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Keeping and Caring for Hamsters
Hamsters are perfect pets for children. As long as they are treated gently, most can be tamed and become easy to handle. When young they will play in their hamster wheel (or treadmill) which is very amusing - they soon grow out of this though, so don't be surprised when they stop.
They will happily roll round the room in a ball, and it can be fascinating to watch as they manage to steer through some quite tight gaps showing that they do seem to have some degree of control over where they are going!
The average life span of a hamster is only about two years - this can be both an advantage and a disadvantage.
On one hand you are not committing yourself to looking after it when your child grows up and leaves home, but on the other children always become attached to their pets, and will be sad when their little friend dies.
How to Care for a Hamster
Firstly a hamster DOES NOT NEED COMPANY! Hamsters are quite happy living on their own - and will quite happily kill a companion! Two girls, two males or one of each - they cannot live together (the exception being the smaller Russian hamsters which can be kept in pairs).
A hamster needs a cage, bedding, water bottle and food bowl. They need shavings which should be changed at least once a week, and fresh food daily. Hamster food is cheap and can be purchased from any pet store or supermarket.
A hamster needs fresh water in its water bottle at all times.
Many hamsters can be very clean animals if you use a hamster litter tray. The litter is a very fine version of cat litter - for cheapness buy fine grained cat litter instead of the little bags of hamster litter. One bag lasts almost as long as the hamster! We've had more luck with female hamsters using a litter tray, but whether that is just coincidence I couldn't say!
Hamsters have teeth which need to be kept worn down, so giving them wood to chew on (hamster toys or treats for this purpose are ideal as you will know they are not poisonous). As well as their dry food they should have small pieces of fruit or salad vegetables (although not lettuce which has little food value and can cause an upset stomach).
One word of caution - a hamster has VERY sharp teeth - if they are not handled carefully they can give a very nasty deep bite.
When cleaning out the hamster, a hamster ball is an ideal way of keeping your pet safe and occupied so you can give the cage a good scrub. Don't forget your hamster though, as it is cruel to leave it in the ball for more than 10 minutes at a time. And be sure to lock any other pets in another room!
Where to buy a Hamster?
Hamsters can be bought quite cheaply in any pet shop. Expect to pay around £4 for one. Choose the hamster that you like the look of, and ask for the assistant to pick it up for you. The hamster will not like being taken away from its brothers and sisters (at a young age they will not mind the company), but shouldn't struggle too much. If it jumps out of the assistant's hands or bites choose another one, or a different shop. Hamsters which have been handled by humans since their early days will make better pets, and will be easier to tame. Whether you choose a short or long hair, male or female is just a matter of what appeals to you best. All make good pets.
You may well have to bring your hamster home in a cardboard box - be careful about the length of your journey! If it is too long the hamster may nibble its way through the box before you get home!
Try and have the cage all set up and ready - and don't be surprised if the hamster disappears into its bed and you don't see it again for a few hours. Hamsters are nocturnal, and sleep during the day.
You can buy a hamster cage relatively cheaply which is made of metal bars for the sides and top, and a plastic base. These cages can be on one, two or three levels. Alternatively you can spend a fortune of cages made of plastic which are made of interlocing tubes and are made to look like space stations etc. In our experience hamsters appear happier and more socialable in the cheaper cages - although once we invested in the full set up, items such as the 'satellite bedroom' and 'dining room in the sky' were never used by our pet! Although a matter of personal choice and pocket, one other thing to consider is how easy it is to gain access to your hamster - a simple cage allows you to put your hand in and pick our your pet. If you have a warren of tubes it can be virtually impossible to get it out!
Siting the cage is another issue - it is strongly advised not to put the hamster in a bedroom, and make sure you have a strong door between yourself and the cage at night. Or an oil can handy!
Just as you are dropping off to sleep your hamster will decide it is time to go on its treadmill. And believe me, when young it will play in it for hours and hours!