Origins

The Syrian hamster (mesocricetus auratus) has it's origin in the desert areas of Syria. As far as is known the British zoologist George Waterhouse is the first who brought a living Syrian hamster to England. The animals we know today are descendants from the animals that were captured by professor I. Aharoni in 1930. He shipped these animals to the universities in England and the United States. Through these universities the Syrian hamster found it's way to the public and became greatly loved. The Syrian hamster was called by it's original color; the golden hamster. Now that the color golden is more rare because of many color mutations the hamster is called the Syrian hamster in reference to his country of origin.

Behaviour and handling

The Syrian hamster is an example of a hamster species that should be kept solo. They will only tolerate the presence of other animals when absolutely necessary, like when breeding or when a female has pups. Also littermates that have been together from day one won't tolerate each other any more at some point. Syrian hamsters have bad eyes and use their sense of smell to recognise one and other. The animals are primarily active during the evening, night and early morning and will show themselves as little as possible during the day. A Syrian hamster can become very tame and will almost never bite their caretakers, provided they have been handled from an early age on as elder animals won't cooperate in this process. But even the trust of elder animals can sometimes be wun.

Care

 With the right care Syrian hamsters can become two to three years of age. The animals wash their own coat so they don't require bathing. The cage of a Syrian hamster needs to be cleaned about once a week unless the animals have a litter of somewhat older pups that dirty their environment a lot, in which case the cage should be cleaned more often. The hamsters require fresh water daily and should have food available. When feeding the possibility that the hamster collects food should be taken into account and his hiding places should be checked for left overs regularly. The nails of a Syrian hamster can become somewhat long in some cases and it may be necessary to cut them. This can be done with a regular pair of nail scissors. 

Homing

To keep the Syrian hamster healthy it is essential that his home meets certain requirements. A Syrian hamster should be homed solitary (without any cage mates). During the mating a male can be homed with a female. The minimum cage surface should be 30 x 20 cm. The Syrian hamster have an optimal relative humidity of 40 to 55% with a temperature of 18 to 21 °C. Too warm, cold, dry or humid air can lead to a pneumonia which can in it's turn lead to death. A too dry or too moist environment can also lead to a range of other diseases. Also direct sunlight can be a problem for the Syrian hamster so it should have shelter from the full sun at all times. A Syrian hamster can not be kept in open air because of these requirements and will therefore need to be kept indoors. Syrian hamsters need to be kept draft free with enough ventilation. When a Syrian hamster falls ill it may be necessary to quarantine the animal. Because the Syrian hamster is a solitary animal it won't often be the case. One has to mind though that when quarantining the Syrian hamster one has to remove it totally from the room where other hamsters or rodents are placed. The Syrian hamster is a nocturnal animal that doesn't become active until the light stars to dim. Because of this the best feeding time is early evening. Food can be giving in a hard bowl, such as a ceramic one, which is gnaw proof. Also the food can be given spread out trough the enclosure. The hamster will collect all foods in it's den. To prevent the hamster from eating spoilt foods which it collected not too much food should be given. All foods will then be consumed right away and can't pile up in the hiding places. When vegetables or fruits are fed the remains have to be removed immediately. The water can best be given in a drinking bottle to ensure no littering of the drinking place or water spreading in the cage and to prevent the drowning of pups.  

Feeding

As a basic food a special Syrian hamster food is suitable. A good food for Syrian hamsters doesn't contain much pressed grass, sunflower seeds and peanuts. The pressed grass will often be left by Syrian hamsters and the peanuts and sunflower seeds it likes to much that he will eat to many of them. The hamster will eat an average of 10 to 20 gram daily. Variation is a must and hamsters need fruits and vegetables. Suitable vegetables and fruits that can be given in small amounts are:

  • Chicory
  • Endive
  • Carrot
  • Cauliflower
  • Bell Pepper
  • Cucumber
  • Broccoli
  • Apple
  • Pear
  • Peach
  • Raspberry
  • Mellon
  • Banana

Lettuce and cabbage species are not a suitable food. To prevent the hamster from consuming rotting fruits or vegetables the excess that hasn't been eaten should be removed immediately after eating. Water has to be supplied in unlimited amounts and should be refreshed daily. When the hamster is pregnant or nursing she requires more energy rich foods and animal protein can be given in moderate amounts. Vitamins can be administered by adding them trough the water, food or in a a porridge made of oatmeal and water.

Reproduction

The Syrian hamster is homed solitary which automatically involves the separation of male and female. Once every four days the female is willing to be bred (in oestrous) in which case she can be placed with the male. In no case the male should be placed at the female because the female will defend her territory. Neutral territory will suit them both well. The intercourse will last about 15 to 30 minutes and afterwards male and female should be separated again. The pregnancy will last about 16 days. The pups will born inside the den which has been used as a sleeping place up until then. Extra nesting materials can be given in the form of kitchen tissue, fabric or hay. Synthetic materials such as hamster cotton balls should never be provided, the pups will choke in it. A Syrian hamster will get an average of 6 to 10 pups per litter but can vary from 1 to 15 pups. After 4 to 5 weeks the pups are sexually mature and should be separated by gender to prevent early pregnancy and inbreeding. Females shouldn't conceive before 4 to 6 months.

Health

When these rodents get ill they will need help quickly. When an animal this size gets ill it can be done with in a days time. Because of this preventing illness is important. The following illnesses can occur in hamsters:

Pneumonia

Pneumonia and colds in Syrian hamsters are often caused by draft. Not just draft but a combination of draft and high humidity can make a hamster ill. When a hamster has a cold or pneumonia the animal will sneeze and has a wet nose. When the illness progress it will get a rattling breath and a secretion from the nose. In that case a visit to the vet is necessary. A vet will most likely prescribe antibiotics.

Diarrhea

Hamsters can get diarrhea because of several circumstances. Wrong food, draft and humidity for example. In most cases with lethal consequences. The number one cause of diarrhea is food containing too much liquids. Should a hamster get diarrhea it should only be fed with toast, boiled rice or knackerbröd. The drinking water can best be replaced by camomile tea. The enclosure should be cleaned multiple times a week during the disease and preferably daily. After the diarrhea the cage should be disinfected

Wet Tail

Naturally hamsters have a small amount of E. coli bacteria in their digestive tract. When the animal becomes weak or stressed this bacteria can grow excessively. In many cases this will happen right after purchase. The animal is taken from it's usual environment and will travel to be places in a new and strange environment. This can be very stressful for hamsters. The symptoms give the disease it's name. The hamsters will have a wet tail and anus constantly. Next to the wet tail and nose the animals won't eat and are apathetic. Animals with this disease should be seen by a vet immediately to prevent them from dying within 48 hours.

Skin Conditions

Hamsters can be bothered by several skin conditions. These conditions can be caused by parasites, mites or fungi. Only weak animals will in generally suffer from parasites like flea or lice. Because the animals are itchy they will scratch and get bald patches from which we can recognise the parasitic problems. Pet stores sell several drugs to cure this. If a hamster gets mites you have a bigger problem. These tiny animals cause scabs and eczema that can make your hamster's total skin affected within one month. Next to that mites are very contagious and other animals can get infected. Drugs against mite are also available from good pet stores and your vet. Fungi can also occur in hamsters and they can be recognised from skin scales on the ears or nose. Fungi aren't just contagious for animals but also for people. Luckily it can be easily treated with medicine available at the vet's.

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