Welcome back, CHS Supporters! Welcome once again to another exciting entry for exotics month here on the blog!
We hope you have been enjoying our exotic explorations so far and today we are bringing you a look at one of the most popular exotic pets out there… the noble hamster!
They’re tiny, they’re cute and you can call them hammy hams. What’s not to love? The hamster has established itself as a major player in the domestic pet population.
How have these endearing little rodents rocketed themselves to becoming a recognizable fixture in the world of household pets? Could a hamster be a good pet for you? Read on to find out more!
There are 24-25 species of wild hamsters in the world and they can be found in Syria, Greece, Romania, Belgium and China. The largest hamster is the European hamster that can grow up to 13.4 inches (34 cm) long (that is one BIG hamster!) and the smallest is the dwarf hamster coming in at a diminutive 2-4 inches (5.5-10.5 cms). The most popular pet hamsters are the Syrian hamster (who are also sometimes called teddy bear hamsters) and the Siberian (Djungarian) hamster – they are right in the middle, growing to about 6 inches (15 cm) in length. This relatively small size may have something to do with the hamsters popularity in the pet world. Because hamsters do not need frequent trips outside or a large space to be comfortably housed they can be ideally suited for those with smaller living spaces.
Hamsters are omnivores and will chow down on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and commercial hamster pellets in captivity, but in the wild some species of hamsters are known for hunting insects as well! Another… umm… interesting… fact about hamster diets? Well, hamsters are hind-gut fermenters which means that sometimes the menu also includes their own… uhh… poop. Not all hamsters will engage in coprophagy (poop eating)… or at least you might not see them do it… but it’s not an uncommon way for hamsters to recover nutrients that were digested in the gut but not absorbed. For many pet owners watching a hamster eat is part of it’s charm as hamsters have a set of adorable cheek pouches that they will fill with food. Food hoarding is a very common hamster activity and you may find little stashes of food all around your hamster’s enclosure.
While they are adorable, hamsters can also pack a vicious punch! Most hamster species prefer a solitary life, coming together only to mate, and will viciously attack an ‘invading’ or visiting hamster if one is placed into their space. This is an important consideration if you are thinking of getting multiple hammies! You need to be prepared to have your hamsters live separate lives if they decide they don’t want each other’s company. If you are really set on having more than one hamster we recommend adopting a bonded pair of hamsters who have lived together for a long time (but make sure they are a same-sex pair so you don’t wind up with dozens of hamsters!).
Hamsters are known for being pretty unique sleepers! There has long been some debate about whether or not hamsters are nocturnal or crepuscular. The current thought is that some species are nocturnal (awake/active all night) while others are crepuscular (awake/active at dusk and dawn). In a home environment this is important because trying to play with your pet ham in the middle of the day could lead to some grumpy hamster bites. Interestingly, hamsters have almost a perfect 24 hour circadian clock (a natural ~24 hour cycle of body temperature, metabolism and other bodily functions that inspires most people to sleep at night and be awake during the day). Most animals do not have a perfect 24 hour clock, but it turns out hamsters are excellent natural timekeepers. If you own a pet hamster, your hamster’s clock may ‘shift’ slightly to fit your schedule better but you should still be prepared for a pet that will largely be active while you are asleep!
One popular question we get asked about hamsters at the shelter is whether or not hamsters smell. Many hamster owners do notice a smell but in most cases a strong smell from a hamster is the result of bad cage hygiene. Hamster shavings and hamster bedding should be cleaned frequently. The ‘smell’ reported with most hamsters is actually a combination of urine, feces and hamster scent on the cage fixtures. That being said, hamsters are a scent marking species and like all animals they do have a natural smell, so if you are sensitive to smells you may want to find a friend with a hamster so you can visit prior to choosing a hamster as a pet.
Ever wonder how long a hamster will live? For most species a natural lifespan is about 2-4 years in captivity. In the natural world hamsters are towards the bottom of the food chain so wild hams will often live a much shorter life. Unfortunately for captive hamsters, many do not reach their full lifespan potential due to neglect and accidents in their home environment. Hamsters are both small and agile, able to fit through very tiny spaces and quiet when moving around. This can lead to hamsters getting out of safe areas without their humans noticing. The hamster’s natural desire to explore dark enclosed places can lead to the hamster getting trapped in furniture, walls or other spaces so if you have a pet hamster security is a very important consideration! Like other pets hamsters can often become sick or injured but sadly they are often denied necessary veterinary care. Like any other animal a hamster should visit the vet regularly to ensure optimal health and the cost of these vet visits should be budgeted before a hamster is added to the home.
Well there you have it! Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about hamsters and maybe a few things you didn’t (sorry about that whole coprophagia thing).
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