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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

Selecting a Hamster

By Katherine E. Quesenberry, DVM, MPH, DABVP (Avian) ; Kenneth R. Boschert, DVM, DACLAM, Washington University

When selecting a hamster as a possible pet, start by observing its environment. Does it appear and smell clean? Does the food appear fresh and are feeding containers clean? Are there sufficient water bottles for the number of animals in the cage? Are the water containers clean and without stains or deposits of foreign matter? Do the hamsters appear healthy? Do they have bright eyes? Are they alert and curious? Hamsters are most active at night, so you may want to consider selecting your new pet late in the afternoon or during evening hours.

Gently hold the animal you are considering. Most hamsters that have been held from a young age do not bite. Be cautious of any potential pet that does tend to bite. As you are holding the hamster, look carefully at its eyes; they should be clear and show an alert personality. Check the ears, feet, and fur. There should be no sign of injury, the toe nails should be unbroken and neatly trimmed, and the fur should be clean and without signs of mites, fleas, ringworm, or other diseases. Check the rump for any signs of problems. Avoid animals that show signs of diarrhea, bloody discharge, irritation, or other problems. Check for any signs of excess drooling or slobbering, or any protruding teeth that could indicate a dental problem. Once you have looked at the general health of the animal, place the hamster in a confined area where it can move around. Does the animal move normally? Do not choose an animal that limps, appears lame, or is reluctant to move.

Before you make a commitment to purchase a pet, ask about having the animal checked by a veterinarian prior to purchase. If the seller will not permit a veterinarian check prior to purchase, ask about returns if the animal proves unhealthy after purchase. Responsible pet sellers will cooperate with veterinary checks.

If you do not have a cage for your hamster, consider asking the seller to hold your new pet for a day so that you can set up a proper home. Having the cage ready for your new pet will make the transition to your home less stressful for the hamster.