Tuesday, 8 November 2011

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Q: Should I get a hamster?

Hamsters tend to be impulse buys - you nip into a pet store to get some dog food and can't resist the cute little face staring out at you in the hamster section. The thing is, this often results in a hamster living in poor conditions - whether that be due to a small cage, lack of knowledge, the person not really having enough time or not having enough money to get what the hamster needs. Thankfully, if you're reading this, you probably haven't just gone out and bought a hamster - you've at least starting doing your research!

So, there are three main things to consider when buying a hamster - time, space and money.

Do you have enough time?

Hamsters need out of cage time every day for at least half an hour or an hour a day. Obviously no one is going to blame you if you cant because of an emergency etc but generally speaking, they need time out each day. Most hamster owners spend a couple of hours with their hamsters a day - ball time, cuddles, free roaming etc. This doesn't, and shouldn't be done all at once - 20-30 minutes at a time is about right for a Syrian, slightly less for a dwarf. Even if you just put them back for 5 - 10 minutes it gives them time to have a snack, pee, poo and drink. Plus a bit of a rest if they need it.

Take into consideration that they are crepuscular (active during twilight hours) and don't often wake very early - if you go to bed early each night you may not see the hamster at all. You can altar their body clocks slightly - repeatably waking them up at the same time each night should result in them getting up then on their own at that time but that doesn't always work. Just bare that in mind!

Do you have enough money?

Annual costs for hamsters are very little - I only spend 60p every two weeks on substrate. Food isn't expensive either and treats can be stuff from your cupboard and fridge (veg, nuts etc). The most expensive continual cost is cage disinfectant.

Set up costs can be quite substantial though - I spent just under £100 when I got Luna. This included a cage, toys, food, treats, sand, toilet litter, bedding, substrate and probably a few things that I cant remember as well. The bulk of the cost went on the cage - a Savic Hamster Heaven - but you can bring that cost down quite a bit by shopping around. There are great sized cages for £40 - £50 and bin cages are even cheaper. You can also have a look through sites like eBay, Gumtree and Preloved for cheap second hand cages. Don't limit searches to hamster cages - try rat, chinchilla, rabbit and guinea pig cage searches as a lot of cages that are meant to be for these animals are no where near large enough for them but big enough for a hamster.

You will also need a bit of cash set a side for potential vet bills. You don't want to be caught out with a sick hamster and no money to pay for treatment.

Do you have enough space?

Hamsters need cages that are around 80cm x 50cm (a couple of cm is going to make too much of a difference but bigger is better) so you need to ensure that you have the space available for a cage that size. Ensure that the available space is "safe space" as well - somewhere where it wont be knocked over, pushed off, kicked, slobbered on by dogs etc.

If you've answered "Yes" too all of these questions then yup, find a breeder, check out local rescues and get yourself a hamster!

If you've answered "No" to any of these I suggest waiting until you answer "Yes". After I had convinced my other half and landlord to let me have a hamster I had to wait four months as cash was tight at the time and I needed to save up for the cage I wanted. It's worth waiting for things, whether that's saving up enough money like I had to or waiting for a litter to be available from a local breeder.


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