Hamsters

Cricetinae

There are 18 species of hamster spanning 7 genera. Hamsters can be found in Europe, the Middle East, and much of Asia. Domesticated hamsters have an average length of 4 inches, and live typically 2 to 4 years in captivity. Most species of hamster are active at dawn and dusk or nocturnal. These rodents are typically solitary animals with the exception being breeding season. Hamsters typically eat grains, seeds, grasses, leaves and fruit.

The most common hamster species for pets are the Campbell’s hamster, the Syrian hamster, the Winter White hamster, the Roborovski dwarf hamster and the Chinese hamster. Of these species the Syrian hamster is the only one listed on the IUCN red list, as vulnerable.

Did You Know?

Hamsters can be found in Europe, the Middle East, and much of Asia.

Sustainability

Does the harvest for wildlife trade or captive breeding of this species harm wild populations?

Little Cause for Concern

A few species of hamsters are at risk in the wild. These include one of the most popular pet hamster breeds, the Syrian Hamster, often called “teddy bear” or “fancy” hamsters. However, most reputable pet stores deal with breeders and it is unlikely their use as pets is affecting the wild population.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

When purchasing a pet hamster, ensure that it is captive-bred from domesticated animals. Only acquire a pet that is from a reputable breeder or pet store.

Invasion Threat

Does the release or escape of this species into the wild harm the environment and/or economy?

Little Cause for Concern

It is unknown if hamsters could become established in the United States. They are not listed as an invasive species by the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health. Since they are unlikely to cause a major spread of disease they are not a restricted species in the U.S. However they are illegal in Hawaii because it is a similar climate to their native habitat and it is thought they could establish a population if released there.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before obtaining any non-traditional pet, check that it is legal to own one in your state of residence and check for permitting requirements. Only acquire a pet that is from a reputable breeder or dealer to ensure that you are not buying an illegally imported or wild-caught animal. Always keep your pet inside a safe and secure enclosure. Never release a pet into the wild.

Ease of Care

Does harvest, captive breeding, transport, or being kept as a pet harm individual animals?

Some Cause for Concern

Ease of care of many non-traditional pets depends on the individual owner’s years of experience and knowledge caring for a particular species. For the purposes of this website, we have geared information toward the benefit of the beginner.

Hamsters are typically solitary, nocturnal animals that need enough space to feel comfortable as well as places to hide and climb. They are naturally good climbers, but do not have good eyesight so some of the taller cages can risk a fall. Hamsters can be kept at room temperature and do not require special heating lamps. In the wild, hamsters burrow tunnel systems to live in, so the more space and bedding for them to burrow into the happier your pet will be. Hamsters are naturally active thus having a wheel for them to run on is important for their health and well-being.

Although hamsters seem like a cute cuddly pet that would be great for a young child, their nocturnal habits make them less then ideal. They bite when startled or scared and this may happen if a child wants to play during the day while the hamster is sleeping. They can be handled with care, but sudden movements and noises will scare them.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before acquiring a hamster, be sure to research its specific care requirements (web-based sources of information include the Humane Society http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/hamsters).

Make sure to acquire from a reputable source to increase your chances of a healthy animal.

Health Threat

Does this animal pose a health risk to native wildlife, humans, livestock and agriculture?

Some Cause for Concern

Hamsters are carriers a few diseases that could be a serious threat to your family’s health. They can harbor Salmonella and as well as Lymphocytic choriomeningitis, a relatively rare virus that causes meningitis and encephalitis. Children and immunocompromised individuals are at greater risk, but washing your hands after handling the animal or changing its bedding will minimize risk.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before purchasing a non-traditional pet, ensure the animal was captive bred vs. wild caught and obtain from a reputable source to increase your chance of receiving a healthy pet.

EcoHealth Alliance works at the intersection of ecosystem, animal and human health through local conservation programs and develops global health solutions to emerging diseases.
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