(This is an archival version of the alt.pets.hamsters FAQ. For the latest update, please visit: http://basic1.easily.co.uk/03A050/04D037/hamsterfaq.html)
Archive-name: pets/hamsters-faq/part2
Last-Modified: June 19, 1996 
Version: 4-1 
Here's Part One of the alt.pets.hamsters FAQ, posted on an 
irregular basis along with Part One and Part Three. 
The latest version of the FAQ (non-HTML) is available at: 
FAQs can be mailed out on request.  Contact the maintainer. 
Suggestions/comments/additions/corrections should be posted to 
alt.pets.hamsters or e-mailed to ax611@freenet.carleton.ca 
Unless otherwise stated, everything in this FAQ has been taken 
from messages in the alt.pets.hamsters newsgroup, or from my own
mailbox.  Whenever possible, information from publications has 
been acknowledged, with original authors credited.  Standard 
disclaimers apply. 
See PART ONE for the Table of Contents.

#b01: Do you know anything about the history of hamsters? 

     The story of hamsters has been embellished and idealized 
over the years... here is what probably happened... 

      In 1839, British zoologist George Waterhouse found hamsters
in Syria, naming them "Cricetus auratus," the Golden Hamster. 
The hamster's fur was on display at the British Museum.

     Around 1930, zoologist and Professor at the University of
Jerusalem Aharoni found a mother and litter of hamsters in the
Syrian desert.  By the time he got back to his lab, most had died
or escaped.  The remaining hamsters were given to the Hebrew
University in Jerusalem, where they were successfully bred as
Golden Hamsters.  They were a bit bigger than the ones Waterhouse
found, so they were named "Misocricetus auratus." (see #b02)
     The hamsters were shipped to labs all around the world.  In
1938, hamsters reportedly reached the United States.  All Golden
Hamsters are descended from the original litter found in Syria 
except for a few that were brought into the United States by 
travellers who found them in the desert. 
     Hamsters are now used for scientific research.  Because 
hamsters are so disease-free and breed so rapidly (they can have
a new litter every month!) and because they are so friendly and 
easy to handle, they are a popular choice among scientists.   
They are often used for cardio-vascular research, as their 
cardio-vascular system is remarkably similar to that of the 
     In the wild, hamsters are a nuisance to farmers.  Hamsters 
have been known to hide in excess of 60 pounds of grain to feed 
them through the winter. 

#b02: Where do hamsters get their names from? 

     Note that "hamsters" is spelled *WITHOUT* a "p".   Hamsters
got their name from an old German word associated with storing 
food.  (The word "hamper" comes from the same root.)  One of the
characteristics of the hamster, like many rodents, is to stuff 
their cheeks full of food, as if they were hampers. 
     The Golden Hamster's scientific name is MESOCRICETUS AURATUS
AURATUS, usually shortened to CRICETUS AURATUS.  It is also 
referred to as the Syrian Golden Hamster. 

#b03: What is the life span of a hamster? 

     It varies from species to species, and pureness of breed is 
a factor.  Approximate life span is 3 years.  (I have one source
that says "1000 days", just under 3 years.) 

#b04: Should I buy a hamster or a gerbil? 

     Steve Hyman sums up the general feeling of
     "Gerbils have no brains or sense, and are useless. They do 
not need us at all, nor do they appreciate us.  I have 10 of the
ungrateful creatures, and three wonderful hamsters." 
     (If hamsters are so much better than gerbils, then how come
you have 10 gerbils and 3 hamsters??!! -GG.) 

#b05: What are the different breeds of hamsters that exist? 
     Most common is the golden hamster... in brackets are the 
lengths of each breed. 
     Chinese hamster (12.5cm) 
     Common hamster (32cm) 
     Eversmann's hamster (16.6cm) 
     Golden hamster (18cm) 
     Longtailed hamster (16cm) 
     Migratory hamster (13.5cm) 
     Mouse-like hamster (16.5cm) 
     Rat hamster (26cm) 
     Roborovsky's hamster (9cm) 
     Rummanian hamster (varies) 
     Short dwarf hamster (16.6cm) 
     Striped hairy foot Russian hamster (9cm) 
     Striped hamster (13cm) 
     Tibetan hamster (varies) 
     For more information refer to the Breeder's FAQ.  It's
available at:
or e-mail:

#b06: Are there any places that don't allow hamsters?

      So far I only know that Hawaii does not allow its residents
to own a hamster.  A law was passed, hoping to keep disease away
and to prevent escaped hamsters from reproducing and messing up
the ecosystem.

#b07: What should I use for bedding? 

     Generally speaking, anything that is non-toxic, dust free, 
absorbent, fluffy, and non-staining is great for bedding. 
     In lieu of bedding you might want to set up an 
aquarium-and-cage with sand in the aquarium part so they can do 
their digging.  
     Be careful to rip up any facial tissue you're giving your 
hamster, since sometimes they get overly ambitious and put a 
little too much into their mouths, then have problems getting it
     Be aware that cedar and pine shavings have been shown to be
hazardous, as some hamsters are allergic to it.  The best 
alternative to these is aspen shavings, recycled newspapers (but
make sure they aren't too inky), grasses, or corn cob bedding.  

     To cut down on the smell, putting a layer of 
ground limestone (Dolomite Lime) underneath the bedding is
supposed to work well.  This product is available at garden
stores (it's used to neutralize soil), but make sure you get the
right kind of lime so that you don't hurt your hamster.
#b08: What do hamsters like (and not like) to eat? They will eat almost anything (broccoli, Kraft Dinner, yogurt...) Their favourite foods are foods native to their dry habitat, like seeds/cereals (but make sure that it's natural seeds - no roasting or salt, and that the cereal isn't sugary). For protein and variety, they will eat some small insects. They like vegetables, but don't feed them too many. You might want to give them a dog bone to chew on - it's healthy for them and is great for their teeth. Try not to shock them too much. Give them a regular diet - like a commercial small animal mix - but supplement it with treats to give them some variety. Make sure as well that the food is still good to eat. Be sure that vegetables, bread, and other perishables aren't moldy or rotten. DO NOT feed them: Canned or frozen veggies, anything poisonous to humans, raw beans, sprouting potato buds, fool's parsley, poison hemlock, laburnum. Chocolate is a bad idea too, but there is a special variety of chocolate that's sold at pet stores that is safe for animals. #b09: What do hamsters like to drink? Water (make sure they have a good supply - tap water should do unless you have some strange nutrients in it), and, from an actual scientific journal found on the Internet: Hamsters have an extraordinarily high liking and tolerance for alcohol. Their tolerance is equivalent to 40 times the human tolerance in proportion to body weight. As a result hamsters have been used successfully in trials of anti-alcoholism drugs by seeing if they were put off their preferred choice of a 15% alcohol solution when given the choice with plain water. Scientists believe they have found ways to moderate "volitional drinking of alcohol" by hamsters. Tomato juice, chocolate drink, kudzu extract (wat dat? -GG), and other fluids seem to suppress their alcoholic appetite. #b10: Should I be cleaning my hamster? Your hamster should not need cleaning. Hamsters can groom and wash themselves with no difficulty. If your hamster is not maintaining a quality level of personal hygiene, he might be sick. Consult a vet before taking any further action. Hamsters do not like water (except to drink). They catch colds quickly, or drown in it. If you feel you must wash your hamster, try brushing a bit of chinchilla powder or cornstarch onto your hamster, work it into the fur a little bit, then dust it off with a dry towel. This will clean dirt off a hamster, but won't help with fleas (see #b19). #b11: Do hamsters get lonely? Many people will argue that hamsters will appreciate having a companion of the opposite sex to live with, but I don't think that hamsters will really mind too much if they are left by themselves. Television vet Dr. Bernie says, "One cage, one hamster". Hamsters will harm each other if they are together. Males and females can be together for mating, but not much longer than that without risking some sort of fight. Mind you, Dwarf hamsters are known to be quite sociable, and *MIGHT* be able to live in pairs without too much risk. Females hardly ever get along with other females, but you *MIGHT* be able to successfully raise two male hamsters together if you get them from the same litter and raise them together from as close to their birth as possible. I wish I could underline and italicize *MIGHT*, because it's pretty rare that hamsters can live together without incident. #b12: Can I brush/comb my hamster's hair? Unless you have got a teddy bear hamster or a hamster with extremely long hair, most hamsters can groom themselves. For grooming purposes, pet stores sell special hamster combs. Apparently toothbrushes work well, too. If you think your hamster's hair is too long, you can safely clip it with regular scissors. Be careful. #b13: Is it safe to cut my hamster's claws? Although it's rare that they need their claws trimmed, you can do it with a pair of small, sharp scissors. I'm told that if you accidentally cut into your hamster's toe, there is not too much to be concerned about since the blood vessels in that part of the body are extremely small. #b14: How can I keep my hamster healthy? Read this FAQ over, and make sure you are using all the suggestions contained within it, and your hamster should be healthy. Here are some extra little tidbits of information to help you along: The adult weight of a (Golden) hamster should be about 150g. Your hamster should be in a room with a temperature of about 20-23 degrees Celsius. Make sure your hamster has a wheel, as well as other sources of exercise. Without exercise, paralysis may develop. #b15: My hamster looks like he's sick - what should I do? If your hamster is doing anything out of the ordinary that worries you - coughing, wheezing, shaking, developing sores or callouses, walking weird, or any other abnormal behaviour - SEE A VET IMMEDIATELY. Yes, post info to the newsgroup just so that others can read about the symptoms and cures and all that, but don't use the newsgroup as a direct source for advice or help. The problem with the group is that responses will take at least a day to pour in, and that might be too late for your furry pal. Many hamsters have passed away because their owners didn't act soon enough. In any case, here are some warning signs that your hamster is sick. If you see any of them, go to the vet immediately! When animal is awake, it should look alert, not apathetic. Anus should not be smeared with droppings. (This is a sign of possible diarrhoea.) Eyes should be clear, without signs of secretion. Heavy or noisy breathing may indicate disease. There should be no sores or bald spots. By the way, many animal shelters will perform euthenasia on hamsters. But many don't since they're such small and delicate creatures. #b16: The vet has prescribed medicine... how do I administer it? According to Dawn Williams: Hold your hamster by the scruff of the neck, so your hand is closed as if in a fist, with the hamster's loose skin along the back and neck between your palm and fingertips. Tip the hamster back a bit so he is leaning against your palm, belly up. Don't worry, it doesn't cause harm. (You or your hamster.) Don't give the hamster too much medicine at a time or he might choke, or just store it in those massive cheeks. If you have to give your hamster a pill, try putting it inside peanut butter or some other treat. If they still won't eat willingly, use the technique outlined above and put small bits in his mouth, allowing the hamster to swallow in between mouthfuls. This method is also a great way to administer eye medication. #b17: Why does my hamster sleep all day? Your hamster is nocturnal. Why is your hamster nocturnal? In a nutshell, the combined energy produced by hamster wheels all over the world is enough to keep the Earth spinning all night long. (see #c04) #b18: Do hamsters hibernate? Sort of. Technically it's not hibernation, but they will slow down their body functions (they become "torpid") if the room temperature of the room they are in gets unusually low, but shouldn't just go into hibernation just because it's the winter season. If your hamster reaches this state, be sure not to disturb them. Let them come out of it naturally. Golden hamsters become sluggish at about 14C and torpid at about 10C. Dwarf hamsters are less active at low temperatures. I remember reading a post in the group about a family who put their hamster in the fridge, thinking it was dead, and then being surprised the next morning when the hamster was in the fridge chewing on veggies, as happy as can be! My point is, your hamster might not be dead, just hibernating. #b19: What if my hamster gets fleas? Hamsters usually get fleas from other animals in the house who have fleas. There is a special flea powder available at pet stores that can be put into the bedding material - eventually it gets into the hamster's fur. You can also apply it directly to your hamster if she doesn't mind. #b20: What should I do if I find bugs in the hamster food? This happens quite often. The solution is to put the food in the freezer to kill off the bugs. Then, either take the bugs out or include the dead bugs with the food - your hamster appreciates the protein. #b21: Yuck. Should my hamster be eating his poop? Yes. Hamsters have a different digestive system than humans. Hamsters produce two types of excrement - one that's partially digested containing lots of nutrients, and one that's just garbage. Hamsters practice coprophagy, eating the nutrient- filled excrement to get the nutrients from it and digest it fully. #b22: Jeepers! My hamster has escaped! Help me! Take a deep breath... did you forget to close up the cage? It happens to all of us, and we usually get our little pals back. To find your hamster: Close all doors and windows, and try to figure out what room your hamster is in. If you are having trouble, try placing a bowl of food in each room. The hamster is bound to get hungry, so you will be able to tell which room he's in by whichever food dish is touched. Once you have narrowed down your search, start looking under chairs, beds, in corners... put yourself into the frame of mind of the hamster. You could get creative/inventive and devise your own traps. Apparently one of the best ways is to get some sort of deep bucket with a ramp heading up to it, with some food as bait. The hamster will fall into the bucket, and then cannot climb out. If your hamster's wheel is really squeaky, put it in the middle of the room that you suspect your hamster to have escaped into. Once you hear the squeaking, you can run over to the wheel and catch your hamster. Good luck. (See one of the stories in question #c07!) #b23: My hamster is having babies! What should I do? Calm down, it is perfectly natural. Keep your hamster well-nourished. Added protein (possibly in the form of insects) might be a good idea. It has been suggested that one of the reasons hamsters eat their young is because they need the protein from them after birth... but it could also be due to territorial instincts thrown off kilter by captivity. To reduce the likelihood of the babies being devoured by their parents, separate the father from them as soon as possible, and when you deem it safe, separate the mother from 'em. You should be aware that the time you separate the father from the mother varies from species to species. Case in point: The Syrian/Golden hamsters should only be together for mating, whereas dwarf hamsters can be kept together because they mate for life... These figures are all for the Golden Hamster, but are probably pretty close to any other breed of hamster: Puberty: 4-5 weeks Optimum beginning breeding age: males: 10-12 weeks females: 8-9 weeks Estrus: Every 3-4 days Gestation period: 16-18 days Litter size: 6-8 Birth weight: 1/14 to 1/8 oz Weaning age: 3-4 weeks For more information, refer to the Breeder's FAQ. It is available at: http://www.pacificrim.net/~ibis/northbow or e-mail: ibis@pacificrim.net. #b24: My hamster's dead. What can I do? Unless you know how to bring beings back from the dead, he's gone to hamster heaven (or hell) for good. The hamster can be buried in your backyard or at a park, or you can phone your vet or a local animal shelter for advice. Please don't flush them down the toilet. If you're having trouble dealing with the loss of your hamster, you might want to look into alt.support.grief.pet-loss, a newsgroup designed to "provide a 'cybershoulder' for grieving animal lovers in their time of need." There is also a Grief and Pet Loss FAQ, written by Charlene Douglass and posted regularly to several pets newsgroups. It's available at: http://www.io.com/use/tittle/pets/pet-loss.html or e-mail: douglasc@wsuvm1.csc.wsu.edu #b25: How can I tame my hamster? According to Anna Hayward: [begin quote] Let your hamster have the first few days in a cage on his/her own to get used to it. Put him in a quiet place so he is not disturbed and give him plenty of bedding. Putting a small cardboard box in the cage will also give him somewhere to hide, and therefore a sense of security. The first few times you get him out, do not go through the cage door, especially if it is at the top. Take the whole top off the cage and place the base on the floor. They sit on the floor and scoop up your hamster. If he is young, he will probably be very skittish so you will have to be very aware to stop him running away, but let him run on your body. It is best if this job is initially done by an adult or older child, as small children do not have the confidence, usually. Always scoop up your hamster firmly - it will make him more confident, and never hold him without first sitting on the floor unless he is *really* tame. Pick up your hamster in this way once or twice a day, talking in a soft voice and using lots of gentle encouragement. Skittish young hamsters usually calm down with age. Always wait until your hamster is awake before taming him, and *never* pick up a sleeping hamster. Most biting is as a result of fear, not viciousness. Remember this if you do get bitten (it was probably your fault) it does not mean the hamster is nasty. The most common reasons for getting bitten are grabbing a hamster from above, picking up a sleeping hamster and accidentally pinching a hamster when you pick him up. After a biting incident, put the hamster back in the cage and leave him for a couple of hours to calm down. Remember that taming is easier if a hamster has been handled since birth, but I have yet to meet an untamable hamster. It may take months if the pet shop has allowed an animal to mature without once being handled, but even an older animal can be tamed with effort. If at any stage the hamster starts biting and looking anxious, try going back a step and repeating the process (ie leave him alone for a few days). Once your hamster runs on you without looking frightened, place the cage in a busier area to get him used to people. [end quote] #b26: What are the two symmetrical spots on the hamster's sides? They are flank glands. Hamsters rub against things and mark their territory with them. #b27: Do hamsters really like those balls? Lister seemed to, and Fluff always said he did. Although my new hamster Mildred isn't too fond of them. Most brands have directions that tell you not to leave your hamster in the ball unattended or for more than about 20 minutes at a time. While I agree that they shouldn't be left unattended (especially near flights of stairs), I think that hamsters are hardy creatures, and they can survive more than 20 minutes in the ball. Just make sure they have plenty of water to drink when they get back in the cage. Hamsters would prefer running around freely. If you have a closed room with not too much to get lost under or to chew on, it should be okay. #b28: How can I interpret the hamster's body language? From "Hamsters" by Helga Fritzsche (see #c01), as typed in by Fluff Hamster: [Begin quote] Body Language: Convulsive movement, as well as sudden continual face washing, signifies fright. Defensive raising of both front paws can be observed in males that have been unexpectedly attacked by females and have no way of escaping. According to my observations, this gesture prevents or at least delays an even more serious attack. Puffing up the cheeks and showing the abdominal regions are to be construed as a threat. Lying motionless on the back shows resistance and fear. Stiff-legged walking of a young animal, with its tail stiffly stretched up and its hindquarters turned toward the adult hamster, denotes fear and submission; it propitiates the old animals. This can also often be observed in vanquished adult hamsters. Stretching and yawning with half-closed eyes is an expression of cosiness and inner peace, just as much as frequent and at the same time joyous and languorous washing. *Reciprocal cleaning between mother and children, and also between males and females, that live in harmony with each other indicates affection. Stroking the head with a paw, sometimes for a long period and sometimes only quickly and in passing, denotes tenderness. I observed this frequently with my striped hairy-footed hamster couple; the male constantly stroked the female, which seemed to enjoy this tender little act. Reciprocal knocking over can have very different meanings; fighting, if there is biting; coital foreplay, if the animals lick each other's stomachs and genitals; playing, if the partners cavort around with each other for a short time only. "Sitting up" is sometimes noticed, if something excites the hamster's particular attention. [End quote] #b29: Why shouldn't I use the microwave to dry off my hamster? Timothy Ross put it quite nicely: Microwaves found in your oven are electromagnetic waves like radio waves except with a much higher frequency and density. They heat things up by exciting particles that are electromagnetically sensitive (such as electrons) and thus produce kinetic energy. Matter that is in a liquid state is more susceptible to this excitation because the chemical bonds between individual molecules are weaker and offer less impedance to excitation. As the kinetic energy increases the bonds become even weaker and a pocket of increased heat will heat up even faster. This is why microwaved foods cook "from the inside out" - the initial heat trapped in the interior acts like a focus for additional microwave energy. Animals are mostly liquid, and if put in a microwave they will begin to heat up internally resulting in organ damage without any visible injury. Even brief exposure to dense microwaves may damage the nervous system. All in all, not a good idea. #b30: Do hamsters make noise? Hamsters are among the quietest creatures there are - usually the only sound you'll here from them is the squeaking of their wheels. Hamsters do vocalize (I'm *certain* mine said "hello" to me one morning) from time to time. They squeak - this is a mating call. They scream - when they are in distress. They cough/sneeze - when they are sick. You might notice your hamster making noises of its own for certain things, but from what I've heard no generalization can be made for all hamsters - the noises your hamster makes are unique. #b31: Do hamsters have souls? Yes. #b32: Can I travel with my hamster? By car: Make sure it's a short journey on a nice, smooth road. Take out anything in the cage that can move around and hurt your hamster. If you are using a special travelling cage, use bedding that's familiar to your hamster. Make sure there's plenty of food and water, and that the water can't drip. Give your hamster a cucumber or similar wet food before the journey. Try to have a passenger watch your hamster and hold the cage so that he can't escape. Keep the windows closed so it doesn't get too drafty. Don't leave your hamster in the car or in the sun, and stop if your hamster looks sick. By plane: Deanne did some investigating into American airline regulations for hamsters. Here are her findings: Most airlines do not have hamsters on their list of animals, so they fall into the "other/general" category. U.S. Air, American Airlines, TWA, United Airlines and Continental require you to put the hamster into the cargo hold. Delta Airlines allows 1-2 hamsters in the passengar cabin. The cage counts as carry-on luggage and must meet with carry-on size limitations. Delta allows only 2 animals in the cabin at a time, so the airline must be notified at the time the tickets are purchased. There are some conditions: Fees: $45-$60 (independent of cabin or cargo). In cargo, the fee is per cage, and animal quantity is unlimited. Age: Hamsters must be at least 8 wks old at the time of travel. Health: Each hamster must have a veterinary statement of good health within 30 days of travel. #b33: How can I stop the wheel from squeaking!!?? Try putting some vegetable oil, chapstick or vaseline on the axle of the wheel. You might have a problem with these lubricants attracting bedding material and dust, in which case you should try using a dry powdered graphite lubricant, available in most hardware stores. I am told teflon-based lubricants such as Liquid Wrench or Zep 54 do the trick nicely, as long as you avoid drips or exposed lubricant. #b34: Can I let my hamster swim? No. No matter what you have heard, water is dangerous to hamsters. Even if they do not drown trying to stay out of the water, chances are they will catch pneumonia. #b35: Is it safe for my hamster to jump off the table like that? From my experience, hamsters have an incredible sense of height, and know when it is and isn't safe for them to jump. As long as they aren't falling off of a shelf by surprise, they're usually okay. Be careful with younger hamsters - dropping them can cause severe damage. The older ones are a bit more resilient. ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Please read Part One and Part Three of this FAQ! Maintained by Glen Gower (ax611@freenet.carleton.ca) This FAQ may be copied freely, as long as you don't modify it or charge money for it. Let me know if you keep it on a web site or are posting it to other newsgroups. [End of Hamster FAQ Part 2]

Hamster FAQ Part 1 | Hamster FAQ Part 3