When choosing a hamster, looking at a few simple things can help ensure that your new pet is a healthy one.
Time Required: 10 minutes
- Look at the overall body condition - a hamster should be neither fat nor skinny, with no swellings.
- Hamsters should be bright and curious in attitude and never lethargic. This can be a bit hard to judge in a nocturnal animal, but with attention (and perhaps some very gentle prodding) hamsters should wake up and be inquisitive about what is happening.
- The hamster's coat should be well groomed (fluffy and smooth looking), with no bare patches. Especially check for soiling around the rear end, as this may indicate a problem with diarrhea.
- The eyes, nose, and ears should be clean and free from discharge. Check the fur around the eyes and nose for signs of wetness, staining or crusts.
- Try to get a look at the teeth, they should not be overgrown and should be well-aligned. Also, check for wet or matted fur on the chin.
- Observe the hamster's breathing, which should be quiet and not labored, with no wheezing, clicking, or gurgling noises.
- Watch the hamster move around - it should have no signs of lameness, stiffness, or reluctance to move around.
- Look at the hamster's surroundings. The cage should be clean, with good access to fresh food and water, and not overcrowded. Hamsters kept under good conditions will be less stressed and have less exposure to disease.
- Observe how the hamster reacts to people -- most will be skittish at first but ideally try to pick a hamster that is relatively calm about being approached and okay with being handled.
- Try to find out the age of your hamster, and adopt one that is as young as possible (around 6 weeks old is best).
- If any of the hamsters in the same cage (or even at the same store) seem ill, resist the temptation to adopt from there (if it is contagious your hamster may be next and there may be possible heartbreak ahead).
- Make sure the store separates males and females. Familiarize yourself with the differences between males and females, and if the store doesn't separate them or seems unsure about the gender of the hamsters, move on to another store. It is best to avoid the possibility of surprise litters, especially in very young hamsters (they can become pregnant by about 5 weeks old but this is not a good thing).
- If the shop will not let you handle the hamster before you buy, it is best to move on as it is definitely worth trying to handle a potential pet to assess its temperament.
- If you find a breeder, make sure they are breeding for specific goals such as temperament and health.