Most people assume that hamsters are only suitable pets for kids owing to their small sizes. Even so, hamsters are good pets for people of all ages.
These animals, commonly called pocket pets, are cute, easy to maintain, clean and silent. Moreover, some hamster species are solitary and you need not get a pair of them like you should for most pets.
Hamsters belong to the Rodentia order, Cricetidae family and Cricetinae subfamily. The most common hamsters stocked in pet stores are Chinese, dwarf and Syrian hamsters.
Among these, the most popular option is the Syrian hamster. This species was discovered in Syria around 1797 where the animals thrived in a hot and dry climate.
Most of the pet Syrian hamsters nowadays can trace their lineage to one female Syrian hamster and 12 pups caught by Professor Aharoni in Aleppo, Syria in 1930.
Though wild Syrian hamster populations were considered extinct since the 1980s, expeditions done in 1997 and 1999 discovered them. 19 of these hamsters were kept in a breeding program in Germany.
At the moment, wild Syrian hamsters are considered endangered because some farmers poison them to keep them out of their farms.
The information below on Syrian hamsters is meant for all pet owners who have them and those planning to get them as it covers all the essentials on what to expect.
Syrian Hamster Appearance
The Syrian hamster is a stocky animal with tulip-shaped ears, large eyes and a short tail. It is, at times, called the golden hamster. This is because the original wild Syrian hamsters were golden brown and had brown ticks on their bodies’ upper two-thirds.
Since they were first kept as pets, the colors of Syrian hamsters have evolved to now include white, cinnamon, cream, silver-grey, black and sable.
A Syrian hamster’s belly features a grey undercoat on white fur. The animals also have wide stocky feet, tapered heads and tiny noses.
Syrian hamsters are selectively bred in four coat variants. These include the rex, satin, shorthaired and longhaired varieties. Here are some tidbits on three of these varieties:
- Longhaired Syrian hamster: This hamster is also called an angora hamster or teddy bear. The fur coat of a male longhaired Syrian hamster reaches 3-4-inch lengths and creates a skirt-like shape around its end. The female hamster, in contrast, just has a fluffy coat. Longhaired Syrian hamsters need extra attention when kept as pets because their long fur can get easily tangled and matted. Moreover, fleas and foreign objects can stick in it.
- Satin Syrian hamster: The satin Syrian hamster has a coat with a glossy sheen created by some hollow hair shafts. Breeding two satin Syrian hamsters is not advisable because the offspring’s fur is often too thin and greasy.
- Rex Syrian hamster: A rex Syrian hamster resembles one whose coat and whiskers are crimped. Its fur is generally dense and very short. Though they have been common in Europe for ages, rex Syrian hamsters are relatively new in North American homes.
Patterned coats also form parts of the profiles for pet Syrian hamsters. The patterns for the hamsters include roan, banded, dominant spot and tortoiseshell.
Banded Syrian hamsters have white bands around their midpoints, while dominant spot hamsters have even color patches on white backgrounds.
The roan Syrian features a coat in which white hairs are mingled to give a ‘flecked’ appearance. The tortoiseshell hamster spots color patches mixed with white or black.
Syrian Hamster Behavior
Most Syrian hamsters are considered nippy. This trait, however, follows improper or infrequent handling. So long as you will not jostle or squeeze your pet when handling it, it will learn to be comfortable with being handled.
Syrian hamsters are the most solitary among their species. This trait also makes them quite territorial. This means you should house them alone. Though young hamsters will initially tolerate cage mates, they become aggressive and can even fight the cage mates to death as they grow older.
Syrian hamsters will sleep during the day and be most active at night. This reflects their behavior in their natural environments since most predators are absent at night.
Locating their cages away from your bedroom is advisable if you are a light sleeper. Some Syrian hamsters can, nonetheless, adapt to their owners’ sleep schedules. Either way, never pick up a sleeping hamster since it might bite you.
Pet Syrian hamsters do not necessarily have close bonds with their owners. Nevertheless, they will come to their enclosures’ sides when you are there and enjoying lounging on your shoulder or hands. After feeding and cleaning your hamster’s cage, spend time handling it to keep the animal friendly.
Syrian Hamster Food and Diet
Base the nutrition of your pet hamster on a quality commercial hamster mix. Though there are several brands of mixes for hamsters, your choice should have the right combination of nuts, seeds and grains.
The nutritional balance of the mix should be 3-6% fat and 12-15% protein. Pregnant and nursing Syrian hamsters should be fed on mixes with higher protein contents. You can also feed your pet on separate seeds, grains and nuts instead of the commercial mix.
Supplement the hamster mix with fresh vegetables and fruits. The leading options for a Syrian hamster include carrots, broccoli, pears, cabbage, cauliflower, and apples. Steer clear of citrus fruits since these are too acidic for your pet.
Supplemental feeds should not comprise more than 10% of your hamster’s diet though the exact percentage will depend on your pet’s size and age. Fresh foods are best given in the evening when the hamster is waking up.
Do not offer your hamster fresh food daily since it hoards food in its nest and stores some in both its cheek pouches. Too much food can lead to obesity in a Syrian hamster that comes with deadly consequences.
Excess fruits and veggies in its diet can also cause diarrhea and stomach upsets. Before offering these fresh foods to Syrian hamster, wash them to get rid of any pesticides used in their cultivation.
Remove all uneaten feeds within 24 hours to avoid contaminating a hamster’s cage or running the risk of the animal eating spoilt food.
You can also include treats in a Syrian hamster’s diet once or twice weekly to provide some extra protein.
Some healthy treat alternatives include hard-boiled egg whites, cottage cheese, feeder insects, Timothy hay, peanuts and sunflower seeds. Do not forget to always provide clean water for your pet.
Syrian Hamster Housing
Your pet needs a floor space of not less than 1500 square inches (10000 square centimetres) to thrive. This translates to 12 x 24 x 12 inches (30 x 60 x 30 cm) in width, length and height respectively for a hamster cage.
The leading cage options for hamsters are those with plastic or standard glass bases and wire tops or plastic aquariums with mesh tops.
The wire-topped cages are your best choices since they allow optimal airflow. Even so, they have less protection from drafts.
The following are some essentials to include in your Syrian hamster’s cage:
- Substrate: This will soak up the pet’s urine while providing material for its burrowing. Paper-based substrates and wood shavings are good options for hamsters.
- Bedding: This keeps your hamster warm while asleep and offers a place to build its nest. Shredded tissue paper and paper-based substrates make good bedding options. Never use cotton wool as bedding because it might choke your hamster. The strong smell of cedar and pine bedding can also harm the hamster.
- Exercise wheel: This keeps your hamster active and prevents boredom or obesity. A fully grown Syrian hamster will need an exercise wheel with a minimum diameter of eight inches. Anything smaller than this will cause the hamster to arch its back and result in grave health issues.
- Water bottle: This is better than a water bowl since it cannot be tipped over or the water in it soiled.
- Food bowl: The best bowls are those made of ceramic or stainless steel since the hamster cannot chew on these and the materials are safe.
- Chew toys: These keep the hamsters’ teeth filed. Without them, hamsters will gnaw their cage bars.
Syrian Hamster Health and Care
Though Syrian hamsters are hardy pets, you should be on the lookout for some health issues. Wet tail is the most common health condition you might deal with in your pet.
This is a gastrointestinal condition often associated with stress and bacteria. Symptoms of wet tail include a lack of appetite, lethargy, diarrhea and wetness around an animal’s tail. When allowed to fester, the disease can be fatal. Thankfully, it is easily managed using antibiotics.
Ear and fur mites are also common when Syrian hamsters live in unsanitary conditions. A patchy loss of fur and itching are some of the typical symptoms of mites.
Moreover, overgrown teeth in hamsters will make its feeding difficult. Other than chew toys, a vet might trim the teeth to maintain your pet’s dental health.
Syrian Hamster Breeding
The breeding age of Syrian hamsters is four weeks. Male pups should be moved from their sisters and mothers at this age. Female pups are in season every four days.
They indicate that they are ready to mate by raising their tails and rumps and standing still. For mating, place the female and male hamsters in a neutral environment.
If you put a male hamster in a female’s cage, it will often attack the male and cause serious injuries even if it is ready for mating.
The gestation period of Syrian hamsters is 16 days. The pups are born helpless, naked and blind. Do not bother the mother hamster for the first two weeks since it might become frustrated into killing the pups.
Change the food and water as needed and leave the hamsters alone. You can handle the pups when they are two weeks old though you should remove the mother hamster from the cage first since it might harm you.
What Is The Lifespan Of Syrian Hamsters?
Before getting a pet, it is prudent to know its lifespan so you can gauge how long you will spend with it. Syrian hamsters live for 2-3 years in captivity and shorter than this in the wild.
On record, the oldest pet Syrian hamster lived for six and a half years. Genetics, quality of care, sickness, exercise levels and the housing environment determine the lifespan of your hamster.
All in all, your hamster will live to its utmost potential if you take excellent care of it.
How Big Do Syrian Hamsters Get?
Syrian hamsters are about the size of an average human adult’s hand. Their adult lengths range from 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) and they weigh 120-125 gram when fully grown.
Are Syrian Hamsters Good Pets?
Yes, Syrian hamsters are good pets for people of all ages. The animals are easy to tame and naturally docile. Handling them is also quite a delight because they are slow and perfectly fit into your hand.
They might, however. not make excellent pets for kids who go to bed early because the best time to bond with them is during the evenings when they are most active.
While there are no legal restrictions on hamsters as pets in most places, your landlord or homeowners’ association might have reservations on them.
Before heading to get one, check if there are any restrictions in place to avoid unpleasant surprises. You can get the hamster from a breeder, pet shop or rescue center.
Irrespective of where you get yours from, get detailed information on your hamster’s health history and origin. Moreover, pick an animal that is well-formed and has bright clear eyes.
With these tidbits, you are now well-prepared to be the best Syrian hamster owner. Some people assume that Syrian and dwarf hamsters are similar animals.
Even so, dwarf unlike Syrian hamsters live together and need constant attention for them to remain tame.
The person you get your hamster from should thus not fool you into settling for a dwarf hamster if the Syrian hamsters available do not match your standards.