Syrian hamsters make for wonderful home pets if handled carefully. Their playful, cranky, and quirky personality attracts many pet owners. They demand little care, and their compact size makes Syrian hamsters ideal pets for families with limited space.
Before bringing home your pet Syrian Hamster, you must understand their behavior and needs as well as the cost, space, and time you would be investing in handling this furry friend.
This Ultimate Pet Guide will help you kick-start your journey into the world of pet Syrian hamsters.
The Syrian Hamster or the Golden Hamster (also known as the Teddy Bear Hamster) is a rodent of the hamster subfamily Cricetinae. The Syrian Hamster (Mesocricetus auratus) originated in Syria and was first officially named by the British zoologist George Robert Waterhouse in 1839.
This rodent’s name was derived from the German word “Hamster,” which means ‘to hoard’, because these cute critters hoard food in their cheek pouches. Hence, they also go by the name “Mister Saddlebags,” which is a rough translation of their Arabic name.
Israel Aharoni, a zoologist and a Professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, first captured a Syrian hamster mother and her litter of pups from Aleppo, Syria, in the year 1930.
They were captured by Aharoni primarily to be bred as laboratory animals. The trend of taking Syrian hamsters as house pets came later. However, most of the Syrian hamsters in the world today can be traced as the descendants of the litter that Aharoni had captured.
In the United States, Syrian Hamsters emerged as popular pets in the 1940s. One of the major figures who campaigned to legalize the ownership of hamsters in California was Albert Marsh of Mobile, Alabama.
He succeeded in including Syrian hamsters in the list of “normally domesticated animals” by the California State Department of Agriculture.
This event marked a milestone in the history of Syrian hamsters as home pets, and it is perhaps the reason you can think of owning one now!
Hamster breeds can be sorted into three main categories based on size: dwarf, medium, and giant. The Syrian Hamster is a medium hamster usually about 6 or 7 inches long. They weigh about 100-150 grams with a lifespan of 2-3 years.
Syrian hamsters are golden-brown in color, hence the name Golden Hamster. Their cheek pouches are among their more notable traits.
The Syrian Hamster’s large expandable cheek pouches can store food and extend from its cheeks to its shoulders. Hamsters are great hoarders, and in the wild, these hamsters use their cheek pouches to transport food to their burrows.
There are some recognizable differences between male and female Syrian hamsters. The male Syrian Hamster is usually smaller than the female. Male Syrian hamsters have thicker and longer coats than female ones. Additionally, female hamsters tend to be more aggressive than male Syrian hamsters.
In contrast to dwarf hamsters, which tend to coexist peacefully with all breeds, Syrian hamsters are solitary animals and are very territorial. They cannot be housed with another hamster (of a different breed or of the same breed).
Choosing and buying your first Syrian Hamster
Your first step to hamster ownership is purchasing a healthy hamster as your home pet. Here are a few things to keep in mind while choosing and buying your Syrian Hamster.
- Know your local regulations before purchasing a Syrian hamster as a pet.
- Purchase them from reputable breeders or rescue groups rather than pet shops.
- Get a thorough understanding of the animal’s origin and health history.
- Observe your prospective pet while it is active and awake.
- A healthy hamster would be bright, alert, and curious.
- Its fur should be clean.
- Its droppings should be well-formed.
- The animal should have a clean anal area.
- It should not have any sign of discharge from its ears, eyes, mouth, or nose.
- A healthy hamster would show no signs of breathing difficulties.
- Make sure that the Hamster moves around the cage without any staggering or stiffness.
- A healthy hamster would not appear bony.
Although hamsters are popular among prospective pet parents, these animals require special care and attention. Here are some guidelines for keeping your hamster healthy and happy.
Housing and environment
Keep your Syrian hamster in a ten-gallon aquarium with wire mesh or a wire cage or a plastic hamster enclosure. Hamsters are great escape artists, so make sure the latch is secure.
Solid flooring is recommended for your cage. Since hamsters love to snuggle in the corners of the cage, a square-shaped cage is best for them. Purchase a cage that your hamster cannot chew through; if your hamster can reach the wire mesh, it will be able to chew through it.
The enclosure should be kept away from direct sunlight and should be lined with absorbent bedding like aspen shavings or timothy hay or shredded paper. Do not use beddings made of pine or cedar chips; these can be harmful to your pet.
Inside the cage include a little sleeping house, a hamster wheel and tubes to crawl, a water bowl, a food bowl, and a small bowl of clean play sand, which can be used as a potty. Ensure that the sand is cleaned regularly. Lastly, ensure that you house only one Syrian hamster in one cage.
Here is a supply checklist to help you with your hamster purchases. Make sure that the supplies, including the cage, are ready before you bring in your new family member!
Hamster Supply Checklist
- Aspen shavings bedding
- Small boxes or flower pots
- Exercise wheel
- Cardboard tubes
- Hamster mix
- Water bottle
- Safe chew toy
- Food bowls
- Transportation carrier
- Hamster mix
- Gnaw blocks
- Salt lick
- Litter tray
- Litter scoop
- Pet-safe disinfectant
A hamster mix containing cracked corn kernels, grains, and seeds is a highly recommended diet for your pet. Their diet should be supplemented by fresh foods every two to three days as per ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) recommendations.
Fresh foods could be sunflower seeds, fresh grains, alfalfa seeds, nuts, and fresh fruits and vegetables like apples, pears, carrot, spinach, cauliflower, and broccoli. Soft fruits, like bananas, should be avoided because they can stick to their cheek pouches.
It is often best to feed them fresh food in the evening when your pet is ready to eat after a good sleep. Do not give them junk food, onion, raw kidney beans, raw potato, rhubarb, chocolates, or candies. Hamsters love occasional treats like whole wheat bread or bits of sugarless cereal.
Syrian hamsters are omnivores; hence occasional meals of hardboiled egg or feeder insects will make for a good, healthy diet. It is always advisable to consult your veterinarian for a specific diet plan for your hamster based on its size and age.
Ensure that fresh clean water is available at all times for your pet. It is best to use a gravity-fed bottle. However, you can even use a shallow bowl for water until your pet learns to drink from the bottle.
Hamsters have the habit of storing food in their cheek pouches and stashing it in corners and underneath the bedding for late-night snacking. It is important that you clean the leftovers every day.
Hamster’s teeth grow very fast, and trimming them is crucial. Your hamster should have something hard to gnaw at, like a piece of wood or twig, paper towel rolls, or even a dog biscuit. If you take a wooden block, ensure that it is not treated with pesticides or other chemical substances like paint.
If your hamster is having trouble in closing their mouth or eating, taking them to a veterinarian for trimming teeth would be the advisable option.
Make sure to scoop out any wet spots in the bedding daily and change the bedding weekly. In fact, clean the cage at least once a week with soap and hot water, removing the bedding and your hamster’s stash of leftovers while cleaning the cage.
Provide clean fresh water by refilling the gravity-fed bottle on a daily basis. Also, take special care of feeding your hamster a healthy diet.
It is important that your pet gets used to your presence. You can start by feeding them hamster treats to make them feel comfortable. Once they are comfortable, you can try picking them up. Once you hand-tame your pet, it is time that you let them play outside their cage in an enclosed and secure area under your supervision.
Hamsters are prone to occasional cough and cold, and might also suffer from acute diarrhea (a condition called “wet tail”). It is best that you take them to your veterinarian immediately.
If your hamster escapes their cage, try placing a bowl with some food in the corner of the room as an open bait. They would probably be there the next morning.
Exercise and Toys
Hamsters are big on exercise, so make sure you have a hamster wheel, a tunnel, chew toys, and a hamster ball for your little mate.
Hamsters love to exercise on their wheels. This is one of the major sources of exercise for your pet that cannot run around the house or walk around the neighborhood.
While purchasing a wheel, make sure that it’s large enough so that your pet’s back does not arch as it runs. It is better to fix the hamster wheel to the cage because any other position will have dangerous cross-supports.
However, remember that hamster wheels can be noisy, and your pet will use its wheel during the night, so you might not want to place it right next to your bed.
Chew toys are an essential part of hamster care. It is important for hamsters to gnaw on chew toys to trim and file their growing teeth. Chew toys include unpainted logs of wood, hard dog biscuits, or walnut shells. These serve a dual purpose: they trim the hamster’s teeth and entertain your furry buddy at the same time.
Hamsters love to play and explore long tunnel networks for long periods of time. You can attach tunnel networks inside a spacious cage to create an entertaining habitat for your pet. Empty paper towel or toilet paper rolls, cardboard tunnels, PVC pipes, or plastic tunnels will make a great tunnel network for their playtime.
A hamster ball can be a fun way to exercise your pet hamster. However, make sure that you do not leave them inside the ball for more than 20 minutes. In case your hamster looks stressed, immediately take them out of the ball.
While purchasing a hamster ball, ensure that it has holes for ventilation and that the holes are not so large that your hamster’s feet get stuck in them and cause injuries.
Place the ball on a carpeted surface rather than a hard surface. This ensures that the ball does not move too fast, and your pet does not flip over inside the ball. Instruct children not to kick or bat the ball around because this will cause extreme stress to your hamster.
Illness and treatment
Common signs indicating that your pet hamster may not be well are matted fur, dull-looking eyes, weight loss, runny nose, shaking, and diarrhea. If you detect any of these symptoms, take your hamster to the veterinarian immediately. The following are some of the common health problems that Syrian hamsters are prone to.
Common cold – Hamsters are susceptible to respiratory problems like the common cold. Generally, they catch a common cold from their pet parents.
Wet tail – It is a gastrointestinal infection that affects your pet due to bacterial proliferation and stress. This is the most common health problem that hamster’s face.
Symptoms include acute diarrhea, lack of appetite, lethargy, and wetness around the tail area. Antibiotics prescribed by a veterinarian are known to effectively treat this health condition.
However, if this health issue is left to fester, then it can have fatal consequences.
Fur and ear mites – Hamsters also tend to contract fur and ear mites. This condition occurs due to poor sanitation in the hamster enclosure. Symptoms of this condition include itching and loss of fur in patches.
Overgrown teeth – Overgrown teeth make it difficult for hamsters to eat, and this can lead to severe weight loss. This condition can be avoided by equipping your hamster enclosure with chew toys that help them trim their teeth.
Permanently stuffed cheeks – Storing food in their cheek pouches also has health-related implications. Sharp pieces of food might pierce through their cheek, leading to injury and, at times, infection.
False hibernation – If hamsters are kept in an environment where the temperature drops below 5 ̊C, they might go into false hibernation. In this case, your hamster may appear asleep or even dead. In such conditions, the room temperature should be increased gradually to not more than 32 ̊C, and your hamster should be taken to the veterinarian immediately.
Here’s a note to save you some worry. Syrian hamsters have scent glands on opposite sides of their flanks, which look like small dark patches. These are normal and not a cause for worry. Additionally, the testicles of the male hamsters tend to enlarge during the spring season. These are normal too.
Breeding requires that you understand your Syrian hamster, the female hamster’s body cycle, and have space and facilities to manage a large litter of pups.
Hamsters reach the ability to breed at the age of 4 weeks. Hence, it is suggested that the male pups be removed from their mothers and sisters by this age. Female Syrian hamsters come into heat every 4 days.
Detailed knowledge of the female hamster and her estrus cycle is essential if you plan on breeding hamsters.
Handling and petting the pups should be done carefully, as the mother can get very protective and might attack human pet parents.
Behavior and handling
Syrian hamsters are known for biting. However, proper care and handling can make them a wonderful and playful pet. Since hamsters adapt very quickly, they will get accustomed to handling within weeks, reaching a point where they are happy to be handled daily.
Hamsters are nocturnal creatures; that is, they sleep during the day and are active during the night. Any interference in their normal sleep cycle may cause stress, health problems, biting, and even premature death.
Hence, the incongruent sleeping pattern of the pet and the human-pet owner might pose a challenge. Early morning and evening hours are a good time to play and interact with your pet.
Biting and Handling
Generally, Syrian hamsters are great as house pets because they are gentle and playful.
However, if you scare or startle them, or if you pick them up suddenly or wake them up during their sleeping time or even if your hands smell of food or another animal, then you are at threat of getting bitten by your pet.
Gentle handling is essential to keeping this nippy pet content.
Space and Socializing
As mentioned earlier, Syrian hamsters are solitary and territorial animals, unlike dwarf hamsters. Housing two Syrian hamsters in a cage will lead to fights and even deaths. Hence it is important to house your hamsters in separate cages.
It is advisable to keep other house pets away from your hamster because they could hurt each other. Make sure that you do not allow other pets like ferrets, cats, and dogs to be around while you handle your Syrian hamster.
Also, hamsters do not forge deep attachments with their human pet parents. Hence, Syrian hamsters tend to be asocial animals.
Hamsters and Children
If you are purchasing a hamster for your child, it is best to supervise the interaction. Since hamsters require gentle care and handling, it is advisable not to involve children in handling.
Suppose you have a newborn in your home. In that case, it is better to avoid purchasing a hamster because they are nocturnal animals, and their midnight activities could disturb your baby’s sleeping pattern.
Hamsters live only for 2-3 years. The death could become a sudden loss for a child, so you must prepare for that eventuality in advance.
Do’s & Don’ts
Do allow your hamster to settle in for a day before handling it. While handling it, stay close to the floor.
Do wash your hands before handling them. Since they have poor eyesight, hamsters mostly rely on their sense of smell and touch. If your hands smell like food or any other animal, you could be bitten.
Do keep your pet away from direct sunlight. A room with a steady temperature, like a bedroom or a lounge, is best.
Do check your pet’s food bowl and gravity-fed water bottle twice a day.
Do clean their hamster cage thoroughly, at least once a week, with hot water and pet-safe disinfectant.
Do provide them with a suitable hamster wheel inside the enclosure for daily exercise.
Don’t overcrowd the hamster cage with toys because hamsters need space to exercise.
Don’t feed them avocado or lettuce, as these can be harmful to them.
Don’t house them near televisions or stereos, as the high frequency sounds emitted from these can cause irritation and stress.
Don’t use aerosols near their enclosure, as these can produce toxic fumes.
Conclusion: Syrian Hamster as Pets
The information covered in this article will surely help you in raising a happy, little hamster (never mind the occasional nibbles!).
Now that you have a better grip over what your pet hamster needs, it is time to set up your hamster supplies and welcome your furry new member to its forever home.