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Hamsters As Pets

By Charles Hopkins Published 10/23/2007 | Pets and Animals
Heaps of fun and a lot more "touchy feely" than a gold fish, hamsters make great pets for both adults as well as children. Hamsters are today among the most popular small pet and with good reason.

Hamsters have many advantages as pets. Being nocturnal they are well suited to those who work or are at school all day. Another advantage is that they have almost no odor and are generally clean and easy to look after.

There are three common species of hamster, each of which has its individual characteristics. It is therefore important to choose the appropriate species based on the carer's circumstances. Possibly the most common variety is the Syrian or Golden hamster. These are the largest, measuring around 5 inches in length. However, they are also the gentlest species, generally tolerant in nature and suitable for young children. Syrian hamsters are solitary creatures and should not be kept in groups. The Russian or dwarf hamster as the name suggests is much smaller in size and more sociable. They can be reared in pairs or small groups. However, they are more lively and active but less tolerant of careless handling and may therefore not be suitable for very young children.
Chinese hamsters are also small like the Russian but more placid natured and timid.

When selecting a hamster it's best to pick an inquisitive, alert and active animal -not only are they likely to make more fun pets than a lethargic or quiet one but these features are also indicative of its general health. Clear eyes and nostrils - free of discharges and clean coat free of droppings are also good signs to look for. Diarrhea and respiratory problems are relatively common among hamsters so look for any evidence of diarrhea or labored breathing. Diarrhea can be particularly harsh to hamsters as their tiny bodies soon dehydrate.

Another deadly hamster disease is "Wet Tail". This is caused by a tapeworm and is often fatal. Symptoms are scruffy appearance, loss of appetite and not surprisingly a wet tail! This is a highly contagious disease and bedding and other material used by an infected animal should be destroyed. To avoid these problems it is important to keep the hamster's cage clean. Hamsters are quite fastidious in their grooming and will often use a specific area of its cage as a toilet while allocating other areas for food storage and other activities. Clean regularly but not too often as frequent intrusion into its territory could stress your hamster.

Hamsters need to be active and lack of exercise could result in paralysis. Some animals are actually known to get addicted to activities such as the hamster wheel. It is important to ensure they have sufficient variety.

Hamsters also need a varied diet but aren't difficult to feed. Many mixes are commercially available including sunflower seeds, cereal, millet and alfalfa but they will also eat fruits such as apples raisins and grapes and vegetables like carrots and celery. Hamsters have sharp incisors which continue to grow. They need to gnaw on hard material to ensure these teeth wear down naturally or else they may grow too long and restrict its ability to feed itself.

Hamsters need adequate bedding laid about 2 inches deep allowing it to burrow. Suitable bedding can be purchased at most pet stores and consist of wood shavings including cedar and pine. It is best to avoid woods that are contaminated with toxins, dust and strong oils which may cause skin allergies in more sensitive animals.

As with any creature with sharp teeth hamsters may on occasion nip an unwary handler. This can be unnerving especially for young kids. Usually this problem can be overcome as handler and hamster become more accustomed to each other. Perhaps another setback could be that a hamster's average life span is only about two to three years. All in all however, the positives seem to outweigh the negatives and hamsters can be truly delightful pets giving many hours of joy.