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The Pet Charity is a national charity which promotes the joy and health benefits of pet ownership. Pets benefit our lives in so many different ways, and The Pet Charity has at its heart the need to spread the word about the positive aspects of pet ownership. The Pet Charity seeks to run programmes that demonstrate the benefits of pet ownership alongside increasing awareness of the differing needs of pets.

Hamsters make good family pets. They are nocturnal, so they are more active in the evening and night, allowing the busy family time to enjoy them. They are small mammals so are ideal if space is limited.

Hamsters make suitable pets for children, providing they are taught the responsibilities of their pet’s routine for cleaning, feeding and care. The average life span of a hamster is approximately two years.

In the wild hamsters live in burrows during the day to keep cool and travel great distances at night.

General care
Hamsters are generally hardy animals and normally stay healthy throughout their lives. They can, however, suffer from coughs and sneezes and their nose and eyes may run, so keep them warm and away from any draughts if these occur. Hamsters can also suffer acute diarrhoea, known as ‘wet tail’ – if this occurs consult with a vet immediately.

There is usually no problem with hamsters’ teeth; however, if they do not meet properly they will grow too long, making eating difficult. If this occurs the teeth must be trimmed regularly.

If your hamster escapes from its cage, try putting a box in the corner of the room – you might find him it in the next morning.

If you are concerned about your hamster’s health speak to your pet shop or vet.

Housing
Plastic cages with wire tops are ideal as they are easy to clean and escape-proof. The cage should be big enough to provide adequate space to divide their accommodation into an eating, sleeping and toilet area. More space or two adjoining rooms or stories will add to their environmental enrichment. Some cages have extra rooms and tubes available, which provide good stimulation for your pet. This should be at least 50cm x 80cm with a wheel size of 30cm. 

Hamsters are indoor pets and should be kept in a stable temperature, ideally between 17˚C and 23˚C. You should avoid putting the cage in draughts, direct sunlight or in damp or humid conditions. Dwarf hamsters will go into a state of very deep sleep, similar to hibernation, if there is a sudden drop in temperature below 5°C

Hamsters require lots of exercise and their cage should include an exercise wheel. You can also purchase a hamster ball, which your pet can be placed into to roam around a safe area of your house.

Soft, dust-free woodchips make a good floor covering for your hamster’s cage. Soft shredded paper can be used as bedding and nesting material. The cage should be emptied and fully cleaned with a pet safe disinfectant at least once a week.

Food and water

Hamsters are omnivores and so will enjoy a varied diet. A good, commercial hamster mix or pellet will provide the nutrition they require. This can be supplemented by small amounts of fresh fruit or vegetables (except banana), but remember hamsters hoard their food and this can rot – check for any uneaten fruit or vegetables and remove daily. Hamsters have pouches in their mouths, which they use to carry and hoard food.

Additional vitamin supplements or a mineral block can be added to your hamster’s diet. Feeding bowls should be gnaw-proof, easy to clean and hard to knock over.

Fresh clean drinking water must always be available. It can be provided by a gravity-fed water bottle designed to suit your hamster’s cage.

Handling
It is important that you handle your hamster regularly to help you build up a relationship.

When you first get your hamster home, leave him to settle in for 24 hours to allow him time to get used to his new surroundings.

Slowly place your hand in the cage so he gets used to your smell. When he seems happy, gently cup one hand under him and one hand over him, and pick him up. Always concentrate on holding your hamster as they can be very quick and can slip out of your hands. Do not try to handle your hamster if he has just woken up as they feel vulnerable at this time and may bite.

The Five Animal Welfare Needs

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 means all pet owners have a legal duty of care to their pets. Anyone who is cruel to an animal or is found not to be providing the five animal welfare needs, as listed below, can be fined and sent to prison.

Environment: Pets should be given the correct housing according to its size, this includes shelter, space to exercise. 

Diet: Pets should be offered the correct type and volume of food to cover all their nutritional needs alongside access to clean, fresh water and a secure, comfortable place to rest.

Behaviour: All pets should be allowed to exhibit normal behaviour patterns and should be provided with the facilities to do so.

Health: All animals should be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease, and given veterinary treatment if they become sick or injured.

Company: Some animals require the company of their own kind, whilst others should be kept on their own.