on the side of their flank.  These glands may be enlarged, and sometimes this is normal.  Males may lick at these flank glands, also called hip glands, and cause wetness, which still can be normal.  In the dwarf species these glands are usually on the underbelly, and single.  The smell of this territorial-marking gland may be more noticeable in the dwarf species and female Syrian hamsters.  

     If your hamster develop diarrhea, please call us.  With all animals, we advise fecal examinations of their stools.  “Wet Tail” is a common name for a hamster that has diarrhea; it is only a sign and not a diagnosis of a specific disease.  Other pocket pet owners may call their rabbit, chinchilla, gerbil, rat or mice with diarrhea as having a wet tail; the wet tail terminology is usually reserved for hamsters only.  Contrary to belief stress alone rarely causes wet tail. Wet tail is also called proliferative ileitis.  If there is diarrhea please bring in 10-12x stool samples for a fecal test, stains, and possibly cultures and other tests.  Should your hamster be drinking more water and/or urinating more than usual, please call us regarding the collection of urine; the average 100 gram hamster should drink 8-10 ml (1/3 of an ounce) of water a day.  You can place the hamster in a smooth bottom, large storage-type container and suck up the urine in a syringe we can provide.  One also can collect urine by placing plastic wrap under the wire cage.   The average hamster lives 2?3 years.


The Staff at the Nelson Road Veterinary Clinic