Hamsters are nocturnal creatures that live well on a schedule. Hamsters should be left to sleep during the day, and only handled when they wake up in the evening. A hamsters schedule can slowly be altered when an owner feeds them everyday at the same time. However, this may not work as some hamsters are just set to a schedule. Please note that waking a hamster up from a deep sleep can make them temperamental and can shorten their life span. Hamsters rely on a schedule; it’s just how they work.
Personal story as to why I think a set schedule is important for a hamster: I have experienced the loss of a hamster from a customer who’s kids always played with him during the day, making him extremely temperamental and stressed out. They returned him to the store about a month after owning him and this poor guy was just stressed out. He was screeching the whole time he was in the box awaiting to be put in a clean tank. During his 72-hour quarantine his health went down hill fast (it was not wet tail, he looked OLD when he was only 2 months old) and not even antibiotics could save him. :,(
There are two groups of hamsters:
Syrian: teddy-bear, short-haired, fancy black-bear, etc. All these hamsters originated from the Golden Hamster (aka: all these hamsters are a result of a mutation in fur colors :P) Because they have been domesticated longer then the dwarf hamsters, they are great for first time hamster owners. Their size also makes it easier to hold, and they tend to be slower (speed wise) then dwarf hamsters. Syrians are solitary animals, and while they live together in the store, once they are full grown they become territorial and will fight and eventually kill a cage mate. They should be housed alone.
Dwarf: Campbell's Russian, Winter White Russian, Roborovski, Chinese. These hamsters have not been domesticated as long as the syrians. They tend to be very territorial of their space and ok once outside of the cage. When getting them out of the cage, it is best not to use your hand, but a toilet paper tube, or sleeping hut. Never force them to stay in your hand, let them walk from hand to hand, or on your lap. Forcing them to stay in your hands will most definitely result in being bitten. (some dwarfs are very sweet natured and NEVER bite, not once... but this is rare as the venders do not breed for temperament so these sweet natured dwarfs tend to be few). Also, Dwarfs (especially the robos) are very quick! Make sure to handle in a secure area. Recommending the play pen for socializing is a good option. Dwarf hamsters are not the best for first time hamster owners or younger children.
Dwarfs can be housed in pairs, but this is only recommended with experienced dwarf hamster owners, who know what to expect. While they can live together, they can also become so territorial that they will continuously fight and may result in one being killed. A pair should also have already been housed at the store and works out better if they came in at the same time. Buying two dwarfs at different times, will not work out. If an owner insists on a pair of dwarfs, they should always pay attention to whether the hamsters fight frequently. If they do fight (but no injuries have occurred) they should provide each hamster with their own wheel, food dish, water bottle, and sleeping hut. This may result in needing a bigger cage or an addition (if they are housed in the crittertrail like cages). If they continue to fight frequently, then they must be separated.
Floor space if very important when it comes to keeping a pair of dwarfs.
Please Note: I have come across a few experienced dwarf hamster owners that recommend starting out giving a pair of hamsters their own things (wheel, food dish, water bottle) so that fighting hopefully never happens. Sometimes fighting can be hard to stop.
Note: Different types of hamster should never be mixed. Robos should be robos, Campbell’s with Campbell’s, and Syrians should be housed alone.
Bring Home Hamster: As many of you know, the Syrians can get wet tail from stress. How do they get stressed? From anything especially a new environment. When a customer buys a Syrian hamster, recommend they leave the hamster alone for the first week, but when the hamster is up and walking around, to take a look at the butt to make sure it is clean (without picking the hamster up). If it ever looks very dirty (as though the hamster has had excessive diarrhea) recommend they bring the hamster back as soon as possible. The sooner they notice this and bring them in, the better the chances of the hamster.
Campbell’s Dwarf hamsters are more confident in themselves than Syrians. Recommend they leave the hamster alone for 3 to 5 days, paying attention to whether the hamster is active or lethargic (diarrhea is not as noticeable in dwarfs as it is in Syrians).
Robo hamsters: While the Campbell’s dwarf is more confident, the robos seem to get more stressed out, just as much as the Syrians, and should be left alone for the first week.
Also recommend BeneBac to customers. Bene Bac is Beneficial Bacteria. When hamsters are stressed they loose beneficial bacteria from their stomach, which in return weakens their immune system, which is the reason they get sick. BeneBac helps replace the lost beneficial bacteria.
For all hamsters, recommend that the cage be put in the quietest part of the house so that the hamster has time to get used to its cage. After the first 2 weeks, they can then move the hamster where they want.
Cages: Hamsters are bottom dwelling critters that burrow in the wild, so they do better with cages with more floor space, rather than height. Some cages that are very tall can actually result in a hamster hurting or killing himself. Hamsters can climb, but they are not that good at it, and can fall. Falling from high up can break limbs, back, or neck. :,(
Syrian or a PAIR of dwarfs: While many websites say a ten gallon is a good cage for a syrian and a pair of dwarfs, I have noticed (along with many experienced hamster owners) that a 10 gallon (and any cage equivalent to it) is small, especially once things like food dish, sleeping house, wheel, and extra toy are added (and especially if dwarfs start to fight and you have to add their own things... it gets very crowded). Bigger is always better, so I recommend a cage equivalent to a 15 gal long or 20 gal long aquarium.
What Petco sells that works:
-CritterTrail X, Y, or Z- These cages by themselves are too small for one Syrian or a pair of dwarfs, but one will work until the hamster is full grown. Once the hamster(s) are full-grown then they can buy another one and connect them with tubing.
CritterTrail Two- This is big enough for a syrian and levels are placed so that falling should not be too much of a concern. (falling still may be a concern for dwarf hamsters).
-S.A.M. Here and There- good size for one syrian. Similar to the CritterTrail Two.
-Rat Starter Kit- yes the rat start kit! Is a terrible cage for rats, but is an EXCELLENT cage for a Syrian hamster (and a pair of full grown dwarfs). The rat food can be used (is a bit different then hamster food), or given to a rodent rescue. This cage provides a good amount of floor space and not to tall, so a hamster less likely to hurt them self if they fall from climbing.
-Starter kits- are strictly what they say, “Starter.” These cages are not big enough for a full-grown syrian or full-grown pair of dwarfs. (some of the starters may even be too small of even a young pair of dwarfs). I do not recommend starter kits for a pair of dwarfs because of territorial/ fighting issues.
-10 gallon with tank topper- can make a good cage for a syrian hamster, and can imitate a burrow if set up properly. Bedding can stacked higher in the tank (gives a hamster a chance to burrow and make a tunnel :D) and the topper is the “surface”. I recommend covering the levels of the tank topper as the open wires can be a bit harsh on their little feet. (can use linoleum). However, I would be cautious about climbing and falling. Again, floor space is more important to hamsters, then climbing space.
15 long or 20 long aquarium with lid- plenty of floor space.
Cages for one dwarf hamster-
-CritterTrail X, Y, or Z
-Petco’s single level cage.
-Habit trails (two of them connected, or the special edition that comes with a pink attachment)
-Critter Trail Mini (TWO of them connected. One is not big enough. This cage is a good travel cage by its self, never a good permanent cage by itself).
Bedding: check out the small animal beddings topic (http://flickr.com/groups/petco/discuss/72157606794986418/)
Food: check out the small animal food topic (http://flickr.com/groups/petco/discuss/72157606844071994/)
Chews: Hamsters have teeth that are always growing. Wood chews should be provided to keep teeth at a healthy length.
Wheels: I highly recommend the SILENT SPINNER! Solid bottom wheels are a lot safer for hamsters. Hamsters can get their legs stuck in the little openings of the wire mesh wheel and sprain or break their legs! (Has happened in my store and to customer’s animals :,( ) I personally feel the silent spinner is a better investment not only for the hamster’s health but for the owner's as well! The silent spinner makes a low tone sound, which is less noticeable when you are trying to sleep. The wire wheels become squeaky and are very annoying.
Running Ball- hamsters should only be in the ball for about 30 minutes at a time, so not to become dehydrated or over heated.
Knot Knibblers are also a good wood chew and toy, plus treat!
Chubes are fun for hamsters to run through, sleep and chew (and pee on XD)
Extra things to climb and explore will make a hamster’s habitat more interesting and give a hamster a lot more personality (environmental enrichment leads to a mentally stimulated pet leading to a pet with personality)
Super Pet Small Animal Play Pen- want to give a hamster a different form of free time out of the cage, the play pen is a great option to give your hamster a new and safe area to explore. The play pen is also helpful when trying to socialize dwarf hamsters (especially Robos) as they can be quick and can get away from small hands with ease. Also, works with socializing syrians to.
Fresh fruits and veggies! A list can be found in the link below
Note: dwarfs are prone to diabetes and sugar content of fruits can be to high. To prevent diabetes, fruits should be avoided. Veggies are still ok. Syrian hamsters can still have fruit.