The Golden Hamster
Species: mesocricetus auratus
The golden hamsters originated from wild rodents that were native to the deserts of Syria. They were first used for selective breeding in England in the beginning of the 20th century and as a result, there are various color morphs of this species. The classification of various breeds of the golden hamster was first made in the USA.
In their homeland, in Syria, golden hamsters prefer deserts and semi deserts where they dig shallow holes. Now this species is considered vulnerable.
Adult golden hamsters reach 13-18 cm in length and around 120 g in weight. They have thick and soft coat. Hamsters with golden brown fur are considered to be long-livers. Some specimens were reported to live up to 7 years (average life expectancy is 2-3 years). Originally, Syrian hamsters occurred in just one color — the mixture of brown, black, and gold, but they have since developed a variety of color and pattern mutations, including cream, white, blonde, cinnamon, tortoiseshell, black, three different shades of gray, dominant spot, banded, and dilute.
Like all hamsters, they have expandable cheek pouches where they store food.
Golden hamsters are very neat and don’t cause much trouble to their owners. They are nocturnal animals; they sleep at daytime and are awake at night. The females of the golden hamster have the shortest pregnancy among all rodents: a bit over 2 weeks.
Golden hamsters are gentle and good-natured animals. But towards their specimens they can get aggressive. Golden hamsters have to be kept separately (one rodent per cage) in order to avoid fights and territorial aggression that usually ends badly.
Golden hamsters are very sociable and patient animals. They get used to being handled and like exercising: climbing shelves, running in a wheel etc. It is best to choose a multilevel cage so that your pet has space for its activities. The usual size of a hamster cage is 25x40 cm. The cage should have a plastic tray, bedding made of wood cuttings, a food bowl, a water bowl and various toys: houses, shelves, ladders, tunnels etc.
You should clean the cage once every 5 days and disinfect it properly once a month. A food bowl and a water bowl should be washed daily. It is not recommended to wash the hamster; you should brush it occasionally with a special comb.
The rule of thumb for owners of golden hamsters is not to overfeed them. Their menu should be well-balanced. Feed your pet with grain: oats, rice, millet, sprout wheat. Grass, hay and various greens (lettuce, parsley, dill etc) are also necessary. You should add to your hamster’s diet some vegetables (carrots, cucumbers, radish, squash), fruit and lean cottage cheese. An interesting detail: beer in small amounts is very good for your hamster.
Cabbage, nuts, salt, sugar, spices, exotic fruit, yoghurt are forbidden for your hamster. In order to maintain the balance of liquid golden hamsters need milk and water. Since these rodents originated in the desert, they don’t drink a lot of water, but fresh clean water should always be present in the cage.
Golden hamsters are nocturnal animals. They have quite short life span. When they are let out of cage, it can be quite difficult to control them.
Golden hamsters’ breeders should be aware of a specific disease called wet-tail (proliferative ileitis). This disease often occurs among golden hamsters. This illness can be hard to diagnose and it is very difficult to cure. Without treatment the animal dies within several days after the first symptoms have appeared.
It is an infection caused by bacteria. Baby hamsters (up to 3 months old) are most likely to get it. The incubation period can last up to two weeks. Then the main symptoms appear: bad diarrhea, lethargy and lack of thirst. Often the infected animals die of dehydration.
The disease got its name because the whole hind part of the hamster becomes wet. The disease is extremely contagious and is transmitted with discharge. Under proper treatment only 50% of animals survive.