Syrian Hamster Behaviour
Syrian Hamsters are often considered a great 'starter' pet for a child. This isn't correct and in fact leads to them often being rehomed when it turns out they need more care than pet shops claim.
Syrian Hamsters can be an excellent pet for a patient child, one that is engaged and interested in researching their needs. They need regular handling to become tame, this can be done initially by simply talking to them at a set time, often just before feeding them as they do adapt to a set routine.
Syrian hamsters will be largely asleep during the day. This can be difficult for a younger child to understand, and if disturbed from sleep they can be grumpy and bite. They also will be very active during the night, especially with wheel running which can get very noisy.
As larger and slower rodents, they are easier to handle once tamed. Handling whilst seated is best, to avoid them jumping to the floor. Whilst this is unlikely to harm them, it can be a shock and lead them to develop a fear of humans.
Female Syrian hamsters are generally a lot more active than the boys, needing more enrichment and cage space. They are more interested in climbing. Female hamsters regularly go into heat, whilst this happens they may smell more than normal. Some are more vocal during and they may have different responses to being handled. Some girls will like to be stroked on their lower back and may vibrate, freeze or lift their tail up.
Male Syrian hamsters are generally calmer than the girls, making them easier to tame and handle, being more content to sit and eat food in a cupped hand.
Syrian hamsters are very active during their waking times and extremely curious. They love tubes to explore and chew upon, ledges and other enrichment items. Although they are good climbers they have poor eyesight, so a cage layout needs to avoid long drops.
Syrian hamsters store a surprising amount of food in their pouches and will hoard this somewhere in their cage. They aren't always sanitary about this, so it's important to keep an eye on their stashes to make sure it isn't becoming damp or mouldy. Occasionally a hamster may have problems emptying their cheek pouches, in which case you need to seek vet treatment to get help with this.
Most hamsters are not nocturnal, as is commonly thought, but actually crepuscular - meaning they are more likely to be awake and active at dawn or dusk. This is due to both them being prey species and having a high metabolism. As pets, this means that their sleeping patterns and activity can be rather variable - and they will still be active at night. Your hamster will learn to adapt to your routine, so it is helpful to feed at the same time.
Hamsters are keen burrowers and will benefit from a decent space for digging. If your cage does not have a deep enough base to allow this, you can add custom digging boxes to enable this. This can be good to add a different substrate than their normal one to give extra variety.
Hamsters can be surprisingly vocal, especially when younger. Vocalisations can be a sign of stress or pain, though occasional squeaking is not a concern. Hamsters can catch colds from their owners so it is important to take great care with hygiene and limit handling if you are ill.
An angry hamster may hiss or scream at you, especially if awoken from sleep or disturbed in their nest. It is important to let your hamster come to you when handling rather than disturbing their nest.