Acquired: Breeder (non-professional, hobby breeder),
Rescue / shelter organization
Posted Feb 27, 2014
Hamsters are wonderful and darling first time pets, for anyone from careful, conscientious kids to adults. I had a hamster as a kid and we had another when I was older and they made great pets.
Syrian hamsters are highly recommended, especially for a first hamster; they're among the most common and hardiest of the species, so it's easy to provide for them and get help. It's ideal to get one from a young age so you can socialise it as young as possible, but still, I've adopted one as an older adult and it was as friendly as could be. With gentle handling and socialisation, they are great to have around. Until they were older, they weren't really the kind of pets you can sit around and watch TV with--they did well on their own for a majority of the day, but they still need daily interaction and plenty of daily exercise because they have a tendency to become quickly overweight. It's a good ideal to set up some sort of playpen and either let them free run inside it or run inside a ball each day (with good supervision).
Hamsters are fairly easy to keep, the most difficult task being cage cleaning which really isn't bad at all. It's a smelly and frequent job though since they seem to run through giant bags of bedding at lightning speed, and they also bury their food in the bedding so if you're feeding them fruits and veg, things can start to rot if you're not diligent about cleaning. A wheel inside the cage is recommended because they'll often use this for entertainment/exercise (NOT a suitable replacement for interaction with you AND running outside of the cage/in a different area--the wheel gets boring very fast!). They also need a small house/object to hide in and lots of bedding because they enjoy burrowing and hiding food. Be very careful when setting up cages/areas for them to roam; they are EXCELLENT escape artists, pretty much the Houdini's of the rodent world and will really surprise you (they are very fast and excellent climbers/tunnelers!). Plus, hamsters will chew anything they can get their teeth on (keep wooden blocks in their cage to help) and this can be very dangerous because they are not very smart at discerning power cords (yes, this has had sad consequences) and your furniture from their vegetables and toys.
There are plenty of premade hamster foods on the market and a good base is one of the pellet types with seed and nuts and such mixed in, but fresh food is GREAT for any animal and highly recommended for hamsters. Books and websites can provide good lists of safe fruits and veg to give them; carrots, lettuce, with fruits being used as a treat.
One of the downsides to hamsters is that they unfortunately don't have very long life spans, poor things. They are darling pets and this shouldn't stop anyone from getting one if they think it's a good match, but you have to be aware that you may only get to spend a few years with them. Unfortunately there is not much that can be done when a hamster gets sick, since as a preyed upon animal they are used to hiding it so as not to attract attention; and even so, hamster illnesses are hard to diagnose and medicines are difficult to administer. Still, that being said, they are generally very hardy; I gave my hamsters a hamster-specific vitamin and they thrived on that plus a good diet and exercise.