We know that the Syrian hamster, also known as the Golden hamster, was the first discovered among the 5 domesticated breeds and out of the 24 subspecies of its kind. But did you know that Syrian hamsters can hold their alcohol?
This is because Syrian hamsters, also known as Teddy Bear, Standard, and Fancy hamsters, originally live in the dry, arid places, particularly at the fringes of the desert between Northern Syria and Southern Turkey.
By nature, they are hoarders and among their stock are fruits which tend to get fermented because of the weather and because they do not consume their stock right away. They have large livers which help them consume their fermented stock.
The Syrian hamsters were first mentioned by explorers in 1839, but these little furballs were not successfully acquired until a century later – in 1930, in Aleppo, near the Syrian Desert. From there, the puppies (as baby hamsters are called) were taken to the University of Jerusalem.
Of a dozen caught, however, only three of survived; but these were able to breed. Their descendants were taken to France, then to England in 1938, and then to the United States. It is said that all golden hamsters are descendants of the puppies of 1939 except for those brought by travelers and military men who have been in the Syrian desert region.
Today, the Golden hamsters are endangered species in the wild. Their numbers have been greatly reduced because humans have converted their natural habitat into farms and other human settlements. Fortunately, these hardy little balls of fur have been successfully bred, raised, and domesticated through the years.
Appearance and Lifespan Of Syrian Hamsters
As one of their names suggests, Syrian hamsters are usually gold, with patterns of brown and black. Breeding, however, has produced in recent years other colors such as all-black, blonde, cinnamon, cream, dilute, dominant spots, and three types of gray.
Syrian hamsters tend to span 5-7 inches and weigh around 120-125 grams when they reach adulthood. They have pockets that extend up to the shoulders which they fill with food that weighs up to half their weight.
In the wild, they can live for 2-3 years. But in the safer confines of a home, they can live up to 3-4 years.
Golden hamsters are crepuscular-nocturnal creatures so their active periods are during dusk onwards. They are docile and can be good pets for children, although the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends that only children 6 years old and above and with adult supervision are allowed to keep Syrian hammies as pets.
They are also trainable. What is important is good trust enforcement. If properly trained, you may be able to make your hammy respond and approach you just by just calling its name.
Syrian hamsters, however, are highly territorial. Fights break out if there is more than one in a cage. They are also particular with their nap time. Golden hammies have a tendency to bite if someone wakes them up and handles them when they are asleep.
These Teddy Bears are also inquisitive. So if your pet hamster is cranky enough to bite you but you need to handle or get it transferred, you may introduce it to a jar. Hamsters, no matter how grumpy they are, will still jump into a jar and stay in there if shown to them.
Before Having a Syrian Hamster for a Pet
It is important to check firsthand if your state or local area supports getting hamster pets. Hawaii, for example, bans hamsters of any breed. This is because Hawaii has a temperature and climate similar to its natural habitat and any escaped pet of its kind has a high chance to breed, multiply, and cause damage to crops.
Hamsters, after all, are seed hoarders and crop foragers and like to dig holes underground for their hoard. Additionally, since they are rodents, they may easily contract rabies and other dangerous diseases if they live in the wild.
Outside the United States, highly agricultural countries like New Zealand and Australia also ban having hamsters as pets because they have already enough local fauna that trouble their farmers and their crops. Introduction of foreign species of animals – especially if a couple gets to escape the wild and breed – may threaten the current existing ecosystem.
Getting a Syrian Hamster
A Syrian hamster’s price in the market ranges between $5 and $20, depending on its identifying characteristics as well as the breeder.
You may also adopt a hamster from a shelter, but the price does not vary much from bought ones. In exchange, however, you are assured that the hammy you get has been well taken care of, plus you can ask the shelter advice on taking care of the hamster. You can also easily acquire hints on any quirks your new hammy has.
You may need, however, to look out for some commercial breeders and pet shops that disregard breeding for health, temperament, and their breeding hammy’s lives. Check how they handle their hamsters with the following criteria:
- Do they mix their hamsters in one cage?
This includes whether they mix in one container different breeds, various ages, different sexes or even similar sexes. Syrian hamsters cannot be put together unless they are still unweaned puppies since this breed is highly solitary.
Additionally, mixing sexes will result in high possibilities of getting pregnant hamsters with random genetic makeup.
Young hamsters must not be kept together with older ones. This will lead not only to bullying and fighting but also to the development of nasty temperaments among the younger generation.
- Will they allow you to handle the hamster you are interested in?
Hamsters with temper issues can be difficult to handle. If the shopkeeper or assistant hesitates to let you handle a certain hammy, it may be that the Teddy bear you wanted may be more of a grumpy tiny bear than a hammy.
- Is it playing and eating? Is its fur complete, fluffy, and well-conditioned? Are its teeth straight and not overgrown? Are its toes and nails complete and not overgrown?
Check if the hamster looks jolly and well enough. Straight teeth, an even and complete fur, and complete toenails are signs of good health that are easy to spot. There are other wellness indicators you can check out but for the meantime, fur, teeth, nails and toes, and activity are the quickest way to check.
The tendency with unscrupulous breeders and shops is they disregard their breeding doe’s (the female hamster) time to “breathe” between pregnancies which will affect not only its health but also the number of nutrients they can pass on to their puppies. Not only will this lessen their puppies’ health quality, it will also lead to nasty genes being passed on.
Congratulations! Now that you have finally gotten yourself a Golden hamster, have your little Teddy settle first for 24 hours before our first home handling.
Please take note that the first time you or anyone handle your hamster it has to be done close to the floor and with gentle hands. If your little furball gets used to frequent and gentle handling, it will learn to respond to you peacefully.
A typical way of grasping a Teddy bear hammy comfortably (for both you and the hamster) is to hold around its belly with your thumb and third finger. You can also let the hammy stand freely in your two hands cupped together. You can also allow it to walk on your palms to allow it to slowly bond and feel comfortable with you.
Syrian hamsters, though docile, can be cranky at times, particularly if forcibly roused from sleep. They tend to bite those who bring them trouble. Although their biting is at the front, hamsters have poor eyesight so they can only see up to six inches. Additionally, and for some reason, they are also less likely to bite bare hands than those who hold them gloved.
You may wish to have your hamsters vaccinated especially for anti-rabies but there is actually no proper vaccine for hamsters which is why vets do not administer them. Using non-hamster vaccines may be harmful to these rodents because of the anatomic and antibody differences.
On the other hand, hamsters are hardy indoor pets, so there really is no harm in not having them vaccinated.
This does not mean, however, that you just leave your hammy be – Syrian hamsters still need clean food, water, and environment regularly. Do not put their cages in places of direct sunlight, unstable temperature, plenty of air current, or close to wet areas.
Direct sunlight can be unhealthy for their skin and may dehydrate them, while unstable temperature and high humidity can be good breeding grounds for microbes that can make your hammy sick.
Syrian hamsters thrive in ideal temperatures between 90 °F (32 °C) and 68 °F (20 °C). Any lower – like 40 °F (5 °C) – and the hamster will hibernate. Hamsters have a torpor state that can last up to ten days. If your hammy appears lethargic or weak, consult your vet as soon as possible.
A hamster’s front teeth have to be well-maintained using gnaws and chew toys. These incisors continuously grow among adults. Lack of maintenance will make it difficult for them to eat. Have a veterinary surgeon trim those teeth overgrowths if and when necessary.
Your Golden hamster’s non-physical needs can be taken care of by giving it adequate toys – just a couple inside the cage at a time. Toys are not only sources of good exercise to keep the furball from getting obese, but they are also good for stimulating and maintaining your Teddy bear’s natural instincts, as well as to keep them out of boredom.
Additionally, give your Syrian hamsters enough sleep time and do not place them near areas with high-frequency sounds and loud noise such as television sets as these can irritate and stress out your hamster.
Healthy Syrian hamsters have the following characteristics; the first half of which has already been mentioned when you first checked out your hammy:
- Free movement, no staggering or stiffness; not ill or lethargic
- Complete, clean, and not overgrown nails and toes
- Straight and not overgrown teeth
- Clean under the tail; no sticky poopy mass
- No parasites or bald fur patches
- Not flaky, red, or dry skin
- No lacerations or wounds
- Clean nose with no discharge
- Bright and clear eyes
- Smooth and clean ears
- Body neither bloated or bony
- Almost silent with no wheezing breath on the chest
Should you find any changes in your hamster contrary to the ones mentioned in the list, consult your vet right away. If your Golden hamster has other hamster companions in the house (in separate cages, of course), make sure that your sick hamster is quarantined in a separate room.
Do not let any other pet approach the sick hamster as well to avoid the spread of any disease.
Food, Water, and Diet
Syrian hamsters are omnivorous. In the wild, their staple is composed of mixed seeds, grains, fruits, leafy greens and other edible plant materials they forage through the evening. Occasionally they hunt insects for the protein. And when the weather goes really bad that they barely have water and nutrients to partake they practice coprophagy or eating their own poop.
- Diet Proportion
As domestic pets, Syrian hamsters are to eat a proper diet proportion of about 20% protein, 4.5% fat, about 7% fiber and the rest – carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals from fruits, crops, and vegetables. A basic menu consists of hamster mixes like Kaytee Forti-Diet Pro Health Hamster & Gerbil Food and Kaytee Fiesta Gourmet Variety Diet Hamster & Gerbil Food; 7-10 months old puppies may already be given food pellets.
Teddy bear hammies may also eat meat in the form of mealworms, crickets, small slices or servings of egg (either hard boiled or scrambled), as well as very occasional treats of pasteurized yogurt (at least once a week) or cottage cheese (in shreds only and only once every other week at most).
How much is a Golden hamster’s usual meal amount if converted to spoonfuls? A mixed diet of vegetables and meat products has to be at most a teaspoon a day in order to keep them from becoming unhealthy fat.
Dairy products have to be tested in small bits for lactose intolerance before feeding them in hamster-regular sizes. In addition, all food served must contain no chive, onion or garlic, as these contain toxins that could cause your hammy anemia. Excessive amounts of peanut are also poisonous for your hamster, while feeding them iceberg lettuce may damage their liver.
If you opt to give other types of food, make sure that the treat you give is neither sticky nor sharp. A hamster’s salivary glands can be switched on and off so its cheek pockets are not always wet to keep the food undigested longer. Giving them sticky and sharp food could injure their cheeks.
- Vitamin E
Vitamin E is especially important since the two common illnesses among hamsters – mastitis and anemia, are caused by this deficiency. This nutrient is especially important for pregnant hammies to prevent them from giving birth to stillborn pups. Deficiency in this vitamin may end up with the mother doe reabsorbing her babies instead of giving birth to them normally.
Vitamin E may be found in spinach, broccoli, sweet almond, and sunflower seeds. Avocado is also included in the list, but it is not advisable because its calorie is too high and its stickiness may damage your hammy’s cheek pockets.
- Serving the Food
Food may be served in a ceramic or stainless steel dish for hygienic purposes but the bowl has to be cleaned every day of poop, wayward beddings, uneaten food scraps, and other debris. You may also hand-feed your hammy but this requires training since your hamster may accidentally bite.
To practice its instinctive foraging skills, you can also serve food using a spoon where it can paw and pick the food from.
Golden hamsters need about 10mL of distilled water for every 100g of their body weight; but nursing does will need more. In addition, the water has to be placed in a bottle properly propped in the cage so that your hammy need not stretch to drink from the spout.
Pregnancy, Birthing, and Nursing
A young Syrian doe is already mature and ready to mate at 8-12 weeks. Its estrus is every 4 days, unless pregnant. Pregnancy is short – on the 10th day after mating, does already show signs such as protruding teats and slightly swollen builds.
Female Golden hammies can give birth on the 16th day, although on rare occasions they can give birth on the 17th or 18th. After birthing, they can get pregnant on the same day. There are rare cases, however, when the Syrian does do not give birth even after the 18th, which could possibly be due to no labor, difficulty in birthing, or even phantom pregnancy.
A diet of high-protein foods such as boiled or scrambled egg, wheat germ, cheese, and tofu as well as foods rich in Vitamin E like broccoli is recommended for pregnant Syrian hamsters. This diet should be maintained even when they are already nursing their puppies. Avoid raw beans since these may be toxic.
Because Syrian hamsters are delicate during pregnancy, minimum handling should be done starting on their estrus. Exercise wheels should be taken off their cages before birthing until they have already weaned their puppies. The cages should also be cleaned and good bedding must be put in place a couple of days before the puppies are expected to be born.
Always check your Golden hammy doe – with minimum or no handling, of course – for any changes in normal health, illnesses or difficulty of birthing.
Hammies are usually okay if they do not give birth after 18 days of pregnancy because the unborn is reabsorbed by their body. But if you see any signs of birthing difficulties and drastic health changes during gestation, consult your vet immediately so that the vet may help induce birth if it is not difficult or impossible.
A good Syrian hamster cage is not only your pet’s den. It is also its personal territory. The cage size has to have at least 450 sq.in. (2903.22 sq.cm.) of free floor space, with a distribution of about 23.23in. 14.17in. x 9.85in. (59cm. x 36cm 25cm.), and must be made of plastic storage bin or medium glass tank.
If ever you opt for a portion of the cage to have bars, the gap between bars must not exceed 12mm or the hammy will get stuck, if not escape.
Your cage should have the following to keep your Teddy bear happily occupied and safely sheltered:
Substrate or bedding – your Syrian hamster’s bedding – on which it sometimes like to burrow on – is also its litter. So a quality substrate has to be absorbent, rodent-safe, super soft but not fluffy, not scented, and dust-free.
Shredded, unprinted paper may be good temporary bedding but it will not be able to properly absorb all the stinky urine and poop your hammy disposed of so go for wood shavings – but not the ones from your carpenter since they still have dust. Hamsters also gnaw and chew on their bedding so do not use wood shavings of pine, cedar, and other evergreens as they are toxic to your hammy.
Avoid fluffy fibers for substrate since they may strangle or injure your pet. Corn cob and cat litter are also discouraged since they may give your Teddy gastrointestinal problems. Newsprints and other printed papers are also a no-no since the ink could be toxic.
Aspen, however, is a good natural shaving if dust is removed, but if you wish softer substrates, you may use Carefresh, and Kaytee Clean and Cozy. To remove any mites, bugs, and other parasites, freeze the substrate for at least 48 hours in the freezer, then defrost before use.
Clean the cage at least weekly, including everything that your pet has touched. Change your hammy’s beddings regularly as well to remove all the stink. Sift through them every day to check and remove food hoards and scraps that would potentially rot in a short time.
Shelters or Houses – Syrian hamsters are burrowers and appreciate a sense of privacy when they sleep so they may either burrow themselves in their beddings or sleep in tiny houses in peace. Hamster-friendly materials like alfalfa, certain types of wood, and coconut shells are good shelters for the Teddy bear since they give privacy and safe to gnaw.
Ladders, climbing blocks, tunnels, hanging bridges, and walkways – these bits and pieces of “furniture” are essential for your Syrian hamster in their cage as these simulate obstacles in the wild. Wood ladders and climbing blocks have to be safe for hamster gnawing. You may use bird ladders and climbing blocks as substitute provided they are not the dreaded evergreens.
Hemp, cotton, and sisal are good and organic materials for rope for your hammy to swing and climb on, but make sure that they are thick enough. The shape and surface of the hangers must not be frayed, too sharp, or warped enough to entangle or even injure your Teddy bear in any way. Check these swings from time to time and replace worn out ropes.
Toys – items like hangers and other “furniture” toys, help the Syrian hamster simulate its life in the wild while still staying at the safety of indoors. A hamster’s cage must have at least 2 toys at a time to prevent overcrowding and overwhelm your pet. Here are some of the toys your pet may enjoy:
- Exercise wheel – this is a must for your Golden hamster since it lets your pet run as if it was foraging in the wild.
An ideal exercise wheel for a young Teddy bear is around 8 inches in diameter. As it grows older, you may have to change the size to 10 or 12 inches to adjust to the hamster’s size. The hammy must not curve its back when doing exercise as this will give it back pains and spine problems.
The wheel must be made of solid material. Wire or mesh wheels can get your hammy’s feet stuck and may cause it a condition called bumblefoot.
Recent exercise wheels are shaped like cars and allow your pet to run around the room and even follow specific tracks.
- Hamster Ball – hamster balls are a more mobile version of your exercise wheel, but the diameter size has to be considered, too. Hamster balls allow your pet to explore the entire room of the house, although still with supervision. The running and foraging are taken to a higher level as your hammy gets to quench its inquisitive nature more.
- Play Pen – Exercise playpens are mini fences where your pet can play and explore in under your watchful eye. It can also serve as an open training area. Its portability will allow you to play with your Syrian hammy outdoors, as well as in combination with toys like hamster balls to keep it from going too far.
- Gnaws and chews – Syrian hamsters love to gnaw since their teeth constantly grow. By doing so their teeth also get trimmed, otherwise, they will need the help of vet surgeons.
Wood gnaws, chew sticks, and gnawing balls are a good way to keep Golden hamsters safely chewing. Cedar, pine, yew, and oleander are definitely not good materials; but organic wood gnaws from pesticide-and-chemical-free fruit trees like pear and apple are delights.
Willow ball rings, balls, and tunnels intended for other small rodents are also good chews for Syrian hamsters. Those made from seagrass, loofah, rattan, and water hyacinth are also recommended.
Some Golden hamsters do not like to chew on wood and may even skip other plant material gnaws. This is fine as hammies also have their own quirkiness. Instead, you can provide them with hard hamster treats from stores and even non-flavored dog biscuits.
These are also chew-safe sturdy cardboard paper towel tubes and toilet paper roll tubes that you can let them play and gnaw on safely. Some chews are made of mineral blocks and pumice but these have no fiber or nutrients for your hamster, so they are not that necessary; unless your hamster finds these preferable over all the other types of gnaws you provided.
Monitor your Golden hamster’s gnawing activities and always check the material of the chew or gnaw you are planning to buy. Should there be any sudden stop of your hammy’s gnawing habit, consult your vet immediately.
- Plastic toys – tubes and tunnels are usually made out of plastic so you will have to take care that your Teddy bear does not chew any of these as these can make it sick. If you notice its preference for chewing plastics, remove the toy or cage part immediately and have it replaced with a safer alternative.
Bathing and Digging Sand – Syrian hamsters, or any hamsters for that matter – are not supposed to take water baths because not only they are prone to getting colds, they also tend to lose their protective natural oils.
Instead of water, hamsters take occasional sand baths – unless you need to spot-remove some toxic substance which you also have to do somewhere warm like near a heater. For sand baths, clean and sterilized sand or chinchilla dust baths are okay. The sand, which is placed in a deep dish or basin, will help the Teddy maintain its fur and it also allows the little furball to dig, burrow, and have fun.