Hamsters are rodents with continuously growing incisor teeth. They have expandable cheek pouches for storing food and the name ‘hamster’ comes from the German word ‘hanstern’ meaning to hoard.
Well-kept hamsters can live for two to three years. They have poor eyesight but good hearing and a keen sense of smell. In the wild, hamsters inhabit arid parts of the world where they live in underground burrows and have strong nest building instincts.
They are nocturnal, sleeping underground during the hot day and foraging for food during the cooler night. Hamsters are used to large open spaces and amazingly, they can travel up to 11 to 21 kilometres at night!
Hamsters are escape artists, so any housing must be secure. When hamsters are restricted to cages, it is important to remember how they are in the wild and how far they travel. The more space that you can provide for your hamster, the better.
The cage or tank should be placed in a warm, well ventilated room away from drafts and direct sunlight or heat. If hamsters get too cold, they can go into a deep sleep (hibernate). They have sensitive hearing and need to be kept away from constant noise.
As hamsters like to burrow, a deep bed of dust extracted shavings is ideal for the main bed. Shavings sometimes get caught in the coat of long-haired hamsters, so dust-extracted sawdust is better. A separate nesting area should be provided in a cardboard or plastic box where the hamster can burrow out of sight to sleep and hoard food. Avoid fluffy bedding such as cotton wool, as it can wrap around limbs or cause impactions in the stomach if swallowed.
Hamsters can be difficult to handle and do not make good pets for young children under eight years old. Hamsters can inflict nasty bites and children should always have adult supervision when handling hamsters, as the risk of injury not only to the child but also to the hamster is high.
Handling tips for ensuring the safety of you and your hamster include:
If your hamster bites you and is holding on to your finger, be brave and gently lower the hamster on to a flat surface where it will let go. Do not try to pull it off .