Dec 292009

When taking care of your hamster, you face routine health problems as well as the occasional illness and disease. Let’s first consider some of the routine health issues.

Routine Health Issues

Overgrown teeth: Hamsters are born with a pair of incisor teeth in their upper and lower jaws. The teeth continue to grow throughout a hamster’s lifetime. By gnawing on hard things they can keep their teeth from growing too long.

If the hamster’s teeth get overgrown they could cause problems such as piercing the animal’s mouth. If this happens, see a vet immediately.
hamster chew toys
You may see your hammy chewing on the metal bars of his or her cage. Some chewing on cage bars is normal. But excessive chewing can break the hamster’s teeth.

Be sure to get your hammy chew toys that allow him or her to properly gnaw their teeth. Wood toys are good, but be sure the wood is not too soft. Some people recommend dog biscuits to help hamsters keep their teeth in check.

Overgrown claws / nails: As with many other animals, hamster nails continually grow and may need to be trimmed. You can trim the claws yourself, or ask you vet to do it.

You can also read Look for Hamster Overgrown Teeth or Nails for more information.

Matted fur coat: Hamsters that have long hair, such as Teddy Bear Hamsters, can get bedding stuck in their hair, causing a section of their fur to become matted. First try gently brushing your hamster’s coat. If the mat is really bad, you may have to use a small scissors and very carefully cut out the matted section of fur. Bathing your hamster is not recommended.

Hibernation: Hamsters are sensitive to temperature. Too hot and they can get heat stroke. Too cold, and the hamster can go into hibernation. This will cause your hamster’s whole body to slow down. They breathe very slowly and look like they are in a deep sleep. You might think the hamster has died.

You will need to warm up the hamster, preferably by taking him or her in your hands and gently rubbing them. Do not do this in a microwave or oven!

If you keep your hamster cage in an area where the temperature is about 68 to 78 degrees F (20 to 25 C) you should be fine. Avoid putting your hamster cage in a window or someplace where it gets direct sunlight. See the article about hamster cage location for more information.

Hamster Illness and Disease

The following are some typical hamster illnesses you should watch out for. They will typically require a trip to your vet.

Wet Tail: Wet tail is a bacterial infection. It is caused by the stress of a changing location (such as from a pet store to home) and too much handling. Look for a wet and soiled bottom area, diarrhea, a loss of appetite, and/or a bad smell. This disease is also contagious, so if one hamster gets it, other hamsters sharing a cage are likely to get it.

The disease can cause hamster death within a short time period, especially when the diarrhea is severe and leads to dehydration. Wet tail is curable, but you should take your hamster to your vet, who will probably give the hamster antibiotics.

Diarrhea: Hamsters can get diarrhea without wet tail. You may notice they still are active and have not lost their appetite, but are leaving soiled bedding all over the place. It is usually caused by the hamster overfeeding themselves with fresh vegetables. You may want to stop feeding your hamster fresh foods for a few days and see if the diarrhea clears up. Then slowly start giving the hamster fresh food again.

If the diarrhea goes on too long, the hamster could develop dehydration, which can lead to death.

Respiratory/Lung Infections: There are a number of causes of breathing problems in hamsters. Improper bedding, such as pine or cedar chips, can cause dust or small particles to get into your hamster’s lungs and cause breathing problems. Look for a slow down in hamster activity, wheezing or a hamster who is having difficulty breathing. Some hamsters may also start sneezing a lot.

Another cause of lung infections can be the aspergillis fungus. This is a fungus that can grow in the hamster’s bedding, usually where the hamster pees. Initially it can’t be seen, but then turns white and finally black. The fungus can then send spores airborne causing breathing problems for your hamster.

If you see any signs of wheezing or breathing problems, get your hamster to the vet immediately.

Skin Diseases: Skin diseases that can affect hamsters include skin infections, ringworm, mites, and allergies. Look for reddening of the skin, bald patches or hair loss, or lesions (growths) on your hamster’s skin. You may also notice your hamster scratching itself more than usual.
hamster bedding
You will need to see your vet, who can tell you the exact skin disease and provide the appropriate treatment.
Not cleaning a cage often enough or use of poor bedding, such as pine or cedar wood chips, can contribute to your hamster’s skin disease. See the hamster bedding article for more information about bedding materials.

Abscesses: Abscesses are obvious sores or blisters on your hamster’s skin. Sometimes food will cause abscesses to occur in your hamster’s cheeks. It may look like the hamster is always storing food in his or her cheek pouch.

Abscesses need to be drained, so take your hamster to your vet if you notice one.


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Dec 292009

When it comes to hamsters sold as pets, there is one “large” type hamster and four “small” or dwarf-type hamsters. These five types of hamsters include:

  • Syrian/Golden
  • Dwarf Winter White Russian
  • Dwarf Campbell’s Russian
  • Roborovski
  • Chinese

Hamsters are part of the rodent family, along with mice and rats. But hamsters are the most popular for keeping as pets.

Let’s consider the key characteristics of each type.


Syrian / Golden Hamster
This type hamster is usually called a Golden Hamster, probably because the original ones were a golden brown coloring. Today, however, Syrians are available in many different colors.

There is a long-haired Syrian variety called the Teddy Bear because people think it looks like a toy teddy bear. There is also a dark, long-haired version called the Black Bear hamster.

All varieties have hairless feet with four toes up front and five in the back.

Adult Syrians usually measure from 5 to 7 inches (13 to 18 cm). They can live from 2 to 3 years.

Main rule for keeping Syrian Hamsters: 1 per cage! After about 6 weeks of age, they prefer to live alone. If you put another hamster in with them, they will very likely get into a fight and you will have some very injured hamsters. They can live in cages with metal bars, plastic cages, or aquariums. See the article Types of Hamster Cages: Aquarium, Plastic, Metal Bars. [link]

Because of its size, The Golden Hamster can usually be handled well by children.

Dwarf Winter White Russian Hamster

Winter White Russian Hamster
This is one of the two species of Russian hamsters. It’s called Winter White because its coat, which is normally light to dark grey, gets lighter in the winter. In fact, many of these hamsters’ coats will turn completely white. In the Russian and Siberian winters, when the ground is often covered with snow, this white coat helps the hamster protect itself.

The Winter Whites usually reach a length of 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 cm) and usually live about 1 ½ to 2 years.

These dwarf hamsters can live in groups (preferably of the same sex) if you put them together when they are young. But remember, because they are small, they can squeeze through the metal bars of some cages. Think about using a plastic cage or aquarium to house them.

They are usually good natured, but because of their small size, small children may have some trouble handling them.

Dwarf Campbell’s Russian Hamster

Campbells Russian Hamster
The more common type of Dwarf Russian Hamster, the Campbells Russian Hamster can be found in many pet shops. In some shops they are called Siberian Hamsters or Djungarian Hamsters.

The color of these dwarf hamsters is often gray-brown to light gray on the back, ivory on their sides, and white on the belly. They have a thin dark stripe down their back.

As adults, they can grow to about 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12 cm) long. Their average life is about 1 ½ to 2 years.

The Dwarf Campbells Russian Hamster is sociable. Like the Winter Whites, they can live in groups (preferably of the same sex) if you put them together when they are young. Plastic or glass aquariums are best for housing them as they can squeeze through metal bars.

Because of their small size and reputation for nipping, they may not be suited for handling by small children.

The Campbells’ and Winter White Russian Hamsters are two different subspecies. Therefore, avoid cross-breeding or buying a hybrid hamster.

Roborovski Hamster

Roborovski Hamster
The smallest of the dwarf hamsters are the Roborovski Hamsters, also called Robos, for short. They originated in Mongolia and Northern China. Their original colors were sandy-gold backs with a white belly. They also have what look like “eyebrows,” which gives them a distinct look.

Adult robos are about 2 inches (4 to 5 cm) long and can live for 3 to 3 ½ years.

You can put a pair or a few robos of the same sex together in the same cage. And definitely no metal bar cages for these dwarfs or they will be gone!

They are known or being active and fast which means they are great for watching, especially if you have a cage that is full of tubes and toys. See the article Inside Hamster Cages. On the other hand, because of their size and speed, they are not recommended for handling by small children.

For information about taking care of dwarf hamsters Click Here!

Chinese Hamster

Chinese Hamster
Although called a dwarf hamster, the Chinese Hamster really belongs to a group known as rat-like hamsters. Originating in Mongolia and Northern China, they are probably the most uncommon hamster you are likely to find in a pet store. Additionally, some states either prohibit their purchase or require you to have a permit to own them.

This hamster has a mouse-like body about 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12 cm) long. It can live about 2 ½ to 3 years. Its typical color is a dark brown back with a dark stripe along its spine and a belly that is off-white.

Its most distinguishing feature is the tail which is about a half-inch long. Pet the Chinese Hamster along its back and the tail will probably curl around your finger.

Although fearful of people, they do have a good disposition. Like the Roborovski Hamster, they are very fast moving which means they are fun to watch, but difficult to hold.

Some people report keeping them in pairs, but most recommend giving the active Chinese Hamster its own cage filled with tubes and toys.


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Aug 082009

There are three primary types of hamster cages.


Aquariums for hamsters are 4-sided and made of glass or plastic.

glass aquarium hamster cage

Aquarium Cage Advantages

  • You can easily see into the aquarium, giving you lots of opportunities to view your hammy.
  • Glass or plastic aquarium sides are very difficult for your hamster to climb up. This reduces the chances of your hamster escaping.
  • The bedding is not scattered all over the area around the aquarium because there are no openings on the bottom.
  • Probably the best cage for the smaller dwarf hamster.

Aquarium Cage Disadvantages

  • Glass aquariums are usually heavier than other types of cages. Ask yourself if you can lift and move the cage easily to clean it.
  • Glass aquariums can shatter if dropped.
  • Ventilation can be a problem. Ammonia fumes from dirty bedding can build up and harm your hamster.
  • You need a secure lid to keep your hamster in and other pets out. A wire top is preferred to a thin screen mesh because it is more difficult for your hamster to chew through it.
  • If the secure lid does not have clips, you will need a freestanding running wheel and water bottle or dish.
  • Plastic aquariums can get scratched over time.

For more information about glass cages, read 3 Critical Guidelines for Choosing an Aquarium Hamster Cage. 
NOTE: It is best to buy a glass aquarium at your local pet store as shipping can result in you receiving a broken aquarium.

Wire Cages

Wire cages for hamsters are made of metal wires, spaced close together. Most have a plastic or metal base on the bottom.

Wire hamster cage

Wire Cage Advantages

  • Lightweight
  • Provides good ventilation
  • Hamster love to climb up the wire bars. You can also add more climbing space by attaching wire ladders to the sides of the bars, creating a multi-level cage.
  • You can attach items such as a water bottle and a wheel from the wire sides.
  • The wire frame usually detaches from the bottom tray, making cleaning easier.

Wire Cage Disadvantages

  • Not good for dwarf hamsters unless the wires are very close together. If the space between the bars is too large, your hamster will crawl through and escape.
  • If the cage is in a drafty location, such as near a window, the open bars will let drafts through which can cause problems for your hammie.
  • Some hamsters tend to gnaw on the wire bars. Some people find the noise distracting. Also some wire bars are painted. Chewing on this paint is harmful to the hamster.
  • A shallow plastic bottom (smaller than 2 inches / 5 cm) means when your hamster burrows, his or her bedding could come flying through the wire and cause a mess outside the cage.

For more information about wire cages, read Guidelines for Buying a Wire Hamster Cage.

Wire and Plastic Cages

Plastic cages for hamsters are made up of colorful plastic on top and bottom and have metal bars in the middle. They may also be called hamster habitats.

Wire and plastic hamster cage

Wire and Plastic Cage Advantages

  • Colorful and bright as the plastic comes in many different colors.
  • Many have holes to which you can add tunnels and tubes to expand the size of the cage.
  • Deep base means bedding material is more likely to stay in cage.

Wire and Plastic Cage Disadvantages

  • Assembly can be difficult. Instructions can be poor and all pieces must fit snugly together.
  • Plastic cracks easily, especially when you are trying to put the cage together and must be twisting and maneuvering the parts.
  • Some doors are snap-in, instead of latch, meaning it is easier for your hamster to escape.
  • Plastic wheels attached to sides can make a lot of noise when your hamster is running.
  • Must take everything apart to clean all pieces. Note that some plastic cages have a one piece top which makes cleaning easier.
  • Plastic scratches more easily than glass.
  • Larger hamsters can get stuck inside plastic tubes.

For more information about combination wire and plastic cages, read Tips for Choosing Plastic and Wire Combination Cages.

NOTE: All-Plastic Cages

This type of cage is composed of all plastic. Because of a lack of ventilation, these cages should be avoided.



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