Welcome to Dashing Hamsters. I created this website back in 2005, initially to have a place to share my love of hamsters. Throughout the years I have come across a lot of information that just often doesn't match up. Care standards and information are outdated, and these little creatures are misunderstood by many. So I decided to make this website as more than just a hamster lover's website, but a hamster website for modern owners who are looking for up to date advice on how to care for and understand their beloved hamsters. On DH you can learn about hamsters, see some cute pictures and read through a hamster filled blog.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ignorance is Bliss

      Animal cruelty is a sad part of reality, something quite separate from the chilling ruthlessness that nature can sometimes be. Putting a stop to animal cruelty is important, but in order to do that it must be understood. Animal cruelty is the abuse, exploitation or neglect of animals by humans and can be divided into different categories. Generally accepted is that there are three types of animal cruelty. None are worse than the others for in the end it is still an animal suffering at the hand of a human. The first is exploitation in which animals are taken advantage of in order for human entertainment or benefit. Under this category falls animal testing, the use of animals in circuses, the use of animals in war and also animal fighting. The second is the act of intentionally setting out to harm an animal often for personal pleasure, such acts that fall under this include beating, burning, or otherwise physically harming an animal, animal fighting can also fall under this category. The third is neglect; that is the failure to provide proper care for an animal is often best represented in the extreme cases such as leaving a dog chained up in the backyard with no food or water.

      I would like to draw your attention to the third category I mentioned: neglect. Most often when neglect is thought of, it is thought of as an intentional act, one that is acknowledged. And yet I have personally witnessed neglect of animals and for the most part it is not intentional; and the person involved is ignorant to the neglect that they are doling out to the animal in their care. It is such that I propose that there are actually two different kinds of neglect. The first sub-category of neglect is ‘Intentional Neglect’, which can include the dog chained up in the backyard as mentioned as an example above, or all the way to the goldfish that has been left to die because the owner has become bored of it. The second sub-category of neglect I call ‘Ignorance fuelled Neglect’ as it is driven by ignorance of the required care for that animal resulting in neglect.

     I have no actual statistics, however based upon my own experience with animals and with people with pets, I think it is safe to say that ignorance fuelled neglect is the most common form of animal cruelty. Why though? Because they don’t even know that they are doing it. One may also wonder if it can be considered animal cruelty if it’s cause is rooted in ignorance, in simply not knowing better. This is a difficult area to move around in, and yet as animal lovers’ intent on improving the welfare of animals, it is a category of animal cruelty that cannot go on being ignored.

The examples of this sub-category of neglect are endless :

     Betta fish (Siamese fighting fish, the fish often kept in separate cups at the pet store) are often explained to require dirty water and small spaces because they live in muddy puddles in the wild. Numerous tiny bowls and containers are sold for them to live in and being a hardy fish they do often survive, but they do not thrive. In the wild they live in vast rice paddies, the water is murky but not dirty, they are insectivores and live in a tropical climate. In captivity they require clean water that is free from ammonia, they need live or frozen foods alongside their staple diet, they need enough space to swim around and stretch their fins, they need their water heated, etc. Their care is complex in comparison to how their care is often explained by the average pet store employee. So they suffer in small, ammonia-ridden, cold tanks on less than adequate food and their owner thinks they’re doing everything right.

       Hamsters are depicted to be able to live in small and colourful plastic cages on cedar shavings, with no wheel, a basic seed mix, etc. Yet research has shown that hamsters may need a minimum of a square metre of floor space, that cedar shavings cause respiratory issues and that their diet is more complex than once realized. So while they survive, they do not thrive and the owner thinks all is well.

      Dogs need exercise every day, Cesar Millan’s training methods are out-dated (and oh so much worse than I have room to explain), dogs are not omnivores, and Science Diet is not an optimal food for dogs. And yet those that blindly believe these things have no idea that their dog is not thriving. The examples could go on and on.

What Can Be Done?
>>>Start with yourself! Do research about all of the pets you have or want to have in your life! Even the ones commonly not seen to require extra effort such as fish or small animals.

>>>Talk with pet owners in your life, many of them do not put the proper research into the pets that they do have or want to have in their life.

>>>Seek out sources of up-to-date and correct information and promote it! Many books are outdated and the new ones seem to base their information on older books; many pet store employees are sadly not educated in the ‘products’ they are selling or are misinformed with outdated information and the only way to figure out if an employee actually knows what they are talking about is for you yourself to know what you’re talking about; not every website is up-to-date either. So be careful, but when you do find a good website, books, or other resource of good information then pass it on!

>>>Actively seek ways to promote education. Talk to local animal shelters, local pet stores, local clubs or if all else fails hit the web! Reaching out to help promote education or to help others learn is a great step toward putting this behind us.

     In order to fight this form of animal cruelty, we must push for the education of pet owners so that they may realize that time must be taken to learn about their chosen pet. How can this be done?
·         Education of pet care seems to be a more popular concept than it ever used to be, likely thanks to the internet for the easy access to information and for the easy access to animal lovers all over the world so that information and experience can be shared. Do your part to end this animal cruelty.

“Let us tear down the flag of ignorance, and burn it with the flames of education. In its stead let us raise the flag of knowledge.”

Ignorance may be described as bliss, but in this case it is only bliss for the human.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Closer Look at Breeding

If you are considering breeding your hamsters, then read on.

Just Hamsters
Breeding hamsters, or any animal for that matter, is not a decision that should be taken lightly and without serious consideration and research before making any decisions. By breeding animals you become solely responsible for their very life, this is no minor responsibility. For those thinking “it’s just a hamster”, please take a second to look at your own opinion. Why would you even consider breeding hamsters if they are “just hamsters”, breeding is hard work, it is time consuming, can be emotionally draining and also quite costly. If you don’t truly have a passion to work with hamsters and consider them “just hamsters” than you might want to put this idea out of your head for the time being.

Reasons for Wanting to Breeding
If you truly want to breed then consider the reasons why you want to breed. There may be multiple reasons, but it is certainly worthwhile to take the time to consider your reasons and then write them down. If your reason(s) are along these following lines:
o I want to get the experience of breeding hamsters.
o I want to see cute babies
o I want to see the miracle of life
o My friends/family want hamsters or I want more hamsters
o I want to make money
o I want my hamsters to live on in their children
o I read that hamsters should breed at least once in their life
o My hamsters are in love, it would be cruel to not let them breed
o I want more hamsters of the same colour
Then there might be some issues. Some of these reasons aren’t absolutely negative, however the bottom six points are not good reasons at all, but if any of these points are the driving force for you wanting to breed then I highly recommend that you step back in reconsider breeding. Wanting to experience breeding hamsters, seeing babies, experiencing the miracle of life, etc. are not good enough reasons to want to breed. There are too many hamsters that need homes in the world for such reasons to be valid. While some of these reasons may be reasons to want to breed the ultimate reason for wanting to breed should be something along of the lines of this:
o To better the species as a whole.
This implies that are goals are to breed quality animals with the intention of improving health, temperament and overall improving the species. Many breeders breed for the wrong reasons and it shows in their knowledge of hamsters and in the quality of their animals. Breeders that breed for the wrong reasons are often referred to as ‘Back Yard Breeders’, they are sadly a common phenomenon throughout the world.

A Closer Look at Invalid Reasons for Wanting to Breed
1. I want to get the experience of breeding hamsters: This isn’t exactly a poor reason to want to breed, however it should not be your ultimate reason to want to breed. Adopting hamsters is quite the worthwhile experience, and at the same time you give hamster’s a second chance at a forever home.
2. I want to see cute babies: That’s nice; I would like to introduce you to Google. On Google you can search up all sorts of things, including videos and images of baby hamsters. This is just not a good reason to want to breed, sure they are cute, but breeding is serious.
3. I want to see the miracle of life: there are many videos and books on this subject, why not take the easy route and go for one of those options, they are much less work, money, time and effort. And in the end the message is the same.
4. My friends/family want hamsters or I want more hamsters: This is wonderful, truly it is. If you have people interested in hamsters or you yourself want more hamsters, than help your friends look for hamsters to adopt, or if it’s you than look for hamsters to adopt yourself. Why bring more hamsters into this world when there are so many that need homes already?
5. I want to make money: If this is your reason to breed than you need to look outside of breeding animals. Being a quality breeder means that it’s probably going to cost more than you will make.
6. I want my hamsters to live on in their children: This is a nice thought, but it isn’t a good reason to breed. You could end up with hamsters that end up with genetic issues or other problems if you don’t know their genetic history. Instead taking pictures, spending time with them and enjoying their time with you is the best way to help them live on after death, because then they live on in your memories. Instead of breeding, adopting another hamster in memory of your past hamster is a good way to honour their life.
7. I read that hamsters should breed at least once in their life: This too is not a valid reason to breed for it is simply not true. Hamsters do not need to breed in order to live a healthy and fulfilling life. Not to mention, some people have found that breeding can shorten the life of a hamster (females in particular).
8. My hamsters are in love, it would be cruel to not let them breed: hamsters do not mate for life the way that humans and some other animals do. They will not feel love the same way we do for a mate, in the wild there is a chance that they might never even see each other again. If you do have a male and a female living together then I highly recommend that they are separated for their well-being.
9. I want more hamsters of the same colour: This too is not a valid reason to breed. Genetics are not simple and they do not always work the way one might expect, you could get a whole litter with pups that don’t have the same colour as their parents. Besides colour doesn’t matter to hamsters and it shouldn’t matter to you. Fur colour doesn’t make the hamsters, it’s what’s underneath the fur that counts.

Breeding hamsters is time consuming, it will eat up much of your free time and may impose on other aspects of your life. Consider the following in regard to time:
1. Breeders need to do research beforehand and throughout their venture in breeding. Many breeders spend years researching: how to properly breed hamsters, how to pick quality animals, genetics of hamsters, etc. They must also spend time researching and understanding general hamster care and ailments as they gain experience as a normal hamster owner. Not days of research, not months of research, but years. Not only must the research and learn before breeding, but they must also continue to keep up with new information even while breeding hamsters.
2. Breeders must also put a lot of time into a breeding plan. This plan helps to keep the genetic history of every hamster organized, to keep records in order, to help plan out what a breeder’s goals are, etc. An important factor to consider, and one that might take more than a few minutes.
3. Breeders need to look for homes for their litters. This isn’t as easy as posting an ad and selling them to the first person to respond. Breeders often make up contracts to ensure that their animals will go to a good home, will be returned to them if the owner can no longer keep them, to ensure that the owner will stay in contact and in some cases to ensure that the owner does not breed the hamster. When looking for potential owners, the breeder must look for quality homes with owners that have and will continue to research and understand proper and up to date hamster care, will stay in contact with the breeder, will take the hamster to the vet if required and will over all be a good owner. This is no easy task, good owners are not always available and quality owners in a breeder’s area may disappear with each litter, which is why lining up homes prior to breeding is important. Selling hamsters to a pet store is not a viable option either. A good breeder must be aware of their lines so that they know if genetic issues pop up down the road, selling them to a pet store cuts off contact with owners. Not to mention the breeder then has no control over who purchases their hamsters.
4. If homes cannot be found for the litter than it is up to the breeder to keep and care for all of the hamsters. Hamsters can have large litters, some even being upward of 20 pups, though the average is closer to 10-12 pups. Depending on the species they may need to live separately, dwarf hamsters can live in same-sex groups but the chances for fights breaking out are always possible. That could mean a cage (recommended bare minimum is 360 square inches of floor space) for every single hamster from the litter, including the parents on top of any other hamsters the breeder has. That is time required for cleaning the cages, for feeding the hamsters, performing health checks, administering medication for any ill hamsters and for spending individual time with each hamster. This is time consuming.
5. Breeders must take responsibility for the litter if the mother dies or rejects the pups. This means spending over two weeks constantly feeding and caring for helpless pups. They must be fed every hour and care must be taken to ensure that they are never too cold and that they defecate properly. This can mean missing school, work or other obligations that the breeder may have.
6. The breeder must make time to care for ill hamsters. Caring for a sick hamster can take up quite a bit of a breeder’s time, even if the time spent worrying about the hamster(s) is subtracted from the equation.
7. Breeders must take time to stay in contact with owners that have adopted from them. Breeders need to keep in contact with people that have adopted from them in order to keep tabs on their lines. If health issues pop up that could be caused from genetic issues than the breeder must be aware of this so that effort can be put into putting a stop to that line to prevent further ill hamsters.
8. Breeders need to keep up with general care of their hamsters. Breeders cannot forget that time must be put aside to clean cages, feed the hamsters, care for them and spend time with them individually. They will also need to put aside time to spend time with litters that are old enough to be handled in order to ensure that the hamsters are sociable.

Even consideration about space in your home for all of these hamsters must be thought of.
1. Breeders need plenty of room for their hamsters. They need room for the various supplies required for hamsters, they need room for adequately sized cages (recommended bare minimum is 360 square inches of floor space) and room to move around in general.
2. Breeders must consider the optimal place for where to ‘set up shop’. The room must be quiet, free from disturbances, temperature controlled and large enough to provide enough room for everything.
3. If homes cannot be found for the litter than it is up to the breeder to keep and care for all of the hamsters. This means the breeder needs cages for every single hamster. Considering the average litter is about 10-12 pups that is 10-12 cages that a breeder must provide space for on top of all the room needed for other hamsters and their supplies.

Breeding hamsters is not cheap, nor will it be a thriving business. Breeders must expect this hobby to cost them money, rather than make them money. That means that the reason to breed to make money is not only a poor reason to breed, but one laden in false hope.
1. Breeders must purchase quality breeding stock. Most hamsters are not up to standard to be a quality animal to be bred. This does not make them any less valuable than a well-bred hamster, but these are not the hamsters that a breeder should be breeding. A breeder cannot simply go to a pet store for breeding stock nor should they purchase from the nearest breeder without putting much research into that breeder’s program. In order to find quality stock a breeder may need to travel a great distance to find a quality breeder from which to get their breeding hamsters from. This can be costly not only for the hamsters themselves but for the travel required to actually obtain the hamsters. Breeding poorly-bred hamsters is not an option for a good breeder.
2. Breeders need to purchase food, substrate and nesting materials. Breeders have many hamsters to care for and so things such as food, substrate and nesting materials do not last as long as they do when caring for one or two hamsters. This alone is a costly part of breeding and quality of the products cannot be substituted for a cheaper price,
3. Breeders must purchase cages, wheels, toys and other cage accessories. With many hamsters comes a need for many cages and supplies for the cages. Some breeders even have cages set up for pregnant/nursing mother hamsters, special cages where mating will take place, etc. Supplies for hamsters are not always cheap and yet a breeder still needs to consider the cost.
4. If homes cannot be found for the litter than it is up to the breeder to keep and care for all of the hamsters. This means that all of the associated cost of keeping all of these hamsters fall upon the breeder, along with the cost to care for any other hamsters. Including possible vet bills that could crop up.
5. Breeders must have money out aside when a vet is required. With so many hamsters it should not be a surprise that a vet will likely be required at least once each year, especially as hamsters grow older or if the entire hamstery falls ill for whatever reason.
6. If a breeder wishes to show their hamsters than they will likely be required to pay a club membership. Most hamster clubs, if not all require a membership fee in order to help pay for the costs associated with keeping a club going. Many quality breeders are encouraged to join, yet it is another cost to be considered.

Breeding can take a large toll on a breeder’s emotions, often it is explained as an emotional roller-coaster. The happiness found at seeing young hamsters nursing form their mother can be quickly crushed when disaster strikes. While this does not mean that the breeder be cold-hearted or emotionless, this does require the breeder to not let their emotions hinder their responsibility.
1. Breeders must be able to deal with the death of a mother hamster emotionally. It is going to hurt, but not everyone is able to emotionally handle the death of the mother-hamster from delivery or birth complications when had the breeding not been done, she would still be healthy and alive.
2. If the mother dies or rejects her litter, the breeder must be strong enough to take on the care of the pups. Loss of sleep for the next two and half weeks can also cause emotions to run higher, and yet the breeder must be capable of enduring it for the sake of the pups, even if often times the pups do not survive, which again can be emotionally gruelling.
3. The breeder must be able to handle the emotional strain of the mother culling pups. Sometimes when pups are born with birth defects or if the litter is too large or if the whole situation is too stressful, than the mother will cull (kill) some or all of her pups and will also likely consume them, as in the wild dead animals attract predators.
4. The breeder must be able to accept that there may be genetic issues with their lines. Hiding the fact that there are genetic issues with a breeder’s line, even if it seems embarrassing or if it upsets them, is not an option. Honesty is the best policy, even if it is difficult for the breeder to realize that they have brought lives into the world that may be suffering from genetics issues.

Breeding hamsters is no small thing; it is time consuming, expensive, emotionally draining and all around not an easy task. Breeding hamsters should not be taken lightly, it is a serious thing to consider and only if you are prepared to take on full responsibility and do the required research in order to become a quality breeder intent on bettering the species should one attempt to breed hamsters.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Campaign for the 8.5" Silent Spinner

We all love hamsters and so we all know that they need wheels. And since many of us have our hamsters in our room, we like to have a good, silent wheel. I remember when the Silent Spinner first made it's way on the shelves. It was asleep saver. The first actually (generally) silent wheel. Soon it was realized that the sizes were all off. 4.5" Silent Spinners are too small for dwarf and Chinese hamsters (and mice for that matter too) and the 6.5" wheel is far too small for the majority of full grown Syrian hamsters. Yet they are sold as the perfect size:

6.5" diameter wheel is ideal for hamsters, mice, gerbils, or other small animals
Source: http://www.superpetusa.com/product-list/silent-spinner-wheel-regular.htm

Who hasn't wished for a bigger Silent Spinner? Sure you can just go and buy the 12" wheel, but it doesn't fit in all cages and unnecessarily takes up room in the cage. Not many syrians (except perhaps Swedish syrians, I'm told) actually need a 12" wheel anyway. While there are other wheels that are fairly silent they aren't always accessible to most people, while the Silent Spinner is pretty common.

Back in 2007 the pet rat community, who were all fans of Midwest's Ferret Nation cage, campaigned to have Midwest create a rat-friendly version, the Rat Nation. It worked, though was instead called the Critter Nation. Rat lovers all over the world e-mailed them and they got a spiffy, rat-specific cage. A whole new cage. Now a wheel size upgrade can't be too much to ask for in comparison, can it?

So hamster lovers, (even if you don't use the Silent Spinner yourself or if you don't have syrian hamsters to worry about please consider helping out anyway. You never know what the future might hold, right?) please contact the Super Pet Company and let them know of your interest in an 8.5" Silent Spinner. If only a few people e-mail than it won't do much, they need to see that people are really interested in this so that they know it won't be a waste of money to look into and create. So please ask other hamster lovers, re-post on hamster forums, etc. If we want this to happen then we need more than a few e-mails.

You can even look at it as helping hamsters. Think of the ignorant and misinformed people that buy the 6.5" Silent Spinner thinking it perfect for their syrian; meanwhile their syrian quickly outgrows it and then is left to gain back problems or to go without a useable wheel. Yet had the 8.5" Silent Spinner been there, marked for Syrian hamsters it would be one less issue for that hamster, right?

Consider this while writing perhaps:

-They are a business first and foremost so appeal to that side of them. You have enjoyed their products, like what they have but cannot continue to buy their products nor recommend them to anyone else so long as the wheel is too small to be safe. They don't want to lose money.
-Explain what the problem is and recommend how you think it could be better (i.e it's too small, bad for their backs, needs to be bigger)
-Be polite! Demanding and going 'crazy' on them will not help
-If you have a picture of a syrian on a Silent Spinner that shows it's back curving than consider adding this too.

You can contact them through this e-mail address (the easiest way):

Or if you want to send them a physical letter then this is their contact address:

Super Pet
Attn: Customer Service
2121 Touhy Ave
Elk Grove Village, IL

Or if you want to call they have a number too:

If you have any suggestions for what else should be included in the letters or what we should be asking for then please say it, hehe. Doing away with the 4.5" wheel and trading it with the 8.5" wheel (the the 6.5" becomes the new mini) seems like the ideal way to go. So please do your part and send an e-mail. It doesn't need to be long, just get the facts down. Thank you for your support!

~Holly, Rory and Bones

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Home Health Check

Hamsters are prey animals and so in order to avoid looking like easy targets, they hide any illness quite well. The best way to catch a health issue early on, hopefully before it is too late to deal with, is to perform a health check up on your hamsters. This allows you to become familiar with their behaviour and their body so that you are able to detect issues right away. If your hamster seems off in any way, then it is best to consult a hamster-experienced exotic vet (most regular vets don’t know much about hamsters) in order to ensure that your hamster is alright. Health check ups should be done at least weekly.

Make time to be able to watch your hamster while they are in their home and even outside of their cage so that you may become familiar with the way that they behave. A sudden change in behaviour can indicate a health issue and so it is imperative that you are able to recognize when their behaviour is off. While health check ups can be done weekly, watching their behaviour should be a daily practice.

  • Is your hamster grooming themselves regularly?
  • Is your hamsters ears perked up?
  • Is your hamster just not behaving like themselves?
  • Is your hamster sleeping more than normal? (note: hamsters often sleep more as they get older)
  • Is your hamster still running around, using their wheel, etc.?
  • Is your hamster having problems emptying their cheek pouches?

It is important to weigh your hamster weekly, a sudden loss or gain in weight is another indication that something is wrong health-wise. Being able to detect any sudden weight changes is important and so a digital kitchen scale (one that measures per gram and not in increments) is an important tool for the health check up. You should also find somewhere to log your hamster’s weight each week.
Average weight of hamsters will depend much on their diet, their environment, their sex, their species and even how well bred they are.
  • Syrian Hamster (Mesocricetus auratus): Can weigh anywhere from 90-200 grams, what is important is that your hamster doesn’t look obese or underweight and that they maintain their weight.
  • Chinese Hamster (Cricetulus griseus): About 30-45 grams
  • Roborovski Dwarf Hamster (Phodopus roborovskii): About  25-35 grams
  • Russian Campbell Dwarf and Winter White Dwarf Hamsters (Phodopus campbelli and sungorous): About 35-55 grams.

**Note: These are average weights

Hamsters, have incisors that continuously grow throughout their lives and so it is important to check their teeth. Scruffing them or getting them to open their mouths while reaching for a treat is the best way to check their teeth.
  • Are any of the teeth broken?
  • Do the teeth seem crooked?
  • Are any teeth missing
  • Are the teeth white? (Hamsters teeth should be a yellowy-orange colour, though will be more white when they are still young)
  • Are the teeth too long (the bottom two teeth are slightly longer than the top two)
  • Is your hamster drooling?
  • Can your hamster eat hard foods?
  • Is there any foul smell coming from their mouth

Hamsters eyes should be bright and clear. Most hamsters have black eyes, though they can have red eyes or eyes that appear red only in certain light. Hamsters can also also be born “odd-eyed”, where their eyes are two different colours.
  • Are the eyes clear and shiny?
  • Are they opened normally?
  • Is there anything ‘weeping’ from the eye that might indicate an infection?
  • Are the eyes squinty?

  • Are the hamster’s ears upright or always folded down?
  • Is your hamster continuously scratching at their ears?
  • Is there any discharge coming from the ears?

Nose and Lungs
While checking your hamster’s nose it is important that you are also checking their breathing in order to check out their lungs. Hamsters can catch colds from humans, which can be fatal if not treated promptly. Scents throughout the homes (air fresheners, sprays, etc.) can cause respiratory issues as well as soft wood shavings such as pine, cedar or spruce or if the bedding is too dusty.
  • Is the noise clean and not too wet?
  • Is there any discharge coming from the nose?
  • Is your hamster sneezing or coughing?

Listen closely to their breathing:
  • Is there any odd sounds, clicks, wheezing or chirps as they breathe?
  • Are they struggling to breathe
  • Are they breathing faster than normal?

You will have to part the hamster’s fur in order to see their skin, be sure to do this in a couple of spots along their body, especially a spot where they may have been scratching at a lot.
  • Is the skin scaly or flaky?
  • Is the skin red or irritated?
  • Can you see parasites crawling around? (Some cannot be seen by the human eye)
  • Are there any cuts, scratches or other wounds? (Especially if your have dwarf hamsters living together)

Water Consumption
Watch your hamster’s water consumption, if they aren’t drinking at all than this can indicate an issue, though keep in mind that hamsters are small and they don’t drink much. If your hamster is drinking too much than this can indicate a sign of diabetes.
  • Is your hamster drinking frequently
  • Is your hamster not drinking?
  • Has your hamster tested positive for diabetes? (This should be done regularly with urine test strips that can be obtained at the pharmacy or chemist. If you have a diabetes-prone species which include, Russian Campbell Dwarfs, hybrids, some lines of Winter White dwarfs and Chinese hamsters. )
  • Do a ‘tent test’ or a ‘pinch test’ of the loose skin on the hamsters shoulders. This just means that you gently pinch some of the loose skin (not to cause pain) to check if the hamster is dehydrated. The skin should snap back to normal quickly. If it goes down slowly than this means that the hamster is dehydrated.

A hamster’s fur should be cleaned and well groomed, hamsters seem to take pride in their coat, rivaling even cats in this matter and so loss of interest in keeping well groomed is a sure sign that something is wrong. Keep in mind that long haired syrian hamsters may need assistance to keep their fur in check, brushing them daily with an unused toothbrush usually works to keep out mats and take out any tangled bedding. Other species, especially roborovski dwarfs may seem to get an oily coat, providing a sand bath for them to roll around in should help this.
  • Is the coat shiny, and not dull?
  • Is there any missing patches of fur?
  • Is the fur thinning (older hamsters often have their fur begin to thin)
  • Is the fur well kept and groomed?

Hamsters nails can become overgrown and cause discomfort, the best way to help with this is to prevent it. The easiest way to prevent it is to provide sand for them to dig in. Others also recommend placing a rock under their water bottle. I do not recommend putting sand paper on their wheel as this can cause much discomfort to their paws. If they become too long it is easier to have a vet trim them, or at least teach you how. Otherwise be sure to get a friend to help you, this makes it much easier.
  • Are the nails overgrown, do they twist or curl?
  • Are any nails missing?
  • Do your hamster’s nails seem to grow excessively? (May be an indication of diabetes)

Scent Glands
Hamsters have scent glands that allow they to mark their territory. On syrian hamsters there is one scent gland on each hip- this is normal and isn’t an issue. On other species of male hamsters, the scent gland is on the belly, about where a belly button should be and due to it’s location it is more common for it to become infected. If your hamster seems to be over scent marking their cage, especially after you clean it, then it may be an indication that they are uncomfortable with you taking away their scent. Be sure to leave a handful of old bedding aside and sprinkle it around their cage.
  • Is the scent gland(s) irritated, raised or crusted over?
  • Is there pus coming from the scent gland(s)?

Genitalia and Anus
Be sure to check this area to ensure that there is no discharge and that everything is clear. Hamsters feces should be rod shaped, not to dry or too runny.
  • Is the hamster’s feces runny? (If it is a young syrian than this could be a symptom of wet tail and a vet must be sought immediately).
  • Is the hamster’s feces overly dry? (Your hamster needs more fresh foods in their diet if this is the case).
  • Is there any odd discharge from any of the openings?
  • Is their any odd smell? (Keeping in mind that females do go into heat every four days and may emit a noticeable smell be sure to remember this smell so you can determine it between smells that might indicate infection).
  • Is there any feces stuck to your hamsters bottom?
  • Are they red, irritated or swollen (don’t mistake testicles for swelling in males)
  • Is your hamster urinating frequently?
  • Is your hamster’s urine normal? (May vary from creamy yellow to clear yellow depending on what they’ve consumed).

Physical Check Up
Check your hamster’s gait, the way they hold their body and feel over their body for any lumps or bumps.
  • Are there any lumps or bumps?
  • Is your hamster walking normally, not limping or dragging their feet?
  • Is any part of your hamster’s body swollen?
  • Is your hamster hunched over? (This can indicate that they are in pain)
  • Is your hamster have trouble with balance or even having trouble walking straight?

Further Reading

Thursday, January 5, 2012

First Aid Kit

No one can ever really predict when an emergency will strike and hamsters seem to be really good at falling ill or getting hurt at odd hours making it difficult to find help when you really need it. A First Aid Kit is important to have on hand for such times or even for minor occurrences that can be taken care of at home. Below I have compiled a list of items that would be helpful and in some cases mandatory in a  first aid kit. I included some things that probably aren’t one hundred percent necessary (such as the nebulizer), but would be helpful if you could obtain it. Most things should be obtained just in case however and while this kit may not be able to be put together overnight, effort should be made to fill it in before you actually need it.

  1. List of exotic vets in your area: This list should include any vets that may be able to help including a emergency vet. Research into the quality of the vet in the field of rodents should also be done beforehand so that you do not waste time going to someone who is not competent. Written for each vet should be their name, phone number, emergency number (if available) and address.
  2. Storage Container: A box or container of some sort to keep all of this in one spot will make everything just so much easier. To make things easier when you need to act quickly keep this container organized.
  3. Money: You never know when your hamster will fall ill or become injured and exotic vets are not known for being cheap. Having a fund for the vet handy is very, very important.
  4. Q-tips: are handy for applying topical medications and for cleaning out eyes or ears.
  5. Oral syringes: Handy to feed medication, water, rehydration solutions, liquid food, etc.
  6. Fine tweezers: These are good for removing foreign objects from wounds.
  7. Hot water bottle/ Heating pad/ Heat lamp: Very important to have on hand to keep a cold hamster warm while they are ill, post-operation, during shock or after “hibernation” (see hibernation on the Health & Illness page for more information).
  8. Nail Clippers: This are great for trimming overgrown nails, most people recommend that baby nail clippers are used as they are often easier to handle.
  9. Surgical gauze, pads, bandages, first aid tape: Used to cover wounds, slow blood loss and to keep the hamster from bothering their wound for the short term.
  10. Toothbrush: Hamsters are very tidy animals and when ill they are not always able to groom themselves as they once did, especially long haired Syrian hamsters. A toothbrush is handy to have to gently brush your hamsters fur, it may also have a calming effect which may help relieve stress.
  11. Bayer’s Keto-Diastix: This is a necessity for anyone that has a diabetes prone species (Chinese, Russian Campbell dwarf, Winter White dwarf, or hybrid) in order to test your hamster’s glucose and keotone levels. Bayer’s is a bran name, any urine test strip (not blood) for humans should work just as well.
  12. Bitter apple spray:  can be applied to keep hamsters from bothering their wounds as the taste is quite unpleasant.
  13. Cotton swabs: Can be used to stanch bleeding, clean wounds and apply topical medication.
  14. Ear/Eye wipes: used to clean out ears or eyes.
  15. Sanitary wipes: another item that is useful to clean minor wounds or to even wipe down your own hands quickly
  16. Scissors: Handy for cutting bandages to size or for trimming fur around a wound.
  17. Travel/ Hospital cage: A cage or aquarium that will allow you to bring your hamster to  and from the vet easily is great to have on hand. As for the hospital cage, it is more important when you have a group of hamsters, as the ill or injured one may be picked one while ill or could be contagious (depending what is ailing them).
  18. Gram scale: A scale is very beneficial to have on sand should you have to weigh medication. More commonly it is best used to weigh your hamster. Weighing your hamster daily and keeping a log can help you detect signs of illness early on.
  19. Nebulizer: This can be used to turn medication into a fine mist that can then be inhaled. I am not certain which medications this would be bets used for, be sure to consult your vet before trying this. It likely isn’t something that the average hamster owner will need, but is something to keep in mind.
  20. Latex (or any medical grade gloves) gloves: For your own safety and to keep contamination to a wound or to another animal at minimal risk.
  21. Small Towel: This can be used to help keep your hamster warm or to help constrain them safely.
  22. Hand Sanitizer: While washing your hands before and after working with an ill animal is best, hand sanitizer works well in a fix.
  23. Penlight: Allows for a more detailed examination or a wound.
  24. Magnifying glass: To help you get a better look at wounds.
  25. Black Light: to distinguish blood vs. porphyrin, not exactly necessary but it can be helpful.
  26. Saline solution or eye cleansing drops (ex: Polysporin for eyes): This is good to have on hand to flush eyes from debris and ease irritation.
  27. Olive Oil/ Cod Liver Oil: Helpful for relieving constipation, one to two drops orally or on some fresh food should be enough.
  28. Unflavoured Pedialyte/ Recipe & Ingredients for Rehydration solution: Unflavoured Pedialyte should be able to be obtained from a pharmacy/chemist and should be used 50/50 with water to help rehydrate a hamster. Otherwise you can use the following recipe, it works too:1 tsp of salt
    3 tbsp sugar
    1 quart warm water
    It can keep for 48 hours if refrigerated.
  29. Water: Can be used to water down the Pedialyte.
  30. Manuka honey UMF +16: If dabbed on a wound topically daily than this honey can help the wound heal and stay clean from infection. Some have called it almost magical as it works so effectively.
  31. Pure organic Aloe or Aloe vera plant: This is great for irritated wounds, burns or stings and will help relieve discomfort and help heal. If you have a plant then simply take a leaf and rip it in half and apply the gel-like substance that comes from the leaf.
  32. Chlorhexidine: This is an animal-safe disinfectant, it can usually be obtained from a veterinarian.
  33. Fresh thyme: Thyme has a multitude of uses such as cleaning a wound, aiding in respiratory distress, keeping infections at bay, etc. For wounds you simply need to make a tea with the leaves (I’ve used dried thyme for this with success too) and allow it to cool and than apply to the wound twice daily until the wound is healed. For respiratory issues, simply putting it near your hamster or allowing your hamster to breath in the steam of the tea is said to help. Some have even mentioned allowing them to drink the cooled tea in order to reduce stress. It might be beneficial to simply have a thyme plant on hand so you don’t need to run out to get fresh thyme when ever it is needed.
  34. Revolution/ Invectermin , parasite treatment: This is always nice to have on hand for mites, lice, or other parasites. I use Revolution myself with much success and it is easy to apply, the only concern is that it is made for dogs or cats and must so then be measured out for the right dosage. For my hamsters it worked out to about one drop per hamster each treatment. Revolution in unopened tubes also have a long shelf life. I recommend topical treatments over powders, sprays or baths as they are quick, clean and not stressful to your hamster.
  35. Epsom salt: Epsom salt mixed with luke-warm water is a good way to clean wounds and flush out debris from wounds. I have also found it useful as a solution to aid with abscesses by making a paste to draw out the puss and to keep it clean. I use the Epsom salt with warm water to create a paste to put on the abscess for 10-15 minutes twice a day. (If the abscess is near the face or isn't going away after a week or so then I would get your ham to a vet and not take any chances.).
  36. Sodium Bicarbonate (baking soda): when used with a wet compress this can help to reduce swelling.
  37. Benebac or plain yogurt: Benebac can be found at most pet stores and is a powder that can be applied to fresh food or mixed with water to maintain beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract that antibiotics can also kill. Directions for use are on the package. Plain yogurt can be fed daily as well for the same reasons.
  38. Styptic powder or flour: Great for if you cut the quick with trimming nails or for other toe injuries. This will help to stop the bleeding, toe wounds can bleed a surprising amount!
  39. Ensure, Baby food/cereal: This is great for weak, ill, old, young hamsters or hamsters with broken teeth (or other teeth issues). It can help them build their strength and get the food that they need.