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INFORMATION SHEET No.2

HOUSING SYRIAN HAMSTERS

The first and most important thing to remember about Syrian hamsters is ONE HAMSTER ONE CAGE. Although a hamster will almost always be gentle and loving with you, well meaning people think they are lonely, but put two hamsters together and before long fighting will take place. This could result in serious injuries or even death.

A useful cage, and one used by many breeders, is the type comprising a "cat litter" tray with a wire top clipped to it. This measures approximately 35cm long x 25cm wide x 23cm high and is the smallest size suitable to keep a Syrian hamster in. If you can afford a slightly bigger cage of the same type, perhaps with two or three levels, so much the better, but do ensure that the young hamster cannot fall the total height of the cage. A piece of cardboard slipped across any opening will help to prevent this. Hamsters love climbing and will get plenty of exercise in this type of cage.

There are also on the market the all or nearly all plastic cages, comprising a number of compartments linked by tubes. These look attractive and will stop draughts, although expensive to buy if a suitable size is used. The cage may need to be taken apart to get the hamster out until it gets to know its owner and will come to the owner's voice. These cages do, however, come into their own if you also own a cat or dog as the hamster is protected against claws.

Glass or plastic aquariums can also be used but a lid made with 1cm x 1cm wire mesh is required, as the standard hood has little or no ventilation, and so condensation can form. The lid can be made by making a wooden frame that just fits outside the tank and fixing the wire to this. Remember, if you have anything hanging in the tank the hamster is liable to climb this and push the lid off if it is not secured in some way.

With all cages, remember that hamsters' teeth keep growing all their lives and they must always chew something hard to keep their teeth at the right length. Whatever hard materials you put in for them to chew, the odds are that they will prefer to chew the bars of the cage, or the edges of any plastic. This is all quite normal.

When you, have your cage you must then set it up ready for your hamster. A good layer of sawdust or shavings should be spread on the floor of the cage to absorb the urine - sawdust is the more absorbent of the two - but it is a personal choice. If you are keeping a long-haired hamster then sawdust is preferable as shavings tend to tangle the long hair.

NEVER, NEVER, as suggested in some books, put newspaper under the sawdust, as chewing this could lead to poisoning.

You now need to provide your hamster with a nest and for this shredded paper bedding is much the best. There are on the market some types of fluffy bedding that look similar to cotton wool and these are safe if the packet has the "NHC Approved" stamp on it. Some types of fluffy bedding may cause intestinal problems if swallowed and hamsters always pouch the material when making their beds.

Whatever kind of cage you buy you must provide water for the hamster and the best way is to use a commercially made water bottle. Dishes can be used but they tend to be filled up with sawdust very quickly. The water should be changed regularly.

Food dishes can be bought and used but normally the hamster will pouch the food and then put it in its store, so the food can just be put in the sawdust. As this does not look tidy, many people prefer to use a dish. However, since hamsters must chew, a plastic dish can gradually disappear. A useful substitute is the plastic top of a coffee jar - this will still be chewed but can be replaced from the next jar of coffee. This does not appear to harm the hamster, but if you want to be very careful you can buy pottery or stainless steel dishes.

Care should be taken when positioning the cage as this is most important. Do not place in direct sunlight and make sure it is out of draughts. The cage can be kept in the house or in a frost-free shed or garage but if kept in the latter more bedding must be provided. If kept indoors do not put near radiators or fires as extremes of temperature are harmful. As long as there is no sudden change in temperature the hamster will be safe. If the cage is kept in a bedroom spilt sawdust can be a problem, but if you get a cardboard box about 50cm bigger than the base of the cage and cut it down to about 100cm high, the cage can stand in this and most of the sawdust will be caught.

Wheels will always be a controversial subject when it comes to "toys" in a hamster's cage but a young hamster does enjoy a wheel. The spoked type can lead to problems with legs slipping and breaking and plastic spoked wheels do tend to be chewed and then they drop off the spindle. A little trick to try on this type of wheel is to fix some cardboard around the outside of the wheel - the legs can no longer slip through but the hamster can get a grip on the spokes. The solid plastic type is safer, the larger and wider the better. Wheels can be a problem with long-haired hamsters, as the hair catches around the spindle and can be pulled out. Keep an eye on your hamster and its wheel, if you see it marking the fur or if it is a big hamster and its back is really bent when running on the wheel, tie the wheel so it cannot move, or remove it from the cage.

Many "toys" can be bought for your hamster, including seesaws, tunnels, climbing blocks and ladders, but a lot you can make yourselves. Cardboard rolls can be hung on wire in the cage or a plastic squash bottle with the top and bottom cut off can be hung up. A wooden shelf can be put in most cages and hamsters love to climb on these to groom themselves.

Your hamster will love to come out of its cage to play, but you must keep an eye on it as they can get through the smallest spaces and can get lost very easily. A play box is a good idea and a cheap one can be made from a plastic water tank, or an even cheaper one from the boxes televisions come in. If you get such a box, cut it down to about 300cm high and toys can be put inside, but remember do not leave the hamster alone for too long as it will chew its way out.

Playballs can be used for exercise or a place to put a hamster in while you clean the cage, but do not leave them in one for more than a few minutes at

a time.

Cages should be cleaned once a week to ensure that your hamster is healthy and happy.

In the end, whatever type of cage you use and whatever type of toy, please remember to handle your hamster and, above all, enjoy your pet.

HOUSING DWARF HAMSTERS

Unlike Syrian hamsters', Dwarfs can live together. Russian Campbells may be kept in single sex pairs or groups; Russian Winter Whites seem to prefer to be in pairs. Chinese hamsters again can be kept in pairs or groups, as can Roborovskys. In all cases do not mix males and females unless intending to breed. Do not mix the species, as fighting will break out.

Dwarf hamsters do require different housing to Syrians - because of their small size they can squeeze through the bars of normal cages. They may be kept in the 'cat-litter tray' type of cage provided the barred top has spaces of no more than 1 cm between the bars. They do live very happily in glass tanks with wire lids (small gauge mesh) and in rotastack systems. If in the latter, ensure that the tubes are lined with wire mesh so the hamster can grip and travel along them. Like Syrian hamsters, dwarf hamsters are great escape artists, so do ensure that any home for them is secure.

The cage should be prepared as for the Syrian hamster, but dwarfs love to burrow, as in the wild, so do give them a deeper layer of sawdust or shavings - some 2-3 inches. Normal or smaller water bottles may be used, and special hanging bottles can be bought for use in glass tanks. Again, remember that the hamsters will climb up these, so the lid must be secure. Small cardboard rolls, cardboard boxes etc. will be very welcome to play in and hide in. Cages, tanks etc. should be cleaned out once a week, as for the Syrians.

The address of your nearest breeder or local Club Secretary can be obtained by e-mailing us (see above).

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