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You've steeped yourself in hamster behavior and are thoroughly familiar with what hamsters do and why. You have a clean cage in a stimulating environment all prepared. You've taken your time with an adoption agency or pet store and are ready to choose the perfect pet. Now's the time to review what it takes to make that irresistible furball happily yours.

Hamster Needs

Your hamster will need a clean, roomy cage with food, bedding and water placed out of direct sunlight, a room for the cage that is free of other animals, a room that is quiet during the day and a fairly consistent temperature.

Remember, your domestically bred hamster will function instinctively. Its constant need to chew, burrow, nest and explore, as well as its need for cleanliness, quiet and exercise, are integral to your little critter's survival. If you have a Golden (Syrian) hamster, it must live alone. As your pet, your hamster is dependent upon you to provide the proper environment and protection.

Your Hamster Is Here

Ideally, you'll choose a hamster who's fully weaned and ready for independence. When you bring your new hamster home, gently place it from the pet store container into its furnished cage, and then, leave your new pet alone for a day or two while it acclimates to its new surroundings. Putting a bit of the bedding material from the pet store container into the cage will help your pet to acclimate.

Home Sweet Home

During its time alone, your hamster will build a nest, pick a corner for elimination, gather food in its cheek pouches and begin to hoard it. Your little pet will use its olfactory glands to mark territory, all the while sniffing and smelling every item in the cage for identification. Your hamster is making its space a home. If it seems agitated or stressed, drape the cage with a light cover for privacy, leaving plenty of room for air circulation. Your hamster is nocturnal and should be perfectly happy in the dark.

After a day or two, it's time to introduce yourself. Wait until dusk. All hamster interactions should take place on the hamster's schedule. The early evening is when your pet is fully awake and ready to play. Always handle your hamster with freshly washed hands. You don't want your finger mistaken for a carrot or stalk of celery!

To handle your hamster properly, slowly put your hand in the cage and let your hamster get to know your scent. Offer a tidbit of food and let it nibble. Stroke your pet's fur with the finger of your other hand, but avoid petting your hamster's head. In five days to a week, once your hamster has accepted your arrival, your scent and your treats, your pet should be feeling comfortable in its new home. Now it's time to pick up your friend. Your pet needs to sense that you're not tense or frightened. If you're stressed, your pal will get stressed, too. Still, proceed with caution. A startled, anxious or scared hamster will flee, nip or panic, which can lead to injuries for both of you.

There are four recommended ways to lift your hamster, but most importantly, never lift your hamster by the scruff of the neck. Slide one hand under the body and place the other hand, over the back. Cup your hands and scoop. Then, encircle your hamster with one hand.

Practice these maneuvers just above the ground or over a tabletop. Most premature hamster deaths, as well as fractures and internal injuries come from falls.

Let The Fun Begin

Now that you're comfortable with each other, let your pet really get to know you. Hamsters have tiny handlike front and back paws and are experts at traveling over surfaces they can grip as opposed to smooth surfaces such as tables. As you will discover, hamsters are playful and affectionate and tolerate handling well. Always study your pet's behavior to make sure you don't overstimulate or stress your pet with too much holding.

If your hamster shows signs of lethargy, defensive positions like crouching or backing away or starts nipping, your pet has had enough handling.

A Brave New World

In addition to interactive play, your hamster loves to explore its environment, so keep things stimulating. A hamster wheel is fine in a cage, but your pal needs the distraction of other obstacles to satisfy its need to burrow, nest, hoard and chew. So, plan to add a variety of hamster diversions, including fresh twigs for new scents like willow and fruit trees, undyed cardboard toilet paper or paper towel tubes for burrowing, bits of grass or leaves for hoarding and scent, and glass jars for nesting.

Avoid cedar, paper or cardboard with dyes or any plastic that can be chewed into shreds and swallowed. Fragments can injure your pet's cheek pouches or delicate digestive tract.

Turn Me Loose!

Your hamster needs the stimulation of an open environment and thrives on investigating your house. Simply proceed with caution. Under your supervision, let your critter roam through a secure room with the door shut and other animals excluded. Keep the noise to a minimum. And, use bits of food as enticement to direct your hamster into acceptable corners and routes.

Despite precautions, hamsters do get lost. Don't despair. Remember your pet is nocturnal and loves to eat. To find your hamster, don't call or shout. The noise level will only drive it away. Place its open cage in full view, then sprinkle sunflower seeds at the opening and wait. Line a bucket or pail with bedding from the cage, and then secure an incline such as a ladder, stick or board along the side. Sprinkle seeds on the incline and in the bucket to entice your friend in. Chances are good that when you return in the morning, your hamster will be snoozing in its familiar-smelling bedding at the bottom of the bucket. And remember, you don't even have to leave lights on because your nocturnal little buddy can see just fine in the dark.

Hamsters are lively, affectionate, instinctive creatures and with a minimum effort on your part, they can easily become a full member of your family.