There are no vaccines commercially available for hamsters,
The main disease risk to your pet are the other hamsters or mice, particularly those in pet shops, as infectious disease is more common in the pet shop due to the large number of hamsters and the mixing of groups.
If you go to a pet shop please do not touch those babies, even though they are very, very cute! Wild mice are also a potential disease risk.
Only allow your precious hamster to come into contact with other animals that you know to be healthy.
As hamsters are normally a solitary animal they should really only be brought together for breeding.
Think twice before going to a hamster party or show as it can be very stressful for them.
When you bring a new pet into your house it is VERY important to quarantine, or separate the new pet in a different room for at least 2 weeks (and preferably after a vet check).
We recommend a health check shortly after bringing your new pet home.
Please bring in details of all foods and any supplements or medicines you may be using.
Try to collect samples of urine and faeces from that morning if you can.
Also if you have a question about any behaviour you think is abnormal then please bring in a video so we can more accurately answer your questions.
Please isolate your new pet from the rest of your animal family at home (that means do not introduce or let them play together) until after the first check up and the vet has assessed the pet as being healthy.
If you do wish to introduce your new hamster to the rest of your animal family then please ask us during the consultation how and when this should be done.
At this ‘Health Check’ we will perform a full physical examination, and we will be assessing your new pet’s overall condition, the muscle and fat levels, and hydration and checking for anaemia. We will check the incisor teeth and cheek pouches.
We will be paying particular attention to the skin, looking for parasites, and for signs of any infectious diseases. We will be focusing on gut function and on the diet, whether is it appropriate and if the amounts are suitable.
Once we have examined your hamster hopefully we will have found nothing seriously wrong, and we will then make whatever recommendations we think are necessary for the diet and care of your pet. If there is time we will talk to you about handling and training as this is the right age to be teaching your pet hamster!
Regular Health Checks.
Once your new hamster is settled in and any health problems have been solved, then we recommend a health check at 1 year old, and then 6 months after that.
Most hamsters could be counted as geriatric from 1 yr 6 months, for some it is 2 years old. You will be very lucky if your hamster lives to be 3 year old!
Once your pet reaches 18 months your veterinarian will recommend a regular Health Check every 3 to 6 months.
Again please make sure you know the brands of foods your pet is on, any supplements added to the diet and any long term medications that may have been prescribed by another veterinarian.
Please bring urine and faeces from that morning if you can.
Ideally we would also like to see a photo of the cage set up.
At this regular ‘health check’ we will assess body condition, muscle and fat levels, hydration and check for anaemia. We will check the eyes, ears, and the incisor teeth and cheek pouches. We will feel the lymph nodes, check the scent glands, palpate the abdomen for any abnormalities and listen to the heart and lungs.
We will search for parasites, examine the skin, look for any pressure sores on the feet and also assess the nail length.
Once we have examined your pet hopefully we will have found nothing seriously wrong, and the veterinarian will then make whatever recommendations they think are necessary for the diet and care of your pet hamster.
We advise pelleted complete foods such as Oxbow or Mazuri diets.
Pet shops often sell, and owners often buy mixtures of seeds, nuts and pellets. To us humans these look so much more delicious and interesting than the boring pellets. The problem with these mixtures is that your hamster does not understand that too many high fat sunflower seeds and nuts are bad, and he will eat all of these first. The diet will then be unbalanced, low in vitamins and unhealthy.
We recommend that you supplement your pet’s diet with fresh foods every day.
Idealy 3-5 different fresh vegetables and fruits such as spinach, lettuce, choi sum, broccoli, pumpkin, tomato, carrots, corn, strawberry, blueberry, grapes and apples.
Just give a little piece of each one! (3-5 mm for a dwarf hamster, 1- 1.5 cm for a golden hamster). Be sure to clean up any leftover fresh food before it spoils. Never give your pet raw kidney beans, avocado, onions, raw potato, rhubarb, chocolate, candy or other junk foods.
Fresh, clean water should be available at all times.
It is best to use a sipper water bottle, which should be changed daily.
When selecting a cage, keep in mind the golden rules of happy hamster housing.
In the wild hamsters are solitary and should live alone. They do fight and may seriously injure or even kill each other.
Keep your hamster in a wire cage or a big aquarium with a wire-mesh top. The fancy cages with tubes, tunnels and hideaways are also good, but they generally cost more and are harder to clean. If you have space for a larger cage, it will be much appreciated by your hamster.
The enclosure should be placed away from direct sunlight and drafts. It should be deeply lined with an absorbent bedding such as timothy hay, shredded paper (like Care Fresh or Eco Bedding) or pelleted bedding.
We don’t like woodchips as they are dusty and can even be toxic.
Hamsters love to exercise, so please make sure your little pet has a wheel for running. We advise you buy a wheel with a solid base to prevent their little paws being caught.
Hamsters also like to hide and sleep inside enclosed spaces, in the desert they live in cool dark burrows deep underground. So they love to crawl through tubes- empty cardboard tubes from paper towels and toilet paper may used. In our retail shop and other pet shops you will find ‘special’ tubes made of thick cardboard or cardboard and hay to provide your little hamster with tubes that they can crawl through, hide in and also safely chew on.
If is also good to provide your hamster with a small hiding box.
Remember to regularly give him small pieces of paper towel or napkin to shred and make a nest with.
We do not recommend fabric or cotton wool bedding materials as the small strands in them can get caught up around their feet and constrict the blood supply.
We do not recommend routine de-sexing of female hamsters unless the vet has diagnosed a health problem such as an infected uterus.
As we recommend keeping hamsters singly there is no need to have them de-sexed to prevent breeding or fighting.
Hamsters have constantly growing incisors so if they break, injure them, or develop an infection they may develop overgrowth of these teeth.
This can be terrible with the teeth growing too long and then growing into the lips or cheeks. We can trim these teeth back to a more normal length. With golden hamsters we can consider removing the overgrowing teeth permanently.
It is best to check your hamster’s front teeth every week. You can train then from when they are young to turn them upside down, in order for you to gently lift up their lips and check the teeth are symmetrical in shape, colour and length. They do look very long naturally.
Once you are finished then you may offer your hamster a little treat for being good!
We have two wards available for hamsters, the cool ward which is at 22 degrees for the rabbits & chinchillas, and the hot room, for the birds and reptiles, which is usually at 28-30 degrees. The vet will select which one is best depending on the health condition of your pet.
Both wards have some cages with special doors where the bars are very close together to prevent the escape of small hamsters.
The cats and dogs which are potential predators (and therefore very scary) are kept in separate wards out of the sight and smell of your small hamster, to make sure your pets stay in hospital is as stress free as possible.
Fortunately hamsters rarely carry worms so they do NOT need to be routinely de-wormed.
Ectoparasites ( parasites that live on the skin and fur).
Skin parasites are much more common and most are too tiny to be seen.
If you think your animal is too itchy, losing too much fur or has some skin disease then please bring them in for a consultation. If you see something moving in your hamsters fur then try and catch it with a piece of sticky tape. The we can examine it under the microscope and even show you pictures of it if you wish!
Do NOT use any dog or cat flea products on them as these can be too strong for the smaller pets and can even kill them.
Many of the pets we see become overweight as they mature. They have an easy and comfortable life with food available every day and often not enough exercise.
If you feel that your little darling is overweight (or if the vet tells you this!) you are welcome to make an appointment for a ‘Weight Consultation’ with one of our veterinarians.
The vet may also discuss this and recommend a weight loss diet during a health check or consultation and give you advice on the right combination of foodstuff for weight loss for your pet as well as how to encourage exercise.
The vet will set a target weight & a time span to lose this weight over.
Losing weight too fast is not healthy, and as these animals are much smaller than us, we may plan for them to loose a few grams per week.
Once the diet plan has been set we will then be happy to make free “weight monitoring” checks for you to follow up, usually every month or two months, and these will be with one of our British Vet nurses or our Australian trained Vet Assistants.
It can be very rewarding to see a little fattie regaining a slim healthy shape and becoming more active and flexible!
An appropriate living environment is important, not only in preventing your hamster from showing undesirable behaviours and aggression, but also in encouraging them to show their natural behaviours. Hamsters are highly motivated to actively interact with their surrounding environment. Thus the more enrichment that you can incorporate to the cage, the better your hamster’s living environment can be.
In the wild, hamsters dig burrows with several chambers where they can toilet, sleep and store food in separate areas. Therefore the cage should have enough space for them to perform these activities, to provide enrichment and to permit a range of behaviours, including exercise, foraging and digging. The cage must be large enough for your hamster to rear up on its hind legs as this is a natural exploratory behaviour for hamsters.
Bedding can provide a cushioning surface your hamster can walk on and should be deep enough to allow them to express their natural digging and hoarding behaviours. Hay or paper products are best avoid cotton, fabric or woodchips.
Foraging is natural hamster behaviour. This can be elicited by scattering or burying food items in the litter rather than only providing feed in a container. You can also make a special foraging box for out of the cage fun.
The incisor teeth of hamsters grow continually and need to be ground down constantly. If not your hamster may experience dental problems. Healthy teeth can be encouraged by providing your hamster with chewables such as cardboard tubes, wood blocks, sticks and hay.
In the wild, hamsters are solitary animals and they spend most of the time underground. A shelter allows them to hide from their enemies or other hamsters and should make your hamster feel more secure and be less aggressive. The shelter can be as simple as small cardboard boxes and cardboard tubes where your hamster can climb on, hide inside and build nests.
Hamsters love exercise so providing a running wheel for them is fun for both you and your hamster. If running wheels are provided, the wheel floor should be solid in order to avoid injury.
Sand baths. Some hamsters love to use a sand bath, others don’t. It seems to be a very individual choice. They are not necessary.
Providing your hamster with an enriched living environment is good for their health and is more fun for both you and your hamster.
Thanks to Vivien Li for her help with writing the Enrichment section.