By Nancy Ferris
Once you’ve decided on buying a hamster as a pet, look closely at its health and temperament. Although the first thing that may come to mind when choosing a hamster is color, no color is tamer, rarer or more exotic than any other. A hamster’s coat color is not as crucial as good health and temperament. Once you get your hamster home, you will love any color you get.
While you’re handling the hamster you are thinking of buying, look for obvious health problems. You don’t want to buy a sick hamster. Looking at your hamster’s teeth, ears and tail will help determine health issues and temperament.
- The hamster’s eyes should be bright and clear, free of cloudiness or discharge.
- Check for signs of diarrhea or wet-tail. The area under the hamster’s tail should not be wet or stained. Be on the lookout for loose, wet droppings in the cage. This is a highly contagious bacterial infection. If any hamster shows signs of this, don’t buy from the group. Ask if any cases of wet-tail have occurred at that location within the last month. If the answer is yes, look elsewhere for your hamster.
- Look for signs of external parasites by parting the hamster’s fur and making sure its skin is smooth and the coat is glossy. There should be no flaky or dry skin. If you see dirty skin or small moving red dots in the fur, these are mites and are very mobile, so put the hamster down and leave.
- Also, look for signs of pregnancy, including a bulge in the abdominal region below the rib cage and more prominent nipples. If the hamsters are in mixed-sex groups over the age of 5 weeks, assume any female hamster is pregnant.
- Observe whether the hamster is acting lethargic, which is a bad sign.
- If the teeth are misaligned (the top teeth should overlap the bottom teeth), the hamster will have difficulty eating and will need to visit the vet to have its teeth trimmed regularly. To look at your hamster’s teeth, pick it up gently by the scruff at the back of the neck.
- If you’re shopping for a Campbell’s hamster check for a history of diabetes. The disease is hereditary, but you won’t see the signs in young hamsters. Signs include excessive drinking and urination (the bedding will be wet often), hyperactivity and lethargy. Early-onset diabetes usually appears at 3 to 4 months of age while late-onset diabetes usually appears at about 8 months of age. If you are purchasing young hamsters, ask the seller for any information on the parents and grandparents, and how often breeding stock is checked. If no information is available, be willing to test and monitor your hamster personally, and to prepare a special diet if your hamster develops diabetes.
- Also, confirm that the tail is there and the ears are intact. Torn ears and missing tails or sores in that area indicate fighting and might mean a dwarf hamster is harder to tame. It may also mean this hamster may have trouble adjusting to a cagemate.
- When inspecting a Syrian hamster, you may notice symmetrical dark moles on each hip. These are scent glands. Their presence is normal and not cause for concern.
Excerpt from the Popular Critters Series magabook Hamsters with permission from its publisher, Lumina Media. Purchase Hamsters here.