Many different species of hamsters exists throughout the world inhabiting semi-desert areas. Only 5 are kept in captivity: Syrian, Dwarf Campbells Russian, Dwarf Winter White Russian, Chinese, and Roborovski. Hamsters burrow many tunnels and keep separate chambers to store food or to sleep. These nocturnal rodents have poor eyesight, but their senses of smell and hearing are keen. Their long sharp incisor teeth necessitate gnawing to prevent overgrowth. They are an excellent choice for the first-time pet owner.
Hamsters are rodents belonging to the subfamily Cricetinae. The subfamily contains about 24 species, classified in six or seven genera. Because they are easily bred in captivity, hamsters are often used as lab animals and kept as pets in more economically developed countries. Recently hamsters have become established as popular small family pets.
Hamsters are crepuscular. In the wild, they burrow underground in the daylight to avoid being caught by predators. Their diet contains a variety of foods, including dried food, berries, nuts, fresh fruits, and vegetables. In the wild they will eat any wheat, nuts and small bits of fruit and vegetables that they might find lying around on the ground, and will occasionally eat small insects such as small crickets or mealworms. They have elongated fur-lined pouches on both sides of their heads which extend to their shoulders, which they stuff full of food to be brought back to the colony or to be eaten later.
Their diet contains a variety of foods both in the wild and when kept as pets including dried food, berries and nuts, hard boiled or scrambled eggs, chicken or turkey. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also an integral part of their diet. Behavior can vary depending on their environment, genetics, and interaction with people.
Hamsters are stout-bodied, with tails much shorter than body length, and have small furry ears, short stocky legs, and wide feet. Their thick, silky fur, which can be long or short, can be black, gray, white, brown, buff, yellow, "sapphire", "champagne" or red depending on the species, or a mix of any of those colors. Under parts vary in color from white to shades of gray or black. The Djhungarian hamster and the striped dwarf hamster have a dark stripe down the middle of their backs. Dwarf desert hamsters are the smallest, with bodies 5-10 cm (about 2-4 inches) long; the largest is the Common hamster, measuring 34 cm long, not including a short tail of 6 cm. The tail is often difficult to see; usually it is not very long, and on a longhaired hamster it is barely visible.
Hamsters are omnivorous. Their diet consists of mostly grains (such as whole grain oats and corn) but also includes fresh fruit, roots such as carrots, green parts of plants, invertebrates, and other small animals. Hamsters can carry food in their spacious check pouches to cache in their burrow. Hamsters in the Middle East have been known to hunt in packs to find insects for food. Pet stores sell a variety of treats that are suitable for hamsters.
Not all foods are suitable for hamsters and some, such as sweets made for humans or poisonous leaves of tomatoes or rhubarb plants are dangerous for hamsters. Campbell's dwarf hamsters are susceptible to hereditary diabetes, and any hamster suffering from diabetes should not be given high sugar food such as fruit or corn. In detail, the solid food components can be divided into three categories; dry, fresh, and animal foods. Dry food makes up the bulk of the hamster's diet. Most seeds, kernels, and buts can be given.
The best-known species of hamster is the Syrian or Golden Hamster (Mesocricetus auratus), which is the type of hamster most commonly kept as a pet. It is also sometimes called a "fancy" hamster. Pet stores also have taken to calling them "honey bears," "panda bears," "black bears," "European black bears," "polar bears," "teddy bears," and "Dalmatian", depending on their coloration. There are also several variations, including long-haired varieties that grow hair several centimeters long and often require special care. British zoologist Leonard Goodwin claimed that most hamsters kept in the United Kingdom were descended from the colony he introduced for medical research purposes during the Second World War. Other hamsters that are kept as pets are the four species of "dwarf hamster". Campbell's Dwarf Hamster (Phodopus campbelli) is the most common of the four — they are also sometimes called "Russian Dwarfs"; however, many hamsters are from Russia, and so this ambiguous name does not distinguish them from other species appropriately. The coat of the Winter White Russian Dwarf Hamster (Phodopus sungorus) turns almost white during winter (when the hours of daylight decrease). The Roborovski Hamster (Phodopus roborovskii) is extremely small and fast, making it difficult to keep as a pet. The Chinese Hamster (Cricetulus griseus), although not technically a true "dwarf hamster,” is the only hamster with a prehensile tail (about 4 cm long) - most hamsters have very short, non-prehensile tails.
Hamsters can be kept in cages and in vivaria. Cages are easier to carry; their bars can be used for climbing. On the other hand, glass boxes keep hamsters throwing litter our of their cages, provide a better view into the hamster’s home, and create a quieter and more sheltered interior. Despite the hamster’s small size, appropriate housing should always have a floor space of at least two square feet and a strong top because hamsters are surprisingly good climbers. Glass boxes must not be higher than their width to allow for sufficient air circulation. Although smaller in size, dwarf hamsters often need more spacious housing than their larger relatives, at least 80 cm by 40 cm (2 feet by 4 feet) due to their high activity levels. In the case of self-built dwellings, care should be given to avoid dangerous building materials. Plywood and wood from conifer trees are not suitable because hamsters gnaw at their houses and the glues and resins are poisonous to hamsters. Using standard water-soluble white glue to join pieces of solid wood, such as birch or beech wood, creates a safe environment for the hamster, although it still may chew through the wood. A purchased cage can be equipped with several intermediate levels, connected using stairs. Hamsters do best in a well-lit room of constant, moderate temperature (18-26 degrees C, 64-80 degrees F), in a place out of strong sunlight that could cause dangerous overheating. The floor of the hamster’s residence is generally covered with a layer of litter. Litter made from recycled paper or wood lacking aromatic oils (such as aspen) is healthiest - gnawing or eating cat litter can be deadly, and cedar, pine, or other softwood-based litter may contain phenols that can harm the hamster’s respiratory system, liver, and skin.
Hamsters are nest builders, so most owners supply strips of tissue or toilet paper so they may build a secure spot in the corner of their “house.” Avoid using newspaper as the ink might be ingested when chewed. Also avoid bleached white toilet paper. Sawdust or shavings made of pine or cedar wood are not suitable for hamster’s nests. Hamsters enjoy rolling in fine chinchillas sand (not dust) to clean their fur.