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CHOOSING YOUR HAMSTER

You have decided to adopt a hamster. You have even chosen the particular type. Now it's time to check out your available sources.

There are many small animal rescue and adoption agencies that adopt out hamsters to suitable homes. You can find these adoption agencies online or visit Petfinder.com to locate adoptable hamsters near you.

Reputable pet stores and even pet sections of some department stores usually have hamsters for sale. If there are none in stock, you can order one. The wait is relatively short.

There also may be someone in your neighborhood who has a litter to sell. You may have to seek out a breeder if you are looking for a certain breed or color, but a good, professional pet dealer will welcome your questions and be happy to offer advice. If you are uneasy, you may want to take someone with you who is more knowledgeable about hamsters.

Do not use a service that sells its hamsters through the mail. The transport alone is torture on the animal. With mail order animals you are never sure you will receive a healthy hamster.

Selecting your particular animal can be difficult since they are all so irresistible. You want to look for one who matches your personality and circumstances. Be sure to watch for possible signs of illness. Also, purchase your hamster in the very late afternoon. This time of day will ensure they are awake, so you will be able to observe their qualities.

The decision to adopt a hamster should be made with a mix of impulse and logic. It should not be a spur of the moment decision. You should consider the following factors before you adopt. Answering these questions in advance will help you maintain a sense of logic in your decision-making when at the shelter/animal center, breeder's home or pet shop.

Are you prepared to accept, for the most part, that hamsters are nocturnal animals? Your hamster needs a suitable place where he can sleep during the day but be noisy at night. Any disturbances during the day mean stress for your hamster and could lead to stress related illnesses or poor health.

Do you have enough room for a cage? Your hamster should have as large a cage as possible. Choosing a location can be difficult. If you keep your hamster in your bedroom, he will probably disrupt your sleep. If your hamster's cage is in the kitchen or a drafty or smoke-filled room, it will have a negative affect on his health.

Are any family members allergic to animal hair or dust? You don't want to be responsible for them having an allergic reaction to your hamster.

Who will take care of your hamster while you are away? It is relatively easy to take your hamster with you if you are traveling by car, but subjecting your pet to heat, cold, noise and drafts may prove harmful. You should have someone reliable you can call to take care of your hamster in your absence.

Do you have the necessary time it takes to care for your hamster? Hamsters enjoy a clean cage and fresh water every day. Properly caring for a hamster takes a bit of work and time, which you may be short on.

Do you have proper exercise equipment? Hamsters like to move around and should exercise every day. Hamsters should have an exercise wheel in their cage or be put in an exercise ball to allow them exercise time outside of the cage without worrying about a possible escape.

If you have other pets, how will they react to a hamster? If you already have pets, you should ask yourself if a hamster would be safe in your home.

Can you afford the cost of owning a hamster? Food, supplies, equipment, veterinary bills and toys can add up. Make sure you are in a financial position to bring a new member into your family.

Have you done your homework on the needs and requirements of hamsters? Learn all you can about these animals before you bring one into your home. Find out how to properly care for your hamster and be aware of habitat requirements.

Reality Check

Just as there are situations where a hamster is an ideal pet, there are others when one is most inappropriate. If you find yourself fitting into a category below, you should reconsider your choice of pets.

Immature caregivers should not have hamsters. Parents shouldn't count on their child to be the pet's primary caregiver. They shouldn't buy a hamster for a child who tends to make promises readily but doesn't see them through. While a child may have the best intention to care for his hamster, he may lose interest or become too busy. Meanwhile, the hamster goes without proper care and attention.
Hamsters should never be surprise gifts. No matter what the occasion, presenting a hamster as a gift is presumptuous and dangerous. All potential owners should have the opportunity to review their situation to determine if owning a hamster is a good idea for them at that time. While the gift of a hamster may be well received in some instances, more often than not it's an unwanted surprise.

Final Decisions

After selecting the type of hamster for you, there are still other factors you need to consider.

One or Two? Hamsters are solitary animals. They don't live in social groups. Males and females come together to mate, only to separate quickly afterwards, and the female spends only a few weeks with her young.

A single hamster doesn't need another hamster for company. This is especially true of hamsters kept in small cages. Encounters between hamsters that don't know each other can result in violent fights. Remember, the larger the cage, the more varied and interesting its interior becomes, the more places to hide and the fewer chances for fights.

If you really want to keep two or more hamsters in a single cage, you should adopt littermates or young animals that will become used to each other. Male hamsters seem to get along best. If you are interested in breeding your hamsters, be sure they are unrelated.

Male or Female? Both sexes are equally good natured and agreeable. While each hamster is different, some say males hand-tame quicker while others claim females are more aggressive.

Starting out with a young hamster is important. Most small mammals have short life spans and it is impossible to determine the exact age of an adult. You also will be able to successfully tame a younger hamster, between 4 and seven weeks old, with regular handling. An adult with no close human contact won't be as friendly.

Basic Rules

Purchasing any pet is often an emotional decision. When selecting your hamster, remember to choose from your head, not just your heart. Both you and your hamster will be happier for it.

Don't wait until you bring your hamster home before setting up his "space." Have everything ready so you can attend to your hamster when you come home. He will need a quiet room to settle into before he has company.

If a child is making the selection, remember their choice is usually based on sight and emotion. They also can be easily overwhelmed by too many choices. If it is vital for your child to pick the pet, pre-select several options, put them in a separate room and have your child choose.

Choose a time to view your potential pet. Call ahead to the pet store, breeder or shelter and find out what their feeding and adoption times are. Ask what the best viewing time would be. Some will allow you to come at feeding time and help feed them.

Now that you have purchased your hamster, you have to transport him safely home. Carrying containers made of transparent plastic with a barrel lid and two handles are good for transporting your hamster. If you buy a slightly larger box, you will have a spare cage, which can also be used as temporary housing. You should also use litter, tissue or hay to keep your hamster from sliding and injuring himself. Keep the container upright and out of the sun. This will make your hamster feel more secure.

During a short trip, it is not necessary to add food. With the stress of moving, they won't eat anyway. Be aware that the cardboard or paper cartons supplied by pet stores will rarely stand up to the gnawing teeth of a hamster. This means your pet could easily escape on the journey home.

Allow for an adjustment period. Leave yourself adequate time for introductions if you have other pets. Your new addition will need to be left alone for a while so he can acclimate himself to his new surroundings in peace.

Making the Choice

With careful observation, you should be able to tell if your hamster is healthy. Before you make your final selection, thoroughly examine your hamster for a smooth, shiny coat, no hair loss, a symmetrical body with no lumps, a clean anus, clear eyes without any discharge, a dry nose, a steady gate, teeth that are not overgrown and a lively disposition.

A sick hamster may have fur that appears rumpled and dull, caved-in sides, an anus with smeared feces, red eyes, a runny nose, shaky legs, trembling, sneezing and/or breathing with a rattle. If a hamster has diarrhea - sticky fur around his anus is a telltale sign - don't buy any hamster from that cage. Diarrhea can signal a contagious viral or bacterial disease.

You should arrange to visit your veterinarian on the way home from picking up your new hamster. The veterinarian will check him to be sure he is healthy and answer any questions you may have.

It is important to know how to properly handle your hamster. A tamed hamster who doesn't mind being handled can be picked up around its middle with one hand and placed in the palm of the other hand. Your two hands should form a cave where your hamster will feel secure. This also prevents a not-quite-tame hamster or one that is restless, from running away. Picking up your hamster in a loose grip by the scruff of the neck is only recommended for experienced owners, since it is easy to injure the hamster or to be bitten.

You must ultimately be sure you are adopting your hamster for the right reasons. When choosing your hamster, use a little bit of common sense mixed with your instincts. This will guarantee the best chance of you and your hamster living happily ever after.