Scorpio Syrians
Caring for Your Hamster

Feeding
There are lots of commercial hamster foods on the market and choosing one is totally your own decision. Look for a complete food which contains all the required vitamins etc. Both Russian & Chinese hamsters will eat any "hamster" food, but if in doubt ask your local pet shop, veterinary centre, or better still ask someone at a Northern Hamster Club show, normally held once a month. Your hamster will also enjoy fresh vegetables like cabbage, cucumber, celery, broccoli, carrot, cress and occasionally lettuce. Apples are also enjoyed but never ever feed a hamster citrus fruit. The acid in the fruit can harm the hamster's stomach. Various "snacks" are available and most are excellent, especially those that exercise the hamster's jaw and keep the teeth in good condition. Remember fresh drinking water should always be available and is best administered in a drinking bottle. Mineral blocks are also a good idea.

Housing
Hamsters are kept incages, but when choosing a cage look for the one which will fit into the space available and one that is easy to clean. Plastic tanks are an alternative to a wire cage, please keep them away from windows where the temperature is likely to get too hot (mini greenhouses). All cages should be kept away from radiators and fires, and not in draughts. Sawdust or shavings should be liberally scattered on the base of the cage or tank and paper bedding or soft hay should be placed in one corner. Never use newspaper because the ink is poisonous and hamsters like to put everything in their pouches. Some synthetic bedding materials are available but can be harmful to the hamster if eaten, blocking the digestive system and even causing death. If you choose to use fluffy bedding please ensure it is made of vegetable fibre.

Cages will need a thorough cleaning once a week, this will keep your pet and cage odour free! It is even better if the "toilet" corner can be cleaned every other day. When cleaning weekly, remember to give your hamster some of it's food store back, as this causes less stress and makes your hamster more at home. The bedding need not be changed weekly, if clean and odour free a gentle shake will be sufficient before returning it into the cage. Always remember one Syrian hamster per cage. They will fight if kept together.

Exhibiting

The best way to start showing your hamsters is to bring it along to a show and enter it in the pet class. Let one of the members of the club see your hamster, they should be able to give further information about your pet and recommend that you enter him or her in the other straight classes.

Pet class - This class is especially for pet hamstersand other small and furry animals. They are judged on tameness and condition only. Bring your pet along in his cage. It is important to put some moisture containing vegetable in his cage for the day.

When you arrive find the show secretary, here you book in your hamster pay your entry fee and receive a label for your cage. Try not to indicate to the judge which is your hamster while judging is in progress. After the prizes have been presented is the correct time to ask the judge any questions you might have. Don't forget to collect prizes and place cards from the Show Secretary.

Straight & Duplicate classes - These are classes for standard "pedigree" hamsters. Some members are very experienced and have been exhibiting their hamsters for many years. All these entries have been "booked in" with the show secretary a few days prior to the show. The exact closing date will be on your show schedule. If you are late with your entries they will be charged double, so do take care when noting the closing date.

The classes may seem complicated to start with, but ask for help from a club member, they are only too willing to help. Sometimes your pet hamster could be a "pedigree" hamster and you may be able to enter it in a straight class. All hamsters must be put in a special show pen, this is so the judge is unable to tell to whom the hamsters belongs. Some show pens are available to hire on a daily basis for new members. They should be booked when you book your entries.

Whether you hire a pen or have your own you must provide wood shavings for short haired hamsters and wood based cat litter for long haired hamsters. also you must provide some moisture containing food as your hamster will be in the show pen for a few hours. (cucumber, carrot, apple or cabbage are suitable). When you arrive collect your show pen labels from the Show Secretary and pay your entry fees. The labels are stuck on the top left hand corner of the pen. Take a note of the numbers of your pens so you can collect the correct hamster at the end of the show. When you are ready, place your pens on the show bench, someone will be sorting them into classes ready for judging to commence.

It take some time for all the hamsters to be judged. This is a good time to have a chat to other members and pick up ideas and tips. Why not ask for jobs, there are usually quite a few things to do. At the end of the show pick up your hamster and collect any place cards from the Show Secretary. Also ask the judge any questions you may have. Don't forget to return any hire pens.

Breeding

Breeding hamsters is an interesting and rewarding , but please read this advice before you start.

  1. Breeding any animal requires time, space, money and knowledge.
  2. Can you find homes for the offspring or keep them?
  3. Remember one hamster one cage.
  4. All members of the family must be happy about the project.
  5. You must not expect to make money from breeding hamsters.

Female hamsters come into season every fourth night during the summer months, but this may be less frequent during winter. Choose a good female with a good temperament. Do not consider mating hamsters less than three months of age. Four to six months is ideal.

Place the chosen hamster in a cardboard box, tank or plastic container. Hold the female in front of him to sniff her. Place her in with the male and observe the pair carefully. The male may chase her for a few minutes until she "stands". She may "stand" straight away and the male will mate with her. If the female becomes aggressive the pair must be separated immediately. Use a glove or a plastic scoop to remove the hamsters if a fight has begun. You must separate them quickly to avoid serious injury being done. If mating doesn't occur try again for several consecutive nights. If the pair mate you can expect babies to be born 16-18 days later, ( as many as 22, but usually between 9-16 babies).

There is no easy way to tell if a female is pregnant, although she may show a definite bulge around 10 days. Try not to handle her if she gets very heavy. feed a good quality dried food, porridge, hard boiled eggs and greens during pregnancy.

Clean out the females cages 2-3 days before she is due and leave her alone with sufficient food for the next few days. Most hamsters give birth without any problems. If, however, you notice any blood stained discharge without any pups being produced, or if the female is straining or distressed, contact your vet.

Continue to feed the diet mentioned above. Wheat germ can be sprinkled on the pups at 6–7 days old. They will lick it off each other and so will the mother.

Do not disturb the nest until the babies are coming out of it.

At about 10-12 days the babies will be seen outside the nest. They will be eating small amounts of solid food. You can clean out the cage when the babies eyes are open. Handle each of them a little every day as well. At four weeks old the babies must be sexed and taken away from the mother.

The separated males and females should live happily together until about 8-10 weeks of age, although this may vary. If you are selling your hamsters to a pet shop 4-5 weeks is the minimum age to let them go. If you wish to mate your females again, wait for 2-3 months before doing so.

Common Ailments

Hamsters are normally hardy, healthy little creatures who will enjoy a good two years of active life. Get to know your hamster because it is then much easier to see if all is well. Open his mouth from time to time to check his teeth. Look after his toe nails and his fur. Make sure he is eating and drinking normally and that his droppings are firm. Even the best kept hamsters sometimes become ill. You can help a lot with the nursing and treatment of a sick hamster, but don't hesitate to consult your vet if you are worried.

ABSCESSES - These are soft, closed swellings filled with pus. They appear after the hamster has been bitten or injured. Bathing with a warm salt solution helps. Mix one teaspoon of salt with a pint of water. Clip the fur around the abscesses and keep it exposed until the pus has drained away. You need to consult your vet for antibiotics if the abscess does not heal in a few days.

ACCIDENTS - Falls, encounters with cats and mishandling by young children are the most common cause of injury. Fractures of the limbs or pelvis should be seen by your vet, but treatment is difficult. Hamsters will not tolerate splints or dressings! Simple fractures will heal on their own.

DIARRHOEA - A sudden change of diet or too many greens can cause an attack of diarrhoea. Beware of raisins and citrus fruit. The hamster will have staining around his bottom and may be off colour. Dehydration is a serious result of this condition and needs urgent veterinary treatment. Pinch a fold of your hamster's skin. If it slips back into place he is well hydrated. If the skin stays up in a ridge the hamster needs fluid. Feed only dried food and water for a day or two. A pinch of salt and a pinch of glucose may be added to the water.

HEATSTROKE - hamsters that are too hot collapse and become disorientated. moving them cool, shady place may help, but it is better immerse him gently in a bowl of cool water (but not the head). he will gradually regain consciousness as his body temperature return to normal.

CONSTIPATION - Not a common ailment, but a potentially serious one. The hamster may suffer some discomfort from a swollen abdomen. A good supply of clean drinking water, fresh greens and safe bedding will usually cure (and prevent) this condition.

HIBERNATION - A sudden drop in temperature or even a series of dull days when daylight is depleted can cause your hamster to hibernate. A cool, stiff immobile hamster is not necessarily dead. Warm him in your hands or near a radiator, but do not over do the heat.

RESPIRATORY - Hamsters can develop "snuffles" especially after a period of damp weather. Humans may transmit "cold" to hamsters. ( Imagine a poor hamster kept in a classroom of five year olds, he must be permanently sneezing!) Put some Vicks or menthol crystals on a tissue near the cage. Keep him comfortable and warm, treat him to hot mash and hope for the best.

SKIN DISEASES - Hamsters can be affected by Demodectic and sarcoptic mange. Hair loss and irritated, scaly patches are the first signs. Mites from both these manges are easily identifiable. Your vet can take a skin scraping and examine it under a microscope. Sarcoptic mange causes scabies in humans, an unpleasant, but not serious, itchy rash on the forearms. Mites found in hay can also cause intense itching in hamsters. Ringworm is relatively rare, but can be detected by an ultra violet light. The affected patches glow! Rings of dry, scaly skin are an indication of this condition. Hip spots are often mistaken for ringworm. All hamsters have two scent glands on their flanks. Sometimes they appear to be sore and wet and the hamster may rub them along the floor of his cage. This is quite normal.

TEETH - Hamsters that suffer from misaligned jaws, or are given insufficient hard food, often develop overgrown teeth. Your vet can show you how to clip them Don't worry, it's quite painless!

TYZZER'S DISEASE - This is a serious disease usually carried by wild mice. The hamster rapidly looses condition and dies. Mice can contaminate food, cages, shavings and bedding, even before you buy these products. You should be suspicious if you have a number of sudden deaths in your hamstery.

WET TAIL - This condition should not be confused with diarrhoea, although the symptoms are similar. The animal quickly becomes vary ill indeed with severe diarrhoea caused by a bacterium which is thought to attack mainly young hamsters. Ulcers from in the bowel and death usually follows. Stress, over breeding and weaning too early leave hamster hamsters susceptible to this nasty disease. Treatment by your vet is possible, but rarely successful. This is a highly infectious disease and sufferers should be isolated.

LUMPS AND BUMPS - These should be investigated by a vet. Small external lumps can usually be removed. Don't wait until the lump is large or untreatable. Lumps are not necessarily cancerous.

© Sheryl Sharkey 2008