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Many of us have fond memories of owning a pet hamster at some stage of our lives, and hamsters are often a popular choice of first pet for children. They are relatively easy to care for, and with regular careful handling can become very tame. But hamsters are delicate little creatures which do not stand up well to rough handling and play, and so are not suitable for young children. There are several types of hamster commonly kept as pets in the UK, including popular breeds such as the Syrian hamster, and dwarf varieties such as the Russian hamster, Chinese hamster, and Roborovski hamster. Depending on the breed, hamsters live on average for two to three years. Hamsters are sociable little animals, and generally benefit from being kept in pairs or small groups, although female Chinese hamsters can be aggressive to other females and so may be better off housed alone. If you re planning on keeping more than one hamster, you should buy the pair or group together, as hamsters rarely accept new additions to the cage once they have become established. Although they generally live happily side by side, occasional spats and fall outs will take place, so you should ensure that the cage or tank is suitably sized to contain a group comfortably, with different areas which individuals can escape to as needed.
Although specific breeds of hamsters have slightly different care and housing requirements, the colourful plastic clip together Rotastak systems with various different sections and areas linked by interconnecting tubes is a good choice for all varieties. Hamsters are nocturnal and so tend to be sleepy and quiet during the day, but at night are very active and like to play, climb, explore and run around. You can buy Rotastak housing units in individual sections with add-ons available, so it's easy to change the layout of the unit and add additional areas to it as needed, in order to best cater for the needs of your pets. You should use smaller compartments to make sleeping and bedding areas for your hamsters to snuggle up in, and larger pieces with toys and exercise space to keep them entertained. The floor of the units should be lined with wood shavings, with shredded paper bedding placed in the smaller sleeping units. You should never use hay or straw for bedding or as a substrate, as sharp blades can scratch or injure your hamster's delicate cheeks and eyes. You should be able to maintain an ambient room temperature in the unit at all times, so take care to keep the enclosure away from direct sunlight, and do not place it directly next to radiators or other heat sources.
Hamsters thrive on a good quality hamster specific food mixture composed of seeds and grains. Hamsters also enjoy snacking on fresh vegetables and fruit such as sliced carrot and apple, but feed these treats sparingly in order to avoid upset stomachs. They also enjoy millet sprays, such as you might see attached to the cages of pet birds, and have great fun shredding the fibrous outer casings to get at the seeds within! You should also provide a mineral stone or block in order to ensure that your hamster is receiving all of the nutrients that it needs. Their food bowl should be sturdy enough not to get knocked over in the course of rough and tumble play, and cleaned out and the food replaced on a daily basis. You will also need to provide a water bottle within reach on the side of the enclosure, and refill it with fresh, clean water daily.
Hamsters are nocturnal, and should be allowed to sleep during the day. When you first take your hamsters home, give them a few days to settle into their new environment and get comfortable before picking them up or playing with them. Talk to your hamsters so that they get to know your voice, and then introduce a hand into the enclosure for them to sniff, perhaps offering a treat. Stroke your hamsters gently, and try and encourage them to climb into your hand. Hamsters are small, and you should be able to scoop them up gently, taking care not to frighten them or trap their paws. Hamsters are very wriggly and always on the move, so take care not to hold your hamster too far from the ground in case of any falls. Hamsters like to climb and explore, and may count you as part of the furniture and run up and down your arms! Children should always be taught the correct way to approach and handle your hamsters, and watched carefully to make sure they are not being too rough. Remember that hamsters can bite if afraid or hurt, so always supervise children around your pet. Hamsters enjoy playing in tubes, climbing ladders, and of course exercising in the ubiquitous hamster wheel, which can be entertaining to watch! You may also want to buy a hamster ball, which can be placed on a flat floor with your hamster inside to roll around in safety and without fear of escape!
Clean out the enclosure thoroughly using a pet safe disinfectant every week, replacing all paper bedding and the wood shavings from the floor. Remove droppings and uneaten food on a daily basis- hamsters can be quite messy little animals, although this shouldn't take more than a few minutes each day. Hamsters will generally use one spot of the cage as a toilet area, which makes for easier clean ups, and once you have identified where this is you can buy a small hamster- sized litter tray to place there. Keeping the enclosure clean at all times will minimise the likelihood of them contracting any disease or illness, and is an important part of caring for your pet and introducing your children to the responsibilities of pet ownership. Keep your hamster's enclosure away from draughts and cold spots- hamsters can contract sniffles and colds just like people can.
Once you have decided that keeping hamsters is a good choice for you and your family, use this handy check list to make sure you have everything you will need.
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