Welcome

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 Care standards and information are outdated, and these little creatures are misunderstood by many.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.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Syrian Hamster Care Sheet

Note: I hope to include a pdf version of this in the future. Due to technical difficulties it will have to wait until future time.

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English Name: Syrian (Also nicknamed the Teddy Bear, Golden, Black Bear, Common, etc.)

Latin Name: Mesocricetus auratus

Lifespan: 2-3 years

Size: 5-7 inches (13 to 18 cm)

Description: Syrians are the most common species of hamster kept as pets and were the first hamsters to be domesticated and introduced into the pet market. Today’s domestic syrians are believed to be descended from a mother and her litter that were taken from Aleppo, Syria on April 12, 1930. Syrians are available in many colours, patterns and even some coat mutations such as short haired, long haired and hairless.

Temperament: Syrians are generally docile and are often recommended for first time owners. Each hamster is different and while one syrian may be bold and friendly another may be shy and easily frightened. Syrians are also loners by nature; they do not live with other hamsters in the wild and only come together to mate and for the female to raise her litter. If kept together Syrians may fight resulting in severe injury or death of one or both hamsters. Living together is also stressful for these hamsters; stress lowers the immune system making them susceptible to illness. At no point should a syrian be housed with another of its species, a different species of hamster or any other small animal.

Housing: Despite their size hamsters need a lot of room. The generally accepted bare minimum now a day is a cage with the floor space of 360 square inches though it is highly recommended that a larger space is given. Many cages actually made for hamsters are far too small for any syrian hamster and often need to be added on to. It is recommended that you look at the following link in regards to
Scientific Facts about Hamster Homes.

    There are many different types of cages such as aquariums, bin cages, wire cages, and plastic connectible cages. Any of these types can be great for hamsters as long as they are the right size. Which cage you prefer depends entirely on you. A cage set-up consisting of dozens of Habitrail cages and tubes may be fine for one person, but a chore for someone else who may enjoy a bin cage better.

Substrate and Bedding: Substrate is the stuff that you put on the floor of your cage in order to give your hamster something to walk on, burrow in, hide food in and to soak up any urine. There are many different options to choose from, though not all substrates are safe for hamsters. Wood shavings made from softwood trees such as pine, cedar, and spruce (UK pine) contain toxic aromatic oils called phenols that harm a hamster’s respiratory system and may also cause cancer. Softwood shavings can be kiln dried which removes some of the phenols but not all of them, thus not making kiln dried shavings completely safe. Hardwood shavings such as aspen on the other hand do not contain phenols and so are safe to use. Any scented substrates are also dangerous to hamsters, irritating their sensitive respiratory system, even ‘natural’ scents such as rose or mint. Some other safe options besides aspen shavings are paper-based beddings. Some brands to look out for are Care Fresh, Boxo Bedding, Critter Care, and Yesterdays News Cat Litter. Substrate should be several inches deep, six or so inches is ok, though Syrian hamsters really do benefit having more to burrow in.
    Bedding is what is used in the hamster’s nest. Whatever substrate you are using is fine for bedding but you can also add other materials to make their nest more comfortable. Again not all available bedding is safe. Hamster ‘fluff’ bedding should be avoided, if ingested then it can cause internal blockages and hamsters can get tangled in it causing a limb to lose circulation. Cloth, fleece or other similar materials should also be avoided in case the hamster ingests them unless you are certain that your hamster will not chew any of this. Toilet paper or kleenex makes a great choice for bedding as it’s cheap, comfortable, safe and easy to get.

Supplies: Hamsters need some basic supplies for their home too:
Wheels-- Hamsters need wheels to be able to burn off excess energy. Syrian hamsters can run up to eight or so miles a night as they forage for food in the wild. It is important that the wheel has a solid surface so that the hamster cannot harm it’s feet. A wheel with runged bars can allow great harm to a hamster if they get their foot caught in between the rungs. The wheel should also be at least 8” in diameter so that the hamster has plenty of room to run. Some hamsters may even require a larger size. If their back is arched at all while they are running or they have to hold their head up higher then usual, then the wheel is too small. 

Chew Toys: Hamsters, as rodents have constantly growing incisor teeth. Hamsters trim them by chewing on things. While pet stores do sell wood chews and similar products many do go ignored, often milk bones (intended for dogs) or raw pasta are well received and work well.
Beds-- Hamsters prefer a shelter of some kind to be able to build their nest in. It helps them to feel secure and to reinforce their nest. You can make these at home or buy some from the pet store, the possibilities are endless when it comes to this. Just ensure that it’s big enough for your hamster.
Water Bottles-- Water bottles are made especially to hold water for hamsters. They keep the water clean and contained. A good brand to watch out for is Oasis as they are durable and rarely leak. Be sure to clean out the bottle daily to prevent bacteria from growing, the spout can be cleaned with an (unused) smoke pipe brush. Water bowls can be used instead, but they are not usually recommended as they get dirty easily and if a hamster gets wet from it then they can catch a chill. If they must be used then a small dish such as a tea light holder can be used so that hamsters cannot get soaked by it. Just be sure to clean it daily or twice a day if possible and to keep it elevated so that substrate cannot get into it.
Food dishes-- Food dishes are as simple as a small dish used to hold food. You don’t need one for the staple food if you would rather free feed (sprinkling the food around the cage) however it is easier to monitor if the hamster is still taking its food if you use a dish. There should be a dish used for fresh foods though.
Toys-- Toys are important in a hamsters home as they provide great physical and mental exercise. From tubes, to see-saws, to digging pits, to wherever your imagination can take you. Hamsters are inquisitive creatures and will enjoy exploring all sorts of things. You can make the toys yourself or go check a pet store to see what they have.
Toilets-- Toilets aren’t necessary as part of a hamsters cage but they can help keep things a little cleaner. Syrians will often pick a corner to urinate in, some will also use this corner for feces as well. By putting a toilet in you can encourage your hamster to go in one spot which can then be cleaned out daily. You don’t need a toilet, most hamsters will pick a spot on their own as they get a little older.
Sand Baths-- Sand baths aren’t necessary for syrian hamsters but many Syrian hamsters enjoy being able to dig in the sand. Some may come to use it as a toilet though. Good sand to use includes Chinchilla sand (not dust) though is argued to be dangerous due to the silica content. Those that don’t use Chinchilla sand for this reason will often used Aragonite sand (Calcium carbonate), which is argued by others to be dangerous due to the calcium content in it. Which you use is up to you, further reading should be done so that you have thorough understanding of both sides can make an educated decision.

Cleaning Maintenance: When it comes to hamsters cleaning is not a big chore so long as you keep on top of it. Daily cleaning would include the removal of any left over fresh foods from the previous day, cleaning out of the ‘toilet’ corner and washing of the water bottle or bowl.
How often the cage is cleaned will depend upon the hamster, the substrate and the cage size. An exceptionally large cage will not need to be fully cleaned out as often as a smaller cage for example. Generally a full cage clean out should be done weekly or every other week. The substrate should be dumped out, except for a handful or two; the cage wiped down, the supplies washed and the nesting area cleaned out as well. Once everything is clean and the cage out back together, sprinkle the substrate that was saved prior to cleaning, all around the cage. This will reduce any stress felt by the cleaning of the cage by allowing the scent to remain within the cage, minus the mess. This will also reduce the need felt by the hamster to go over board in marking his home after a cage clean.


Food: The syrian hamster’s diet really isn’t too complicated. Syrian hamsters are mainly grainivorous in the wild though they will also eat greens and insects making them omnivores. Hamsters need a staple diet of either a seed mix or a lab block. Lab blocks are compressed pellets, while seed mixes are made up of various seeds, grains and nuts. Either is fine to use, it depends on your own preference and likely the preference of the individual hamster. In either type of food you are looking for a food with protein of about 17-21% and a fat content of 4-6%. 
Lab blocks are good to use because hamsters are unable to pick through it and eat only their favourite foods, thus they get the complete nutrition provided by the lab block. Not all brands of lab blocks are made equally though, some good brands to look out for include Mazuri and Oxbow. However lab blocks are boring, especially for an animal that is a forager in nature. Seed mixes provide much more variety for a hamster. With seed mixes you need to watch out for mixes that contain to many ‘treats’. Mixes that are overloaded with sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, peanuts and other sweet or fattening food should be avoided. You want a mix that has a good balance of foods. Some good brands are Supreme Pet Foods Hazel Hamsters (called Harry Hamster in some countries) and Carefresh Complete Food for Gerbils & Hamsters (if this brand is used, organic sunflower seeds must be added to the mix; 3-4 daily is a good amount). In order to avoid a hamster from picking out certain foods I would recommend feeding only enough that they can eat in a day or feeding them every other day. They hoard their food so it is very unlikely that they will go hungry. About a tablespoon of food should be enough per day.
    Besides a staple food hamsters will also enjoy many other kinds of foods. Foods such as vegetables fruits, chicken, egg, tofu, etc. are all foods that are enjoyed by hamsters. A complete list can be found on the last page [below]. I would recommend that you try and feed something every day or every other day or so. You shouldn’t just start feeding these foods right away, they should be introduced slowly by starting with some foods a couple times a week and then upping the amounts as you go. Too many fresh foods can upset the stomach, especially if they aren’t used to it so be sure to take things slowly. Also be sure to take out any excess fresh foods after 24 hours so that they don’t rot.
    Pet store bought treats are often quite sweet so they should be kept to a minimum. I wouldn’t feed more than one store bought treat a week, no matter how much your hamster seems to enjoy them or if the package claims that 2-3 a day is just fine.

Obtaining Your Hamster: There are various places from which a hamster can be obtained, they include:

Adoption: Adopting a hamster from a shelter or a rescue has to be the best way of obtaining a hamster and is a worthwhile experience. You never know what poor hamster many need a loving forever home. Most hamsters are given up when children become bored with them or when a hamster is accidentally bought from a pet store, pregnant. They are not there through any fault of their own and deserve a second chance at a forever home.
Quality Breeders and Back Yard Breeders: This is a good choice to get a young and healthy hamster. You may even get a nice choice of colours and the hamster should be well tamed too. Be sure to do your research about the breeder of your choice and to ask lots of questions. Most breeders are not breeding for the betterment of the species but to earn some money or for various other reasons. These breeders are often called ‘back yard breeders’. If the breeder does not seem knowledgeable then it is best to move on and not support their bad practices.
Classifieds: Looking in the classified section of your local newspaper or on online ad websites are a good way to find hamsters in need of homes. Many people attempt t rehome unwanted hamsters themselves rather then bringing their hamster to a shelter, these hamsters need homes too. Keep in mind that some are simply breeders that are advertising.
Other: Getting a hamster from a friend, neighbour or family member that no longer wants their hamster is another option, though tends to be more an opportunity rather than a choice.
Pet Stores: Not all pet stores are bad, though you will never really know what you are getting. Most pet store hamsters have poor genetics due to over breeding, inbreeding and from suppliers not paying attention to genetics. If you can find a store with good conditions then it could be all right. Pet stores should be a last resort. Purchasing from pet stores often support pet mills or back yard breeders.

What to Look For: When selecting your hamster there are a few things to look for to ensure that you're getting a healthy one. A healthy hamster:

  • is inquisitive and alert
  • has bright clear eyes
  • the nose should have no discharge
  • the fur is full and well groomed
  • the limbs aren’t swollen nor is the hamster limping
  • there are no lumps, scabs or red and irritated skin.

If you decide upon an unhealthy looking Syrian hamster, keep in mind that you may have to visit the vet soon after acquiring your hamster. Before selecting your hamster be sure to watch for a bit to be sure that your soon-to-be hamster seems healthy.

Bringing Your Hamster Home: Wherever you are getting your hamster, you are likely going to need to travel to get them. Make sure that you have some sort of travel cage for the way home, holding them in your hands is not a good idea. They will be frightened and they may not trust humans, it's just not a good idea in a vehicle. A cardboard box will work for short trips but anything over 30 minutes and you should bring something that the hamster isn't going to chew through. Most pet stores have a carrying box and some breeders will too, just be sure to find out prior to getting your hamster.    
    Once you have picked out your hamster, ask whoever is helping you to also put in a handful of the substrate and some of the seed mix/lab blocks in the box or cage with your hamster to keep them comfortable and in familiar surroundings. When you get into the car don't talk too loudly, no arguing or loud music. This will only frighten your hamster. If it is a short trip home then don't worry about providing water to your hamster unless it is very hot out, in this case just give them some food high in water content such as cucumber. If possible turn on the A/C if it is hot out or the heat if it is cold. Also if it is hot out, keep the cage out of direct sunlight. If you have a longer trip then be sure to provide some sort of water source such as cucumber. Drive safely but don't dawdle or make any more stops, be sure that picking up the hamster is the last thing you need to do on your excursion.
   When you get your hamster home, the cage should already be set up. Put your hamster in it’s cage right away. Also put in the food and substrate from the travel cage/box into the hamsters new home so that it smells familiar. If the substrate is pine or cedar, don't worry a little bit longer on it to lower stress won't hurt. Now you can enjoy watching your hamster explore it's new home for a few days until socializing begins.

Taming and Socialisation: Hamsters were tamed and domesticated years ago, however they do keep some of their wild instinct and fear of humans. Socializing is about creating a bond of trust between you and your hamster. The key to success is patience. Be sure to wash your hands prior to any handling with non-scented soap so that your hands do not smell like a tasty treat. While some hamsters will warm up quickly, others need some time.

Step 1: When you first get your hamster home, he will be very scared. Do not try to handle your Syrian for 3-4 days. During these few days you can talk to your hamster gently and enjoy watching your hamster play and explore.

Step 2: On the second or third day introduce "scented" tissue. This is toilet paper or kleenex that had your scent on it. Keeping it in your sock, up your sleeve or wherever for a few hours will give the tissue your scent. The hamster will then use it is a nesting material and it will allow your hamster to get used to your scent. Continue with the tissue throughout the taming process, giving some each day

Step 3: After a couple of days of the tissue start trying to hand your hamster some treats. The easiest way to your Syrian’s trust is through their stomach. Your hamster may be scared to have your hand so close, but eventually he or she should be brave or curious enough to take the treat from your fingers. After a couple of days and once he or she is comfortable with this, it's time to move on.

Step 4: Once your hamster is comfortable taking treats from your fingers, then try laying your hand flat on the cage floor with a treat on your hand. Your hamster will eventually get curious and want to check out your hand, though this can take awhile. Your hamster may nibble but this is just them checking you out to see what you are. If your hamster does bite then slowly retreat, tend to the bite and then get right back in there. Your hamster is scared and if you let it know that biting will get rid of you then they will continue to do so. This time try distracting your Syrian by rustling some bedding, making a slight noise or gently blowing in the hams direction if he or she goes to bite again. Continue each day with this step until your Syrian feels more comfortable with it, once your hamster is then move onto the next step.

Step 5: Start with laying your hand on the floor of the cage again and this time try petting your hamster’s back. If he is too uncomfortable with this then try petting them while handing your Syrian a treat. The treat will tempt the hamster to stay while you pet the hamster. Once your hamster is comfortable with this light touch then it is time to continue onto the next step.

Step 6: Lay your hand on the cage floor again and this time when he climbs on, lift your hand a little way off the floor. Continue doing this until you can get your other hand in there and allow him to walk from hand to hand. From this point on you can start to move on to more handling while you continue to slowly build that bond of trust.

    Keep in mind that not all hamsters like to sit in your hands or cuddle. Most of them enjoy being on the go and some will never be happy to play in your hands. Most do enjoy their owners eventually though. It's important to at least get them used to humans in case they require a vet. If they are not used to humans then the vet will have a difficult time checking out the hamster, treatment will be difficult and the whole time the hamster will be stressed.

Grooming: Hamsters are naturally clean animals and will groom themselves much like cats. They do not require bathing, which is actually dangerous and stressful. Their nails may need trimming from time to time however. Besides that long haired Syrian hamsters may need assistance in keeping their long fur ‘tame’. A soft bristled tooth brush to take out any stuck in substrate or to remove any tangles usually works best.

Illness: When hamsters become ill they can go downhill quickly. Throughout your hamster's life you may have to go to a vet so it is best to locate a rodent-experienced vet before you actually need one. Talk to the vet and ask some basic questions in order to gauge their hamster knowledge and ask how much experience they have with hamsters. Not all vets are equal and many don't have a clue about hamsters and only know outdated facts. You may not be able to find a a rodent-experienced vet so you need to find one that is willing to learn how to treat rodents.
It is also best that you start putting money aside right from the start so that if you need a vet later on, you will have to money to give your hamster the care that it deserves. As long as they are kept in a clean cage and are cared for properly they should live in good health.
Here is a list of symptoms that may indicate that your hamster is ill:
  • Sleeps more than usual
  • Loss of appetite
  • No longer grooming him/herself
  • Having difficulty moving around
  • Loss of fur - Runny nose
  • Teary eyes
  • Wet bottom
  • Hamster droppings should be rod-shaped. (Watery droppings indicate too much fresh foods and dry droppings indicate not enough)


    If your hamster is ill a vet must be sought immediately. In order to help keep your hamster calm if you believe they are ill or hurt be sure to keep their body temperature isn't too cool or too hot. Keep the room as dark as possible to reduce stress, don't keep it pitch black when you need to see what you're doing though. Some people also suggest putting a bit of lavender in the cage as the smell can help sooth their nerves and reduce stress.

    If your hamster is put on antibiotics by your veterinarian be sure to give your hamster about a quarter teaspoon of plain, unsweetened yogurt as it contains beneficial bacteria that helps keep their digestive system balanced, as the antibiotics kill the flora in the hamsters gut as a side effect.



Safe Food ListSafe Food List ContinuedUnsafe Food List
Apple (seedless)
Acorns
Alfalfa
Asparagus
Baked/Steamed, unseasoned Turkey/Chicken
Basil
Bean Sprouts
Bok Choy
Banana
Blackberries
Blueberries
Broccoli
Brussel Sprouts
Baby Food (no onion, garlic, or preservatives)
Buckwheat
Bran or Wheat Germ
Brown rice (cooked, plain)
Cabbage (in small amounts)
Cauliflower
Celery
Chard
Chestnuts
Chickweed
Carrots
Corn
Chicory
Clover
Cooked, unseasoned ground beef (lean)
Cottage Cheese
Cucumbers
Crickets (from pet store only)
Cereals (low sugar)
Cheese
Cantaloupe
Cherry
Dandelion flowers and leaves
Dog Biscuits (with no onion/garlic ingredients)
Endive
Eggs (boiled, scrambled, plain)
Flax seeds
Grasshoppers (from pet store only)
Green Beans
Green Pepper
Honey Dew Melon
Kale
Lentils
Lychee
Mango
Mealworms (from pet store only)
Nuts
Orange Pepper
Oatmeal (cooked or dry; in soy milk or water; not instant)
Parsnips
Potatoes (cooked)
Pasta (cooked, plain)
Papaya
Peas
Peaches (no pit)
Pear
Plums (no pit)
Peanuts (plain)
Popcorn (plain)
Pumpkin seeds
Radicchio
Red Pepper
Romaine Lettuce
Raspberries
Sesame seeds
Soybeans (roasted, salt-free)
Squash Seeds
Sunflower Seeds
Spinach
Squash
Sweet Potatoes
Swiss chard
Sweet Almonds (not bitter)
Star Fruit
Strawberries
Tofu (plain)
Toast (whole wheat)
Turnip
Water Chestnuts
Water Cress
Yellow Pepper
Yogurt (plain)
Zucchini
Buttercups (flower)
Chocolate (toxic)
Onion (possibly toxic in some animals)
Garlic (possibly toxic in some animals)
Peanut Butter (can get stuck in pouches)
Sandwich meats (contain too much salt, high nitrates)
Apple Seeds
Canned /Processed foods
Candy/ Junk Foods
Pork
Potatoes (raw)
Kidney Beans
Eggplant
Fool’s Parsley
Grape Seeds
Avocado
Raw Rhubarb
Tomato leaves
Citrus fruits (including orange, tangerine, lemon, lime, grapefruit, etc)
Watermelon (high in water content, not dangerous technically)
Fruit pits/ most fruit seeds 
Iceberg Lettuce
Jams/jellies
Salt
Spices/Seasonings
Leeks
Scallions
Chives
Pickles
Bitter Almonds (contain cyanide in the peel)
Campbell Early grapes & Kyoho grapes (due to high concentration of acidity)
Greens from a mustard plant
Mustard seeds

18 comments:

  1. Oh my...! I've been generally familiar to such a list but never have heard about watermelon (actually, once I gave some to my Lilly and she loved the seeds)... Could you please explain why is it unhealthy for hammies? I'd also like to know about the fruit seeds in general - why they are forbidden?

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  2. Watermelon isn't unhealthy, however it has a high water content and too much is unhealthy. There are healthier foods that can be given is all that is meant by that. I will include a note about this.
    As for the fruit seeds I think it is more of a cautionary warning. Since most fruit seeds aren't healthy, such as apple seeds for example.

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  3. Thank you, Holly. Now I understand this thing with watermelon. I've also read about those fruit seeds; it seems like it has something to do with the prussic acid they decompose to in our stomachs. That's why they're unhealthy.

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  4. Hello :) This blog is cute! I love hamsters.

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  5. I have two Syrian hamsters, they are sisters that will be 2 months in two days. I wanted to know, how do I know when they go into heat, and what do I do? Will they start going into heat at the same time?

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  6. They may go into heat around the same time, each hamster is different. When they are in heat they may emit a musky odour and they will stiffen up when you pet their backs. As for what to do, absolutely nothing. They can handle it on their own.
    Just in case (since your post isn't clear) make sure that they aren't living together. ;)

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  7. I just got a syrian hamster over the weekend. This site helped with alot of the things i've been wondering about, but how often should i give him wet food? another site said only 2 days a week. But some1 else tld me more often than tht. Which would work best?

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  8. Two to three times a week is alright, but I worked my hamsters into fresh food every day. Every week I added another day that they would get fresh food until it built up to fresh food every day. If your hamster's stools are really dry than they need more fresh foods in their diet, if they're too soft then they need less or you need to take it slower. It's kind of a gross way to tell, but it's the easiest way. :) I hope that helps!

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  9. how much should i feed my hamster a day? he gained weight wen i first got him so i think i might b feedin him too much

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  10. A tablespoon every other day of seed mix should be fine, some people give their hamsters more but most hamsters will not overeat. They may pick out their favourite pieces though which tend to be fattening. Cut back on store bought treats as well and keep up the fresh foods. You might want to look into the type of food you are feeding too, not all are made equally. Try looking it on the Master Food List article.

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  11. Hello holly, may i know if fresh food is given together with their staple feed of 1 tablespoon a day? how much fresh food to give?

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  12. Great list of unsafe foods. Very useful to hamster owners!

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  13. so,i want to get a syrian hamster,but i want to use fleece,will tis work better for the hamster

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  14. In regard to fleece: I would not recommend this. Hamsters rather enjoy burrowing and some studies have indicated that 12" of bedding should be considered minimum! While not every cage can accommodate this, it does help to keep in mind that an effort to encourage natural burrowing behaviours should be aimed for. Fleece, I'm afraid, does not allow this. Not to mention it needs to be changed frequently in order to maintain a cleanly environment, something most hamsters would find rather stressful, especially Syrians.

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  15. Hi, our new Syrian (Bumble) was very tame at the time of purchase and when we brought him home for the first few days was very playful and did not bite at all. Lately he has started biting and has bitten my girlfriend the last twice when trying to handle him, any advice apreciated :)

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  16. wow I can't wait to get my hamster
    this makes them sound so cute and fun :D

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  17. Thank you for posting this... I was a little worried about how my new hamster was going to adjust to his home and me, but I am no longer.

    I will defiantly be using these tips.
    Thank you.

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  18. railynnsdaddy@gmail.comFebruary 21, 2016 at 12:13 AM

    This site is great I just got my hamster today and love her already. She is very active and loves to run on her wheel. Now I just have to come up with a good name for her.

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