Syrian hamsters can make fantastic companions. With their differing personalities and quirky ways, Syrian hamsters can be a wonderful choice of pet and are easy to care for once you know their needs.
Before deciding on taking home a Syrian hamster, it is important to know their needs and the commitment they are and to THINK TWICE – ensuring this is a pet that you dedicate time, space and finances to. In this Petopedia article we cover the basic welfare needs of Syrian hamsters and have some key information to help you get started in the world of hamster ownership.
Syrian hamsters must live on their own as they are territorial mammals and will start to fight with each other once they have reached maturity, which is between 8 and 12 weeks. Syrian hamsters should never be kept in pairs or groups once mature. Even smelling another adult hamster in the same house can cause some upset, so it’s always best to stick to just the one.
Syrian hamsters are nocturnal which means that they are most active at night and their life expectancy is between 1 and 2 years, but have been known to live much longer. Although when compared to a rabbit or cat, their life expectancy is lower – they are still a huge commitment for that time and will need twice daily attention and care from their owners. So be sure that your lifestyle can adapt to this before taking your little one home.
Their nocturnal nature means that they will be up and about during the night, burrowing, digging, playing and chewing! This is super important hamster fact to consider before owning a hamster as it may dictate where your enclosure is kept in the home – they have been known to make quite a noise when snuffling about and running in their wheels!
Syrian hamsters can make excellent pets. They can be very active with great individual personalities. If raised and handled properly they’ll be your friends for life. But handling hamsters can be tricky when they are young as they are still adjusting to the big wide world. Syrian hamsters are prey animals, this means loud noises, sharp movements and touch can make them a little jumpy to start with. Before owning a hamster, it is important to remember this and be prepared for it to take a little time before they are happy to be handled by you and your family. Handling hamsters is all about little and often and building up their confidence in being touched/picked up in the early days; this can take time.
Top Handling Tips:
- • A hamster will never bite unless there is a reason.
Many people are nervous when handling hamsters due to the fear of being bitten. Yes, being nibbled can hurt (a lot) but with gentle handling to begin with and time hamsters can become fabulous little furries who will sit in your hand, enjoy a stroke and thrive in your company.
- • Wash your hands!
Syrian hamsters have very poor eyesight and rely mostly on the sense of smell and touch. If your hands smell like food… you can bet he’s going to want to have a little nibble and taste what smells so yummy!
- • Let them wake up first.
Being most active usually during the night, these little ones will likely not be up and awake when you want to handle (after school/work/during the day). As such it’s very important to wake them up by gently talking to them and perhaps shuffling some of the substrates before you try to pick them up. If they aren’t given a couple of minutes to wake up first, you might have a very grumpy hamster and that’s not the best start to a handling session with them!
- • Be gentle!
Syrian hamsters are sensitive to touch and grabbing or poking can startle them and make them nervous to handle. Always scoop them with both hands gently when picking them up and stroke them very gently (avoiding the nose and whiskers). If your hamster is a little too jumpy to pick up safely, we recommend using a plastic cup to get you started. By scooping them into a cup you can move them safely from A to B without worrying about them jumping out of your hands until both you and your hamster are more confident with handling.
- • Little and often.
Aim to handle your hamster for only 10-15 minutes at a time to begin with. Short and gentle sessions will teach your hamster that handing is nor a long or scary process and he will be back in the safety of this enclosure in no time. This can go a long way to building his confidence.
- • No fingers in faces!
Going back to hamsters and their eyesight, Syrians don’t have the best eyesight to differentiate things up close, so when you approach them with a hand or a finger toward their nose it can be very scary. This can make them nervous, cause them to nip or run away.
- • They can be trained!
Although little, these cute mammals with a little time and patience can be taught their name, pick up routines easily, litter train themselves and will even do some simple tricks if taught gradually. So the more handling you do with them the more fun you can have with them.
Over time Syrian hamsters adapt wonderfully to being handled and can be desensitized. For some it may only be a week or so, others may be a little more sensitive and take a few weeks. But be patient, go slowly with them and they will get to a point where they are happy to be handled daily and may even be waiting in their enclosure for you ready to play.
Do's and Don'ts
Do allow your pet to settle in for 24 hours before handling it for the first time. Play with your hamster as often as possible, when handling it be gentle and stay close to the floor. Exercise is essential, let your hamster have a supervised run around indoors as often as possible. A play ball is just one way for them to explore your house safely (use for only 20 minutes at a time), a hamster safe open area with tubes and boxes they can climb in is another great way. How about constructing a maze for them to explore?
Do keep your pet indoors out of direct sunlight, in a room with a steady temperature and no draughts. A bedroom or lounge is ideal.
Do check your hamster’s food and water twice a day, making sure you clean any poo and woodchips out of its food bowl.
Do clean the cage thoroughly at least once a week with petsafe disinfectant. Make sure you clean everything your pet touches. Use a litter scoop to make this easier.
Do provide them with a suitable wheel or spinning disk so that they can run freely in their enclosure. They can travel up to 9 miles a night in the wind.
Don’t feed LETTUCE or AVOCADO as these can be harmful. You can give hamsters very small amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables, but no more than twice a week.
Don’t keep them near televisions or stereos as these can produce high frequency sounds that will irritate them.
Don’t ever use aerosol cans near them as they can produce toxic fumes.
Don’t overcrowd the cage with toys, although a few toys are a good idea. You want them to have as much space to exercise as possible
What They'll Need
Cage: Hamsters need a lot of room. Hamsters need a lot of space to run and play. Their enclosure should have at least one to two platforms/ladders/tubes included for extra space and interest for them. The bars should be no more than 12mm apart or they may get their heads stuck or escape.
Exercise wheel: Hamsters are full of energy and can run up to 9 miles in a day, so a wheel is essential to keep them happy. We recommend a minimum wheel size of 12” is a good place to start – if your hamster is curving their back when running in their wheel then it is too small and you should invest in a large one to avoid health issues. It is important that many complete cages on the market come with a wheel suitable only for a juvenile hamster – a larger wheel will be needed.
House: Syrian hamsters need a house in their cage so that they can hide away and sleep in peace. The darker the better for these, so look for ones that provide a nice little cave environment for them.
Substrate: A good substrate is very important to soak up urine and protect their feet. Good substrate examples are dust extracted rodent safe wood shavings or Carefresh. This should be at a depth of at least 1.5 inches so that they can burrow and dig happily.
Bedding: It is important that you only use animal safe bedding, which should be placed in their house. We do not recommend fluffy fibre bedding types as there is a risk of them getting their limbs tangled or ingesting the material, cloth or paper are great options. Giving them the choice of two bedding materials can help to stimulate their minds as they build their nest so is another great way to add enrichment to their enclosure.
Water bottle: Make sure your pets can reach the spout, and refill it daily to monitor their drinking. The spout water bottles can become blocked easily, so it’s very important to clean these regularly and check daily for any problems in water flow.
Food bowl: Syrian hamsters actually benefit most from being scatter fed, so a bowl is not always a necessity – simply sprinkle their daily food allowance around their enclosure and they will have great fun snuffling around and collecting it all. However, stainless steel or ceramic bowls are best if you wish to use one, as they are hygienic and can’t be chewed.
Food: Syrian hamsters are omnivores, so should be fed a complete Syrian hamster mix. It is vital that animals are weaned gradually onto any new food to avoid upsetting their sensitive tummies. They should be fed only a teaspoon of their food each day to prevent obesity.
Wood gnaws: Like all rodents, your pets’ teeth grow continuously as they have hypsodont teeth. Gnaws are essential to keep their teeth trimmed and in good condition. If your hamsters doesn’t appear to be using their wood gnaw, it is a good idea to try different types to find which ones they like best as they often have preferred flavors and textures. A good place to start here is to find the same chews he had before you bring him home so it’s familiar for him. Then as he settles you can have great fun in learning his likes and dislikes.
Treats: Feed treats every now and then, but not too often – their complete Syrian hamster mix will give them their needed and vital nutrients.
Toys: To stop your pets getting bored while you’re away (or asleep) toys are vital to keeping them active and stimulated. There is a huge range available for Syrian hamsters from rope toys to ladders, but you can also have fun creating toys from cardboard for them to play with and chew. If making your own toys, always check the material is safe to use and if free from glues and inks of unknown origin.
Potential Health Problems
Overgrown teeth: Syrian hamsters can suffer from overgrown teeth that may have to be clipped by a veterinary surgeon. Always make sure there is plenty of gnawing material available.
Hibernation: If hamsters are kept where the temperature drops below 5 ̊C or 40 ̊F they can go into a false hibernation. They may appear to be asleep or even dead. The temperature must be raised gradually by placing the hamster on a covered heat pad or hot water bottle, no more than 32 ̊C or 90 ̊F and taken straight to the vets. Veterinary advice should be sought if ever you think your pet appears lethargic or ill in any way.
Weekly Health Check
You should health check your hamster each time you handled him so that you learn what is normal for your little one. This will help you identify any health concerns quicker and thus seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.
- • Is underneath the tail clean?
- • Do they have all their toes and nails? Are they clean and not overgrown?
- • Do the legs move freely with no staggering or stiffness?
- • Are the teeth present? Are they straight and not overgrown?
- • Is the nose clean with no discharge?
- • Are the eyes bright and clear?
- • Stroke the ears; are they smooth and clean?
- • Is the fur clean with no bald patches or parasites?
- • Blow in the fur; the skin should be healthy, not red, dry or flaky.
- • Feel the body. Is it fat enough? It should not feel bloated or bony.
- • Listen to the chest. Is the breathing almost silent with no wheezing?
If you answered no to any of the above your pet may require veterinary attention.
Please try to handle and play with your pet as often as possible, you will find that you will be rewarded with a much happier and friendlier pet. If you are not 100% sure that you or your children will be able to give your pet the attention that it needs then please think twice.