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Ask the Vet: Ensure Hamster Is Friendly Before Adopting

Dr. Lee Pickett on

Q: How do we find a nice hamster for our daughter? A friend of hers has a hamster that bites, and we don't want that. Also, do hamsters need vaccinations?

A: Veterinarians often refer to hamsters, gerbils, mice, rats and guinea pigs as "pocket pets." Because hamsters are nocturnal -- they're active at night and sleep during the day -- and many of them nip, you may want to choose another species of pocket pet for your daughter.

However, if she's committed to having a hamster, look first at your local animal shelter or pocket pet rescue organization. The adoption counselors know each hamster's temperament and will help you select a gentle one with a sweet personality.

Most hamsters in the U.S. are Syrian hamsters, also called golden hamsters. Since they tend to be nippy, especially when not fully awake, your daughter should always be gentle and ensure her pet is ready to interact so the hamster learns to play nicely. Most hamsters are solitary, so advise your daughter and her friend not to arrange play dates with theirs.

Hamsters and other pocket pets do not require annual vaccinations the way cats, dogs and ferrets do, but they should see the veterinarian for an exam every year. Your vet can spot problems early, when treatment is most likely to be successful, and will advise about nutrition and other care.

For example, most of a hamster's diet should be rodent block or pellets and fresh water. Don't feed rodent party mixes as their seeds and nuts contain too much fat and too little protein and calcium.


Offer a small amount of hay daily to ensure adequate fiber intake. Give tiny portions of fruits, leafy greens and other vegetables once or twice a week.

Entertainment is important, too. Hamsters enjoy tube-shaped toys like cardboard toilet paper rolls, plastic hideaways that double as sleeping spaces, mazes and exercise wheels. The running surface of the exercise wheel should be solid so your hamster won't break a foot by getting it stuck in the wheel.

Q: I recently adopted a small mixed-breed spayed female puppy named Cupid. She's adorable except for one disgusting habit: She eats her own and other dogs' poop if I'm not quick enough to stop her.

Sometimes I snuggle with her and start to kiss her, only to be repelled by her poopy breath. What should I do?


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