Hamsters make fantastic first time pets. They are very easy to look after and everything you need can be bought at your local pet shop. The best kind of cages we think are the ones with the plastic trays at the base and wire tops or tank style cages, we do not however recommend the modular style cages, as we find them very hard to clean and access to the hamster is limited, the air circulation can be poor and condensation may build up providing the perfect environment for bacteria to grow, thus putting the health of your hamster at risk. Syrian hamsters must be kept singly where as the Dwarf breeds of hamsters will 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 6mm apart as the hamster will be able to escape through the bars. When buying caging for groups of dwarfs it is best to look for a home without separate compartments, or levels as separate areas can lead to territorial behavior and ultimately fighting. Here are some cages that we feel are suitable. For Syrians: Savic Cambridge, Savic Mickey Max or Peggy, Ferplast FopDuffy, Rabbit60 or Zoo Zone
For Dwarfs: tank style cages are best Zoo Zone, Mini Duna, or home made bin cages
There are many different types of substrate that can be used to line the bottom of your hamsters cage. We use wood shavings for our SH Syrians & LH females, and for our LH boys we use shredded cardboard or wood based cat litter. For the Dwarfs we find that a hemp based substrate is best and keeps smells down to a minimum. There are of course alternatives to this which can be a big help to anyone with an allergy to those that we use. The substrate needs to be at least 3cm deep over the base of the cage, this is so it will absorb your hamsters urine, plus provide stimulation for the hamster of digging into it.
A handful of bedding should be provided for the hamster to nest in, we give all our hamsters tissue/toilet paper it shreds easily & is completely digestible & very soft/warm. We do not recommend the bedding that is like cotton wool, yes it is very cosy but there have been reported cases of hamsters getting tangled in it and loosing limbs please do not use this kind of bedding.
FOOD & WATER
Hamsters should ALWAYS have access to fresh water and we find that a water bottle is best, as they attach easily to the sides of cages, shallow bowls should not be used as they tend to soil easily and may become buried when the hamster digs and plays.
A hamster that is fed a well-balanced diet is usually a healthy hamster. Having acquired a hamster it is up to you to feed it a diet that gives a little variety and keeps your pet healthy. Ask, when you buy, what the hamster has been fed on as, although hamsters like a variety of foods, introducing too many new foods at one time can cause tummy upsets. ALWAYS introduce greens and any new foods gradually and in very small amounts if you are not sure what your hamster has been fed before. Hamsters are omnivores and will eat meats. Cooked unseasoned chicken, turkey and prawns are favorite's and provide the hamster with additional protein. Many dwarf hamsters love being given dried or live mealworm as a treat, ours especially & some syrians will also like them.
The most important part of a hamsters diet is a well balanced dry hamster mix, which can be bought from pet shops. This will be a mixture of seeds, crushed oats, flaked maize, sunflower seeds, locust beans, peanuts etc. with some hard dry biscuit. All these are "hard" and good for the hamster's teeth, and a small handful of this mixture should be given every other day.
As a treat, "all in one" dry cat food, may be given along side the regular wooden/plastic chews for your hamster, you may also offer a dog biscuit bone such as Bonio's or Markie's. The meaty taste is appealing to the hamster and so provides something useful for the animal to chew on to wear down their ever-growing teeth.
Hamsters store their food behind or under their beds so fresh foods must only be given in small amounts, otherwise any uneaten will spoil.
As hamsters put their food into their cheek pouches so "sticky" and "sharp" foods should be avoided. Chocolate (which can melt when pouched and is bad for them), toffee (which can get stuck) and cornflakes (which can scratch the pouches). are a few to stay clear of.
To help your hamsters bones and teeth grow strong some milky foods can be given., We feed ours porridge twice a week they also get bread and milk, pasta, hard boiled egg, scrambled egg, a small piece of toast also goes down well, rice pudding and jars of baby food (avoiding those with added citrus fruit or veg belonging to the onion family). These should be removed before they sour, if uneaten.
All species of hamster may be fed as above, but dwarf hamsters will appreciate the smaller type of seed - millet, budgie seed, foreign finch seed - in addition. avoid feeding any treat with added sugar (e.g commercial honey sticks) to Campbells or Hybrids due to the increased risk of Diabetes.
Carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, sprouts, broad beans, peas, runner beans, apple, bean sprouts, sweet corn, cooked potato, peas, sweet corn and cucumber can all be given in small amounts just enough for one sitting You will soon discover what your hamster enjoys and how much your hamster can eat without any tummy upset.
A very special treat would be a small piece of biscuit such as a custard cream or digestive, these are thoroughly enjoyed.
Hamsters really enjoy dandelions, clover and groundsel but you have to be especially careful about these - do not pick close to a roadside as they could have been sprayed or covered with car fumes etc. so unless you can be certain that they are really SAFE to eat don't give them to your hamster.
All greens should be fresh and washed.
Most hamsters do not smell if they are cleaned regularly, say once every two weeks, as they usually use just one corner of the cage to wet in, as long as you clean this corner more often. When cleaning, the substrate and old food should be thrown away and the cage base washed, disinfected and dried. Place fresh substrate in the cage, along with new bedding. Rinse and clean the water bottle and fill with fresh water. Then give your hamster its daily helping of food plus a little extra for its store.
CHOOSING A HAMSTER
When choosing a hamster check that it is bright eyed, its bottom should be clean and free from feces, its coat should be healthy/good condition with no visible cuts or injuries, it should hold its ears erect and should not bite when picked up. Ideally, a hamster should be five weeks+ when bought.
To find breeders in your area please look on the BHA website or contact the Midland or Southern Hamster clubs