Posted: March 20, 2012, 4 p.m. EDT
The Hamster Eye
One of the many charming features of the hamster face is the eyes. Coal black or deep red, hamsters' eyes are always on the move. Unfortunately, those lovely, active eyes aren’t very effective. Hamsters have very poor eyesight — your hamster can’t see how far the distance is from your bed to the floor.
As a hamster owner, you must protect it from falls by providing safe, supervised playtime. Your hamster may not be able to see that your fingers, which just held carrot sticks aren’t, in fact, carrot sticks. A hamster may test just about anything with its teeth because its eyes just don’t tell it much. Helpful tip: Wash your hands before handling your hamster to remove any traces of a recent snack.
Most hamsters love to dig and will spend hours shoving the sand around the bowl, digging to the bottom and even rolling in it. As you put together your hamster’s home, include a dish full of clean sand or hamster litter (not chinchilla dust). Some hamsters will designate the sand bowl as their bathroom, which simplifies the weekly cage cleaning. Change the sand or litter weekly, or as needed. The sand should not sit wet in the cage.
What Do Hamsters Eat?
Unlike many other small animals, hamsters are omnivores. They will eat all kinds of foods — fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products. Hamsters enjoy treats from all food groups.
Cooked pasta is a favorite food among most hamsters, as is a fresh 1/2-inch cube of tofu. Hamsters will also eat steamed chicken, diced carrots, an unsalted peanut in the shell, cubed apples (peeled), a teaspoon of unsweetened yogurt or scrambled eggs, moist garbanzo beans, fresh peas, Milk Bone™ dog biscuits (puppy size) or a bit of pizza crust.
The main foods to avoid feeding to your hamster are raw kidney beans, onions, raw potatoes or rhubarb and the leaves of potato, tomato and rhubarb plants. Feed your hamster only enough food to eat in one day. Fresh food stored in your hamster’s stash can quickly become rotten and make your hamster ill. Remember portion size. Hamsters are small and a tiny, little piece of food can be large to them.
Even though Syrian hamsters are the largest pet hamster species, they have short legs (although they are longer than those of the dwarf hamster species) — less than an inch in length. You may be surprised to learn, though, that hamsters can run between 2 to 8 miles in one night. In the wild, this incredible endurance allows hamsters to cover great distances in search of food. Pet hamsters don’t need to scavenge for food, but they still have a lot of energy to burn. A safe, sturdy hamster wheel is an essential part of any hamster cage. Choose a wheel with a solid running surface. Hamster wheels with wire or plastic rungs allow their paws to fall through the rungs while running, and nasty injuries can result. Provide a wheel that has a solid running surface to help it stay healthy and injury-free.
Breeding A Hamster
Finding the hamster that matches your particular vision may tempt you to consider breeding. Hundreds of hamsters are brought to animal shelters every year when intentional breeding efforts overwhelm the owner. Please consider the scope of the pet overpopulation problem when thinking about hamster breeding. It’s also worth noting that attempts to breed hamsters for a certain coat or color can result in significant genetic problems, including birth defects. If you want to learn more about hamster breeding, contact the California Hamster Association or the Internet Hamster Association of North America.
Excerpt from the Popular Critters Series magabook Hamsters with permission from its publisher, BowTie magazines, a division of BowTie Inc. Purchase Hamsters here.