IMPORTANT INFO TO CONSIDER
IS A HAMSTER THE RIGHT PET FOR YOU?
ARE YOU READY FOR A HAMSTER?
ARE YOU CARING FOR YOUR HAMSTER CORRECTLY?
~ Picture by Jasi Ting Ting Ho
Hamsters can be incredibly rewarding pets and some even assist the human with depression and anxiety (often referred to as "Heart Hamsters"). However, they are NOT the low-maintenance or “starter” pets that they are often perceived to be.
Please make sure that you are indeed ready for the COMMITMENT required to have a hamster as a pet:
It can be very EXPENSIVE to set them up properly with the correct equipment, but relatively inexpensive once you have the most important items.
DO YOU HAVE THE SPACE for the correct sized setup? Correct habitats take up a fair amount of space (minimum 1m x 50cm).
CONSIDER YOUR AVAILABLE TIME. Regular spot-cleaning and proper daily feeding will be required to keep them healthy, as well as playtime.
MEDICAL TREATMENT by an exotics veterinarian may be necessary at some stage. Do you have immediate access to funds in case of emergency?
Is it your child's hamster? Are you prepared to supervise care of the hamster? Are you prepared to take RESPONSIBILITY if your child loses interest?
Can you accept the SHORT LIFE SPAN? Will you cope with the passing of a hamster that you may have bonded with?
CHILDREN & HAMSTERS
Hamsters are not ideal pets for children younger than about 10 years old. A young child can be too excitable, causing stress or not fully understanding of how to be gentle enough with these little creatures.
Hamsters are nocturnal so not always suitable for young children who will mostly be asleep while hammy is awake.
Children often lose interest in such a pet that can only be out of it's habitat for about 20 minutes at a time, or they may get nipped by the hamster and then be put off giving attention and taking care of it. And then what if the hamster turns out to be a "Ghost Hamster"? Your child will for sure get bored, or be bitterly disappointed.
Two or more rats (of the same sex, of course) are better suited to children, since these are a lot more sociable and interactive at any time of day or night, and also less likely to run away & disappear like hamsters do if free-roaming playtimes are a preference.
Children under 5 years of age do not have fully developed immunity systems and are therefore at risk of contracting the lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (also called LCMV) from a hamster or other rodents. Anyone can contract LCMV, particularly from dodgy pet shops where a hamster has become infected, but young children and immune-deficient adults are particularly susceptible. Although the risk is quite low in SA we still advise that an adult supervises play times with pet rodents - don’t let them kiss or hold the hold the rodent too close to the face; and make sure they wash their hands with soap and water after touching pet rodents.
HOUSING HAMSTERS TOGETHER - NEVER!!!!
Our species of hamsters in SA are very SOLITARY & TERRITORIAL once they reach adulthood and NEED TO LIVE ALONE.
And if you have a male and female together, THEY WILL BREED from as young as 4 or 5 weeks old!
If you currently have more than one hamster in the same cage, please separate them immediately!
Syrians are notoriously solitary, and all of our dwarfs in SA are Hybrids (cross-bred) and can therefore also NOT be kept in groups of pairs!
Any pairing/grouping will most likely end up in fighting resulting in injuries that will require expensive veterinary attention, or even death.
Even if your pair/group appears to YOU to be companionable, the situation will be causing one or all to live with extreme stress & misery as they leave baby-hood, resulting in health issues.
You may see hamsters together in pet shops but, as we keep stating, these places usually lack knowledge about correct housing and care or they don't actually care about much more than a sale! Unfortunately, pet shops are also not always very accurate in identifying genders and age (or they don’t bother) so, be warned, you may end up taking home a pregnant hamster and will need to accept the responsibility of ensuring their health and re-homing (or correct individual housing if you intend to keep all).
SPACE & COST
As explained above, hamsters cannot be kept together, no matter which species you have.
Correct size habitats are not all that easy to find and you cannot keep a hamster in a travel cage (i.e. those that pet shops sell).
Your hamster will be so frustrated that it will be chewing on the bars, and some will chew through the plastic tray to escape to bigger pastures!
It is often difficult to tame & create a bond with a hamster being housed in a cage.
If you cannot afford the correct housing, save up for it!
It is incredibly cruel to keep a hamster permanently in a travel cage!
Consider your space. Do you have the space and a suitable spot to place a 5000cm2 habitat, or larger? This is a space of minimum 1m x 50cm.
If you want/have more than one hamster, do you have even more space for proper habitats for EACH of them?
Do you have the funds to purchase a suitable habitat, or the skills to customise something else as a suitable habitat?
SETTING UP IS EXPENSIVE and can cost you anything from R1500 to R3000 per hamster! However, once this is done, it is relatively inexpensive to maintain a hamster with the basics (approx. R200 to R350 per month, excluding veterinary costs when/if necessary).
Note that hamstering can become addictive, so you could be spending lots more on treats and other enrichment, although there are a few things you can make yourself that can be more cost-effective (here on the DIY STUFF and ACCESSORIES & ENRICHMENT pages).
If you are not going to be bothered with finding the correct housing, think about whether or not you have the necessary dedication for such a pet.
SHORT LIFE SPAN
We still hear of people being very upset when their beloved hamster passes away after having it for “only 2 years”.
Sadly, the reality is that this IS the average life span, so you should be prepared.
The lifespan of hamsters is getting shorter and shorter.
Up until the early 2000’s, hamsters were living to an average of 3.5 years or more.
However, with bad breeding situations occurring at an alarming rate, the lifespan is often reduced to 18 months or less here in South Africa!
Sadly, this statistic will continue to get worse as hamster popularity increases and for as long as people, pet shops, backyard breeders, and
breeding mills continue to ignore updated researched information.
We can only suggest that you enjoy every precious moment with the little one that you do get, and anticipate the average 2 years (for now).
MEDICAL PROVISION FOR YOUR HAMSTER
If you are still of the mind-set who say they won’t bother taking a hamster to a vet, PLEASE DO NOT GET A HAMSTER!
Just because they are small, does not mean they don’t suffer like your dog or cat would!
Hamsters do not require vaccinations or regular vet checkups, but they can develop certain illnesses and ailments that are not treatable at home.
As prey animals they do not show symptoms of illness or pain until they actually cannot mask it any longer. Therefore, any sign of an ailment is classed as serious and will require a trip to an EXOTIC ANIMAL VET for treatment IMMEDIATELY, or your hamster can die within just days, if not hours.
Allowing them to suffer to the end without veterinary assistance for treatment or humane euthanasia is extremely cruel.
Do you have an exotics vet nearby? Unfortunately, most regular vets only get very basic training on how to diagnose and don't always have the necessary know-how to treat small exotic animals.
Exotic vets are NOT CHEAP, so be sure to build up and set aside some kind of a ‘fund’ to ensure that you will be able to afford treatment fast!
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS “WAITING UNTIL PAYDAY” IF YOUR HAMSTER GETS ILL OR INJURED!
If you are living in a small town where no such vet is available, you may need to be prepared to travel further afield, or find the contact details of an exotics vet and ask your regular vet to refer to this specialist for advice.
In the case of an emergency, please make sure you have transport to get to your nearest city, even after hours.
If you do not have transport, or budget for a long-distance Uber ride, perhaps you need to reconsider getting a hamster at this stage?
DO NOT BREED YOUR HAMSTERS!
Ethical breeders have a lot of knowledge, experience, time, equipment & space to breed responsibly. Besides the fact that there is very little profit in selling hamsters, it is blatantly irresponsible to purposefully allow two hamsters to have babies without in-depth experience and setup, since the resulting offspring usually suffer defects, health issues, and shortened lives (right from birth or as they grow up).
Aside from the above cautions, animal rescue groups are always inundated with hamsters looking for good homes after they have become unwanted and abandoned or neglected because the owners lost interest after realising that they actually require a fair amount of maintenance and care, or they cannot take care of the babies that are the result of ignorance.
It is therefore utterly unnecessary and irresponsible for more "backyard" breeding in this country!
Before you get overwhelmed with too much information, we suggest that you begin with the basic summary page for consideration BEFORE you get a hamster, or make any adjustments for the one you already have: