A HAMSTER'S HEALTH
The usual life span of a hamster is 2-4 years, but they can live longer if they have good living conditions and a healthy lifestyle. Giving your hamster the nutrition it requires, keeping it fit and making sure it has the exercise it needs will go a long way to keeping your pet in good health. Because hamsters are very small, nocturnal (night active) and not closely observed, the early signs of illness are frequently overlooked or not noted at all. Hamster owners must be constantly vigilant for signs of illness and must seek immediate veterinary assistance when illness is suspected. Sick hamsters often become irritable and frequently bite. They are usually reluctant to move about and walk stiffly when forced to do so. Their eyes often look dull and sunken, and frequently have a discharge. Sick hamsters often stop eating or greatly reduce intake of food. Diarrhoea is the most common illness of hamsters, especially among those being weaned or recently weaned. If the serious accompanying dehydration is not recognized immediately and corrected with appropriate fluid therapy at the direction of a veterinarian, death is probable.
The cheek pouches are a relatively unique anatomic feature of hamsters. They are actually a cavernous out pouching of the oral (mouth) cavity on both sides, extending alongside the head and neck to the shoulders. These pouches are used to store food and allow the hamster to transport food from where it is gathered to the hamster's den or nest. The food is then eaten later, at the hamster's leisure. Hamster owners not familiar with these cheek pouches often panic when seeing them fully distended for the first time, thinking they represent tumors or abscesses. Another relatively unique anatomic feature of hamsters is the paired glands in the skin over the flanks. These appear as dark spots within the haircoat and are much more obvious in males than females. These glands are used to mark a hamster's territory and also have a role in sexual behavior.
The sex of adult hamsters is easy to determine. Males have very large, prominent testicles.
Male golden hamsters should be first bred when they are 14 weeks old. Females should be first bred when they are 10 weeks old. As the time of copulation approaches, thin, stringy, cobweb-like mucus exits the female's vulva. The female is then placed into the male's cage about one hour before dark. The pair must then be carefully observed for mating activity and/or fighting. Females can be very aggressive to males in this situation and can harm them. The male should be removed at once if there is fighting. The male should be removed after mating.
Pregnancy last only 15½-16 days. Before delivery, the female becomes restless and usually discharges a small amount of blood from her vulva. Litters usually range from 5 to 10 pups. The pups are born hairless, with ears and eyes closed.
Female hamsters with young must be provided with abundant nesting and bedding materials, and plenty of food and water. They must not be disturbed in any way. The young should not be touched or handled until they are at least 7 days old, the nest should not be disturbed, and the cage should not be cleaned during this period.Young hamsters usually begin eating solid food at 7-10 days of age but are usually weaned at about 3 weeks of age. Solid, pelleted food must be soaked to soften it and be placed on or near floor level of the enclosure for easy access by the weanlings. Sipper tubes must be positioned low enough so that the smallest pups can reach them. Some pups will not be strong enough to extract water from sipper tubes, so owners must be vigilant for this potential problem and provide an alternative water source for them.
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