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Deciding to get a hamster can be a big decision.  At AVC, we know that all pets are family and deserve the best care available.  Hamsters make wonderful pets and are a popular choice for a first pet, for children, and for those with limited space.  Hamsters are easy to care for, have a relatively low cost to set up and maintain, and provide companionship and entertainment to their owners.  To help you determine if a hamster is right for you and your family, here are some veterinary guidelines to consider before you get your pet:

RESEARCH –Before getting a hamster, do the research.  Determine which breed of hamster is best for you, where you will keep the hamster, and whether you can afford the initial set up and continuing care.  If you have children, especially young ones, make sure they understand how and when to interact with the animal.  If you have other pets, ensure the hamster is safe from predatory dogs or cats.  Decide if you want a single hamster or a bonded pair.  If you want a bonded pair, make sure you choose the right breed.  Remember to take your time before getting a new pet.  Many owners, especially young children, are enthusiastic when they first get their pet and quickly lose interest.  A pet is not a good way to teach children responsibility.  Teach them responsibility prior to getting a pet and let them demonstrate it by caring for their pet.

SELECTION – Hamsters can be bought at pet stores, through private parties, and may sometimes be adopted through rescue organizations.  Once you determine which breed is right for you, find a reputable seller.  A healthy hamster should have clean ears, clear bright eyes, and healthy teeth that are not overgrown or curled upwards.  A hamsters coat should be smooth, with no bald spots or lumps.  The hamster’s bottom should be clean and dry.  Wet fur around the hamster’s bottom is a sign of “wet tail” and should be avoided.  If there is more than one hamster available, spend some time observing them.  Look for a hamster that is not too aggressive or shy.  Be aware that hamsters may bite, and not only when they feel threatened.  Ask the person you are getting the hamster from if you may hold them and ask them about their observations regarding the hamsters.  Avoid hamsters that bite.  Do not force the decision.  If the first or second place you go to does not have the hamster you want, keep looking.  The right hamster for you is out there.

HABITAT – While the initial cost of a hamster may be relatively low, hamsters require specific habitats with components that can be costly and add up quickly.  When you get your hamster home, allow them a few days to acclimate to their new home.  A hamster requires a cage that is a minimum of 360 square inches and provides plenty of ventilation.  Hamsters are great escape artists so make sure the bar spacing on the cage is no greater than 0.7 cm apart and that there are no loose parts, doors, or tunnels.  Provide an exercise wheel for your hamster.  Hamsters are nocturnal and will use the wheel for exercise during the night.  Make sure you keep your hamster away from direct sunlight and air conditioner or heating vents.  Give your hamster plenty of tunnels to crawl through and a house or hiding spot where they can sleep during the day.  Unless you are an experienced hamster owner, it is best to only have one hamster at a time.  Make sure your hamster has approximately two inches of bedding on the floor of their cage.  Do not use wood shavings or cotton bedding, as these may cause health problems.  Clean your hamster’s cage approximately once a week and replace the bedding. 

DIET – Feed your hamster every day.  Hamster food can be bought at most pet stores and even some grocery stores.  Most commercial hamster food is a mixture of seeds, grains, and pellets and should meet your hamster’s nutritional needs.  A small metal or ceramic dish can be used to feed your pet.  Your hamster has pockets in their cheeks to store food.  Do not feed your hamster more than it can store in their cheek pockets.  Your hamster can also have treats, including yogurt drops, fresh fruits and vegetables, and chew sticks.  If you are unsure if a food item is safe for your hamster, please contact the staff at AVC.  Hamsters will often move food and store it around their cage.  If you find a hamster’s stash when you are cleaning their cage, remove the old food and replace it with fresh food.  Not replacing the food in a hamster’s stash may be traumatic for the hamster.  Make sure your hamster has clean, fresh water in a dispenser.  Do not use a dish or bowl for water.  Your hamster will get wet and could even drown.

HEALTH ISSUES – Hamsters are relatively hardy pets.  You can help keep your pet healthy by being a responsible and attentive owner.  Keep the enclosure safe and clean.  Provide clear, fresh water.  Provide sufficient nutritional food and snacks.  Make sure your pet has chew sticks and an exercise wheel or ball.  Inspect your pet regularly for signs of disease or injury.  The best time to do this is when you are cleaning the cage.  An overabundance of stored food may indicate loss of appetite, a lack of droppings could indicate constipation, and if your hamster has diarrhea it will be evident when you clean the cage.  If you find diarrhea while cleaning the cage, inspect your hamster’s bottom for signs of wet tail.  Wet tail is a bacterial infection that is highly contagious and can quickly become fatal.  Wet tail is a medical emergency and your hamster will need to see one of the trained veterinarians at AVC as soon as possible.  Examine your hamster for hair loss, lumps, and broken bones.  Examine the teeth to make sure they are not overgrowing the mouth.  Make sure the ears and eyes are clean.  If you have any concerns about your pet’s health, or just want to bring them in for a wellness exam, the doctors and staff at AVC would love to meet you and your pet.  Congratulations on your new hamster.