The first thing to consider before acquiring a pet hamster is whether a hamster is a suitable pet for you. For example, is anyone in your family allergic to fur? If they are, they may be allergic to the hamster - how will you deal with this? The second thing to consider is whether you are a suitable owner for a hamster. Your pet will hopefully live for two years or more; are you prepared to look after it every day for that period of time? Hamsters do not take a great deal of time or money to care for properly, but you must be prepared to give what is necessary; a few minutes every day to feed and handle your pet, half an hour every week for cleaning purposes and possibly money for vet's bills.
Assuming that you feel that a hamster is a suitable pet and you are a suitable owner, you need to decide on species and then on sex. Syrian hamsters are more "cuddly" than the Dwarf species, on the whole, and can cope with more handling. On the other hand, Dwarfs will often live in groups, (something that no Syrian would do), and so human siblings can each have their own hamster yet share cage cleaning duties. If you wan to read about different species of hamster, click here.
Which sex of hamster do you want? Male Syrians tend to be more laid back and to live longer than females, for example. If you are looking at a cage of mixed sex hamsters I would advise you to take a male. Hamsters can become pregnant from between four and six weeks old. If you take a young female from a mixed sex cage she may already be expecting babies; an unexpected complication.
To sex a hamster, (of any species), turn it over so that you have a clear view of its genital region. There are two opening in both sexes; the vulva and anus in the female, the penis and the anus in the male. The difference is that the male's openings are further apart than the female's. In fact, in female Syrians, the openings may be so close together that they appear to be one. This comparison will only work if you can compare one of each sex or already know what to look for. A quick rule of thumb is this; if the openings are seperated by an area of fur, it's a male, if they are seperated by a small area of bare skin, it's a female.
Once you have chosen the species and sex, consider age. Hamsters only live for about two years, so you don't want to buy one over about three months, except in exceptional circumstances. The best age is between about four and a half and eight weeks. At this age the hamster will be fully weaned. Admittedly it will still be full of "bounce", rather like a kitten, but this will wear off as it grows up.
Colour is up to your personal preference. If you want a long haired hamster, bear in mind that it is only the males that get the long "skirt"; females stay "fluffy". To get some idea of the different varieties, look at the poster on the Towy Vale Hamstery page. (This does take a while to download).
Once you have decided which species, sex and age of hamster you want it is then a case of looking around pet shops and enquiring about breeders in your area. For details of breeders in your area, find the club that covers your hame area on my links page and contact the Secretary. They will be able to put you in touch with local people.
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