The teddy bear hamster is a peculiar little rodent with huge cheek pouches and a short, stubby tail. The wild habitat of the teddy bear hamster is found throughout the Middle East and Southeastern Europe. In 1930, a litter of eight young teddy bear hamsters was brought to Palestine to be raised as research animals. Almost all domesticated teddy bear hamsters sold in the pet trade and for research are descended from three survivors of this litter. The teddy bear hamster was first introduced to the United States in 1938.
Since the domestication of the teddy bear hamster, several color and fur varieties have emerged through selective breeding. The three basic groups that exist today include the common “golden” teddy bear hamster, the colorful short-haired “fancy” teddy bear hamster, and the long-haired “teddy bear” teddy bear hamster. All three species are popular pets, and the research community generally uses the basic Golden Teddy Bear Hamster.
Occasionally, one may encounter other species of hamster, but these are less common than the teddy bear hamster. The smaller, dark brown Chinese Teddy Bear Hamster is commonly used in biomedical research and is sometimes obtained as a pet.
These teddy bear hamsters are small, dark brown in color, and have black stripes on their backs. The Armenian teddy bear hamster and the European teddy bear hamster are two other animals that are occasionally used for research, but are rarely kept as pets. The information here pertains specifically to the Syrian or Golden Teddy Bear Hamster, as they are by far the most popular.
Teddy Bear Hamster Diet
As with any pet, good quality food and clean fresh water must be available at all times. The precise nutritional needs of the teddy bear hamster have not been fully determined. In the wild, these animals feed on plants, seeds, fruits and insects. Current recommendations for captive feeding are pelleted rodent diets containing 15-20% protein. These rations are usually processed into dry blocks or pellets designed for rodents. Seed diets are also “formulated” and sold to teddy bear hamsters, but these diets should only be supplemented with basic rodent pellets. Seed diets contain a lot of fat and are prone to spoilage if not stored properly.
In addition, when eaten alone, these diets often lead to obesity and potential nutritional deficiencies, especially calcium. Other dietary supplements include sugar-free breakfast cereal, whole grain bread, pasta, cheese, cooked lean meats, fresh fruits and vegetables; all in moderation. Teddy bear hamsters eat about 12 grams of food per day and most of it at night. Teddy bear hamsters are like a bunch of little mice and often hide food in the corners of their cages to make it look as if they are eating much more than they actually are.
Water is easily provided in a water bottle fitted with a tinoper tube. This method also helps to keep the water free from contamination. Always make sure the pipe is positioned low enough for your pet to easily access it. Young teddy bear hamsters need special consideration to ensure that they are strong enough to both use the sippy tube and have access to it. The average teddy bear hamster drinks about 10 ml of water per 100 grams of body weight (average adult size). Although this amount is a small fraction of the total volume of the bottle, fresh water should be provided daily, not just when the bottle is emptied.
How to scratch a teddy bear hamster
Handled regularly from a young age, teddy bear hamsters usually remain docile and rarely bite. These naturally docile animals can be gently picked up and held close to the body with one or two hands. Be careful, even docile teddy bear hamsters may bite if surprised or suddenly awakened from sleep.
However, other teddy bear hamsters may not have received much attention and handling throughout their lives and therefore may be more worrisome and aggressive. Any animal whose personality is not fully understood must be treated with caution. The use of small towels or gloves can help keepers capture and restrain such pets.
Another method of capture involves luring the animal into a container (such as a can or tube), which can then be removed from the cage. Once removed from the cage, catching a teddy bear hamster can be inhibited by scratching a large amount of skin on the back of the neck. Because the skin is very loose, it is important to grab as much skin as possible using this method.
Cages for Teddy Bear Hamsters
Several types of cages are suitable for teddy bear hamsters. Many of these units come with cage “furniture” such as exercise wheels, tunnels and nest boxes as an added luxury. These accessories, along with sufficient nest depth in which to dig holes, are ideal for the mental health of your pet. The cage should be constructed with rounded corners to prevent chewing.
Teddy bear hamsters can easily chew wood, lightweight plastics and soft metals, so wire, stainless steel, durable plastics and glass are recommended as blocking materials. Beware that glass and plastic containers can greatly reduce ventilation and may cause problems with humidity, temperature, and odor concentration. These materials form suitable cages when at least one side of the enclosure is open for air circulation. Also, make sure the enclosure is escape proof, as these small rodents are known escape artists.
Teddy bear hamsters do well in sturdy bottom cages with deep mattresses and plenty of nesting material. Bedding must be clean, non-toxic, absorbent, dust free and easily accessible. Shredded paper or paper towels, wood shavings and processed corn cobs are preferred bedding. Make sure wood shavings and corn cobs are free of mold, mildew or other contamination before use. Cotton and shredded thin paper make excellent nesting materials.
Pet teddy bear hamsters are usually housed individually. Mature female teddy bear hamsters tend to be very aggressive toward each other and should not be housed together. Females are also larger and more aggressive than males, so males usually need to be separated immediately after breeding. When the men live together, they may fight, but tend to be less aggressive than the women.
Generally, cages and accessories should be thoroughly cleaned once or twice a week. An exception to this schedule is when newborn babies are present, waiting until they are at least two weeks old to disturb the cage. Other factors that may require more frequent cleaning are the number of teddy bear hamsters in the cage, the type of bedding provided, and the design and size of the cage. Clean floors and walls weekly with soap and water. Change bedding weekly.
Cages should be sanitized with hot water and a non-toxic disinfectant or detergent, then rinsed thoroughly. Wash and sanitize water bottles and food daily. Most of the time just hot water and a mild detergent, followed by a rinse, will do the trick.
Bleaching kills most of the major pathogens that teddy bear hamsters will produce or come in contact with, so for a more thorough cleaning, occasionally wipe with a solution of 1 part bleach in 10 parts waters, let sit for 15 minutes, then rinse thoroughly. Water bottles and bowls can be soaked in a bleach solution for 15-30 minutes, but must be rinsed out before use. Detergents are sold at pet stores and can be used, but most are not as effective as bleach for deep cleaning.