The journey home
Make sure you have suitable housing set up at home before you purchase a new hamster, and carry it home
in a small, ventilated box, with some paper shavings for comfort. Do not just pounce on the poor little mite as soon as you
get it home let it settle down alone in its cage with a supply of fresh food and water for a day or two before you start hand-taming.
When it comes to purchasing suitable housing for your hamster, you can really let you imagination run wild if your budget
can stretch that far. Old-fashioned wire cages are considered pretty boring, and both owners and their pets will get pleasure
from one of the colorful range of multistory, plastic, modular units that are joined by interconnecting plastic tubes. These
have sleeping areas, restaurants, exercise centers and even observation towers. But be warned: a unit such as this can end
up costing many times more than the hamster. Take care with dwarf hamsters, as the units are generally designed for their
larger golden cousins, and they may find the connecting tubes too wide to climb through.
Dwarf hamsters generally will prefer a glass aquarium with a couple of inches of wood shavings in the bottom.
However, the aquarium will need a tight-fitting wire mesh cover to prevent any intrepid escape attempts. If hamsters are kept
in a wire cage, the cage must contain a small nesting box filled with bedding. This gives the hamster a warm and secure place
to retreat to. Do not place your hamster's home in direct sunlight this is particularly important with glass aquariums and
try to avoid extremes of temperature.
Only approved hamster bedding should be used, as hamsters will often gnaw at and swallow their bedding,
and many fibers cannot be digested. This can lead to a blockage of the bowel, which could prove fatal. Softwood shavings over
a base layer of peat are fine, providing the wood that the shavings have been made from has not been chemically treated. Special
digestible nesting material is available, whcih the hamster will take into his sleeping area and arrange to his liking. Hamsters
like to hide their food in corners, and may get upset when it is cleaned away. The toilet area, which the hamster will select,
needs to be cleaned out every day or two to prevent unpleasant smells and nasty bugs. Sometimes a hamster can be persuaded
to use a jelly jar, positioned on its side. This can be easily removed and washed daily. The whole housing area will need
a thorough cleaning every couple of weeks to remove soiled bedding and hidden food that may be decaying. Food should be provided
in a clean ceramic bowl (less chewable than a plastic one!), and the hamster should be allowed to help itself to as much as
it wants a lot of it will be hidden anyway.
A wide range of toys and food treats are available, but they should be selected with care. Wooden blocks
with hidey-holes appeal to the tunneling instincts of hamsters. The use of balls or hamster-dragsters propelled by the hamster
running inside are fine if their use is closely supervised for limited periods. Never leave your hamster unattended in this
situation, or it could be injured or become exhausted. Sometimes the cheapest toys are the best, try giving your hamster the
cardboard tube from inside a toilet-paper roll. You will be amazed at the fun it will have with the tube, and no harm will
be done if it ends up chewed!
Because they run about so much in the wild, exercise is essential to a hamster's health and well-being.
Most hamsters will get a fair amount of exercise running from one compartment to another in a modular unit, but they should
always be provided with a wheel, which gives another form of exercise. However, the wheel must be carefully selected to ensure
it is free from sharp edges or holes where small legs could get trapped.
Hamsters do not generally drink very much, especially if they eat reasonable amounts of succulent foods
such as cucumber and lettuce. However, they should always have fresh water available. This is best supplied by a water bottle
with a ball valve underneath so that it can be suspended upside down.
Things to never put in your hamster cage
On the cage floor never use rock wool the hamster may get tangled in its long strands.
Never give newspaper printing ink is poisonous. Never use cotton wool, knitting wool, or man-made fibers
they can cause a blockage in a hamster's stomach. And never use straw it scratches the inside of the hamster's cheek pouches.
Wood for gnawing
Never give laburnum or evergreen wood they are poisonous. Never softwood it splinters easily. Never put
anything made of thin plastic in the cage if the hamster swallows bits, it cannot digest them.