How to care for your hamster

We provide exceptional veterinary treatment and care for hamsters from our East Molesey surgery. The services we provide include hamster health checks and nutritional advice. Our hamster Vets can offer bespoke advice when it comes to neutering your hamster, preventative care and weight monitoring. Read about the types of consultations we can offer your hamster.

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At this time there are no vaccines commercially available for hamsters.

Your pet is most at risk from diseases picked up from other hamsters or mice, particularly those in pet shops, as infectious diseases are more common in the pet shops with large numbers of hamsters, and the mixing of groups.

If you do go to a pet shop please do not touch the babies, even though they are very, very cute!

Your precious hamster should only be allowed to come into contact with other animals that you know to be healthy.

Hamsters are normally solitary animals, so they should really only be brought together for breeding purposes.

When you bring a new pet into your house it is VERY important to quarantine, separate the new pet in a different room for at least 2 weeks (and preferably after a vet check).

We recommend giving your new hamster a health check shortly after bringing them home.

During the health check, please remember to bring in details of all foods and any supplements or medicines you may be using.

If possible, please try to collect samples of urine and faeces from that morning for our vet to analyse.

The health check is the perfect time to ask any questions about any behaviour you think is abnormal. Please bring in a video so that we can more accurately answer your questions.

Please isolate your new pet from the rest of your animal family at home until after they have had their first check up and the vet has assessed the pet as being healthy. This means unfortunately they won’t be able to play together straight away.

If you do wish to introduce your new hamster to the rest of your animal family then please ask us during the consultation how and when this should be done.

At this ‘Health Check’ we will perform a full physical examination. This includes assessing your new pet’s overall condition, their muscle and fat levels, hydration levels and checking for anaemia.

We will also inspect their incisor teeth and cheek pouches.

We will pay close attention to their skin, look for parasites, and signs of any infectious diseases.

We will be focusing on their gut function and their diet, looking at whether their food is appropriate and whether they are being fed the right amount.

Once we have examined your hamster hopefully we will have found nothing seriously wrong, and we will then make whatever recommendations we think are necessary for the diet and care of your pet.

Most hamsters can be classed as geriatric from 18 months old, for some it is 2 years old. You will be very lucky if your hamster lives to be 3 year old!

Once your pet reaches the ripe age of 18 months your veterinarian will recommend they have a regular Health Check every 3 to 6 months.

As with their regular health check, please make sure you know the brands of foods your pet is on, including any supplements that have been added into the diet and any long-term medications that may have been prescribed by another veterinarian.

Please try to bring in samples of their urine and faeces from that morning if you can.

Ideally we would also like to see a photo of the cage set up.

At this regular ‘Health Check’ we will assess their overall body condition, muscle and fat levels, hydration levels and check for signs of anaemia.

We will check the condition of their eyes, ears, including their incisor teeth and cheek pouches.

We will feel the lymph nodes, check their scent glands, palpate the abdomen for any abnormalities and listen to the heart and lungs.

We will examine them for signs of parasites, assess their skin, look for any pressure sores on the feet and also assess the nail length.

Once we have examined your pet hopefully we will have found nothing seriously wrong, and the veterinarian will then make whatever recommendations they think are necessary for the diet and care of your pet hamster.

When feeding your hamster, we advise pelleted complete foods such as Oxbow or Mazuri diets.

Owners will often buy mixtures of seeds, nuts and pellets from pet shops. To humans these look so much more delicious and interesting than the boring pellets. The problem with these mixtures is that your hamster does not understand that too many high fat sunflower seeds and nuts are bad for their health. This means he or she will eat all of those first resulting in a diet that’s unhealthy, low in vitamins and unhealthy.

We recommend that you give your hamster fresh foods every day to supplement their diet.

The ideal portion amount would be 3-5 different fresh vegetables and fruits. These can include pumpkin, tomato, carrots, corn, strawberry, blueberry, spinach, lettuce, choi sum, broccoli, grapes and apples.

We would also advise feeding them pelleted complete foods such as Oxbow or Mazuri diets.

We recommend that you supplement your pet’s diet with fresh foods every day.

Ideally 3-5 different fresh vegetables and fruits such as, spinach, lettuce, choi sum, broccoli, pumpkin, tomato, carrots, corn, strawberry, blueberry, grapes and apples.

All they need is a small piece of each vegetable! (3-5mm for a dwarf hamster and 1- 1.5 cm for a golden hamster)

If they do not eat all their vegetables, then make sure you remove any leftovers before they spoil.

You should never give your hamster raw kidney beans, avocado, onions, raw potato, rhubarb, chocolate, candy or other junk foods.

Make sure that fresh, clean water is be available at all times.

It is best to use a sipper water bottle, which should be changed daily.

Unless your vet has diagnosed a health problem, we do not recommend routine de-sexing of female hamsters. One of these problems can be an infected uterus.

As we recommend keeping hamsters on their own, there is no need to have them de-sexed to prevent breeding or fighting.

Endoparasites (worms)

Fortunately hamsters rarely carry worms so they do NOT need to be routinely de-wormed.

Ectoparasites (parasites that live on the skin and fur)

Skin parasites are much more common in hamsters than you think, and are so tiny you cannot see them.

If you think your animal is suffering from ectoparasites, then please bring them in for a consultation. Symptoms can include scratching more than normal, losing too much fur or signs of skin disease.

If you see something moving in your hamsters’ fur then please try and catch it with a piece of sticky tape. Then we can examine it under the microscope and even show you pictures of it if you wish!

Do NOT use any dog or cat flea products on them as these can be too strong for the smaller pets and can even kill them.

Hamster incisors are constantly growing so if they break them, injure them, or catch infection they may develop overgrowth of these teeth.

This can be extremely painful for your hamster, as the teeth will grow too long and grow into the lips or cheeks. We can trim these teeth back to a more normal length. With golden hamsters we can consider removing the overgrowing teeth permanently.

We would recommend checking your hamsters teeth once a week. You can train them from when they are young to turn them upside down. This allows you to gently lift up their lips and check the teeth are symmetrical in shape, colour and length. They do look very long naturally.

We have two wards available for hamsters, the cool ward which is at 22 degrees for the rabbits & chinchillas, and the hot room, for the birds and reptiles, which is usually at 28-30 degrees. The vet will assign your hamster to one of these rooms based on their current health condition.

Each ward has cages with special doors where the bars are very close together to prevent any escapes of smaller animals.

The cats and dogs which are potential predators (and therefore very scary) are kept in separate wards out of the sight and smell of your small hamster, to make sure your pets stay in hospital is as stress free as possible.

It’s important that when you chose a cage for your new pet to keep in mind the golden rules of happy hamster housing.

In the wild hamsters are solitary and should live alone, so if paired in the same cage they do fight and may seriously injure or even kill each other.

You should keep your hamster in a wire cage or a large aquarium with a wire-mesh top. The fancy cages that include tubes, tunnels and hideaways are also good, but usually cost more and are harder to clean. If you have space for a larger cage, your hamster will really appreciate it.

Their new enclosure should be placed out of direct sunlight and away from drafts. You should deeply lined it with absorbent bedding such as Timothy hay, shredded paper (like Care Fresh or Eco Bedding) or pelleted bedding.

Don’t use wood chips as a bedding as they are dusty and can even be toxic to your hamster.

Hamsters love their exercise, so please make sure your little pet has a wheel for running. We would advise you buy a wheel that comes with a solid base to prevent their little paws being caught.

Hamsters also love to be able to hide and sleep in enclosed spaces: in the desert they live in cool dark burrows deep underground. They love to crawl through tubes – so you could use empty cardboard tubes from paper towels and toilet paper.

In most pet shops you will find ‘special’ tubes made of thick cardboard or cardboard and hay to provide your new little hamster with a range of toys they can crawl through, hide in and safely chew on.

We would also recommend you provide your hamster with a small hiding box.

Remember to regularly give him small pieces of paper towel or napkin to shred and make a nest with.

We do not recommend fabric or cotton wool bedding materials as the small strands in them can get caught up around their feet and constrict the blood supply.

Many of the mature pets we see have become overweight. This is down to them having such an easy and comfortable life with food available every day, and often not the right amount of exercise.

If you think that your hamster is becoming overweight (or the vet has told you they are!) you are welcome to make an appointment for a ‘Weight Consultation’ with one of our veterinarians.

The vet may recommend a personalised weight loss diet during a health check or consultation, and give you practical advice on the right combination of foodstuff for weight loss for your pet. This also includes how is best to encourage exercise.

The vet will set a target weight & a time span to lose this weight over.

As with humans, losing weight too quickly is not healthy. As these animals are much smaller than us, we may plan for them to lose a few grams per week.

Once the diet plan has been set we will then be happy to make free “weight monitoring” checks  every month or two months, and these will be with one of our British Vet nurses or our Australian trained Vet Assistants.

It can be very rewarding to see a little, chubby hamster regaining a slim healthy shape and becoming more active and flexible!

An appropriate living environment for your hamster is exceptionally important. It not only helps to prevent your hamster from showing undesirable behaviours and aggression, but also in encouraging them to show their natural behaviours. Hamsters are highly motivated to actively interact with their surrounding environment. Thus the more you add into their cage for them to interact with, the better their quality of life.

In their natural environment, hamsters dig burrows with several chambers where they can toilet, sleep and store food in separate areas. Therefore their cage should have enough space for them to perform these activities, whilst still providing enrichment and to permitting a range of behaviours, including exercise, foraging and digging. As rearing onto their back legs is natural behaviour for hamsters, their cage should be large enough to allow them to do this.

The bedding of their cage can provide both a cushioned surface for your hamster can walk on, and a surface deep enough to allow them to express their natural digging and hoarding behaviours. Hay or paper products are best.

We recommend that you avoid cotton, fabric or woodchips as these can cause health problems with your hamster.

Foraging is natural hamster behaviour, and you can help encourage this by scattering or burying food items in the litter, rather than only providing feed in a container.

You can also make a special foraging box for them to play with when they’re out of the cage.

The incisor teeth of hamsters continuously grow and need to be ground down. If not your hamster may experience dental problems. You can help prevent overgrowth by providing your hamster with chewable toys including cardboard tubes, sticks, hay and wood blocks.

In the wild, hamsters are solitary animals and they spend most of the time underground. A hide can shelter them from enemies, other hamsters and can also make your hamster feel more secure and act less aggressively. Shelters or hides can be as simple as small cardboard boxes and cardboard tubes where your hamster can climb onto, hide inside and build cosy little nests.

Hamsters love exercise, so providing a running wheel for them is fun for both you and your hamster. If running wheels are provided, the wheel floor should be solid in order to avoid injury.

Some hamsters love to use a sand bath, others don’t. It seems to be a very individual choice, and they are not a necessary addition to their cage.

Providing your hamster with an enriched living environment is good for their health and is more fun for both you and your hamster.

If you would like more advice on caring for hamsters, contact our friendly team who will be happy to help.

 

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