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Guide to buying a hamster.

Are the kids begging for a pet, but you’re not ready to invest the time needed to care for a new puppy? A hamster might be the way to go. As veterinary expert Dr. Simon Starkey tells us, the little guys are relatively low maintenance and have few ongoing costs, but, seeing as they do live for an average of two years and the fact that parents need to be ultimately responsible for the pet’s care, you shouldn’t go into it lightly.

“Pets can be a great way to teach responsibility, but need to be monitored for both the pet’s and child’s safety,” he says.

Good to know. Here are seven other good things to know about buying a hamster before you head to the store.

There are different types of hamsters.

Syrian hamsters, also known as Golden hamsters, are three to four times larger than dwarf hamsters and grow to adult weights of 5-6 ounces, Starkey says. They’re also typically friendlier than dwarf hamsters, and more likely to be interactive and hand-tamed. “However, with gentle handling and time all hamsters are capable of being hand tamed.”

syrian hamster

The Chinese dwarf is the most docile. “These hamsters weigh 1 to 1.5 ounces as adults and are a good choice for older children, but are best kept individually as they are not particularly social creatures.”

chinese hamster

Other dwarf hamsters include the Robo dwarf, Russian Dwarf and the Winter White. “All dwarf hamsters have shared benefits: They are smaller than Syrians, so can have (slightly) smaller cages and will eat less food. They also (save the Chinese dwarf hamster) tend to be somewhat more social than

dwarf hamster

Syrian hamsters with their own kind and may live in family groups,” he adds. Note: Close supervision is recommended prior to introducing any dwarf hamsters.

Look for personality traits.

Hamsters have varying personalities and can learn to recognize their pet parents, accept hand-fed treats and develop unique burrowing habits, Starkey says. “Look for healthy, somewhat active pets, but keep in mind that they will likely be shy in the store due to their nocturnal nature and the relatively new environment of a store habitat,” he says.

They sleep during the day.

“Hamsters are typically nocturnal with some being more crepuscular (active at dusk and dawn), so think about placing the cage in a quiet place during daylight hours,” Starkey says. “The amount of light should be considered, as well. Avoid direct sunlight during the day and excessive light at night.” The best time to interact with hamsters, he adds, is in the evening or early morning. “If hamsters are handled during the day, they should be gently scooped up in two hands from underneath, rather than poked or prodded in an attempt to first wake them.”

Get the right hamster cage.

“Consider the full grown size of pet; this is particularly true for Syrians,” Starkey says. “Look for a cage labeled for hamsters. This is important, as hamsters may be able to escape from cages designed for larger animals like guinea pigs or rabbits, or easily climb the walls of a cage designed for small birds, potentially injuring themselves in the process.” And, no, aquariums won’t cut it — they’re not ventilated.

Don’t forget the hamster accessories.

Starkey recommends exercise wheels, food and water containers, bedding, nesting materials, chew sticks, hidey-huts and exercise ball.

The cage will need some cleaning.

Expect to spend up to 20 minutes a week cleaning the cage, and to perform a complete and thorough cleaning monthly. “Daily water and food checks/changes are essential, but should only take a few minutes,” Starkey adds. As for handling the hamster, he says the pet parent should spend 10 to 15 minutes a day handling the pet, depending on the pet’s demeanor and your time commitments.

You gotta feed ‘em, too.

Dwarf hamsters are herbivores, and most of their diet should be pelleted food for hamsters. For optimum nutrition, seeds, such as millet and sunflower, should be an additive or treat, not the primary food, he adds. “Food should always be placed in a bowl and not directly on the bedding to avoid accidental ingestion of the bedding. A small amount of vegetables — and even smaller amount of fruit — can be offered daily, and should be removed after four hours to prevent spoilage.” And don’t forget: Water must be available in the cage at all times, Starkey notes, adding that food and water bowls and bottles should be cleaned once daily.

hamster cage.png

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