A HAMSTER'S HOME IS HIS CASTLEAlthough they dont' need a castle, hamsters do need a clean, safe home. There are numerous types of cages in various sizes, styles and prices available. Sometimes the most expensive home is not the best. Before purchasing a home for that special hammie, check them all out and make a determination on what will best suit the type and size of hamster it will be home to. Don't neglect to consider the site in which the home will be located—will it easily adapt to the household's lifestyle? One would naturally want to put a castle on display; but select the site carefully. It should be located in an area where the room temperature will remain stable without drafts and away from direct sunlight.
AQUARIUMS:Whether it's glass or plastic, a 10 gallon aquarium (or terrarium) is suitable for one Syrian or a pair of dwarfs. Although the glass is heavy, they are easy to clean. There is a limited area for toy placement however. Another thing to consider is that a top is required, screen tops are available at many pet stores, but a wire top is much better due to the strength of a wire versus a thin screen (it won't take long for an ambitious hamster to chrew through a screen top). With a good cover, aquariums are nearly escape-proof.
BARRED CAGES:The old standby has been around for as long as hamsters have been kept as pets. The primary problem with most bared cages in the past was a lack of space. But now with two and three (and more) story cages available there is plenty of room for your hammy to roam. When purchasing a multi-story barred cage you should make sure there is not too much space between the stories in case of a fall. Most multi-storied cages have a plastic tray bottom that is detachable and is easily cleaned. These cages generally work well for Syrians, but not as well for Dwarfs because generally the bars can be too far apart (and thus easy to escape from, remember, if a hamster can get it's head through, the rest of the body is a cinch.) There are also cages made for mice that have the bars closer together, these are generally better suited to the dwarf hamster with his smaller size.
PLASTIC MODULARS:These allow the imagination to run wild. The tubes and compartments can be hooked together to increase the amount of space when needed. Modulars are ideal for dwarfs. The primary concerns with modulars are the lack of doors to get the hamster out for much needed personal contact and the lack of ventilation in the tubes themselves.
HOMEMADE CAGES:With imagination comes the blueprint. Hamster cages can be made with a combination of wood (but don't use softwoods) and hardware cloth (or wire)—the wood sections may (and likely will) need to be replaced periodically because hamsters like chewing on wood. Another effective and inexpensive cage is one made from plastic storage containers, with a wire top. Plastic boxes are also easy to clean.
CAGE SPECS:Regardless of the type of cage selected, make sure all the doors and openings are secure so that the adorable little escape artist can't open it or chew his way out! But, make sure that the doors and openings are large enough for a full grown hamster to get through (when he's supposed to). Also, be sure there aren't any spaces large enough for him to squeeze through and escape. Also, look for a cage that will be easy to dismantle and clean, nothing is more frustrating than cleaning a cage that doesn't come apart easily or has a lot of small spaces that are hard to clean. A cage should not be constructed of any absorbent materials such as soft woods, cardboard or fabric. If there is paint on the cage you should ensure that the paint is lead free. Ventilation is extremely important—there should be flow of fresh air, but not a cage that allows drafts. In aquariums you should be cautious of a build-up of condensation, which could enhance the growth of fungus which may result in a sick hamster. Finally, check closely for sharp edges, which could be chewed or could cause injury to your hamster.
CASTLE (AND CAGE) FURNISHINGS:His or her Highness, the royal hammie, doesn't require the most elaborate stuff in terms of furniture. They are perfectly content with a clean carpet of wood shavings (AVOID USING CEDAR SHAVINGS), exercise equipment, a clean bowl of food and a water bottle with fresh water. For a little added comfort, some nesting material for the bed will be appreciated. Some plain toilet tissue (clean and without scents and/or perfumes) or paper towels makes a bed fit for a king (or a dwarf). but AVOID FLUFFY BEDDING, it can choke a baby and can cause infection or create intestinal impaction in your hamster. Wheels are always a favorite for exercise, though it is recommended that solid wheels be provided. Injuries can be frequent in wheels with rungs—limbs, babies' heads, etc. can often be easily caught between the rungs and can cause injuries and sometimes death. Wheels should be large enough so that the hamster can run with ease without arching it's back. Other possible furnishings are ladders, teeter totters (seesaws), tunnels made out of toilet paper or paper towel tubes, hamster houses, nest boxes, blocks of wood (for climibing and chewing), ropes to swing on, etc. There are many different ideas for furnishings and toys to keep that playful hammie happy and entertained.
CLEANING THE CASTLE:Hamsters are basically clean animals and appreciate a clean house. Any odors that are coming from the cage area are generally from dirty bedding and not the hamster. Once a week the cage should be thoroughly cleaned. Dismantle the cage and remove the old bedding. If there are urine build-ups, they should be scraped off. All parts should be washed with an antibacterial soap, rinsed with warm water and thoroughly dried. If the hamster has been sick, do a second cleaning with diluted houshold bleach (5-10% bleach/water mix) and rinse until all bleach odors have dissipated. Don't forget the outside bottom of the cage either, especially if it's sitting on a solid shelf with no air circulation underneath, this is a prime breeding ground for unhealthy bateria. Another method for a quick sterilization is to wash the antibacterial soap and rinse thoroughly. Shake as much remaining water out as possible, pour in a small amount of Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol, cover the entire surface with it and dry with a clean towel. As with the bleach, make sure there aren't any remaining alcohol odors before reassembling the cage and putting the hamster back. It is also a good idea to clean the water bottle, food dish, wheel and toys a the same time you clean the cage. Add fresh bedding, the remainder of the furnishings, put the hamster back and watch a happy and contented hammie!
WET CAGES AND NEW PUPS DON'T MIX:Occasionally a water bottle leaks or some other disaster occurs which leaves a cage unhealthy for both mama hamster and her new pups. Although the rule of thumb is not to disturb the nest for at least the first ten days, there are exceptions. Since hamsters, by nature, are clean animals, they do appreciate a clean and dry home. When changing a cage with new pups, move slowly and talk to mom and pop hamster in a soft and reassuring voice. Dwarf Hamsters:
Dwarfs are generally quite tolerant. The most effective method of completing the task of providing a dry cage is as follows: Put a small amount of fresh bedding in a bucket or container for mom and dad. Gently remove them from the cage (they may be a little agitated because they will feel the need to protect their newborn pups). If necessary scoop them up with a coffee mug and place them in the bucket or container. Now take a soup bowl (or other clean scooping device) and with two hands (preferably gloved but at least thoroughly cleaned in order to avoid transmitting your human scent to the pups) gather up as much of the nest as possible along with the pups. Make sure that none of the bedding in the nest is wet. Place the nest and pups in the bowl and then clean the cage. Clean bedding, toilet paper for new nesting material, fresh water, food, and a treat for mom and pop (like a slice of apple) will prepare the cage for the family's return. First, put the pups and nest back in the cage (in the same location that mom had them in preferably). Second, place mom and pop near the food and treat which should keep them preoccupied while the pups are getting resettled. Mom may carry the pups around and generally will relocate the nest. Don't disturb them any more—give them time to determine that all is well on the home front and they can settle down in their now clean and dry home and focus once again on caring for the pups. Syrians:
Not quite as tolerant as Dwarfs, mama Syrian is more reluctant to leave her pups. With a wet, soiled cage, she has probably already found the driest place for the nest and pups. If she doesn't want to get off of the nest just leave her alone for the time being. Take all the equipment out of the cage and start scooping out the wet bedding. Start in a place farthest from the nest. Some moms may get curious and leave the nest to investigate. If this happens gently scoop her up and put her in a bucket. If she still refuses to leave the nest, work around her as much as possible. As long as the nest is dry, don't disturb it but remove all the soiled bedding around it. If the nest is wet, it will be necessary to remove both the mom and the pups. The same applies with the Dwarfs. Put mom in a bucket and the pups in a soup bowl. After the bedding is removed, dry the cage thoroughly with a clean towel and add fresh bedding, food, fresh water, toilet paper for additional nesting material and a treat for mom. If mom is waiting impatiently in a bucket, return her to the cage near the treat. If it has been necessary to remove both mom and the pups, put the pups back first in roughly the same location. Go away and don't disturb mom further, let her investigate and make sure everything has been done properly and that her pups are safe and sound.