In 1839, British zoologist George Waterhouse reportedly found an elderly female hamster in Syria , naming it “Cricetus auratus,” the Golden Hamster. Around 1930, zoologist and Professor at the University of Jerusalem Ahoroni found a mother and litter of hamsters in the Syrian Desert . By the time he got back to his lab, most had died or escaped. The remaining hamsters were given to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem , where they were successfully bred as Golden Hamsters. They were a bit bigger than the ones Waterhouse found, so they were names “Mesocricetus auratus”, although they were probably the same species.
The hamsters were shipped to labs all around the world. They arrived in the United Kingdom in 1931, and in 1938 reached the United States . Just About all Golden Hamsters are descended from the original litter found in Syria except for a few that were brought in the United States by travelers who found them in the desert. A separate stock of hamsters was imported into the US in 1971, but it isn’t known if any of today’s North American pets are descended from them.
CHOOSING A CAGE
Avoid newspapers and other printed paper as bedding because your hamster may consume the ink when they are tearing up the paper to make a nest. The use of fluffy/cellulose bedding, which has the appearance of fiberglass/cotton wool, should also be avoided as it may cause choking, pouch infections and intestinal blockage. CAREFRESH pet bedding or Aspen small animal bedding are excellent alternatives.
ACCESSORIES AND EQUIPMENT
The basic and major part of the hamster’s diet should be a hamster mix/commercial diet instead of your daily leftovers or other human food, as they may not contain the essential nutrients that a hamster needs. A good brand of hamster mix should be bugs-free and contains essential nutrients of a balanced diet. There are different types of hamster food catering to Syrian and dwarf hamsters, so make sure you buy the correct type according to your hamster’s breed.
All-in-one hamster mix, catering to other animals besides the hamster (such as gerbil, guinea pig and hamster) should be avoided as these mixes could contain bigger pieces that is difficult for the hamster to digest. Change the hamster food in the food dish daily to keep the food fresh and free from contamination. Introduce new food and treats by mixing with the current diet to allow your hamster to get use to them gradually. Avoid overfeeding your hamster as their hoarding instinct may cause trouble in their cheek pouches. Perishable food should be changed regularly and fed to moderate amounts. Some common ingredients in commercial diets include sunflower seeds, wheat, nuts and beans, barley, maize, pea flakes, pellets, and various kinds of seeds, (safflower, millet).
COMMON HEALTH PROBLEMS
A cold is easily detected by a lack of activity and ears held back against the head. The nose may appear swollen because the fur is ruffled from wiping nasal discharge. In advanced stages, the hamster gets thin, the fur loses its luster, and sniffling and sneezing can be heard. Disinfect the cage, and all watering and feeding dishes. Provide fresh, dry bedding, and keep the cage free from drafts.
This is a highly contagious bacterial illness that cause severe diarrhea in a hamster and can, and often does prove fatal. Stress is an important factor in the proliferation of wet tail, sudden changes in diet, habitat overcrowding, excessive temperatures and unsanitary living conditions.
As an isolated disorder, diarrhea is not to be confused with wet tail. It is commonly the result of an overfeeding of vegetables and fruits or contaminated foods. Diarrhea is often indicative of another ailment, such as stomach upset or blockage. Discontinue the feeding of fruits and vegetables for a day or two.
A wet tail can also indicate constipation. In both old and young hamsters, constipation is directly related to the ratio of pellets and water they are eating. In the case of the young, they consume the pellets, which swell up in their intestines, because they aren’t getting enough moisture. Babies suffering from this ailment may be saved by making available milksop and juicy greens. In adults, the same cause is attributable. The hamster seems to waste away because it will not eat dry food if sufficient water is not available. There fore it is essential that clean fresh water is always available. Provide plenty of carrots, carrot tops, other leafy vegetables and fruits.
Tears may form in the eyes indicating trouble in the cheek pouches. Soft food may have become stuck back near the shoulder. Flush out the pouch with water of the hamsters body temperature using an eyedropper or syringe. Offer only soft foods that are eaten on the spot. Do not offer excessive amounts that your pet will hoard in its pouches.
BREEDS OF HAMSTERS
The Campbell’s Russian Hamster
Also called the Striped Hamster, the Dzjungarian Hamster and the Hairy Footed Hamster, this is the commonest of the Dwarf hamsters and the most frequently available in pet shops. Size and coloring are similar to the Chinese hamster, but the build is totally different, being much broader and with a shorter, furry tail. In addition, the fur is very think and woolly, unlike the silky fur of the Chinese hamster. This thick fur is an adaptation to their natural environment, the steppes of Mongolia and Northern China .
The Chinese Hamster
These animals grow to between 7.5 and 9 cm in length. Their body proportions, compared with those of other hamsters, appear “long and thin” and they have, (for a hamster), a relatively long tail. The wild color is grayish brown above with a black stripe down the spine and a whitish belly. This coloration, combined with their small build and longer tail, makes them look “mousy” to some eyes.
Winter White Russian Dwarf (Siberian Hamster)
These are very similar to the Campbell ’s Russian hamster, some people think they may be the same species. They are, however, more “egg shaped” in conformation than the Campbell ’s variety with less broad shoulders. Siberian hamsters are called “winter white” because their fur has the ability to turn to a winter white during shorter daylight hours. They come from the steppes of Siberia and Kazakhstan and possess an adaptation not seen in Campbell ’s, they can molt into a white winter coat. This camouflages them against the snow and also gives them their name.
The Syrian Hamster
This is the animal that most people think of when they hear the word “hamster”. The species originates in the Middle East, especially Israel and Syria . All Syrian hamsters in captivity are descended from a mother and her twelve pups that were dug out of a burrow near Aleppo , Syria , in 1930. Adults are fiercely territorial and will attack any other hamster they meet. Fully-grown Syrian hamsters are about 13 cm in length, with females being slightly larger than males. The natural color is golden brown with pale grayish white belly. Black cheek flashes mark the jaw line and broad, dark band runs across the chest. In captivity over forty different colors have been developed, together with variations in coat type such as longhair, satin, and rex.