Hamsters are rodents belonging to the subfamily Cricetinae. The subfamily contains about 25 species in six or seven genera. They have become established as popular small house pets. They are a bit like a mouse. Wild hamsters live in the desert, but people all over the world keep domesticated hamsters as pets.
Temporal range: Middle Miocene–Current
|Campbell's dwarf hamster|
Fischer de Waldheim, 1817
In the wild, hamsters are crepuscular and stay underground during the day. They feed on seeds, fruits, and vegetation, and occasionally eat burrowing insects. Hamsters are distinguished by their large cheek pouches, and relatively short tail. They use their long cheek pouches (extending to their shoulders) to carry food back to their burrows.
Even though the Syrian hamster or golden hamster (Mesocricetus auratus) was first described scientifically by George Robert Waterhouse in 1839, researchers were not able to successfully breed and domesticate hamsters until 1939.
Hamsters as pets change
There are six main types of domestic hamsters: the Syrian hamster (the kind most people have as pets), winter whites, campbells, the Russian dwarf hamster (a hybrid of winter white and Campbell's dwarf hamsters), the Chinese hamster, and the Roborovski hamster. Unlike other species, the Chinese hamster has a long tail. All Syrian hamsters are the descendants of 12 baby hamsters found in Syria in 1930.
Pet hamsters should live in cages with wood shavings or recycled newspaper (pine or cedar shavings are toxic to hamsters). Plain toilet paper is also a cheap, safe option, but straw should only be given in small amounts. Hamsters eat mostly hamster food sold at a pet shop, but they can also eat many vegetables and fruits in small portions. Hamsters store food in natural pouches in the sides of their mouths.
Because they are rodents, hamster incisors grow constantly. They need wooden blocks and hard food to wear the teeth down and prevent them from getting too long. Most hamsters also have a wheel to run on for exercise. A 6-inch (15 cm) wheel is recommended for most dwarf hamsters, and at least an eight-inch (20 cm) wheel for Syrians. If the wheel is too small, the hamster's spine can become bent. Some people get other kinds of exercise equipment for their hamsters, like a "hamster ball" in which the hamster can roll around the floor (though these are not recommended by some animal welfare groups), or a long network of tubes with air holes for hamsters to crawl through. They should live in a tank or cage. Hamsters are not recommended for young children.
- Fox, Sue. 2006. Hamsters. T.F.H. Publications Inc.
- Barrie, Anmarie. 1995. Hamsters as a new pet. New Jersey: T.F.H. Publications. ISBN 0-86622-610-9
- Patricia Pope Bartlett 2003. The hamster handbook. Barron's Educational Series, p113. ISBN 978-0-7641-2294-1
- "Health and welfare | rspca.org.uk". www.rspca.org.uk. Retrieved 2021-01-11.