The Syrian Hamster (Mesocricetus auratus) is also known as the Golden Hamster, Teddy Bear Hamster, and often simply Hamster, since it is the most popular variety of hamster as far as pets go. It has several close relatives, such as the Russian Dwarf Hamster, that are smaller in size and personality. The hamster is popular pet around the world because it is cute, comical, gentle, and easy to care for. It is nocturnal, like many rodents, and sleeps during the day, then becomes active at dusk and throughout the night.
The hamster can have short or long hair and a variety of color morphs to choose from. It has a snout that is shorter than a rat's and a short stubby tail that is about a half-inch long and barely visible. It is skilled at getting through tight spaces and can fit its body through pretty much anything that its head can fit into. The hamster typically grows to a length of five to seven inches and lives two to three years in captivity.
Breeding hamsters is very easy because they are evolved for fast breeding. Before you even think about breeding your hamster think about how you will take care of the babies because they have a LOT of babies. A female will be in heat every four days and has a gestation period of only 16 to 18 days. An average litter is eight babies, but litters of twenty or more do occur. The mothers will sometimes abandon or cannibalize their babies and young hamsters must be separated from their mother after four weeks. The babies must be separated after seven weeks of age, which is the point of sexual maturity.
The vast majority of pet hamsters are descendants of an original litter found in Syria in 1930. Today, they are endangered in the wild, despite their abundance in the pet trade. Hamsters are meticulous about their cleanliness, grooming constantly during their waking hours. The hamster is evolved to run long distances and can travel miles in one night's time. It also has cheek pouches so it can carry large amounts of food back to its burrow in the wild. The eyesight in this species is relatively poor, but has a wide angle due to the placement of the eyes on opposing sides of the head. The sense of hearing and smell in the species is particularly strong.
Hamsters enjoy living solitary lives, alone from other hamsters. Therefore, it is important for your hamster's safety to keep it away from other hamsters (especially of the same sex). If you do place two hamsters together, they must be watched carefully since they are likely to start fighting and possibly kill each other. In spite of this, hamsters make excellent pets for humans since the hamster generally enjoys attention from humans as long as it is along the lines of petting, feeding, and carrying. A hamster can and will bite if it feels threatened, but biting is rare after a hamster is properly acclimated to human contact.
A hamster should be kept in a well ventilated container such as a cage or aquarium with screen cover. A cage is better than an aquarium since the ventilation is better and the hamster can climb the walls for exercise. It should also have an exercise wheel, at the very minimum, for entertainment purposes. For food, a combination of seeds and fresh vegetables/fruit can be fed to it and a water bottle should also be supplied. Wood shavings and special paper bedding are typically used for bedding since the hamster likes to pile it in a corner to sleep in and bury food. The bedding should be changed at least once a week to prevent buildup of feces and urine, which can produce a bad odor and cause the hamster to become fatally ill.
Since hamsters are excellent at escaping their enclosure/cage, care should be taken to make sure that this does not happen. If a hamster escapes, it can easily be eaten by a predator, stepped on, and chew up furniture, among other things. Some easy precautions involve purchasing a metal wheel instead of a plastic one and weighting the cage door or aquarium cover such that it is impossible for the hamster to open it alone. If your hamster escapes, try putting some food out for it and it will probably come out to grab it at night.
In summary, hamsters are cheap, easy to care for, and great pets for children and adults alike. They don't need much attention, but enjoy getting out of the cage for a bit of playing. Despite their short life, they are very active pets and will keep you entertained.