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ASK THE VET: How to choose a hamster that’s less inclined to bite you

by Lee Pickett, VMD | May 16, 2022 at 2:25 a.m.

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 for 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 the 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' poo if I'm not quick enough to stop her.

What should I do?

A: Cupid has coprophagia, Greek for eating ("-phagia") feces ("copro-").

While everyone's in favor of recycling, coprophagic dogs take the practice a step too far. For one thing, dogs that eat feces also ingest whatever parasites and microscopic worm eggs are present in it.

The cause of coprophagia, or coprophagy, is usually behavioral, but it's important to rule out physical reasons. Ask your veterinarian to examine her and do lab work. Take a fresh fecal sample for parasite testing.

If your veterinarian rules out physical causes, Cupid's coprophagia is probably behavioral.

Walk her on a leash and dispose of her feces immediately. Teach her to "leave it" so she'll bypass other dogs' excrement without approaching. Praise her and reward her with a treat when she turns away.

Boredom or anxiety can promote coprophagia, so offer safe chew toys and other forms of environmental enrichment.

If you have a fenced yard, walk Cupid elsewhere at least once each day. If she must go out in her fenced yard alone, fit her with a basket muzzle that has a stool guard.

A nutritionally sound diet and monthly deworming also are essential in preventing coprophagia. Feed twice daily at consistent times so you can predict Cupid's habits.

If these measures fail, make an appointment with a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.

Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at

Print Headline: Finding a hamster that’s less likely to nibble, bite


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