How to Care for and Raise Black Bear Hamsters
What Makes the Black Bear Hamster Unique?
The Black Bear hamster is also known as the European Black Bear and the Black Syrian hamster. Black Bear hamsters are a type of Syrian hamster. The hamster world has yet to fully recognized the Black Bear hamster as a true breed.
There is debate as to whether or not the Black Bear is a separate subtype of the Syrian hamster breed or just an offshoot of the Teddy Bear subtype of the Syrian breed. Some consider the Black Bear to be a color variation of the long-haired Syrian hamster. This hamster type was initially bred for the characteristic markings on its black fur. It is a popular hamster breed because of its gentle temperament.
Black Bear hamsters are reported to be more tolerant of handling than other breeds. They also seem to handle stressful conditions better than other hamster types and are less inclined to bite or attack. They are generally more docile, making them good choices as pets. Children and beginner hamster owners will find that this breed is easy to care for. They are not as energetic as other breeds and appear to have a more relaxed disposition.
Black Bear hamsters need more exercise than other hamster types. They are more relaxed and therefore more prone towards obesity. It is important to offer your Black Bear hamster proper habitat enrichment to keep it from becoming obese.
Quick facts about the Black Bear hamster:
- The male hamster's neck is ringed by a long coat of fur that parts down the length of the back, fluffing out around the back of the body.
- The female Black Bear hamster's fur is also long and fluffy but shorter than the male's.
- Their feet are small, with four toes on the front feet and five toes on the back feet.
- The skin over the hamster's cheek is super stretchy. An amazing amount of food can be stuffed inside the hamster's cheek.
- Males are referred to as 'boars' while the females are 'sows'. Babies are known as 'pups'.
- Females have been known to kill their babies when they are scared.
Black Bear Hamster Appearance and Characteristics
Black Bear hamster fur is thick and slightly glossy. The color of the coat ranges from creamy to dark brown or black. Their coats are classified as either long-haired, satin or rex.
- Satin: Satin coats are shiny and have hollow hairs that reflect light better. The satin effect isn't as pronounced in black coats as it is in lighter coats.
- Rex: Rex means the hair is curly or wavy. The whiskers are also curly in rex coats.
The fur of the Black Bear hamster covers their entire body. They may have white markings at the belly area which may also appear on the face, paws and all over the chest area, like a stripe. At times, this white stripe may extend all the way down to the genital area. Black bears do not have a dorsal stripe.
The eyes and the ears of this type of hamster are also black. The paws are pink-colored, which makes the hamster look as if it is wearing gloves. The nose area has very little hair and appears pink. The tail is typically light pink.
What is the average size of the Black Bear hamster?
Black Bears typically grow up to 5–6 inches long. Their adult size depends on how well they are taken care of and their genetics. Some may only grow to the standard Syrian breed size of 3–4 inches.
Hamster Feeding and Nutrition
Proper nutrition and proper feeding schedules help keep Black Bear hamsters healthy and happy.
1. Offer the Right Food
Black bear hamsters eat a variety of food. They can eat different kinds of grains, seeds and grasses. They can also eat various kinds of vegetables. They may occasionally eat worms, insects and fruits. Pre-packaged seed mix may also be given. Just make sure to give hamsters fresh vegetables and some fruit regularly for a more balanced diet. A few stalks of celery, broccoli and some bell peppers may also be enjoyed.
Clean the cage every day to remove any food stored by the hamster. To discourage hoarding, give food in small quantities several times a day instead of a large amount at a single time.
- Tip: Hamsters tend to hoard food. They fill their mouths with food and temporarily store it in their cheeks. They will bring the food to a hiding place and store it there for later consumption. However, stored food in the cage can attract flies, worms and insects; mold may also grow. All of these issues may increase the risk of health problems.
2. Offer Proper Nutrition
You shouldn't just give food to your pet without checking if it provides essential nutrients. Hamsters need the following nutrition each day:
- Proteins: 17 to 22% of their calorie intake
- Fats: 4 to 6%
Vitamins and minerals from the fruits, vegetables and an assortment of foods are welcome as well. A few hamster experts believe that pre-mixed hamster food is low in protein. If you feed this to your pet, supplement protein intake by giving mealworms, cat food, cheese or hard-boiled eggs. Adding small bits of scrambled eggs or cooked chicken will also help to ensure proper protein intake.
- Tip: To keep hamsters healthy, avoid giving them food that can harm them. Avoid seeds that have husks. The husks are sharp and can hurt the delicate lining of the hamster's cheek pouch.
3. Avoid High-Moisture Foods
Foods that contain high moisture content are also discouraged like lettuce and cucumbers. Some owners make the mistake of giving these to their pets, thinking the crunch and the moisture will be good for their hamsters. These foods have a laxative effect on hamsters. That means these foods promote defecation, and at times, diarrhea.
4. Provide Fresh Drinking Water
Make sure that your hamster has a fresh water supply. Refresh water in any water bottles daily. Placing a sipper in the cage is one good way for the hamster to have constant access to fresh water. Sippers keep water from getting contaminated.
5. Avoid Water Bowls
Water in a bowl can quickly get dirty from dust, bedding, food, etc. The hamster can easily run into and out of the bowl, bringing dirt, shavings, food and other contaminants into the water supply. Dust and insects can also easily get into the water if it is in a small bowl.
6. Go BPA-Free
You can use plastic or glass water bottles. Glass is better because it is least likely to be contaminated with harmful chemicals such as BPA. If plastic is preferred, choose a hamster-safe plastic sipper. In choosing the sipper or water bottle, check that it is hamster-approved.
7. Refresh Water Regularly
Regularly clean the sipper. Use a bottle brush to clean the inside. This is important to remove any precipitate or slimy stuff that may build up inside the sipper or water bottle. Harmful bacteria may find its way inside the water bottle. If you do not clean it well regularly, your hamster will get sick from drinking contaminated water.
8. Use Filtered Water
Use filtered water if possible. Tap water is also good but dechlorinate it before giving it to the hamster. You can leave the water in an open container overnight to allow the chlorine to evaporate eventually. Or, you may add dechlorination tablets/liquid into the water and mix it before offering the water.
Do I need to offer my hamster mineral or salt blocks?
Some hamster enthusiasts recommend providing mineral or salt blocks. Some don't. These can serve as chew blocks for a hamster. It may also help ensure that they get enough minerals. However, some experts maintain that salt and/mineral blocks are not necessary. Wood-chew blocks are still better. Minerals and vitamins are best obtained from food rather than from these blocks.
How to Stop a Hamster From Chewing Excessively
The upper front teeth of a Black Bear hamster continuously grow. Always make sure that the hamster has proper chew items such as chew sticks. If not, the hamster will most likely start chewing the cage bars. Chewing the hard steel bars will chip the hamster's teeth. This can lead to a host of problems such as dental decay.
Helpful items to safely promote chewing are wood form orchard trees (e.g., apple tree, cherry, plum or pear), dry whole wheat macaroni and dog biscuits. Check that wood is not from trees treated with pesticides—this can be toxic.
Hamsters' front upper teeth continuously grow throughout their lifetime. Hamsters need to gnaw at something regularly to wear their teeth down.
How to Groom Your Hamster
A long-haired hamster needs to be groomed regularly. Dirt, water, urine and feces, as well as food and wood shavings can get caught in the hair. The fur can quickly become matted if not combed and cleaned regularly. Poor grooming can lead to problems including hair loss. Stuck debris can invite mold growth and cause skin and hair problems.
- Use a brush or comb: Groom the hair once a week to remove debris and keep hair and skin healthy. Use a clean brush or comb to clean and untangle the hair of your hamster. A small flea brush for cats is a good choice.
- Trimming may be necessary: Do not pull at tangled or matted hair. Gently run the comb through these spots. If gentle combing does not help, a trim may be necessary. Trim off little by little to remove stubborn tangles.
Hamsters that have been groomed since they were young are less likely to be fidgety during grooming sessions. A hamster that is not used to being groomed should be groomed for short periods initially. Hair may not be easily untangled or clean well, but it is more important to give the hamster time to get used to being groomed.
You may extend grooming sessions longer as the hamster starts to get used to it. To help, you may feed your hamster bits of vegetables or fruit. This helps reduce stress. The hamster will also come to associate grooming with snacking, so he will eventually learn to sit still for longer grooming sessions.
How to Prevent Obesity Issues in Hamsters
Hamsters need regular exercise to keep them from becoming obese. It is easy for hamsters, especially Black Bear hamsters, to become fat fast because they are fairly relaxed. To keep Black Bears healthy, place an exercise wheel in the cage. The spaces in between the wires of the wheel should not be too narrow. The long hair of the hamster might get caught in it and cause damage and injury.
- Wheels: An exercise wheel placed inside the cage is one of the simplest and easiest ways to provide exercise for the hamster. Check that the exercise wheel is safe. Black Bear hamsters have long hair, especially the males.
- Running Balls: Plastic running balls are also good exercise items. Hamsters can safely run around and get some exercise while outside the cage.
- Hamster-Proof Rooms: If the home affords, a hamster-proof room can be provided for daily exercise. For an hour or so, the hamster can be let loose inside a room and allowed to roam freely and get some much-needed exercise.
- Harnesses: The large size of the Black Bear hamster makes it possible for them to wear a leash and a harness.
These hamsters are nocturnal like other hamster breeds. That means that they are more active at night and tend to sleep or be less active during the day. At night, these hamsters will eat, run around and burrow. To keep the hamsters from interrupting humans at night, do not place their cages near beds or the bedroom. The squeaky wheel and the constant motion of the hamster at night might disrupt humans who are sleeping.
How to Select a Hamster Cage
Black Bear hamsters, like any other type of hamster, need adequate housing. A simple four-cornered cage may seem like enough for a hamster. However, to make your pet truly happy, you have to consider a few things. A larger home is good, so is good ventilation, proper temperature and safety. Adding a network of tunnels and tubes will be highly appreciated by your pet.
Enclosed habitats like habitat modules are better for areas with cold winter climates. It is also better to choose habitats with air holes to help maintain the temperature of the main living compartment between 15°C (59°F) and 25°C (77°F).
Cage Type Selection Tip
Just because wire cages are sold in pet stores where hamsters are also sold, this does not mean that this cage type is ideal for a hamster.
These are the most common types of cages for hamsters and are readily available in any pet store. This type is also the most affordable. In these cages, the four sides and the top of the cage are made entirely of wire bars. The door is on one of the sides. The bottom is a plastic tray. Sizes range from very small to quite large.
Features to check:
- Minimum cage size: The standard minimum size of a hamster cage should be 12" x 15" x 12" high (about 30 x 38 x 30 cm). For a quick estimate, look at the wire cage. If it is smaller than a 5-gallon fish tank, it's likely too small.
- Wire bar spacing: Two main factors must be considered when checking the spaces in between the wire bars. The wire spacing should be small enough to keep the hamster from getting out, yet large enough to keep the hamster's long hair from getting caught. The spaces between the bars should not be more than 1.3 cm (4/8th of an inch).
- Metal: The best metal to use for the wire cage is galvanized steel. This is resistant to rust and won't easily fall apart when the hamster gnaws on it. Stay away from wire cages with plastic coatings. The metal is most likely cheap and weak. The hamster may eat the plastic coating, which can be dangerous to its health. The exposed metal will soon rust and start to fall apart.
Wire Cage Pros and Cons
Floor bars may cause foot issues (use a canvas or a mat)
Good for beginners
Horizontal bars encourage climbing and accidental injuries (vertical bars are not climbable)
Allows for maximum ventilation
Good for hot and humid conditions
Customizable (door adaptors and crossbars)
These are fancy, plastic hamster homes. They can be attached to each other or stacked on top of each other via tubes and tunnels. They can be made into a simple single cage or built over time into one amazing maze-habitat. They are available in various colors and entirely plastic or a mix of plastic and wire bars.
Do note that a single habitat module is too small, especially for a Black Bear hamster. These plastic habitats are intended to be connected to at least one other module to house one hamster. Round modules are not recommended to be the sole habitat for any hamster. This type can confuse the hamster and stress it out. Corners are needed for a hamster to get its bearings inside the home.
Module Cage Pros and Cons
Replicates natural habitat of tunnels and "rooms"
Poor air circulation
Prevents boredom and stress and encourages exploration
Prone to overheating (especially hot and humid climates)
May require the addition of open-air modules to improve ventilation
Glass tanks or aquariums meant for fish can be used to house hamsters. They are easy to purchase and inexpensive. You can use an old fish tank in your garage for your hamster's next home.
If you choose this type of home, the minimum size should be 40 litres or 10 gallons. This may adequately house the hamster, but restlessness and behavioral problems may still develop. Installing tank toppers that fit well over the tank may be added to provide enough stimulation to keep the hamster happy.
Tank toppers have holes to accommodate hamster tubes. This will help increase the size of the hamster's living space. This will also give the hamster an opportunity to follow its natural inclination to run through tunnels and explore, just like in the wild. Tank toppers also help with thermal control. On hot days, the hamster can climb up to an upper level made of wire. On cold days, the hamster can choose to stay at the bottom of the glass tank where it is inherently warmer.
Hamster urine emits ammonia gas. This gas can quickly build up within the glass tank. This can lead to respiratory problems.
Glass Tank Cage Pros and Cons
Poor air circulation
Keeps bedding contained
Can become too warm
High risk of heat stroke in hot weather
Hamster Cage Size Requirements
The following table of sizes shows minimum space requirements. However, this is not an absolute standard. Always check if a cage fits the full-grown (adult) size of the hamster. Also, check for comfort requirements and overall space availability once additions like exercise wheels, water bottles, feeding bowls and a few chew toys are placed.
Cages that are smaller then those recommended will cause the hamster to be severely cramped. Your hamster will have inadequate space to move around, especially during its active hours. This can lead to boredom and stress.
Space Requirements per Cage Type
Type of Cage
Minimum Space Requirement
2 modules connected through a hamster tube
1 hamster per 40-litre (10-gallon) capacity
12 inches x 15 inches; 12 inches high per single Syrian hamster
Additional Housing Tips
Enrich the Habitat
Prevent boredom. This is often a result of cramped living space and inadequate exercise. The hamster may constantly scratch at the glass or walls of the cage. They may also be observed repeatedly running back and forth inside the cage. To discourage this, promote activities to reduce boredom. An exercise wheel is a good choice. Putting a few chew toys inside the cage will also help. Allow the hamster to spend time outside of the cage, too, to prevent boredom.
House Them Alone
Black Bear hamsters may be docile and appear relaxed, but they are very territorial. It is rare to find one that can live well with another. Place each hamster in its own cage.
Keep the Cage Clean
Wood shavings on the floor of the cage offer padding for the hamster's tiny feet and paws as it moves and plays around. Wood shavings also allow the hamster to burrow. This allows them to do what they are naturally inclined to do (hamsters are burrowing animals). The wood shavings must be replaced immediately once they become wet or soiled.
How to Set Up a Hamster Habitat
After purchasing a suitable cage, the next thing you need to do is to make the habitat comfortable for your hamster. Safe bedding is vital. You can't just put anything at the bottom of the cage.
Bedding Types to Avoid
- Wood: Wood-based bedding such as sawdust and wood shavings from cedar and pine are not suitable bedding materials. These contain oils (turpentines) that are harmful.
- Cotton: Cotton is also not suitable. This can clog the hamster's intestines if he eats it. This condition can kill your hamster. Cotton can also get caught in between the hamster's toes or around his legs. This can cause the legs and/toes to break.
- Fluffy Bedding: Fluffy bedding is also just as dangerous. Even though the package of cotton and fluffy bedding says it is safe for pets, there is still the risk of injury.
Safe Bedding Types
- Shredded Paper: Shredded paper is most suitable as bedding material. This type of bedding is available in pet stores. Shredded paper can help absorb odors. It also helps keep the cage cozy and clean.
- Untreated Sawdust: Sawdust may still be used as bedding material, as long as it is from untreated wood. It should be specifically labeled "untreated" when bought from pet stores. Do not buy sawdust from carpenter shops or wood mills. Wood used in these places is most likely already treated with chemicals that can harm hamsters.
Where to Place Cages in the Home
The cage location is just as important as the type and size of the cage. As previously mentioned, hamsters are nocturnal animals, so expect them to be active and noisy late into the night and all throughout the wee hours of the morning. They should not be placed near the bed or even in the bedroom to keep them from disturbing your sleep.
When looking for a spot to place the cage, here's what to consider:
- Avoid High-Trafficked Areas: The spot should be quiet or at least have low traffic during the day. Hamsters are typically asleep during the day and noisy; busy spots will disrupt their rest.
- Avoid Noise: Keep the cage away from radios, TV sets and any loud appliances. Put the cage away from items that make a lot of vibrations or noises such as radiators and heaters. Noisy and busy spots keep your hamster from sleeping well. This can stress him out and lead to several illnesses and health problems.
- Avoid Heavily-Lit Levels: The amount of light on the cage area is also an important consideration. In nature, hamsters live underground where there is minimal sunlight. When living in cages, hamsters should also be placed in spots where there is no direct sunlight. Do not place the cage near a window where sun streams through. Avoid placing it near bright light bulbs, too.
- Proper Temperature: The cage should not be too hot or too cold for the hamster. It should not be colder than 15°C (59°F) and no hotter than 25°C (77°F). For better temperature control, keep the cage away from drafty windows or near heaters.
Tips for Handling Your Hamster and Helping It Adjust
Before buying a Black Bear hamster, everything should be ready. The cage should be set and cozy, ready with a bowl of food and water bottle. Bring the hamster straight home right after purchasing. Avoid detours because this can stress your hamster out.
Let Your Hamster Adjust
Place the hamster straight in the cage from its carrier. Leave it alone to get it used to the new environment. This is not the time for playing because the hamster is most likely tired. Add the confusion of a new environment, and he will most likely be frightened and ready to bite. Let him get used to the new environment on his own for about 48 hours.
After 48 hours, slowly start to get acquainted with your new pet. Approach with caution. Do not barge ahead and pick him up immediately. Test if the hamster wants to be picked up. Observe how he reacts to being handled.
Wash Your Hands Before Handling
Wash your hands before petting hamsters. They have poor eyesight and rely mostly on their sense of smell when they interact. If your hand smells of food, the hamster may mistake it for a treat and bite you. This is also one reason why hand-feeding hamsters is not a good idea.
Step-by-step instructions on how to handle your hamster:
- Scoop the hamster gently.
- Slide your hand (palm up) under his belly.
- Pick him up slowly and cup your other hand over the front portion of his body. The first attempt may not always go well.
- The hamster may struggle and try to get away. Let him go.
- Do not insist on holding him if he refuses. Doing so will likely result in some nips and scratches. Your hamster may start to become unwelcoming, too.
Talk in a soothing voice. Start with simple, small strokes over his back. Pet him carefully and gently. See if he starts to take an aggressive stance or seems tolerant of the physical contact. This technique helps the hamster get used to your presence. Initiate interaction when your hamster is active—this would be in the evenings.
Use Food to Help Habituate Your Hamster
If you wish to use food to help your hamster get used to your presence, place food on a spoon or right inside the cage. As the hamster eats, slowly but cautiously stroke him. You may have to do this a few more times before you attempt to pick him up. Engage in short and non-threatening interactions several times per day until your pet starts to become more comfortable around you. You will notice this when he is no longer shy and beings to approach you.
Teach Children Proper Handling
This type of hamster is generally docile and safe for children to play with. However, it is still best to supervise small children while they are playing with their pets. Also, teach children how to properly handle their pets. Any pet that gets hurt or threatened will likely fight back, no matter how tame they may be.
Experts say that it will take around 2-3 weeks before a new hamster can be picked up and taken out of its cage.
Common Hamster Health Issues
These cute pet lives an average of 2-3 years and some may live longer, up to 5-6 years. They are susceptible to several health conditions:
- Wet Tail: This ailment affects the intestines. It is caused by Lawsonia intracellularis. This bacteria causes the hind end of the hamster to become severely wet.
- Diabetes: This is similar to diabetes in humans—with this condition, the hamster's body is incapable of metabolizing sugar because of insulin problems. There is either too little insulin or the insulin is not being metabolized adequately. Prevent this condition by offering proper nutrition and exercise.
- Cancer: Abnormal cell growth can happen inside the hamster's body and cause cancer.
- Bladder Stones: These are hardened minerals within the urinary tract. Offering your hamster enough water throughout the day greatly helps in preventing this condition.
- Salmonellosis: This is a diarrheal condition caused by the bacteria Salmonella. Pregnant hamsters may miscarry if Salmonella is present.
What to Avoid When Caring for a Hamster
Black Bear hamsters are docile but will bite when they feel threatened or get hurt. To avoid any incidents that may affect your relationship with your pet, avoid the following mistakes. Children must be taught to avoid these situations to keep them from getting nasty bites and scratches:
- No startling: Do not startle hamsters to wake them up. They may give a nasty bite when they are jolted awake or picked up roughly while they are still asleep.
- Handle with care: Always handle the hamster with care. These pets cannot handle falls. They may get injuries or even die with a particularly nasty fall.
- Do not squeeze: Do not squeeze a hamster tightly when it tries to get free. This will hurt him and he will likely bite your hand. Hold him firmly but not tightly. If he struggles, quickly put him back in his cage or in a safe place.
- Know when to stop: Do not insist on holding and petting a hamster that does not want to be held. Learn to keep a distance and give him space when he wants it.
- Do not leave them unattended: Do not leave a hamster unattended when out of the cage. These creatures are naturally curious and adventurous. They also have poor eyesight. They are prone to fall off objects or get stuck in dangerous places. Keep a close watch always, especially if the area is not hamster-proof.
- Offer a proper enclosure: Do not place a hamster in an unsecured cage. Check that the cage is not easy to escape from. Check that the door is latched properly.
- House them alone: Do not put a Black Bear hamster with another hamster in the same cage or play area. They are very territorial and like to be alone.