Below you will find a code of ethics all members of the OHC uphold, as well as a code for all approved breeders. These COEs are done by an honour system and anyone found being dishonest will be warned, or removed from the club.
Owners, regardless of species, will provide their hamster with a minimum of 450sq in of solid space. Bigger is always encouraged. Levels should be safe, and not too high (as not to risk falling). Aquarium style tanks, vivariums, terrariums, home made bin cages, and large wire cages (Critter Nation, Hamster Heaven, Marchioro Kevin, Zoozone) are all acceptable housing solutions. IKEA hacks may also be used.
Bedding is to be plentiful and made of safe material. Aspen wood is the only suitable, easily available wooden bedding. OHC does not promote hamsters on kiln-dried pine, pine, or cedar. Hemp or flax bedding may be permissible. Paper based bedding such as CareFRESH, Boxo Comfort, or Kaytee Clean+Cozy are all recommended. Nesting material, like ripped up toilet paper, or crinkled paper are also recommended. Fluffy, cotton bedding, or kapok bedding, is dangerous and must not be used. These types of beddings can strangle, cut off circulation, and impact the bowels.
Wheels for all species must be solid bottomed. Mesh or wire rungs are not acceptable and are dangerous to your pet. Wheels must be minimum 6.5” for a roborovski, 8” for other dwarf species, and 10” for a Syrian). As with housing, bigger is better. Silent spinners, flying saucers, comfort wheels, wodent wheels, and bucket wheels are all acceptable solutions. OHC has no opinion on hamster balls, but the running ball must be sized appropriately for the species, and the hamster must be allowed to enter of its own free will.
Hamsters of all species should be allowed free access to food, and allowed to graze. As hamsters create food stores, it is important to make sure there is always access to food. Scatter feeding is acceptable and encouraged. Nutritional analysis of their diet should reflect their age. Younger hamsters and dwarfs should be fed a diet high in protein (>18%). After a year, this level may be dropped to ensure it is not harmful to their kidneys. A high variety mix of safe ingredients mixed with a protein lab block is recommended. Some high quality mixes available in the GTA are: Versele Laga, Higgins Sunburst, Vitakraft Vitanature, Vitakraft Vitasmart. Acceptable lab blocks are: Harlan Teklad 8640, RMH 3000, Harlan Tekland 2018, Mazuri Rat and Mouse, Sunseed Critter Cubes. Hamsters may not be fed fortified foods for cats and dogs as this is harmful to their kidneys.
Fresh fruit and vegetables should be offered to your hamster at regular intervals. Hamsters will enjoy broccoli, kale, spinach, cucumber, carrots, apple, pear, peach, strawberry, and many more fruits and vegetables. Foods such as onions, garlic and raw potato are dangerous for your pet. Hamsters do enjoy treats. Owners should be careful with pet shop treats as these are high in sugar. Foods made for infants, like Gerber Puffs and Yoghurt Melts, are more suitable treats.
For a full list of safe and unsafe food items, check out The Pipsqueakery.
Toys and accessories
Hamster should have access to plenty of toys and boredom breakers to stimulate their interest. There are plenty of store bought toys, but homemade toys may suffice as well. The most important toy is a solid based, proper sized wheel. Hamsters run extensively each night, so promoting this natural behaviour is important. Syrians must have a wheel 8” or larger. We recommend 10” as the minimum, but this is dependent on the size and length of your Syrian. The track is to be solid - not meshed or slatted. Mesh and slated wheels are dangerous, as toes and feet may get caught and broken, and there is a large risk of bumblefoot. The back should not be bent, but remain at a straight line as the hamster runs. Signs that your wheel is too small may include running on the outside, or climbing the wheel for stimulation instead.
Chews are also good, as they help a hamster keep its teeth at an appropriate length. Whimzees - a dog chew available in most stores - are great as hamsters seem to be enthusiastic about chewing them. Wood chews are also acceptable, though many hamster will ignore these. Cardboard and walnuts may aid as well.
When buying toys, please ensure they are the appropriate size. A hamster should be able to pass easily through tunnels and doorways with cheeks stuffed. A toy that is too small may hinder your hamster and cause them to become stuck.
It can be helpful to have a wide variety of toys to switch in and out to keep your hamster entertained. Not all hamsters appreciate this, and some may prefer the consistency.
Owners should provide their hamsters adequate and prompt access to medical care. With all small creatures, hamsters can get sick quickly, and may hide symptoms. It is important to see an exotic or small specialist vet the moment you see something. One good way to track health is weekly health checks. Using a baking scale, you can weigh your hamster and track his/her weight. Young hamsters (<6mo) should continue to grow, however full grown hamsters should not vary too greatly in weight (a few grams here and there is permissible, as even humans gain and lose weight on a regular basis). +/- 10% of the body weight is usually a sign something might not be quite right.
At this time, it is a good idea to check their teeth for colouration (they should be yellow), and length (insert photo of proper sized hamster teeth here!). If the teeth are grossly uneven, the hamster should be brought to the vet to have them clipped. Owners should never try to clip teeth at home as it can be very easy to shatter and cause painful damage.
You may also feel the hamster extensively for any lumps, bumps or cuts. It it helpful to gently palpate (pat) the tummy with your index and middle finger. This can help you understand what feels normal and what does not, and help pinpoint any internal problems.
Please see our file on health care, as well as vets in Ontario, for more information.
Quarantine and New Hamsters
Quarantine (QT) is one of the most important things an owner can do to ensure the health of their hamsters. Whenever anyone (breeder, owner, rescuer) brings in a new rodent of any kind, they should be placed away from the rest of the animals owned. Airborne diseases, external parasites (mites, ringworm), and other issues can easily be transmitted between animals if you do not quarantine.
New animals should be quarantined for a minimum of 2wks. Ideally, the new animal should be in a completely separate air system than the current ones. This is not always possible, but physically in a different room is great. Minimal contact, save to feed and water, is recommended. An antiseptic spray should be on hand to clean any supplies used. Breeders especially should quarantine any new hamsters with the utmost rigorousness. Any breeder found immediately breeding new animals (especially from a pet shop or other breeder) will be spoken to.
The following is used and modified with permission from the IHANA Code of Ethics. Approved breeders also uphold the above Owner’s Code of Ethics.
As with the Code of Hamster Care, good breeding ethics start before any attempts at breeding have been made. A conscientious prospective breeder will learn as much as possible about the subject before embarking. This not only ensures adequate provisions above and beyond what are necessary for routine hamster care, but also allows the owner to carefully consider his or her readiness to take on the special responsibilities of being a breeder.
Planning for Litters
There must be a plan for the disposition of the litter prior to any breeding attempt. Destinations need to be reasonably assured, whether they be private homes, a trustworthy pet shop, trades to other breeders or remaining with the original breeder. A breeder must be prepared to supply adequate housing, food and care to every animal that may not have a place to go.
Choice of Breeding Animals
Hamsters designated for breeding should be in good health and free of defects that might possibly be inherited. This includes bad temperament. Tamed females are less stressed by human presence near the litter, so taming should be completed before breeding. The breeder should have a basic working knowledge of hamster genetics, including but not limited to lethal and deleterious genes in hamsters. Female Syrians should not be bred until four months of age, but preferably before six months. Each Syrian female should be given a minimum of six weeks rest between litters and have a maximum of three litters total. Any new hamsters must be quarantined, and not bred immediately upon arrival. This will help ensure the health of the litter, as well as provide opportunity to tame either party.
Personal Contact and Taming
A new hamster not given regular attention will be fearful and stressed. Taming will not only make for a better pet, but will also give the hamster a better quality of life. Older, tamed hamsters that are neglected can become apathetic much like caged zoo animals. It is our responsibility to provide each hamster with frequent contact, stimulation, and chances to explore.
Unlike Dwarf pairs or colonies living in harmony, mating in Syrians requires constant supervision. The female should be introduced to the male in his cage or in neutral territory, always in a space where it is relatively easy to separate them if a fight should ensue. After roughly a half hour or when they seem to lose interest, they should be returned to their own cages. Under no circumstances should a mating pair of Syrians be living together or kept together overnight.
Care of the Litter
Non-interference is the cardinal rule. Aside from ensuring that the dam has adequate food, water and nesting material, the breeder should leave the hamsters undisturbed. Cage cleaning and touching the pups can be done at about two weeks (when the eyes open) as the dam tolerates. The litter should be weaned between three and four weeks, and the sexes separated at the same time. The breeder should plan to provide every Syrian with its own cage at about five to six weeks of age.
Ideally, pups going to new homes should be released at about six weeks. Pet shops typically have preferences about the age of pups they accept, and the breeder must decide if the store’s requirements are harmful to the young hamsters. Five weeks is the absolute minimum. It is incumbent upon the breeder to make reasonable inquiries to ensure that the hamsters will be adequately cared for in their new environment. No pup in questionable health or with clear temperament problems should ever be released.
Pricing and Representation
Hamsters should not be priced according to “rarity.” No colour, pattern or coat type is more valuable than any other, no matter how uncommon it may be in the breeder’s local area. Hamsters should be represented according to standard, accepted nomenclature, avoiding nicknames such as “Black Bear,” “Yellow Bear,” “Teddy Bear,” “Panda,” “Calico,” “Harlequin” and countless others that have been promoted commercially. “Purebred” and “show quality” are likewise ambiguous and often misleading terms that should not be used.
The breeder’s obligations do not end with finding homes for the pups not being kept. Private owners must be given instructions for care. If the receiver is a pet shop, attempts need to be made (although this is frequently a difficult situation) to expand their knowledge of adequate care. A health guarantee should always be provided, as should offers for further information as it is needed.