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Choosing a Pet Hamster

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Paul is in the studio with Dr. Jyl going over things to look for when buying a pet hamster. Hamsters are popular pets for children but they aren't always the best pet for small hands. Different breeds are known for different traits and any potential owner to be should learn about the choices they have before picking one out to take home. Also specific kinds of hamsters should not be kept together while others enjoy company, therefore it is important to research your hamster of choice if you plan on getting more than one.

Chinese Hamsters - small and not as common as other kinds of hamsters. Dwarf Hamster Varieties - several varieties exist and are similar to Chinese hamsters. Syrian Hamsters - several color variations go by different names but are all types of this hamster.

Choosing a Healthy Hamster
Not every hamster in the pet store is of optimal health. Moving from supplier to store to a new home can be a stressful period for baby hamsters and they will often get sick from it. Learn how to choose a healthy hamster and what to watch for after you take it home. Hamsters that are younger are best as they will most likely be friendlier. Choose an active hamster and one that doesn't look like he has a wet bottom or weapy eyes. And even if a cage seems to have a few sick hamsters it is probably best to avoid buying any hamster from that group since hamster diseases are very contagious.

Hamsters are pretty hardy pets, but are so small that injuries and illness can quickly become serious. If you notice any signs of illness in your hamster, you need to see a veterinarian as quickly as possible. Signs to look for include loss of appetite, inactivity, huddling in a corner, ruffled or unkempt coat, sneezing, discharge from the nose or eyes, wheezing, wetness around the tail, and diarrhea.

Hair loss can be a symptom of skin disease or parasites, and also warrants a trip to the vet.

If a hamster is ill or injured, keep the hamster warm, and encourage it to take some food or water (by dropper if necessary) until a vet can be seen.

Abscesses: these are pockets of infection, which can form from fairly minor breaks in the skin.

Pus accumulates under the skin, sometimes forming a sizable lump (which may sometimes begin draining on its own). Abscesses can form from cuts or scratches on the skin and also in the cheek pouches if abrasive food material causes scratches in the lining. If a hamster continually looks like it has food in packed in its cheek pouches, there may be an abscess or an impacted cheek pouch present. Abscesses require veterinary attention for draining, flushing, and treatment with antibiotics.

Respiratory Infections:hamsters can get respiratory infections that can lead to pneumonia. Signs include sneezing, discharge from eyes or nose, wheezing and labored breathing. Occasional sneezing is not too worrisome, but if there is any loss of appetite, decreased activity, wheezing or difficulties breathing, immediate veterinary attention should be sought.

Wet Tail: also called proliferative ileitis and regional enteritis. This is a highly contagious disease, and most common in recently weaned hamsters. The cause is uncertain, but a bacteria calledCampylobacter jejuni may be involved, and in some cases the disease is associated with stress, crowding, and diet changes.

Affected hamsters may die very quickly, exhibiting signs such as diarrhea (causing wetness around the tail), lethargy, loss of appetite, and ruffled coat. Note: not all hamsters with diarrhea have this disease, see below.

Diarrhea: a number of infections can cause diarrhea (including but not limited towet tail), along with diet changes and treatment with antibiotics. Over feeding vegetables and other fresh foods is a fairly common cause of diarrhea, but in this case there is usually no loss of appetite or decrease in activity. Dehydration is a real concern, so make sure the hamster is drinking if diarrhea occurs, and a veterinarian should be consulted. With diarrhea, withhold fresh foods for a few days and resume only if the diarrhea is completely resolved, and start back onto fresh foods slowly.

Skin Diseases: hamsters can be infested with a number of mites, which can be identified by a skin scraping by a vet and treated accordingly. Ringworm (actually a fungal infection) can also occur, and requires treatment by a vet. Allergies and skin infections can also occur. Hair loss is not all that unusual and can be seasonal or happen in older hamsters. If there is flakiness or redness of the skin or any lesions on the skin, or the hamster appears to be itchy and scratching more than usual, a vet should be seen. Hamsters do have scent glands on their flanks which can be dark and sometimes alarm owners. These occur on both sides of the body and do not appear irritated or bother the hamster. Cedar bedding can also cause skin irritation or allergies in addition to lung problems so should be avoided.

Hibernation: if the room temperature is allowed to drop below normal room temperature, hamsters will go into a sort of hibernating state, where they are very still and breathe very slowly. Many owners panic and think their hamster is dying or dead, when might be a matter of the hamster getting too cold (for exapmle if the owners go away for the day and turn the thermostat down in the house). Rewarming the hamster should be sufficient.

Important Note About Cedar Bedding: cedar emits volatile compounds which are irritating to the respiratory tract (and may also cause changes in the liver). Pine shavings also release volatile compounds to a lesser but still significant extent. These beddings (particularly cedar) may also cause a skin sensitivity or allergy, and should be avoided. Aspen shavings or some other hardwood shavings are a better, safer option.

Antibiotics: several antibiotics cause a fatal toxicity in hamsters. Penicillin, amoxicillin, ampicillin, streptomycin, dihydrostreptomycin, tetracyclines, lincomycin, erythromycin, vancomycin, cephalosporins, and gentamycin should be avoided.

3. Hamster Cages and Supplies

There are many hamster cage options available online and atpet stores. But some cages are better than others. Severalcages (like the ones with all the tubes and colors) may look cool but aren't very functional and difficult to clean while others aren't good for hamsters to live in at all (fish tanks). Smaller hamster breeds also have different cage considerations than the larger Syrian varieties. It's a good idea to get your hamster cage all set up with bedding, water bottle, chew toys, and other necessities before bringing your newhamster home. Check out what you need before you get your hamster, or just make sure you have what you should for the hamster you have now.

Syrian Hamster Cage Considerations Dwarf Hamster Cage Considerations

Hamster Diet
Is that store bought bag of seed mix really the best thing for your hamster? Do they need other protein, fruit, or vegetables? There are options available to you but what is really best for your pet?

5. Taming Hamsters

Does your hamster bite? Does your child not want to play with their hamster anymore since it bit them? Do not fear, you can tame your hamster! Learn how to not startle them, entice them to climb onto your hand, and gain their trust.

6. Toys for Hamsters

Hamsters need activities and enrichment to keep them happy and healthy. They also need chew toys to keep their teeth neat and trim. A variety of hamster toys exist in pet stores but other pet rodent toys often work great as hamster toys too.

Homemade Hamster Play Tubes Hamster Wheels

7. Hamster Breeding

Hamster breeding is not something the casual hamster owner should do. It is best left to hamster breeders who are breeding for specific qualities and temperaments. Butaccidents happen and sometimes you end up withbaby hamsters. Learn a bit about hamster breeding and see what you can expect with a pregnant hamster.