Ok, so the children have persuaded you it’s a great idea to get them a dwarf hamster for a pet. The question is how do you exercise your responsibilities to look after and care for the little blighter?
This is an essential, necessary guide because you know the kids are going to lose interest after the first week and it’s going to be down to YOU to look after it!
About dwarf hamsters
Dwarf hamsters actually make good family pets. If looked after well, which is relatively easy, they can become quite tame. Because of their size, they are particularly suited to a family environment.
They are nocturnal like their larger cousins, spend most of the day sleeping and in my experience become really active just as your favourite programme starts on the tv. There are three different types of dwarf hamster, Russian, Chinese and Roborovski. Here’s a little detail on each of them.
Chinese hamsters are slightly thinner than their Russian counter-parts and their tails are longer than most other hamsters. They can either be a grey/brown colour with a black stripe or white with a grey stripe. They’re fast, but once you catch them they like being handled and also like climbing. The males are happy to live in pairs or larger groups, but the females are probably better living alone. Their life span is approximately 2 -3 years.
These are the smallest and speediest of the three species, and probably the hardest to handle until they get used to you. They can be identified by their white stomachs and white patches above the eyes. They are usually happy living in same sex pairs or slightly larger groups. They live for around 2 years.
Russian hamsters are generally regarded as the most sociable of the breeds, but they can be sensitive to rough handling, so are probably best avoided as pets for young children. There is actually two types of Russian, the Campbell’s Russian and the Winter White Russian. They can be quite different to tell apart until, as the name suggests, the Winter White’s coat turns partially or sometimes completely white during the winter months. They’ll happily live in same sex pairs or larger groups and life expectancy is about 2 years.
Buying hamsters and the equipment
If you’re going to buy a pair or a group of hamsters you should get them all at the same time, from the same group. New individuals will not be accepted into an established group. As with all animals, they’ll be times when conflict arises. Ensure there is lots of space for them to sleep separately if the want to.
You should ideally choose a cage designed for dwarf hamsters, the plastic topped varieties are a good option and bear in mind mouse ladders may be required for vertical tubes in ‘stacking’ cages. Whatever design you settle on, it should be large enough to let the little chaps run around in as they are very active and like lots of space.
Cover the floor of the cage with wood shavings and provide paper bedding for nesting. Do not use hay or straw because it can be tough and could hurt their cheek pouches. There should also be a small ‘house’ for them to sleep in so that they feel secure.
The cage, like a lot of things in this life, should be kept away from direct sunlight, sources of heat and draughts.
It’s fair to say you’re probably better off using a good quality propriety brand of hamster food than serving them up the left-over roast beef. In fact, don’t serve them roast beef at all. If you have to change brand introduce it slowly over a period of 10 days or so to avoid them getting upset stomachs. You can supplement their diets with small amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables such as apple and carrot. I should stress this should be supplementary only to avoid stomach problems.
Place the food ideally in a ceramic bowl (gnaw proof) and remove any uneaten food and refill the bowl on a daily basis. Water should be fresh every day also.
You should clean the cage out at least once a week and use a pet safe disinfectant. If they have one particular toilet area then this will probably need cleaning more often.
Regular grooming can highlight health problems and you should groom them once a week or more regularly if they have long hair to keep their skin and coats healthy.
When you first get them home you should let them settle in for a couple of days to let them get used to their new surrounding without being handled. The first step is to introduce your hand into the cage, perhaps offering a treat. You may find that they’ll climb onto your hand, but if not scoop it up. You should only handle them individually and regularly to build their confidence and bond with them.
Remember to supervise very young children with them and the different breeds have different temperaments.
In my experience they were relatively easy and fairly low maintenance to look after, my wife on the other hand...