Owning a... hamster
Food and housing
The cage should be at least 60cm x 38cm x 30cm (24in x 15in x 12 in) and kept out of bright sunlight and out of draughts. It should be kept at 65-70 Farenheit (room temperature) to prevent chills, hibernation or even death from low temperatures. There are many options for hamsters, including Rotastak, Habitrail and simple small-animal cages with bars and a plastic base. I prefer the small-animal cage, since this allows plenty of open space, the bars can be used to climb and swing, and plenty of air can get in. It is also very easy to clean, since the bars are separate from the base. If using a cage of this type, it shouldn't have more than two levels since the hamster could fall and injure itself. I use this cage as the main home, and have a couple of Habitrail units which the hamster can play in during the evenings, before returning to his cage to sleep. Rotastak units are a good option, although I have never used them since they are quite expensive. They imitate the natural burrow environment and allow plenty of room, since they can be extended as much as you like and are fully customisable. The only other downside is that it is more difficult to clean out.
Cages on the market:-
The Rotastak Space system with the main living area and add-on pods.
All this would cost well over £50
Cricetto Bernie Deluxe CageW71 x D38.6 x H26cm.
Has a plastic base and see-through plastic walls. £20
large cage with three levels. Make sure the wheels are solid.£40
Personally, I'd like to get a much larger cage than these three shown. Although expensive, its worth it in the long run. The bigger the better.
The cage should have a deep layer of shavings on the bottom, to allow the hamster to dig and to soak up all the urine. Hamsters will use a particular corner of the cage in which to urinate and the shavings in that corner will need removing every day. Bedding should be provided at all times. The best type of paper bedding comes in plastic bags as long strips. These are better than the tiny shreds, since a proper nest can be built from them. They are also better than the bedding which looks like cotton wool, I don't like to use that bedding because if it is chewed it could get stuck in the hamsters mouth and pouches. The cage should be cleaned out every week, with fresh shavings and new bedding. The wee corner will need cleaning every day. About every month, the cage should be washed in hot soapy water and scrubbed clean. You will find that the wee corner of the base will get encrusted with dried urine if not cleaned often enough. If this happens, soak the base in hot water then scrape the mess off and rinse thoroughly.
Your hamster will need either a water bottle or a water pot. Bottle is best, since it cannot tip over and the water remains clean. If you have a water pot, it must be heavy so as not to tip over. Hamsters don't drink very much, being desert creatures. The 'mouse' sized water bottle is better than the 'hamster' size since it's smaller, so less water is wasted each day. You will also need a food pot, again heavy; a salt or mineral lick and lots of things to chew. Although hamsters don't chew as much as gerbils, their incisors also grow continuously so require regular wearing down. The same sort of things are suitable: toilet roll tubes, cardboard boxes, sellotape rings, cotton reels etc. Hamsters won't chew plastic toys, so any tunnels or houses will last a lifetime.
Hamsters need an exercise wheel. The wheel should be plastic and solid. DO NOT USE A WHEEL WITH RUNGS since the hamster can get its feet caught. Hamsters can run for miles each night on their wheels and they fulfil the bulk of their exercise requirements in this way. Wheels can be very noisy, squeaky and rumbly, which can disturb your sleep! It is best to keep the cage in a separate room at night if it does, so that the hamster can still have a run (make sure the cage is not in a draught). Another excellent source of exercise is the hamster exercise ball. These are made of see-through plastic with little gaps for air. Hamsters will soon learn to roll around in them and will enjoy playing in them.. They should not be left alone in the ball and should not be left in the ball for more than an hour at a time. Be careful of any stairs or other obstructions when your hamster is in his ball. Also be careful of escape - although the lids screw on tightly, repetitive impact as your hamster rolls into walls/doors/feet etc. can work the lid loose, allowing the hamster to escape. This can be disastrous if the door to the room the hamster was in was left open, since it will have the run of the whole house and may get trapped in a slammed door, eaten by the cat, trodden on, cold, trapped under the floorboards etc. Be very careful when the hamster is in its ball and this won't happen!
Hamsters need a main diet of dried food supplemented by daily greens. Foods on the market include:
Supreme "Harry Hamster", which is recommended by the National Hamster Council. It contains 11 ingredients including whole peanuts & sunflower seeds to encourage forage. Rich in protein, vitamins and minerals. An excellent food. Cost: 1 kg is £1.69.
Burgess "Supa Hamster pellet free" is a complete nutritionally balanced mix . There are no whole oats, which can damage delicate cheek pouches. A good choice. Cost: 1.75 kg is £1.89.
Hamsters only need feeding once a day. The average hamster will eat between 5-7 grams each day. Once you get used to the eating habits of your hamster, you can guage the amount he needs more accurately. Any uneaten food should be removed after 24 hours. Instead of putting the food in the food pot, scatter it around the cage and hide it so that the hamster has to work and forage for his food. This will provide extra exercise and stimulation, plus encourage natural behaviour.
Hamsters need fresh green food as well as dried food. Hamsters will eat lettuce (not too much), cabbage, cauliflower, chicory, brussel sprouts, spinach, parsley, clover, carrots, turnips, swede, broccoli, raspberries, blackberries, apple, grapes, raisins and sultanas. There are also some wild plants that you can find in your garden which are good for hamsters, including dock leaves, dandelion leaves, groundsel and grass. IMPORTANT! Please be very careful what you pick - the following are poisonous to hamsters and must not be fed to them:- tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinth, anenomes, bluebells, deadly nightshade, poppies, bindweed (poison ivy), lobelia, rhubarb, privet, yew, larkspur. Some of these plants can kill.