There are lots of different breeds of hamsters but most live for approximately 2 years, however, they do need careful care considerations. Generally hamsters are solitary animals and prefer to live alone, particularly Syrian and Chinese hamsters may fight if forced to live together, while Russian Dwarf hamsters are one of the few who often enjoy living in groups.
Hamsters require careful handling, at a low height, or held close to the body so they would not fall from a height if startled, and can become frightened and aggressive if they feel threatened. Regular calm handling of your hamster will allow you to assess their health and notice any changes sooner rather than later. If you notice any sudden unusual lumps, a discharge to their eyes or nose, or any difficulty breathing you should consult your vet immediately.
Their home should be in a draught free area which doesn't fluctuate in temperature too much, they need bedding material to nest in, such as hay, wood wool or shredded paper, and litter material to dig in which will absorb their urine; dust-free shavings or granulated corn-cob is ideal. Wild hamsters would run up to 5 miles in a day so allowances for them to exercise is important, this can be provided by adding toys and tubes in their cage or a running wheel with a large diameter to prevent spinal injury.
Hamsters are naturally nocturnal, which means they will sleep during the day and become active at night, for this reason, a location where the lighting is not left on excessively late or at unusual times is helpful not to confuse your hamster's routine.
Hamsters like to fill their cheeks with food, and will often overturn food bowls to transfer this food to their larder, for this reason pellet food is best as it has a complete formula for nutritional balance, and will cause minimal trauma to their mouth. Small quantities of fresh root vegetables and greens can be given to supplement the diet, but do not give grapes or rhubarb as these can be poisonous.
Hamsters can sometimes show repetitive behaviours, these are usually an indicator of stress or boredom, and you should take action to help eliminate these quickly by providing extra enrichment such as chewing objects, toys or more handling time to prevent your hamster becoming unwell.
Guinea pigs are small rodents with big chatty personalities, they typically live for 5-6 years if provided with the correct care. They are social animals who should ideally live in same sex pairs, and neutering is always recommended to reduce potential conflict or unwanted pregnancy. Their housing should include areas to sleep, areas to exercise and be tall enough for them to stand up comfortably, at a minimum of 5 times the length of your guinea pig and one
foot wide. The location of the hutch should be chosen carefully to be dry, well ventilated and draught free; temperatures over 26C or under 15C are extremely dangerous for your guinea pig, so if they are kept outside do have provisions for bad weather, and shelter for extreme heat or wind exposure.
Bedding provided should be dust-free hay which will provide insulation and fibre, this is better than alternatives such as pine wood shavings or cotton wool as these can be dangerous if ingested. Guinea pigs will often enjoy being handled and groomed once they are used to it, handling should be done gently while speaking to them softly, making sure to always support their weight with one hand under their rump, and not to move too quickly and startle them.
Regular handling and grooming can enable you to easily complete health checks at home with your guinea pig, and look for signs of excessively long teeth or nails, or a build up of faeces around their bottom, any of these signs could indicate an illness and are best checked by the vet.
Food for your guinea pig should mainly consist of good quality hay, supplemented with fresh green vegetables to help to wear down their teeth which grow constantly throughout their life. Guinea pigs also require high levels of vitamin C which is provided in guinea pig pellet food, this must always be given fresh each day rather than simply 'topping up' the bowl. Like rabbits, guinea pigs will eat some of the dropping they produce, called 'caecotrophs' this is a requirement in their diet and any changes in appetite should be monitored carefully and checked with the vet. If you like you can even plant guinea pig friendly plants in your garden for them to eat, this can include things like cauliflower, celery, fennel, mint, spinach, strawberries or romaine lettuce, please be aware large volumes of iceberg lettuce is bad for your guinea pig, as is avocado, potato, rhubarb and tomato leaves.
Gerbils are generally diurnal animals, who are active during the day and enjoy creating elaborate tunnel systems and burrows, they can live to approximately 3-4 years of age if well kept. They should never be kept alone and live happily in same sex pairs or small groups, gerbils use ultrasound to communicate with each other, so try to keep them away from televisions, radios, vacuum cleaners and sources of running water.
Gerbil homes should be ideally kept at 20-24C, and specific gerbilariums with glass walls and mesh tops of minimum 50cm height provide suitable areas for rest and shelter as well as lots of room to dig into their substrate. Rough grained wood chips, hay and non-toxic peat are the best digging materials for gerbils, and this should be provided at a depth of around 30cm, while sawdust should not be used as it poses a respiratory risk. As well as digging, gerbils like to gnaw and shred items, so ink-free cardboard and paper, such as empty egg cartons and toilet roll tubes are ideal, while rough stones provided will help to wear down their claws, large diameter running wheels provide extra sources of exercise and wooden toys or tunnels provide extra enrichment.
Boxes or hides should be provided for your gerbils to use as well as their own tunnels, for food stores or nests and should have multiple entrances to limit conflict between gerbils. Gerbil pellet food is widely available and should be scattered across the floor of the gerbilarium rather than limited to a single bowl, this allows them to forage as they would in the wild, and can be supplemented with fresh fruit and vegetables such as pear, melon, apples, carrot, pumpkin and fennel. Seed mixes should be fed carefully as some, like sunflower seeds have lots of fat content, and the gerbilarium should be checked regularly for stale food stores which the gerbils may have hidden.
Handling gerbils should be done carefully so they do not risk startling and being dropped, they can become fearful and aggressive if they feel threatened, but with calm and gentle handling will quickly come to enjoy these sessions with you, handling is done easiest by cupping with both hands, and tempting with food items such as pumpkin seeds.
Other animals in the household such as dogs and cats will frighten gerbils and cause them stress, so keep them away from other animals, this also includes colonies of unfamiliar gerbils, scent is very important to these creatures so when cleaning out the gerbilarium, retain a small amount of clean but used bedding to add into the clean gerbil tank.